NChem Research Highlights: Oxonium, feedstocks and enzymes

It’s the weekly pick of the chemistry pops that we call Research Highlights

It’s not a ring of fire, but a ring of stability for our first piece. Oxonium ions (positively charged, triply bonded oxygen) are normally pretty unstable, but putting it at the core of a fused tricyclic compound makes a stable one – enough to be refluxed for 72 hours!

There’s a lot of carbon locked up in wood that could be used as a chemical feedstock instead of fossil fuels, but how do you get at it? Use a solid acid catalyst, that’s how. This hydrolyses the bulky cellulose into more smaller and more useful sugars.

The reason enzymes are such great catalysts is because they’re very specialised – so much so that it’s hard to get them to react with other substrates. Using a carrot and stick method to feed or kill bacteria depending on whether the enzymes they produce are effective or not, enzymes that act on the un-natural enantiomer were produced.

And finally…hooray for the Ig Nobel Prizes for research that ‘first makes people laugh, then makes them think’. The chemistry prize was split between two groups: one that showed cola can act as a spermicide and one that showed that it didn’t. Gav deserves a prize for asking whether they used Virgin Cola


Neil Withers (Associate Editor, Nature Chemistry)