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  • News

    Radioactive substances leave electron ‘fingerprints’ behind

    Walls can’t talk, but scientists can now read stories written in their subatomic particles. And that could make it harder to store radioactive material in secret.

    Nuclear radiation rearranges the electrons in insulators such as brick, glass and porcelain. So comparing the positions of electrons in atoms at different spots on walls, windows and floors could provide a rough snapshot of...

    07/24/2017 - 07:00 Chemistry, Science & Society
  • Reviews & Previews

    Every breath you take contains a molecule of history

    Caesar’s Last BreathSam KeanLittle, Brown and Co., $28

    Julius Caesar could have stayed home on March 15, 44 B.C. But mocking the soothsayer who had predicted his death, the emperor rode in his litter to Rome’s Forum. There he met the iron daggers of 60 senators.

    As he lay in a pool of blood, he may have gasped a final incrimination to his protégé Brutus: You too, my son? Or maybe...

    06/25/2017 - 07:00 Chemistry, Earth, History of Science
  • Feature

    The opioid epidemic spurs a search for new, safer painkillers

    Last year, Joan Peay slipped on her garage steps and smashed her knee on the welcome mat. Peay, 77, is no stranger to pain. The Tennessee retiree has had 17 surgeries in the last 35 years — knee replacements, hip replacements, back surgery. She even survived a 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak that sickened her and hundreds of others, and killed 64. This knee injury, though, “hurt like the...

    05/30/2017 - 13:00 Health, Chemistry, Biomedicine
  • News

    Chemistry controlled on tiniest scale can create hollow nanoparticles

    Blame oxidation for rusted bridges and browned avocados. But this fundamental process can be harnessed for good, too — and now scientists have scored front-row seats that could show them how.

    Researchers watched at near-atomic resolution as iron nanoparticles transformed into iron oxide — not rust in this case, but related compounds. That closeup view could help scientists better control...

    05/01/2017 - 09:00 Chemistry, Materials
  • Science Ticker

    How a mushroom gets its glow

    The enzyme that turns on the light for a glow-in-the-dark mushroom seems “promiscuous,” researchers say. But in a good way.

    Researchers from Brazil, Russia and Japan have worked out new details of how two Neonothopanus fungi shine softly green at night. The team had earlier figured out that the basic starting material for bioluminescence in these fungi is a compound called hispidin,...

    04/27/2017 - 09:00 Fungi, Chemistry
  • News in Brief

    How a mushroom gets its glow

    The enzyme that turns on the light for a glow-in-the-dark mushroom seems “promiscuous.” But in a good way.

    Researchers have worked out new details of how two Neonothopanus fungi shine softly green at night. The team had earlier figured out that the basic starting material for bioluminescence in these fungi is a compound called hispidin, found in some other fungi as well as plants such as...

    04/27/2017 - 09:00 Fungi, Chemistry
  • News

    Plot twist in methane mystery blames chemistry, not emissions, for recent rise

    A recent upsurge in planet-warming methane may not be caused by increasing emissions, as previously thought, but by methane lingering longer in the atmosphere.

    That’s the conclusion of two independent studies that indirectly tracked concentrations of hydroxyl, a highly reactive chemical that rips methane molecules apart. Hydroxyl levels in the atmosphere decreased roughly 7 or 8 percent...

    04/20/2017 - 08:00 Climate, Pollution, Chemistry
  • News

    New tech harvests drinking water from (relatively) dry air using only sunlight

    A new device the size of a coffee mug can generate drinkable water from desert air using nothing but sunlight.

    With this kind of device, "you can harvest the equivalent of a Coke can’s worth of water in an hour,” says cocreator Omar Yaghi, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley. “That’s about how much water a person needs to survive in the desert.”

    Though that may not...

    04/13/2017 - 14:00 Chemistry, Sustainability, Materials, Science & Society
  • Feature

    Competing ideas abound for how Earth got its moon

    The moon’s origin story does not add up. Most scientists think that the moon formed in the earliest days of the solar system, around 4.5 billion years ago, when a Mars-sized protoplanet called Theia whacked into the young Earth. The collision sent debris from both worlds hurling into orbit, where the rubble eventually mingled and combined to form the moon.

    If that happened, scientists...

    04/04/2017 - 06:00 Planetary Science, Chemistry
  • News in Brief

    Life on Earth may have begun as dividing droplets

    NEW ORLEANS — In a primordial soup on ancient Earth, droplets of chemicals may have paved the way for the first cells. Shape-shifting droplets split, grow and split again in new computer simulations. The result indicates that simple chemical blobs can exhibit replication, one of the most basic properties of life, physicist Rabea Seyboldt of the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex...

    03/21/2017 - 07:00 Biophysics, Chemistry