Winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry: Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell and William Moerner. Credit: Matt Staley, HHMI / Bernd Schuller, Max-Planck-Institut / K. Lowder

By Mark Lorch, University of Hull

Robert Hooke was a pioneer of microscopy, when back in the 17th century he drew stunning images of insects, plant cells and fossils. Since then microscopes that use light to magnify things we can’t see with the naked eye have, of course, improved. But, surprisingly, 300 years of engineering lenses hasn’t improved things all that much.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Eric Betzig of Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stefan W. Hell of the 
Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and William E. Moerner of Stanford University “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy”.

Optical microscopy was once held back by a limitation: that it could never obtain a better resolution than half the wavelength of light. Helped by fluorescent molecules the Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2014 ingeniously circumvented this limitation and brought optical microscopy into the nanodimension.

Scientists have time detected a carbon-bearing molecule with a "branched" structure in interstellar space.

The molecule, iso-propyl cyanide (i-C3H7CN), was discovered in the giant gas cloud Sagittarius B2, a region of ongoing star formation close to the center of our galaxy that is a hot-spot for molecule-hunting astronomers.

If good things come in small packages, then nanoparticles are going to make engineers very happy.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently issued Reference Material (RM) 8027, the smallest known reference material ever created for validating measurements of these man-made, ultra-fine particles between 1 and 100 nanometers (billionths of a meter) in size.

Earth's atmosphere is a complicated dance of molecules involving the output of plants, animals and human industry in sequences of chemical reactions.

Such processes help maintain the atmosphere's chemical balance; most topically during protest week in New York City, they break down pollutants emitted from the burning of fossil fuels.

Understanding exactly how these reactions proceed is critical for predicting how the atmosphere will respond to environmental changes, but some of the steps of this dance are so quick that all of the molecules involved haven't been measured in the wild.

The appeal of artificial photosynthesis, in which the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide is used to produce clean, green and sustainable fuels, is that we can turn an atmospheric byproduct into a renewable energy technology.

However, finding a catalyst for reducing carbon dioxide that is highly selective and efficient has proven to be a huge scientific challenge.

Peidong Yang, a chemist with Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division, led a study in which bimetallic nanoparticles of gold and copper were used as the catalyst for the carbon dioxide reduction. The results experimentally revealed for the first time the critical influence of the electronic and geometric effects in the reduction reaction.

Concrete is the world’s most-used construction material and thus a leading contributor to global warming, producing perhaps 10 percent of industry-generated greenhouse-gas emissions.

Industry is already reducing greenhouse emissions, such as by using more natural gas and less coal to generate cost-effective electricity, and a new suggests another low-impact way go green - reducing concrete emissions by more than half and getting a stronger, more durable material using science rather than rationing.

A 1997 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule allowed food manufacturers to use ingredients "generally regarded as safe," or GRAS, like vinegar and lots of other things, without needing approval all over again.

Food advocates say the current GRAS process allows substances into the food supply that might pose a health risk. How can safe products be risky?

Natural gas hydraulic fracturing - fracking - has been wonderful for CO2 emissions while keeping energy costs for poor people manageable but a few sites have been treating fracking wastewater and returning it to rivers. 

A new study finds that this is just as risky as dumping any municipal treated wastewater back into rivers. As runoff, it is safe but it shouldn't be done in volume. In the case of fracking wastewater, existing facilities are not equipped to thoroughly deal with halides so until they are ready, it's simply better to use fracking wastewater for fracking.

Wine, with its thousands of chemical combinations, can be hard to judge. As numerous studies have shown, getting experts to distinguish between a $4 bottle of wine and a $40 one is in the luck range

Can a nanosensor do better? Researchers at Aarhus University believe they are on that path, at least when it comes to dryness.