Five chemical engineering research stories from August 2016

To help you stay up-to-date with the latest achievements from the chemical engineering research community here is our monthly installment with some of the latest stories.

Here are five stories of amazing chemical engineering research and innovation:

Lab-on-a-Stick

Microfluidic strips can be used for a range of tests including blood typing and anti-microbial resistance

Photo Credit | University of Reading
Microfluidic strips can be used for a range of tests including blood typing and anti-microbial resistance

A team from Loughborough University and the University of Reading have developed a portable power-free test for the rapid detection of bacterial resistance to antibiotics, or as they call it a ‘Lab-on-a-Stick’.

The test, published in the Lab on a Chip Journal, is an inexpensive microfluidic strip – comprising of tiny test tubes about the size of a human hair – capable of identifying bacteria found in urine samples and checking if they are resistant to common antibiotics. The team say that ‘Lab-on-a-Stick’ is easy to use and cheap to make, and the transparent microcapillary film is suitable for naked eye detection or measurement with portable, inexpensive equipment such as a smartphone camera.

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Your ChemEng research round-up: June 2015

Since ChemEng365, our new ChemEng blog has become a little quiet – except for a last minute hurrah from Geoff Maitland, see his guest blog ‘Five of our Past President’s favourite ChemEng365 blogs‘.

lightbulbThe ChemEng365 campaign concluded at the end of May when Geoff’s term as president ended. But of course, all the amazing chemical engineering research and innovation still goes on. So, it seems only fitting to give you a research round-up on all things chemical and process engineering for the month of June – just in case you missed anything!

Injectable hydrogel could help wounds heal more quickly

A team of chemical engineers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), US, have a developed a material that creates an instant, superior scaffold that allows new tissue to latch on and grow within the cavities formed between linked spheres of gel.

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The birth of a chemical bond (Day 282)

I am regularly fascinated by the work of colleagues who focus on fundamental chemical engineering science.  They deepen the understanding of our discipline and they can often help to explain the world that we live in.

This illustration shows atoms forming a tentative bond, a moment captured for the first time in experiments with an X-ray laser at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The reactants are a carbon monoxide molecule, left, made of a carbon atom (black) and an oxygen atom (red), and a single atom of oxygen, just to the right of it. They are attached to the surface of a ruthenium catalyst, which holds them close to each other so they can react more easily. When hit with an optical laser pulse, the reactants vibrate and bump into each other, and the carbon atom forms a transitional bond with the lone oxygen, center. The resulting carbon dioxide molecule detaches and floats away, upper right. The Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray laser probed the reaction as it proceeded and allowed the movie to be created.

Image Credit | SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
This illustration shows atoms forming a tentative bond, a moment captured for the first time in experiments with an X-ray laser at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

An international group of researchers at the US Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has caught my eye. They’ve used an X-ray laser to capture the first glimpse of two atoms forming a bond, and thus becoming a molecule.

The idea that we can actually observe a chemical bond at the point of formation was long thought to be impossible. So, I can’t stress  enough the profound impact that this work could have on our understanding.

The research will help to clarify how chemical reactions take place, which in turn, can help us design reactions that generate energy, create new products and fertilise crops more efficiently.

Anders Nilsson, a professor at the SLAC/Stanford SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, US, and at Stockholm University, Sweden,  who led the research said: “This is the very core of all chemistry. It’s what we consider a Holy Grail, because it controls chemical reactivity. But because so few molecules inhabit this transition state at any given moment, no one thought we’d ever be able to see it.”

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Energy – night and day (Day 222)

The British have a reputation for being obsessed with the weather. It’s not uncommon to have what feels like four seasons in a day. And because of this, regardless of subsidies, solar energy hasn’t always been the first choice with the equivalent of just one-in-six days of sunshine each year,

But that doesn’t mean that solar energy isn’t important, especially if there are storage solutions on the horizon.

Around about now, a new solar farm in Hadley, Telford and Wrekin, will be plugged into the UK’s National Grid. It will have 15,000 solar panels ready to generate enough energy to power 800 homes.

Solar farm construction

Construction of Telford and Wrekin Council’s solar farm, UK. Image by Telford and Wrekin Council

This might be modest in comparison to the £1.4 billion (US$2.2 billion) Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert, USA, with its 170,000 panels capable of powering 140,000 homes – but it is still significant for a ‘cloudy’ country.

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Chemical engineers ‘borrow’ chemical engineering techniques to solve problem (Day 168)

SunriseYes, you did read the title correctly! Chemical engineering is such a big area that sometimes we need look no further than our colleagues to come up with the right solution.

Collaboration and multidisciplinary study have been the buzzwords of research for a long time. But sometimes we forget how broad the field of chemical engineering is and that sometimes it is enough just to learn from other chemical engineers.

One of the common gripes I hear is that major companies are not willing to recruit chemical engineers from different sectors.

Perhaps this research from chemical engineers at Stanford University, who are applying petrochemical processing techniques to store solar energy, will make them think again!

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Relief for brain injuries (Day 142)

Professional sportsmen and women are well aware of the dangers they face when they put their bodies on the line for the sports they love and excel at.

Surface of brainOf course, most are well rewarded, but the risks can be high. One type of injury that causes alarm is head injuries.

Contact sports like boxing and rugby often result in concussions leading to mandatory and forced absences for several weeks – and sometimes months for repeated concussions – before they can return to the sport.

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Healing help for spinal injuries (Day 122)

Spinal injectionWorking as part of a multi-disciplinary team is a common feature of the modern chemical engineer.

One of the latest projects I’ve come across involves chemical engineers working alongside a neurosurgeon, materials scientist, biologist, and molecular physiologist.

One of the chemical engineers is a specialist in polymers called Andrew Spakowitz, an associate professor of chemical engineering [and much more], at Stanford University.

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