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Researchers from Jožef Stefan Institute recently published their work in Nature and Science, two of the most prestigious international scientific journals, in the span of only two days, which is a remarkable achievement for Slovenia. In the Nature journal, prof. dr. Uroš Cvelbar, head of Department of Gaseous Electronics, and his colleagues from South Korea reported a surprising discovery in the paper titled Stabilisation of liquid instabilities by ionised gas jet. They succeeded to stabilise instabilities on liquids by ionisation of gas jet. These findings have the potential to improve many industrial processes that include gas jets, such as production of steel, reactive propulsion system, reactive pumps etc. Group of prof. dr. Dušan Turk, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Structural Biology and his international colleagues published in the Science journal a study X-ray screening identifies active site and allosteric inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2 main protease that inspires hope in the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In search of a drug against Covid-19, the consortium of 30 institutions led by Germany's DESY and the University of Hamburg performed a high-throughput X-ray crystallographic screen of two repurposing drug libraries against the SARS-CoV-2 main protease (Mpro), which is essential for viral replication.

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The researchers from the Advanced Materials Department of Jožef Stefan Institute with collaborators from National Institute of Chemistry published an article in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces !SrTiO3/Bi4Ti3O12 Nanoheterostructural Platelets Synthesized by Topotactic Epitaxy as Effective Noble-Metal-Free Photocatalysts for pH-Neutral Hydrogen Evolution. The authors presented a detailed description of the mechanism for the formation of novel nanoheterostructural SrTiO3/Bi4Ti3O12 and mesocrystalline (100)-oriented SrTiO3 platelets through hydrothermal epitaxial growth of SrTiO3 on the Bi4Ti3O12 platelets. They found that the SrTiO3/Bi4Ti3O12 nanoheterostructural platelets without any support of noble-metal cocatalysts show 15-18 times higher photocatalytic H2 production rate compared to commercial SrTiO3 nanopowder and mesocrystalline (100)-oriented SrTiO3 platelets in pH-neutral water/methanol solutions. All these established the as-synthesized SrTiO3/Bi4Ti3O12 nanoheterostructural platelets as a potential candidate in the research field of H2 energy. The presented mechanism of epitaxial growth expands the possibilities for using this reaction concept in designing of new nanoheterostructural photocatalysts and other functional materials.

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Slavko Kralj from the Department for Materials Synthesis with co-authors from Italy (Silvia Marchesan and others) published an article in ACS Nano Heterochirality and Halogenation Control Phe-Phe Hierarchical Assembly. By analogy with the current pandemic situation, the authors tried to understand the impact of “social distancing” at the nano level. The peptide diphenyl alanine (Phe-Phe) is an important basic building block of amyloid structures. The homochiral Phe-Phe forms toxic amyloid aggregates due to intermolecular hydrophobic (social) interactions. The authors found that the heterochiral Phe-Phe forms intramolecular (asocial) hydrophobic interactions, which, however, prevent hierarchical bundling into more complex anisotropic structures. The authors therefore showed that supramolecular nanostructures formed by self-assembly of heterochiral Phe-Phe do not exhibit amyloid toxicity to cells. The research thus reveals the importance of heterochirality of short peptides in supramolecular chemistry, which is an important basis for understanding peptide aggregation and amyloid formation.”

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Matej Kanduč from the Department of Theoretical Physics and his collaborators published an article in ACS Nano with the title How the Shape and Chemistry of Molecular Penetrants Control Responsive Hydrogel Permeability in which they uncover the molecular principles of permeability and selectivity in hydrogels. The permeability of small molecules (drugs, toxins, reactants, etc.) through hydrogels is a central property in the design of soft functional materials in biomedical, pharmaceutical, and nanocatalysis applications. Using atomistic simulations, the authors found that dense hydrogels are extremely selective because of a delicate balance between the partitioning and diffusivity of the molecules. These properties are sensitively tuned by the molecular size, shape, and chemistry, leading to vast cancellation effects, which nontrivially contribute to the permeability. The outcomes can be used as approximate guiding (“rule-of-thumb”) principles to optimize penetrant or membrane physicochemical properties for a desired permeability and membrane functionality.

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