Into the Jaws of a Sandworm

Nereis virens, commonly known as sandworms, have a set of fang-like jaws with remarkable mechanical properties. These worms may be small, but they have a strong jaw for grasping, piercing, and tearing prey. The jaw material is high in protein with little mineralization, but despite this, the hardness and stiffness properties in the jaw tip are comparable to human dentin -- which is pretty strong!

The material in the jaw tips of sandworms is even better than synthetic polymers. Though scientists have long studied the mechanical and structural properties of these jaws, the organic composition has previously been overlooked. Scientists are now interested in finding the organic composition and protein structures of the cutting edge of the Nereis jaw. They have found that zinc plays an important role in the mechanical properties of Nereis jaws, by binding to bundles of protein fibers rich in histidine (an important amino acid), and that removing the zinc decreases the hardness by over 65%.

By learning about these sandworm jaws, scientists hope to use this knowledge to design stronger and better materials.

Sources: Journal of Experimental Biology American Chemical Society

Beetle Fog-Catchers

How does a desert beetle living in the Namib Desert in southwest Africa survive in one of the hottest environments in the world? The only water there is available in the form of a morning fog, which travels rapidly across the desert only a few times each month. Zoologists at Oxford University have discovered regions of hydrophilic (water-loving) ridges and hydrophobic (water-avoiding) furrows on the back of the Stenocara beeetle. This pattern of hydrophilic and hydrophobic regions allows the fog to condense into droplets that run down into the beetle's mouth!

But how is this useful? In Chile's Atacama desert, fog nets are being used to harvest moisture. Today, scientists are mimicking the stenocara beetle to create man-made surfaces that can be used to make artificial fog nets and more effective de-humidifiers and distillation equipment.

Source: New Scientist American Chemical Society
Image Source: Squarecirclez

The Amazing Disappearing Stain

Accidental spills happen all the time. One minute that glass of grape juice was steady in your hand, and the next minute, you're wearing it all the way down the front of your white dry-clean-only suit. Sounds familiar? Well, soon you'll no longer have to worry about the hassle of taking your clothes to the dry-cleaners...

Researchers in Australia and China have developed a non-toxic nanoparticle coating that could leading to "self-cleaning" wool and silk fabrics. Wool and skil are made up of natural proteins called keratins which are hard to keep clean and easily damaged by harsh cleaning agents. Nanoparticles have been created with a coating of anatase titanium dioxide, a substance that has been shown destroy stains, dirt, and harmful bacteria by exposure to sunlight.

From Top to Bottom: Images of red wine stains on Plain Wool (PO), Wool coated with a generic stain-fighting chemical (TO), Wool coated with the new nanoparticle coating (TS) after 0, 8, and 24 hours under simulated sunlight.

Fabrics coated with these nanoparticles show almost no sign of red wine stains after 20 hours of exposure to simulated sunlight. And, they retain their texture and feel. Amazing!

Source: Nanotechnology to fight red wine stains

Hot and Spicy!

So how hot is hot? You can measure the heat of a chili pepper with your tongue, but how accurate is that? Everyone's definition of "hot" is different. Scientists are now using a new carbon nanotube-based sensor to quantify the "heat" of chili peppers.

Capsaicin is the chemical responsible to the hot taste of chili peppers and ban be detected using electrochemical methods. The carbon nanotubes are used as tiny electrodes to measure the amount of capsaicin in the sample. This biosensor makes testing how hot a chili pepper is easy, precise, and inexpensive.

Article Source: The Analyst
Image Source: bamasteelmagnolia