Monday, July 15, 2024

What happens to academic laboratory solvent waste?

Also in this week's C&EN, this great article by Leigh Krietsch Boerner:

Daily solvent use is pretty much a given in a synthetic chemistry lab.

In academic laboratories, it’s such an ingrained part of research that chemists might forget that solvents can be serious safety and health hazards. Commonly used solvents tend to be flammable and carcinogenic, and many can cause organ damage and even death from overexposure. The US Environmental Protection Agency recently added new restrictions and safety measures to the lab favorite dichloromethane because of its adverse health effects.

Solvents aren’t so great for the environment either. Most are classified as hazardous waste and are known to kill fish, pollute the air, and make water undrinkable. But what many chemists either forget or don’t realize is that using solvents in research contributes to climate change.

That’s because a lot of the solvent waste that comes from academic labs is burned, sending carbon dioxide into the air. Between 2011 and 2021, academic labs in the US generated an average of 4,300 metric tons (t) of hazardous waste a year. Almost half this waste is solvents, and more than half the hazardous waste is burned.

Although the ideas and practices of green chemistry are spreading, the amount of waste US academic labs produce annually has stayed roughly the same. C&EN analyzed 10 years of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) biennial hazardous waste reports from US colleges and universities and uncovered the amount of waste that academic labs produced, what kind of waste it was, and what happened to it.

As chemists, I think we should have a good understanding of what happens to our waste once it gets poured into the red can/glass bottle. Read the whole thing. 

C&EN: "What does the new EPA methylene chloride rule mean for academic labs?"

In this week's C&EN, a good overview and summary on the EPA's prohibitions on methylene chloride and their impact on academic groups (article by Krystal Vasquez): 

On April 30, the US Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule that prohibits nearly all uses of methylene chloride. To the relief of many academic chemists, the EPA carved out a number of exceptions to the ban, including the solvent’s use as a laboratory chemical.

But upon closer inspection of the regulation, researchers in the US are realizing that to keep using methylene chloride in their labs, they will need to conduct baseline monitoring and implement strict workplace safety measures—all in about a year.

At the time of the writing of the article, this EPA guidance document was not available, but now it is. It's thorough and clear, as the article notes, I think the practical effect will be the creation of a lot of poorly done EH&S compliance by overworked EH&S workers, grad students and PIs and a lot of regrettable substitution (get ready for a run on 1,2-dichloroethane). Maybe this will all work out for the better, but I don't think so.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Job posting: Program Director - Green Chemistry Initiative, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Palo Alto, CA

Via C&EN Jobs: 

Gordon and Betty Moore established the foundation to create positive outcomes for future generations. Guided by this vision and the Statement of Founders' Intent, the foundation fosters path-breaking environmental conservation, scientific discovery, and preservation of the special character of the San Francisco Bay Area. We strive to make significant and durable impacts on the world.

THE OPPORTUNITY

The foundation is seeking an individual to lead the newly approved “Green Chemistry Initiative: Sustainable Molecular Transformations,” a seven-year, ~$90 million effort that seeks to transform the trajectory of selected areas of basic research in chemistry to align with the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry[1] – with the aim of creating the enabling conditions that will help scientists accelerate progress towards solving critical sustainability challenges.  The initiative was designed based on recommendations from the foundation’s science advisers and in close consultation with the green chemistry community.  It will focus on supporting research around four core questions:

  • The study of molecular reaction dynamics. How can we measure reaction pathways to visualize all reaction steps and intermediates rather than just starting and ending materials?
  • Understanding and control of electrostatic (non-covalent, or “weak force”) molecule interactions. How can electrostatic forces be used as design principles to manipulate and synthesize matter without significant energy input?
  • Measurement and reaction control in complex mixtures. How can we reliably monitor and control all phases of chemical reactions in complex mixtures?
  • Development of new toxicology measurement tools and standards. How can we a) measure toxicity at the same rate and scale as chemical instrumental analysis and b) openly share measurement data to create new standards for the field?

This position reports to the Chief of Programs.

PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITIES

  • Lead strategy refinement and implementation of the initiative by managing a small team of staff to:
  • Create a pipeline of competitive research proposals supporting investigators and teams conducting high-risk research in chemical dynamics, electrostatic/weak force interactions, and mixtures.
  • Develop and implement a model for scientific collaboration that reduces multidisciplinary silos, strengthens international partnerships, and builds connections across the fields of chemistry, material science, engineering, toxicology, and biology.
  • Support basic research for developing, testing, and validating novel predictions in experimental processes, tools and materials, and new instrumentation and equipment for measuring and controlling reactions.
  • Identify and support dissemination of novel theories, processes, tools, and materials, including developing and sharing an open-access toxicology platform.
  • Stay abreast of the state of knowledge in a fast-evolving field.  Maintain a professional network that enables the initiative to surface the most exciting opportunities that are ripe for investment while understanding the funding landscape well enough to assess the value that the foundation’s resources can contribute.
Salary: $290,000 - $375,000. Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

FiercePharma: "House Speaker Mike Johnson pledges vote for BIOSECURE as China-targeting bill hangs in limbo"'

Via FiercePharma: 

Ahead of an election in November—and amid a period of legislative uncertainty for the China-targeting BIOSECURE Act—U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R - LA) has pledged to hold a vote for the controversial bill before the year is out.

Speaking at an event held by conservative think tank the Hudson Institute, Johnson guaranteed that BIOSECURE would get his support and promised to push through more legislation around China-U.S. competition in 2024.  

“We will vote on the BIOSECURE Act, which will halt federal contracts with biotech companies that are beholden to adversaries,” Johnson said at the Hudson Institute event Monday.

The bill, introduced earlier this year by former Republican congressman Mike Gallagher, seeks to halt federal contracts with Chinese biotech outfits that are “beholden to adversaries and endanger Americans’ healthcare debt,” Johnson explained.

...While BIOSECURE has won wide bipartisan support, an attempt for a House floor vote that would have included the bill as an amendment to the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) fell short in June. The NDAA door remains open in the Senate—but voting on it as a standalone bill is considered difficult... 

I'm still a bit skeptical about overall passage of the BIOSECURE Act this year, but we'll see. 

Chinese food products are transported in fuel tankers?

Via Reuters, this news: 

BEIJING, July 9 (Reuters) - China's food safety commission will investigate the alleged use of fuel tanker trucks to transport cooking oil, state media reported on Tuesday, amid fears of possible food contamination.

Local daily The Beijing News last week reported that state stockpiler Sinograin's fuel tankers were found transporting food products like cooking oil, soybean oil and syrup, without cleaning the tankers in between.

The food safety commission will hold a special meeting with state planning agency the National Development and Reform Commission, the State Administration of Grain and Reserves, and other ministries to discuss and investigate the allegations, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

"Illegal enterprises and relevant responsible persons will be severely punished in accordance with the law and will not be tolerated," CCTV said.

It is really interesting to think about various aspects of Chinese society and see where they are in comparison to the broad sweep of history. While it seems sometimes that Chinese industrial food practices are a lot closer to "The Jungle" than not, I'm sure there are places (electronic cash transfers?) where they seem to be living in the future. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

The 2025 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 24 research/teaching positions and 2 teaching positions

The 2025 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 24 research/teaching positions and 2 teaching positions. 

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

To see trending, go to Andrew Spaeth's visualization of previous years' list.

On July 11, 2023, the 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 24 research/teaching positions.

Want to talk anonymously? Have an update on the status of a job search? Go to the first open thread. 

Don't forget to click on "load more" below the comment box for the full thread. 

Job posting: NMR facility director, Department of Chemistry, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI

From the inbox: 

The Department of Chemistry of Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI) is seeking an experienced scientist to serve as Director of its Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) facility. The director will manage a state-of-the-art NMR facility that contains three primary instruments – a Varian-600 VNMRS system equipped with a cryogenic probe as well as a TXI triple resonance probe, a Varian-400 VNMRS system with 1D and 2D homonuclear and heteronuclear capabilities, and a Varian-Mercury 300 system with an autosampler. The NMR facility at Marquette supports a variety of grant-funded research programs across the department and university, as well as other universities and industries in southeastern Wisconsin. The NMR facility also provides support to undergraduate educational programs including our organic chemistry laboratories and upper division chemistry laboratories. The position requires expert level knowledge of NMR theory, methodology, and instrumentation. 

The ideal candidate will be able to work independently and help solve research problems for faculty, post-doctoral associates, and graduate students. A Ph.D. in Chemistry or Biochemistry or related field is required. All applications for this position must be received through Marquette University’s electronic recruiting system: https://employment.marquette.edu/postings/21552

Candidates must provide: 1) a curriculum vitae, 2) a cover letter that addresses how the candidate’s past and present experiences will inform their work as facility director, and 3) contact information for three references. Questions about the position should be directed to muchem@marquette.edu.

Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Monday, July 8, 2024

People blame chemicals, not people, I guess

In this week's C&EN, this remarkable opening to an opinion piece by Amelia Greene, the cofounder of Women in Chemicals, a non-profit group:

"Do you feel guilty?” the woman at a networking event asked me. “Guilty about what?” I replied. “What your company is doing to the environment,” she answered with exasperation. We were in New York City, and after the woman I was talking with had mentioned she worked in finance, I had replied that I worked in the chemical industry. That was enough to prompt her ire.

What about all the good things we’re doing? The chemical industry is spearheading the switch away from fossil fuels, it played a pivotal role in fighting COVID-19, and it ensures a constant viable food supply. The interaction was telling, and I had a major realization: the chemical industry has a massive marketing problem.

I’ve heard countless stories from individuals about the head-scratching responses they get after telling others that they work in the chemical industry. The general population has no idea how vital chemistry is to everyday life. Our industry remains largely hidden from the public, and most individuals don’t realize how often they are interacting with chemistry or the by-products of chemistry in their daily lives.

Ms. Greene's general thoughts about the relative lack of interest by people in the chemical industry, and the marketing problems of the chemical industry are very familiar to the readers of this blog. 

I do have to say that I am genuinely shocked to find people who seem to view the chemical industry as the problem of climate change and environmental damage, as opposed to a broad and complex societal problem to solve together. (Shrugs) That's the real weird part to me. 

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Independence Day


Thursday is the observation of the July 4 Independence Day holiday in the United States - we'll see you Monday morning.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

NYT: "Pay for Lawyers is So High People Are Comparing It to the N.B.A."

Via the New York Times

Hotshot Wall Street lawyers are now so in demand that bidding wars between firms for their services can resemble the frenzy among teams to sign star athletes.

Eight-figure pay packages — rare a decade ago — are increasingly common for corporate lawyers at the top of their game, and many of these new heavy hitters have one thing in common: private equity...

...Lawyers have earned multimillion-dollar pay packages for more than a decade. When Scott A. Barshay, one of the industry’s pre-eminent mergers-and-acquisitions lawyers, left Cravath, Swaine & Moore to join Paul, Weiss in 2016, his pay package of $9.5 million created a stir in the industry. (Mr. Barshay’s compensation has risen significantly since then, two people with knowledge of the contract said.)

But the recent jump in pay has happened at a dizzying pace and for many more lawyers. Coupled with the fierce poaching, it is swiftly reshaping the economics of major law firms. Kirkland has even guaranteed some hires fixed shares in the partnership for several years, according to several people with knowledge of the contracts. In some instances, it has extended forgivable loans as sweeteners.

I think it is relatively rare to hear about million-dollar type packages for academic chemists, and I presume that very senior pharma managers might make high-six-figure/low million salaries. I'm guessing none of them make $20,000,000/year, but I'm guessing that those chemists are also not generating tens of millions of dollars of fees either. Towards a day of million-dollar chemist salaries, I guess. 

C&EN: EV tires wear faster than normal ones

 Via Chemical and Engineering News, this really cool article on EV tire wear (article by Alex Tullo): 

...It turns out that the connection is strong. Issues of weight, torque, and lack of coasting mean that tires on EVs are subject to more stress than the ones on gasoline-powered vehicles and wear out sooner. In response, tire makers and suppliers of polymers and other ingredients are developing new elastomers and introducing new materials so that tire wear doesn’t become a drawback to EV ownership.

One reason for wear is gravity. Because of those bulky batteries, EVs are heavier than conventional cars. For example, a gasoline-powered Toyota Camry weighs 1,500 kg; a Tesla Model 3 comes in at 1,800 kg.

Another is torque. As anyone who has seen videos of Teslas beating Lamborghinis in drag races knows, electric motors apply more force to the wheels than conventional cars do.

And finally, explains Dale Harrigle, chief engineer for consumer replacement tires at Bridgestone Americas, EVs don’t coast—or roll freely—like conventional cars do. Force is almost always being applied to the wheels, either through the car’s electric motors or its regenerative braking system.

“So there’s very little coasting that occurs in an electric vehicle, and that’s part of the reason why the wear life is reduced,” Harrigle says. Between the weight, torque, and lack of coasting, tires on an EV wear 20–30% faster than they would on a conventional car, he estimates....

I love these kinds of articles in C&EN that explain a pretty common yet undercovered aspect of life and chemistry. Read the whole thing! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

The 2025 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 17 research/teaching positions and 2 teaching positions

The 2025 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 17 research/teaching positions and 2 teaching positions. 

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

To see trending, go to Andrew Spaeth's visualization of previous years' list.

On July 3, 2023, the 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 17 research/teaching positions.

Want to talk anonymously? Have an update on the status of a job search? Go to the first open thread. 

Don't forget to click on "load more" below the comment box for the full thread. 

Monday, July 1, 2024

Supplement formulators are experimenting with new carbs

Also in this week's C&EN, this cool article (article by Robin Dooovan)

Triathlete Gwen Jorgensen fueled her 2016 Olympic gold with Red Bull, a potent, fizzy mix of sugar, taurine, and caffeine that tastes a bit like cherry cough syrup. Perhaps surprising to non-Olympians, sugar is the most important fuel in that concoction. Athletes rely on carbohydrates, often in the form of sugars, to provide energy and prevent them from “bonking”—or hitting a wall of exhaustion. Glucose is the body’s primary energy source, so athletes look for drinks and gels that will impart a lot of this simple sugar.

Red Bull provides simple sugars like sucrose, which contains a single unit each of glucose and fructose. While that was enough to power Jorgensen to an Olympic medal, she later switched from triathlon to running full time, and longer run sessions meant she needed even more mid-workout carbs. Simply gulping down sweet drinks made Jorgensen’s stomach cramp—she needed something that would give her more glucose without upping the concentration of sugary carbs she was taking in.

It is really fascinating to read about the various chemicals that go into supplements - it makes sense that the highly branched cyclic dextrins take longer to metabolize, but I am genuinely curious about their bioavailability over time. (Isn't this something that could be pretty straightforwardly tested in a lab somewhere?) 

C&EN: "US trade group sees chemical growth"

In this week's C&EN, this good news (article by Alexander H. Tullo): 

On the back of a US economy on “solid footing,” the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a trade group, expects the US chemical sector to post upbeat results in 2024 and 2025. After a 1.3% decline in 2023 due largely to inventory destocking, the ACC forecasts that chemical output volumes will rise by 2.2% in 2024 and 1.9% in 2025. The group expects economic growth of 2.4% this year and 1.7% in 2025 as inflation calms and recession fears ebb. “Looking ahead, the U.S. economy will drive up demand across many key chemistry end-use industries, which should tee up a healthy increase in chemical output,” Martha Moore, ACC’s chief economist, says in the report. The council expects US automotive sales to increase slightly, to 15.7 million units, in 2024 and to 16.3 million units next year. It also says that, despite higher borrowing costs, demand for new homes in the US will maintain housing starts at 1.4 million units.

Here's hoping this will be good news for the employment market. 

Friday, June 28, 2024

Have a great weekend

Well, this was a pretty chill week, and I'm not going to complain. Good news all around (as of yet). I hope you have a great weekend, and we'll see you on Monday. 

Decoupling China, going with India?

Via the New York Times: 

Melissa & Doug had a situation. For decades, the American toy brand had leaned heavily on factories in China to make its products — wooden puzzles, stuffed animals, play mats. Suddenly, that course looked risky.

It was February 2021, and the world was besieged by a pandemic. Lockdowns disrupted Chinese factories. Trade hostilities between Washington and Beijing were undermining the benefits of depending on plants in China. President Donald J. Trump had slapped tariffs on a broad variety of Chinese imports, increasing their prices, and President Biden extended that policy.

Melissa & Doug was eager to shift some production to other countries. Which explained the arrival of its chief supply chain officer at a factory in Greater Noida, a fast-growing city about 30 miles southeast of the Indian capital, New Delhi.

The factory was owned by a family business called Sunlord. The Melissa & Doug executive was surprised to see that the plant could make high-quality wooden toys, at prices comparable to those in China. Late last year, Sunlord completed its first batch of products for Melissa & Doug, a modest order of about 10,000 items, and now is cranking out 25,000 per month.

I presuming that consumer firms like Melissa and Doug and WalMart are simply diversifying their supplier base. It will be interesting to see if the Indian and South Korean pharma manufacturing markets grow as the BIOSECURE Act is actually passed (if it indeed is passed.) 

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Job posting: medicinal chemist, BMS, San Diego, CA

From the inbox:

Our Medicinal Chemistry team is looking for a Scientist to join our team in San Diego, California. Around the world, we are passionate about making an impact on the lives of patients with serious disease. Empowered to apply our individual talents and ideas so that we can learn and grow together.  Driven to make a difference, from innovative research to hands-on community support.  Bristol-Myers Squibb recognizes the importance of balance and flexibility in our work environment. We offer a wide variety of competitive benefits, services and programs that provide our employees the resources to pursue their goals, both at work and in their personal lives.

Day to Day Duties Include:  

Individual will be responsible for the design and synthesis of new agents for the potential treatment of human diseases with emphasis in Cardiovascular, Fibrosis, Immunology, and Oncology disease areas.

The individual will apply modern techniques in organic chemistry and utilize current medicinal chemistry practices to solve problems of relevance to the assigned project and therapeutic area.

Basic Qualifications: 

  • Bachelor’s Degree and 5+ years of academic / industry experience, or
  • Master’s degree and 3+ years of academic / industry experience, or
  • PhD in Chemistry or Organic Chemistry 
Preferred Qualifications: 
  • A Ph.D. in organic chemistry with 0-2 years of additional related research experience.
  • Candidates must have experience in designing and executing multistep synthesis of complex organic molecules using modern techniques in organic chemistry.
  • Candidates will have expertise in the purification and characterization of organic compounds (Chromatography and NMR, MS, IR spectroscopy).
  • Excellent problem-solving skills and a thorough understanding of synthetic methods and reaction mechanisms are required.
  • Good oral/written communication skills and a desire to work in a collaborative team environment are required.
Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

NTSB: The East Palestine/Norfolk Southern vinyl chloride burn was not necessary

Via the Washington Post, this news: 

Norfolk Southern and its contractors overestimated the risk that five train cars could explode after the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment last year, leading to the unnecessary release and burn of chemicals, the National Transportation Safety Board found Tuesday at its final meeting on the incident.

The railway’s failure to quickly provide information to emergency responders after the derailment also unnecessarily exposed the public to hazards, the board found. In addition, chemical shippers’ use of a vulnerable model of train car that was punctured and spilled chemicals after derailing led to the fire that dramatically escalated the situation.

Tuesday’s meeting — where the NTSB approved the findings of its 17-month investigation into the Feb. 3, 2023 derailment — offered the most authoritative timeline yet of the decisions that caused a giant toxic plume to rise above the Ohio town in early 2023, which prompted alarm about environmental hazards and triggered a national debate about rail safety.

I'm genuinely sympathetic to the people who made the decision on the spot with first responders: 

...The push for vent-and-burn by Norfolk Southern and its contractors, however, disregarded the fact that the temperature in the car of concern began dropping, which should have signaled that the danger was waning, the board said.

Norfolk Southern also failed to provide the local fire chief and other officials with a key report from the chemicals’ manufacturer, who had inspected the train cars and determined that the probability of the worst-case scenario was low, investigators found. With incomplete information from Norfolk Southern, the NTSB said, local and state officials had only 13 minutes to decide whether to give the go-ahead.

...The crew was notified when the train passed a second detector, but they couldn’t stop the train in time to prevent derailing. After the cars went off the tracks, a punctured car spilled flammable butyl acrylate, which started a fire that spread more than 1,000 feet. That model of train car, the NTSB found, is being phased out for such use and won’t be eligible to carry butyl acrylate after May 2029... 

As I've said before, I think second-guessing the decisions of the people on the scene needed to wait for the NTSB report. Now that we're close to the issuance of the report, we can potentially begin to think about what first responders should do in the future, and what lessons can be learned. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The 2025 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 10 research/teaching positions and 1 teaching position

The 2025 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 10 research/teaching positions and 1 teaching position. 

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

To see trending, go to Andrew Spaeth's visualization of previous years' list.

On June 27, 2023, the 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 15 research/teaching positions.

Want to talk anonymously? Have an update on the status of a job search? Go to the first open thread. 

Don't forget to click on "load more" below the comment box for the full thread.  

Friday, June 21, 2024

Have a great weekend

Well, it's been a good week, but a long one. Here's hoping I can get done what I need to get done. I hope you had a productive week, and that you have a warm and sunny (but not too hot!) weekend. See you on Monday! 

I'm still skeptical about the 'hidden job market'

Very recently, I ran across another one of the repeated statistics that some majority of job openings are not actually posted. We've covered this before here (it's hard to believe it's almost been 10 years.) I'm rather fond of debunking these kinds of numbers, i.e. their baloney-ness stands out to me, and it is personally amazing to me that people choose to quote them.

I was really delighted to discover that I am not the only skeptic, and so today I point to Jesse Preston, a disability employment specialist who wrote up a very nice article on LinkedIn describing the origins of some of these numbers: 

The Ford Foundation-funded survey he is referring to is the pilot project conducted by the National Industrial Conference Board to gather labour market information from businesses which was done in Rochester NY. The results of which came out in the same year. 

We know this is the original survey of that statistic as this is the pilot project and literature from the "1965 Proceedings on Interstate Conference on Labour Statistics", which states that this survey is of great interest before launching a nationwide survey.  Up to this point, there has never been data collected directly from employers like this. 

In the report, they tested to see if job postings were a predictable metric for collecting labour market information. It was not. Their analysis shows that 25.1% of all the jobs hired by 27 companies surveyed appeared in the newspaper. Service jobs were the largest category within the 25.1% at 84.6% of the total service jobs hired were posted in the newspaper.

But if we consider that Mr. Haldane is only talking about career-type roles and not jobs in general, then we do not count the overall number of 25.1%. So, we must remove the service jobs and the unskilled labour roles.  Then you get 18.9% of jobs advertised in the newspaper. Therefore about 80% are not advertised in the Rochester Newspaper.

It is rather remarkable to me (and he is to be commended) that Mr. Preston actually tracked it down to a study from 1966 about the Rochester job market. I would have guessed it was manufactured out of whole cloth, but no, apparently not. 

Almost ten years later, I know that it's basically futile to either expurgate the internet (or people) of poorly sourced and dubious statistics or quantify the unquantifiable, but I am still very skeptical that we should refer to a "hidden" job market. I also am further skeptical that the 'hidden' market represents the majority of positions at any one time. 

I do find it reasonable that mid-career professionals are likelier to be able to access such "hidden" positions, i.e. if you have a unique skill set, it's likelier that organizations will make room for you in some fashion, but I think that talking about 'hidden job markets' for entry-level people is just more likely to give students and postdocs conspiratorial vibes more than anything else.