Wednesday, 26 July 2017, at the RACI Centenary Chemistry Congress, Melbourne Convention Centre
Today at the Centenary Chemistry Congress
From a molecular motor to the nanocar and beyond: 2016 chemistry Nobel Prize recipient Ben Feringa is speaking in Melbourne and available for interview today and Thursday. More below.
The man who unboiled an egg: Colin Raston won an IgNobel Prize in 2015 for unboiling an egg. Now he and his team are taking the technology to market. And it’s set to transform the $160 protein folding industry. More below.
A pheromone-based alternative to insecticides; and cleaner, greener household products: Frances Arnold is confusing insects so they can’t mate (a bit like spraying bad perfume). And James Clark wants to take the fossil fuels out of solvents used in paint and cleaning products. More below.
If you’d like to attend the conference, media passes are available—contact Suzannah Lyons on firstname.lastname@example.org to register.
For more stories visit www.scienceinpublic.com.au
For information about the Congress itself, visit the website: www.racicongress.com.
The inventor of the nanocar
Dutch chemist Ben Feringa won the 2016 chemistry Nobel Prize for his invention of a molecular motor, which opened the way for chemists to engineer molecules to make minute machines.
In 2011, he and his team went on to create the nanocar. Last year he added gears. But what will we use molecular machines for?
The design of a molecular rotary mechanism was a demonstration of the potential of molecular nanotechnology which might have all sorts of future applications, including self-repairing paints and materials, drugs that can be turned on and off, or new kinds of computer memory.
Ben says he has no idea how molecular motors will change the world but the fact that we can induce motion at the molecular level brings unique opportunities.
“One should realise that the inventors of the electrical motor in the 19th century could not have imagined washing machines, food processors, Tesla cars, and electric trains. And the Wright brothers could not have imagined a A380 jetliner.”
Ben Feringa was raised on a farm and was attracted to chemistry by its endless opportunities for creativity.
As he expressed it in one interview: “Perhaps the power of chemistry is not only understanding, but also creating, making molecules and materials that never existed before…”
The man who unboiled an egg is now unfolding a $160 billion industry
In 2015 Colin Raston won an IgNobel Prize for unboiling an egg. Now he and his team are taking the technology to market. And it’s set to transform the $160 protein folding industry.
Colin’s Vortex Fluid Technology is the size of a thermos and uses mechanical energy, or spinning, to reverse the effects of thermal energy, or boiling.
It could transform manufacture of certain drugs allowing you to make complex organic molecules faster, cleaner and using much less energy. The latest iteration of the technology speeds up enzymatic reactions up to 15 times.
Now one of his students has also shown it can slice carbon nanotubes without using chemicals. Kasturi Vimalanathan has used the technology to slice carbon nanotubes accurately to an average length of 170 nanometres using only water, a solvent and a laser.
Previous methods of slicing carbon nanotubes involved complex oxidation procedures and nasty chemicals. They produce random sized lengths of entangled nanotubes, allowing only relatively crude applications and constraining their use in drug delivery and complex electronics.
That’s because the sliced tubes have inconsistent properties, but this simple, cheap method has overcome these hurdles.
Colin says that the technology could even enable small scale drug production in remote locations such as on a Mars expedition.
“The IgNobel prizes are awarded for science that stops you in your tracks to have a giggle,” says Colin, “but the significance of the outcome is really quite amazing.”
Confusing insects so they can’t mate; and greener household products
Chemical engineer Professor Frances Arnold (Caltech) is using nature’s own designer, evolution, to improve and invent new enzymes.
These enzymes are allowing us to catalyse new reactions not yet known in the natural world, to make fuels and chemicals from renewable resources, and develop non-toxic methods to control agricultural pests.
Frances is considered a pioneer of this process, known as ‘directed evolution’.
She holds more than 50 US patents and has co-founded two companies (Gevo and Provivi) to commercialise her research.
Provivi market a pheromone-based alternative to insecticides, which confuses insects so they can’t mate – reducing pest populations and minimising crop damage.
Gevo has developed bio-based alternatives to petroleum-based products. Their product isobutanol can be used as a solvent, or with gasoline to can help refiners meet their renewable fuel and clean air obligations. It can also be further processed into jet fuel, or precursors to synthetic rubber, plastics, and polyesters.
“Biology is a great way to re-engineer the chemicals industry to be based on renewable resources, and use clean, efficient biological processes to make the things we need in our daily lives,” says Frances.
“I’m trying to bring new chemistry to life, synthetic chemistry that humans invented but can be better done by biology.
“This will impact agriculture, materials, medicines, consumer products, everything.”
Invented in York, made in Tassie
Professor James Clark (York University) is trying to make household products cleaner, greener and better for us.
Many common things we use like paints and cleaning products contain solvents made from fossil fuels, which also pose risks to us and the environment.
James is researching sustainable bio-based alternatives, both for consumers and industry, and developing a new method to identify the most appropriate alternative for each application.
He has invented a new solvent that’s now being made in Tasmania using wood waste.