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September 2001
Vol. 10, No. 09, pp 10, 12.
Update
Business

Clariant Closes Plants. In an effort to boost operating efficiency, the Swiss specialty chemicals producer Clariant will shut down 10 production sites. The announcement came soon after the company reported disappointing operating profits of $267 million, down 27% from first-half 2000, on sales of $3.07 billion, down 2%. These closures mean a loss of about 1000 jobs and will cost the company more than $200 million. Clariant has recently cut jobs in Germany, the United States, and Switzerland and has closed plants in the United States. (C&EN, Aug. 20, 2001, p 17*)

July Prices Fall Again. Chemical prices fell in July, following declines in the previous three months, according to the latest information from the U.S. Department of Labor. The government data show the producer price index falling 1.1% from June to 151.8 (1982 = 100). And for the first time in a year, the index is lower than it was months earlier, declining 0.5% from July of last year. The index for industrial chemicals took a bigger fall. The July index of 127.4 was off 2.4% from June and down 4.0% from its level 12 months earlier. (C&EN, Aug. 20, 2001, p 17*)

Eastman Shutters Resins Plant. Eastman Chemical announced that it will close its resins manufacturing facility in Moundville, AL, and move production elsewhere as part of the company’s plans to reduce costs and improve earnings. Production will be phased out at Moundville beginning at the end of the year, and Eastman will close the site in the second quarter of 2002. This means a loss of 75 jobs and a charge against earnings later this year. The plant supplies resins for coatings, adhesives, and graphic arts products and was part of Eastman’s Lawter International subsidiary acquired in June 1999. (C&EN, Aug. 20, 2001, p 17*)

Degussa Waits to Sell Zentaris. Because of the gloomy stock market climate, Degussa says it will delay the initial public offering (IPO) of its Zentaris biotechnology unit. The company also announced that it is “currently examining alternatives such as a sale to a strategic or financial adviser.” This move will affect Genzyme’s plans to buy 5% of Zentaris’s shares in the public offering in order to form a partnership to develop new products. Zentaris is one of four divisions that resulted when Degussa separated its ASTA Medica subsidiary in an effort to help their sales. Degussa sold its oncology business to Baxter International in August 2001, and it sold its generic drug unit to Pliva, a Croatian firm, in June 2001. (C&EN, Aug. 20, 2001, p 17*)

Government

Stem Cell Research Green-Lighted. President George W. Bush has decided to allow federal funding for some embryonic stem cell research. Stem cells are primitive cells that can multiply and differentiate into specific kinds of cells. Stem cells allow researchers to grow specialized cells or tissue, which could be used to treat injuries and disease. Restrictions placed by Bush on the research stipulate that the stem cells must be derived with the informed consent of the donors, that they are to be taken from excess embryos created solely for reproductive purposes, and that there must be no financial incentive to donors. (C&EN, Aug. 20, 2001, p 34*)

Funds Granted by NIEHS and ACC. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) have partnered to fund research on chemicals that allegedly disrupt hormones. The agencies together will provide $4 million (the NIEHS will provide $3 million and the ACC $1 million) over the next two years for the research, which is designed to develop better data and test methods for understanding the possible effects of chemicals and environmental factors on human reproduction and the development of fetuses and children. (C&EN, Aug. 6, 2001, p 27*)

Bills Passed in House of Representatives. Two science education bills were passed in the House of Representatives. The first bill, H.R. 1858, will establish a National Science Foundation grant program to improve K–12 science and math education. This bill will launch a scholarship program for top science and math students, provided they commit to teach for two years upon graduation. The second bill, H.R. 100, will train master teachers, also in science and math. The master teachers will then train and mentor other teachers. Both bills will now move to the Senate. (C&EN, Aug. 6, 2001, p 27*)

Possible Diesel Fuel Price Hike. According to the Energy Information Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Energy, standards intended to lower the sulfur content of diesel fuels by 2006 could raise prices and lead to diesel fuel shortages. The standards require oil refiners to reduce diesel fuel sulfur content from 500 to 15 ppm. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that this will cause an increase of 4 cents per gallon. (Environ. Sci. Technol., July 1, 2001, p 275A*)

SciTech

Unveiling Arthritis. Identifying structural changes in the disaccharide region of chondroitin sulfates, the main components of cartilage, may lead to improved treatment of arthritis and other related biological conditions. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are trying to do just that by determining patterns for the disaccharides in bovine and shark cartilage using ion-trap tandem MS. (Anal. Chem., Aug. 1, 2001, p 3513)

FTIR Screens Catalyst Library. Fourier-transform IR imaging can be used to analyze the reaction products from an entire array of catalysts at once, according to researchers at Purdue University’s School of Chemical Engineering (West Lafayette, IN). They claim that the technique is the first truly parallel high-throughput screening method for monitoring gas-phase reaction products from combinatorial catalyst libraries. The researchers have developed a gas-phase array attached to a multiple sample reactor that currently can investigate 16 supported catalysts simultaneously. They demonstrated the technique by analyzing the oxidation of propene over commercial and custom-synthesized samples of platinum-group metal catalysts, recording FTIR absorbance images every 30 s as they increased the temperature. The experiment showed seven catalysts oxidizing propene to CO2 at 440 K, while 12 catalysts were active at 650 K. The technique is capable of screening hundreds to thousands of catalyst samples on a time scale of seconds, they conclude. (C&EN, Aug. 20, 2001, p 35*)

Phospholipids Like Cholesterol as a Neighbor. Cholesterol is a major component of mammalian cell membranes. However, its structural role is still poorly understood. Researchers at Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA) have used their nearest-neighbor recognition method to elucidate cholesterol’s role. In this method, homodimers of cholesterol and phospholipids are allowed to interact, reaching an equilibrium with heterodimers. The value of the equilibrium constant reveals whether the homodimers or heterodimers are preferred. Using this method, the scientists found that the heterodimers are preferred when the sterol is at biologically relevant concentrations. This would translate to phospholipids preferring to have cholesterol as their nearest neighbor. The affinity increases as the length of the phospholipid acyl chain increases. Hydrophobic interactions between the rigid framework of the cholesterol and the acyl chains of the phospholipids cause the uncoiling of the phospholipids, the researchers state. The results support the formation of “complexes” of cholesterol and phospholipids in bilayers when the phospholipids have an appropriate chain length and the cholesterol concentration is high enough. (C&EN, Aug. 13, 2001, p 32*)

Agreement on Greenhouse Gases. There is general agreement that greenhouse gases from human activities are accumulating and causing the Earth’s surface temperatures to rise, but more systematic research is needed to reduce the uncertainties in our current understanding of climate change, conclude 11 U.S. climate researchers in a National Research Council report that characterizes the trend in global warming over the past 100 years. Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions (www.nap.edu/catalog/10139.html) says that average global surface temperatures are expected to continue rising, but it questions climate models’ ability to simulate the natural variability inherent in climate on decade- to century-long time scales. (Environ. Sci. Technol., Aug. 1, 2001, p 323A*)

Honors

Analytical Chemistry Awards Announced. The ACS Division of Analytical Chemistry recognized six analytical chemists with awards. Four of the awards were presented at the ACS national meeting in Chicago. They were the Award in Chemical Instrumentation (Stanley Crouch, professor emeritus at Michican State University in Lansing), the J. Calvin Giddings Award for Excellence in Education (Howard Strobel of Duke University in Durham, NC), Award in Electrochemistry (R. Mark Wightman of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), and the Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Analytical Chemistry (Willie E. May of the National Institute of Standards and Technology). The Award in Spectrochemical Analysis (M. Bonner Denton of the University of Arizona in Tuscon) will be presented at the meeting of the Federation of Analytical Chemistry and Spectroscopy Societies in October in Detroit. The Arthur F. Findeis Award (Sylvia Daunert of the University of Kentucky in Lexington) will be presented at the Eastern Analytical Symposium in October in Atlantic City, NJ. (Anal. Chem., Aug. 1, 2001, p 415A*)

Pauling Medal Awardee Announced. The 2001 recipient of the Linus Pauling Medal Award is Tobin J. Marks, Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry, professor of materials science and engineering, and Vladimir N. Ipatieff Professor of Catalytic Chemistry, all at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL). The Pauling Medal has been awarded annually since 1966 by the ACS Oregon, Portland, and Puget Sound sections. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in chemistry comparable to that of its namesake and first winner, Linus Pauling, a Pacific Northwest native and Nobel laureate in chemistry in 1954. (C&EN, Aug. 20, 2001, p 67*)

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