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Photovoltaic solar cells: The future's bright

Feb. 6, 2018

In 1839, Edmond Becquerel was tinkering in his father’s lab. He had recently become interested in studying the interaction of light with various materials, and so he decided to take some platinum electrodes and place them in an acidified silver chloride solution. The young Frenchman noted that nothing much happened to this experimental set-up in the dark; however when he illuminated the solution, a combination of these materials and light caused a current to be generated within the electrodes. What Becquerel had just stumbled upon was the world’s first photovoltaic device. But what are photovoltaics, and how are they used today?

What are photovoltaics?

An explanation for how photovoltaics worked eluded scientists for many years. It wasn’t until 1905 that a young Albert Einstein proposed a radical new theory: in a paper on the ‘photoelectric effect’ he stated that light, rather than a beam, is more accurately described as discrete, quantized ‘packets’...

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Beyond the Rule of Five

Jan. 26, 2018

Article featured in The Medicine Maker, January 2018. You can find the original article here
Why we need to explore the chemical space beyond Lipinski’s rules

Two decades on from its initial publication, Lipinski’s “rule of five” is arguably one of the most influential concepts in modern drug discovery. Yet it is also one of the most controversial. Developed with the aim of prioritizing the progression of drug candidates with the most promising oral bioavailability properties, Lipinski’s rules have had a lasting effect on drug discovery strategies and the curation of compound screening libraries. They have also inspired the creation of other similar selection criteria, such as GlaxoSmithKline’s 4/400 and Pfizer’s 3/75 rules.

The origins of the rule of five lie in a study of the favorable absorption properties of orally administered drugs and clinical candidates, conducted by Chris Lipinski and colleagues at Pfizer in 1997 (1). For four...

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The alien nature of the superacid

Jan. 9, 2018

For some, the word ‘superacid’ may conjure up images of otherworldly creatures and interstellar explorers from popular sci-fi movies such as ‘Alien’. Having powerful acid for blood was the main line of defense for the creatures in that particular film franchise, but could acids powerful enough to burn through spaceship hulls really exist in nature?

A superacid is just what it sounds like; an extremely powerful acid. Think of what ordinary acids are capable of—causing a nasty burn or an explosive reaction—and now multiply that effect by 100, 1,000 or even a million. At this level, superacids can seem fantastical as they react with and dissolve pretty much anything—from wax and rocks, to metal and even glass. 

What are superacids?

As we know, common acids such as acetic acid found in vinegar can be defined by their pH value. The stronger the acid is and the higher its proton concentration, the lower the...

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Growing crystals: Helping pupils let their inner chemist shine

Nov. 2, 2017

Potassium aluminum sulfate dodecahydrate (what a mouthful!); as complicated as it may sound, can cause quite a stir. Breaking away from the chemical compound’s common industrial and cosmetic uses, pupils in Belgium used it to create the perfect single crystal, to claim the winning prize of the 17th national crystal growing competition. Since its inception in 2000, this inspiring initiative from the Belgian National Committee for Crystallography is supported by Thermo Fisher Scientific, through donations of the chemicals required to grow the crystals.

A noble cause and a whole lot of fun

The Belgian annual crystal growing competition is open to all pupils in secondary education. Over a period of four to five weeks, participating teams (under the supervision of their science teachers) grow their own crystals in the classroom. Each team then sends their best single crystal to the local coordinator. Submitted crystals are assessed by a national jury and winners...

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Heterocycles: The chemical compounds that know no bounds

Oct. 7, 2017

Have you ever wondered just how many heterocyclic compounds exist in nature? As the largest and most-varied family of organic compounds, heterocycles seem to turn up everywhere. In fact, more than half of all known organic compounds are heterocycles. They play vital roles in nucleic acids, in most biomass, and in the core structures of mono and polysaccharides. So what exactly are these structures, and how did they come to be one of the most widely used compounds in chemistry?

The chemistry of heterocycles

A heterocyclic compound is a cyclic compound that has carbon and at least one other element as part of its ring structure. Their general structure resembles cyclic organic compounds that contain rings of only carbon. However, the presence of heteroatoms such as nitrogen, oxygen, or sulfur gives heterocyclic compounds distinct physical and chemical properties. For instance, chemically speaking, heterocycles are more flexible and better able to respond to...

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