tl, dr August

news · 8 years ago
by Krisztián Niesz

Hi Folks! Hope you had an amazing vacation and you are ready to get back on track. This is my top science, technology and pharma related news list for August.

Passed Earth Overshoot Day New way to split water The newest addition to the periodic table New printing technology may help carbon nanotubes to gain market Recent FDA approvals The Chinese Bribery case is still going on Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to a chemist Recent movements in pharma BASF is closing battery facility in New Jersey A must have gadget for coffee lovers

#1 For me number 1 it is that we have passed “Earth Overshoot Day”, and once again it came a few days earlier than last year.1 The Earth overshoot day, or Ecological Debt Day, is the point in the year where we have used those resources that can replaced in a year, so from that date on we are using next years resources. So for the next four months we are living 'in debt' and using up the planet’s resources in a faster rate than it can be replenished and significantly faster than last year. In other words currently we’d need more than one Earth (actually it is 1.5 now) to support the growing population of the planet and deal with other ecological issues, such as CO2 adsorption. As this date, predicted from the global footprint of humanity, comes a month earlier in each ten years dated back to the 70s, when we have crossed the line, it becomes frightening to think about what will happen in a few decades. “The Greatest Threat to Our Planet is the Belief that Someone Else will Save it” – Robert Swan OBE

#2 Next on my list is a groundbreaking discovery from researchers from University of Colorado describing a new approach to split water to H2 that is to be used in fuel cells.2 In a nutshell, the water molecules are split into O2 and H2 in reduction and oxidation cycles, respectively and using heat from solar arrays and metal oxide catalysts. However, as opposed to temperature-swing splitting in current practice, which wastes a lot of energy in heating and cooling, this method runs isothermally making it more energy efficient and offering relatively high solar-energy conversion efficiencies.

#3 is the (re)discovery of element 115, the newest addition to the periodic table.3 Following the first creation of this super heavy element by Russian scientist 10 years ago element 115 (unofficially called ununpentium) was confirmed by Swedish chemists at Lund University. However, as opposed to the material that Lara Craft stole from Area 51 in Tomb Raider III, this element is very unstable in real life (off the “island of stability”); therefore the Polynesians could not make a crystal out of it. :)

#4 20 years after their discovery carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have reached another turning point in their history of applications. Berkeley scientists discovered a new way to create flexible printed circuits with carbon nanotubes using technology that is known for printing magazines.4 The discovery could be a major point in the path of replacing silicon chips by nanotubes. The preliminary investigations of the electric properties of the printed transistors were quite promising and showed relatively high electron mobility as compared with other CNT type transistors. My 2 cents they will try this out soon on graphene, the next “super material”.

#5 A joint 5th place between pharma giants. ViiV Healthcare, a joint venture of GSK and Pfizer founded 4 years ago and specialized in therapies for HIV treatment, announced that FDA has approved their new HIV treatment called Tivicay.5 Also, earlier this month Novartis announced that they received breakthrough therapy designation status from FDA for their BYM338 drug (bimagrumab) to treat sporadic inclusion body myositis.6

#6 The Chinese Bribery case is still stirring up the water around pharma giants. Last month GSK managers and an AZ sales rep were detained by Chinese authorities for allegedly paying kickbacks to doctors and hospitals, but, as the story unfolds, the list of investigations has recently been extended to include Sanofi and Novartis.7 Both companies are taking these allegations very seriously and have started internal investigations.

#7 Former Nobel Laureate Mario J. Molina has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama earlier this month as an acknowledgment for his talent and work done in climate change research.8 He was one of the initiators to highlighting the threat of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases in damaging the ozone layer.

#8 is a striking buyout happening in the pharmaceutical industry. Amgen agreed to buy cancer drug maker Onyx Pharmaceuticals for $10.4 billion in order to ensure its revenue growth by accessing the rapidly growing cancer drug market.9 Business analyzers think of the acquisition as a great deal for Amgen, the largest biotech company by sales.

#9 There was a facility closed earlier this month that at first hearing may sound surprising. Namely, BASF decided to close down its battery plant in Somerset, New Jersey, that produced high-temperature polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells.10 It sounds surprising, but if you look at it closely it is not at all. The growing attention towards alternative energy sources is driving research to quickly come up with new and better technologies, and it is really hard to stay on top and be competitive.

#10 I am huge fan of coffee, and I’ve heard all about both the positive and negative health concerns of consuming it, but what I don’t know is how much caffeine I drink every day and how much is enough. To answer these questions I may need to work out some trial and error experiments, but the fluorescent caffeine detector (Caffeine Orange) developed by researchers from the National University of Singapore seems to come handy to do this.11 The fluorescence color of the detector changes with the concentration of caffeine (that binds to the detector through π-stacking and hydrogen bonds), and the consumer is advised about the safe zone using a laser generating fluorescent colors similar to a traffic light. I have to get one of these!


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