NChem Research Highlights: Paper devices, T-jumps and defluorination

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Monday, Monday…time for your weekly dose of Research Highlights.

At the start of a packed programme this week, we feature a method to make prototypes for microfluidic devices out of paper. These ‘lab on a chip’ devices mean you can do reactions with tiny volumes of liquid in a tiny space and are hoped to be useful for things like medical diagnostics in future. Being able to make prototypes out of paper, using just a photocopier or black marker pen — besides just being damn cool — could make them available in places without photolithographic facilities.

How fast does it take your kettle to boil? It probably doesn’t heat the water by ~10 °C in ~10 picoseconds, which is how fast Ahmed Zewail’s laser heats samples in his ultrafast T-jump method. As the molecules are relaxing after their sudden excitement, you can find out new information. Such as the dynamics of a series of cobalt complexes, as in this case.

CFCs are bad for the ozone layer, but some of their replacements, hydrofluorocarbons, can be bad for your health — or act as “super” greenhouse gases. And those C–F bonds are just so strong that they hang around in the environment. So hooray for a catalyst that can convert them into more pleasant hydrocarbons. It’s a silylium species (R3Si), stabilised by a very stable carborane anion.

I’ve occasionally wondered if chemists like coffee more than non-chemists, given the obsession shown by many of my past and present colleagues, and the twitching shown in the queues at break times at conferences. I’ve also wondered whether you could use proper lab equipment to make a REALLY good cup. It turns out you can, as this blog demonstrates! The Sceptical Chymist will hold no responsibility for the sleepless nights of readers who try this out…


Neil Withers (Associate Editor, Nature Chemistry)