Lead isotope ratios confirm Earth’s oldest mineral

GEOCHEMISTRY

The cracks in zircon crystals can record seismic events and meteorite­ strikes from our planet’s ancient past. Photo credit: Carles Millan The oldest confirmed piece of our planet turns out to be a chunk of lovely pink crystal of the mineral zircon, which was found at a sheep station in Western Australia more than a decade...

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Ancient bat guano provides­ historic record of changes to chemical composition of air

ENVIRONMENTAL CHEMISTRY

At first glance, you might regard a Jamaican cave that has been continuously inhabited by bats for thousands of years as one of the last places to learn how the chemical content of regional air and water have been changing. But for Jules Blais, a biologist with the University of Ottawa, the countless strata of guano deposited there by these animals provide an ideal record of this information. Blais specializes in gauging the influence of environmental contaminants on the metabolism...

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The curiously fluid nature of solids at cold temperatures

MATERIALS SCIENCE

Run your fingers over a smooth polystyrene surface and you would be convinced that it is hard and solid. James Forrest has news for you — that surface is still liquid and continues to flow even at the freezing point of the material. The University of Waterloo physicist recently co-authored a paper in Science that...

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Analyzing quinoa DNA for growing on Canadian farms

TECHNIQUES

Although quinoa is widely regarded by foodies as an up-and-coming superfood, this nutrition-packed grain is currently grown only in South America’s Andes Mountains. As Canadian tastes and markets for this mild-flavoured product expand, agricultural researchers are considering whether the plant can be adapted for cultivation here. A traditional approach might have included studying generations of...

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A new gold standard of healing with crystalline polymers

NANOTECHNOLOGY

How convenient it would be if we could convince a torn piece of material to return to its undamaged state. Université de Sherbrooke chemist Yue Zhao has been able to purchase just such convenience with some vanishingly small amounts of gold. The substance in question is gold nanoparticles or nanorods, which are inserted into a thin...

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Testing for banned substances in athletes ups its game

ANALYTICAL CHEMISTRY

Just as athletes commit to becoming faster and stronger than ever, so too do the authorities testing these competitors for banned substances. For just that reason, the World Anti-Doping Agency has supported the work of chemist Janusz Pawliszyn of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, who has shown how to make the organization’s testing regime more efficient than ever before.

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Glass toughens up with lessons from mother nature

MATERIALS SCIENCE

Mollusc shells consist largely of chalk, the same soft stuff that comes apart so easily on blackboards. Yet this material provides aquatic life with protection tougher than advanced engineering ceramics. The difference can be seen at the microscopic level, where the shell is revealed as an interlocking series of small tablets, intricately connected to provide remarkable resilience.

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Superconductors hang 10 riding the charge waves

FUNDAMENTALS

The extraordinary properties of superconductivity have regularly frustrated researchers, who have successfully identified it in many different materials, but always at temperatures too low for a widespread technological impact. The search for superconducting materials — which lack any resistance to electrical flow — has regularly frustrated researchers; while many such materials have been discovered, they only work at temperatures too low for widespread application.

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Water testing for E. coli gets smart treatment

ENVIRONMENTAL CHEMISTRY

A handheld system developed through an India-Canada research network promises to provide on-the-spot testing of drinking water sources in more remote locations, immediately confirming the absence or presence of harmful E. coli bacteria and transmitting the results electronically to all interested parties. This approach represents a significant improvement over standard...

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Nanoparticles deliver the goods against cancer, then go

HEALTH

The best way of applying medicines powerful enough to kill cancerous tumours is to ensure that they wind up in those tumours and nowhere else in the body. In a recent Nature Nanotechnology paper, researchers at the University of Toronto point the way to just this kind of targeted delivery, which takes advantage of the properties of gold nanoparticles.

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