Monday, May 29, 2023

Memorial Day; back tomorrow

Fort Custer National Cemetery, Augusta, MI.
credit: memphisjs
Today is Memorial Day in the United  States; it's a national holiday.

Back tomorrow.  

Friday, May 26, 2023

Have a good week

All things considered, I think I had a good week. Here's hoping that I make my flights home, and I hope that you had a great week too. I am looking forward to a long weekend, and I hope that you have a great one. See you on Tuesday. 

Good luck, New York City AI regulators

Via the New York Times, this news: 
European lawmakers are finishing work on an A.I. act. The Biden administration and leaders in Congress have their plans for reining in artificial intelligence. Sam Altman, the chief executive of OpenAI, maker of the A.I. sensation ChatGPT, recommended the creation of a federal agency with oversight and licensing authority in Senate testimony last week. And the topic came up at the Group of 7 summit in Japan.

Amid the sweeping plans and pledges, New York City has emerged as a modest pioneer in A.I. regulation.

The city government passed a law in 2021 and adopted specific rules last month for one high-stakes application of the technology: hiring and promotion decisions. Enforcement begins in July.

The city’s law requires companies using A.I. software in hiring to notify candidates that an automated system is being used. It also requires companies to have independent auditors check the technology annually for bias. Candidates can request and be told what data is being collected and analyzed. Companies will be fined for violations.

I have no doubt that New York City government means well, and that I have no doubt that companies will attempt to apply AI to the task of searching through job applications and screening the candidates. I also have little doubt that this rule will be easily bypassed by both technology and clever lawyers (probably more the latter than the former, but we shall see.) 

I have little doubt if the Workdays of the world were informed by Silicon Valley that chicken entrails were the best means of screening job candidates, that soon Jimmy John's and (I dunno) Salesforce would be out there, slaughtering chickens by the thousands in order to find fresh meat for the grinder get the best entry-level candidates. Soon, academics would be calling for chicken entrail regulation, law firms would be out there racking up billable hours in the slaughterhouses of Enterprise Rent-a-Car performing audits, and New York City would be moving towards banning chicken entrails in the screening of hiring candidates. Then Silicon Valley would show that goat entrails actually have a better R-squared (of a whole 0.15) and the cycle would start again...


Wednesday, May 24, 2023

A bit of praise for Timbuk2

Many years ago, I bought a Timbuk2 messenger bag after asking the readership what their favorite laptop bag was. 

It's been to China and Europe, and suffered a fair bit of abuse and daily use. I've sent it back for repairs twice, and not been charged anything for these repairs. If there's a Timbuk2 store in your area, you can drop the bag off to be shipped for repair, and that worked out all right as well. All in all, I've been quite pleased with them. Strong recommend. 

ACS demographics

Via Chemical and Engineering News, news that ACS has released a demographics report (article by Krystal Vasquez): 
The American Chemical Society has released its first report exploring the demographics of its membership. According to the report, tracking this data will help the society achieve the fifth goal of its strategic plan: to “embrace and advance inclusion in chemistry.” The data can also help ACS better tailor programs and services to its members, the report says.

The report was produced by the ACS Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Respect, with help from ACS Society Business Solutions, using a number of internal data sources for 2022, such as the annual ACS salary survey. It examines demographic data across multiple axes, including gender, race and ethnicity, and age. 
  • Men and women are also more evenly distributed in the overall US workforce at 52% and 48%, respectively, according to the US Census Bureau.
  • In terms of race and ethnicity, 70.3% of ACS members identify as white. That value falls to 64% in the overall US STEM workforce and drops another two percentage points in the US workforce more generally.
  • Asian and Pacific Islander ACS members make up the next-largest racial and ethnic group at 19%, followed by Hispanic members at 4.5%, and Black and African American members at 2.9%.
  • ACS members lean older than the general workforce. Over half list their age as 51 years or more, compared to 35% for the overall US workforce, according to the Census Bureau.
  • The report says 63% of members have a doctorate or equivalent, and nearly half work in academia
It is amusing to see in the numbers that the ACS leans older, more PhD-heavy and academic. That's about right, and it's fascinating to see it. 

Monday, May 22, 2023

60,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate went missing; leaky train car is current explanation

Via KQED: 

Some 60,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used as both fertilizer and a component in explosives, went missing as it was shipped by rail from Wyoming to California last month, prompting four separate investigations.

A railcar loaded with 30 tons of the chemical left Cheyenne, Wyoming, on April 12. The car was found to be empty after it arrived two weeks later at a rail stop in the Mojave Desert, according to a short incident report from the explosives firm that made the shipment.

The company, Dyno Nobel, made the report May 10 to the federal National Response Center, or NRC. The report also appeared last week in an NRC database of California incidents managed by the state Office of Emergency Services last Wednesday.

There appears to be an innocent explanation: 

Dyno Nobel says it believes the material — transported in pellet form in a covered hopper car similar to those used to ship coal — fell from the car on the way to a rail siding (a short track connecting with the main track) called Saltdale about 30 miles from the town of Mojave in eastern Kern County.

“The railcar was sealed when it left the Cheyenne facility, and the seals were still intact when it arrived in Saltdale. The initial assessment is that a leak through the bottom gate on the railcar may have developed in transit,” the company said through a spokesperson.

A Federal Railroad Administration representative, though, says the investigation points to one of the hopper car gates not being properly closed.

Here's hoping this simple explanation is the correct one, and that this material is not actively being mixed with fuel oil. 

C&EN: "Earnings for Japanese chemical makers slumped in fiscal 2022"

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

Japanese chemical companies ground through a tough fiscal year 2022. For the period, which ended on March 31, sales rose for nearly every major firm, but earnings were down almost across-the-board as companies grappled with sluggish economic conditions and rising energy and raw material costs.

Looks like things are tough all over - curious as to when it hits the US economy in force, and what impact it will have on hiring...

Friday, May 19, 2023

Have a good weekend

Been a busy, but quiet week. Some small successes, so I guess that will have to do for the week. Hope that you had a good week, and that you have a fantastic weekend. See you on Monday. 

The stealing/borrowing of credit

Via Derek Lowe, this remarkable article about the modern ibuprofen process, and the chemistry behind it, and the people behind it. This description of the politics was rather revealing and unfortunate: 

Did learning about and employing a “Quality” approach solve all my problems, or bring a big personal reward at Celanese? The answer was clearly no, at least in my individual case. Some of the unfortunate facets of human behavior intervened.

The Exploratory Group Leader and his Research Manager from the Celanese exploratory fine chemicals group began to internally tell and very often repeat a narrative to upper Celanese management, to the effect that the ibuprofen success was “really” just an outgrowth of their own prior “discoveries” related to HF chemistry. Celanese upper management (based at other sites), and later many other people inside and outside Celanese didn’t know any better (up to and including the Presidential Green Chemistry evaluators, and most of the people who have subsequently read about the Presidential Green Chemistry Award for the BHC process). 

Most of them accepted local Celanese management’s narrative version of the ibuprofen story without question, and have often repeated it later, in print and elsewhere. . .Our names were listed on the ibuprofen patent because legally they had to be listed, but were almost never mentioned again with respect to the BHC Ibuprofen Process, inside or outside Celanese. Meanwhile, the Exploratory Group Leader and the Research Manager reaped great personal/career rewards, and multiple promotions, by telling and re-telling their ibuprofen narrative.

It is weird to me how people steal credit (or perhaps take more credit than they deserve); I don't get it.  Nevertheless, people do it, and it makes me wonder if organizations should do their part to squelch such behavior. It's a hard problem. 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Job posting: Patent Agent (Organic Chemistry), Hamilton Brook Smith Reynolds

Via C&EN Jobs, this posting: 

Hamilton Brook Smith Reynolds, an intellectual property boutique with offices in Boston and Concord, Massachusetts, seeks a Patent Agent for its Life Sciences team. 

Candidates should be capable of working on all matters involving small molecules, and have experience drafting and prosecuting patent applications, conducting patent validity, non-infringement and freedom-to-operate analyses and supporting due diligences related to small molecule pharmaceuticals. 

Successful candidates will also have outstanding writing and interpersonal skills, as well as strong academic credentials. A Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry or related discipline and registration with the USPTO are required.

Best wishes to those interested.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Who is making "generic" semaglutide, part 2

I know I've covered this before, but it continues to bother me - who is making "generic" semaglutide? (via the New York Times): 
...Because the F.D.A.’s drug shortage website lists as Ozempic as “currently in shortage,” compounding pharmacies are allowed to buy semaglutide from pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturers and compound it into an injectable medication they dispense. They also often mix it with B vitamins or a metabolic compound called L-carnitine, which limited research has shown may contribute to weight loss. Some compounding pharmacies are distributing a different active ingredient altogether: semaglutide sodium, the salt form of semaglutide.

In recent weeks, regulators have raised concerns about semaglutide sodium, which is sometimes sold as a research chemical. Semaglutide sodium does not appear to meet standards for compounding in federal law, in part because the substance is not part of any F.D.A.-approved medication — and officials have expressed alarm at how widespread it is.

I don't wish to cover the questions that I've already asked, but I'll note some other questions that I have about this situation: 

  • Are we basically in a world where US consumers are ordering API from Chinese manufacturers directly?  
  • Why isn't the FDA stopping these shipments from coming in? 
  • Semaglutide doesn't appear to be a particularly easy peptide to make, but I suppose that these sorts of efforts are run by solid-phase synthesizers? Is it the fact that the dosages are relatively low that allow Chinese peptide manufacturers to participate in this? 
I'm genuinely surprised that people are willing to entrust their lives to a supply chain that is completely opaque and untraceable, but it is around weight loss, and so folks are pretty motivated to get themselves access to Ozempic, whether it's through their physicians or not. 

Monday, May 15, 2023

Who does well at Zoom

Via Marginal Revolution, this Insider article about why Zoom is weird, and how people can get better at it: 

In a study last year, people who were face-to-face responded to yes/no questions in 297 milliseconds, on average, while those on Zoom chats took 976 milliseconds. Conversational turns — handing the mic back and forth between speakers, as it were — exhibited similar delays. The researchers hypothesized that something about the scant 30- to 70-millisecond delay in Zoom audio disrupts whatever neural mechanisms we meatbags use to get in sync with one another, that magic that creates true dialogue.

...Cooney and Reece's first pass at the data suggests that "good conversationalists" on Zoom are those who talk faster, louder, and more intensely. They're the Tom Cruises, as it were, of the interactive back-and-forth. People rated by their partners as better conversationalists spoke 3% faster than bad conversationalists — uttering about six more words a minute. And while the average loudness of speakers didn't change across bad or good conversations, the "good" talkers varied their decibel levels more than the "bad" talkers did. Cooney and Reece's team speculate that the good ones were better at reading the Zoom room, calibrating their volume to the curves of the conversation.

I genuinely do not enjoy video conversations, but they seem to be important, so it's worthwhile thinking about how to get better at them. 

(I do not enjoy talking fast, nor loud nor intensely, so that's probably something to work on... I guess.) 

First Oregon company to be licensed to test mushrooms for potency

Via a Google News search for "chemist", this article from Oregon Public Broadcasting: 

Just a few weeks after naming the first licensed psilocybin manufacturer in the state, Oregon has granted a license to a Portland company to test the mushrooms for potency.

In naming Rose City Laboratories the first company to be allowed to do the testing, the Oregon Health Authority said: “Accurate labeling of psilocybin potency allows clients to participate in administration sessions with products that meet their needs.”

Bj√∂rn Fritzsche is a chemist with Rose City Labs. He says the company’s years of experience in testing cannabis products will translate easily to this new work.

“The process for the potency testing is surprisingly similar,” Fritzsche says. “The solvents that we use for extraction are a little bit different, but the actual technology that we use — high pressure liquid chromatography — is very similar.”

Still, this is a new frontier in medicine, and Fritzsche is excited about the possibilities.

“I get to do something new, something that hasn’t really been done at scale before,” Fritzsche says. “I was actually able to develop new methodologies, do something that hadn’t been done before. And that’s really interesting.”

This isn't really my thing (psilocybin, that is), but it seems to me that it is important for these things to be regulated and standardized for the general public. Glad to see it's happening. 

Friday, May 12, 2023

Have a good weekend!

Well, this was an interesting week, and it's ending early for me. Soooo much Mother's Day stuff to do. Hope you have a great weekend, and happy Mother's Day to those who celebrate/are to be celebrated. See you on Monday. 

Update on PCI Synthesis: acetone and IPA in reactors

From the Daily News of Newburyport, MA (article by Jim Sullivan): 

NEWBURYPORT — Demolition of the Seqens/PCI Synthesis pharmaceutical factory’s damaged addition won’t begin until next week, the city’s Building Department announced Thursday.

A 62-year-old Methuen man was killed and four others were injured May 4 in a chemical explosion at the Opportunity Way site that sent a massive vat through the addition’s roof and roughly 30 feet into a parking lot.

Firefighters and contractors have been at the site ever since but city Chief of Staff Andrew Levine said the Fire Department on Wednesday finished its “hero’s work” of overseeing the removal of two other vats containing potentially hazardous chemicals such as acetone and isopropyl alcohol.

Acting Fire Chief Stephen Bradbury III said a few drums still remain in the building and his department is on call on an as-needed basis.

Building Commissioner Greg Earls now has control over the building and said demolition of the addition will begin soon.

“I haven’t seen any plans for dismantling, so the clock hasn’t started at all,” he said. “No dismantling is going to happen until the plans are approved by the Building Department and that may be well into next week.”

Seqens issued a press release Thursday, stating the demolition should affect roughly 20% of the building’s capacity.

The company also stated that potential environmental impacts have been monitored ever since the accident and it will continue to monitor and communicate all relevant data to authorities, including the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

It is genuinely weird to me that the chemicals involved in the explosion don't seem to be particularly, well, explosive. I guess it would be important to understand what process was going on. Strange.  

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Job posting: physical scientist, Department of Energy Environmental Management

From C&EN Jobs: 
Decades of nuclear weapons production and energy research generated millions of gallons of liquid radioactive waste, millions of cubic meters of solid radioactive waste, thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel and special nuclear material, and large quantities of contaminated soil and water. Established in 1989, the Environmental Management (EM) program works to achieve the successful cleanup of this Cold War legacy. In a commitment to the safety and protection of workers and communities, EM pursues a safety culture built on trust, mutual respect, worker engagement and communication, fostering an atmosphere that advocates continuous learning, promotes a questioning attitude and employs effective resolution to reported problems. Our talent is vital to the success of our organization’s ability to grow, learn, develop, and contribute to our mission. We are looking for talented candidates like YOU!

This appears to be a direct hire (i.e. faster/more direct than the typical federal government hiring processes.) Here's the main website, and here is what I think is the listing. 

Best wishes to those interested.  

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

The scale-up of Paxlovid

Also in this week's Chemical and Engineering News, a really interesting article by Beth Halford: 

On July 22, 2020, medicinal chemists at the drugmaker Pfizer made a molecule that they called PF-07321332, 1 of about 20 compounds they prepared that day. The scientists were searching for a way to shut down SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19—a disease that was responsible for more than 25,000 deaths in the US alone that same month.

The researchers didn’t know it at the time, but their discovery of PF-07321332 started a clock ticking. Over the next few months, scientists at the company discovered that PF-07321332 was a powerful inhibitor of SARS-CoV-2’s main protease (also known as the 3CL protease) and had the right mix of properties to be taken as a pill. They eventually renamed the molecule nirmatrelvir, and the race was on to make enough of it to treat millions of people with COVID-19.

Just 17 months after nirmatrelvir’s discovery, the compound was heading to patients. In December 2021, the US Food and Drug Administration gave an emergency use authorization for the antiviral Paxlovid to treat COVID-19.

Don't miss the discussion of the lithium and sodium salt!

I think it would be really interesting to see the ripple effects of the manufacture of Paxlovid, especially in China. Next article!

Mayor of Newburyport continues to cast doubt on PCI Synthesis/Seqens reopening

From the Daily News of Newburyport (Masssachusetts), written by Jim Sullivan:

NEWBURYPORT — Local firefighters and environmental crews returned to the crippled Seqens pharmaceutical site off Opportunity Way to continue the cleanup after a chemical explosion Thursday morning killed a Methuen man and injured four other workers.

Meanwhile, Mayor Sean Reardon told the City Council on Monday he would be surprised if Seqens ever resumed operations in Newburyport.

“I don’t envision them ever opening their doors here again,” he said.

Hours before speaking to the council, Reardon announced that Seqens must begin demolishing an addition to the building where the massive explosion took place. Demolition was expected to begin Tuesday afternoon but acting Fire Chief Stephen Bradbury III said that timeline would be pushed back at least a day.

Jack O’Keefe’s body was recovered roughly 18 hours after the 12:45 a.m. blast near where first responders expected to find him. He was 62.

In preparation for demolition, hazardous materials crews were busy Monday removing eight 55-gallon drums of chemicals, while roughly 2,000 gallons of chemicals were being drained from two vats.

The explosion sent a third vat through the roof and into the parking lot at least 30 feet away. Work was halted late Monday afternoon before the job was completed due to high winds. The cleanup resumed Tuesday morning....

It's pretty hard to imagine the people of that town agreeing to let PCI Synthesis start processing chemicals again. I would really like to know what the heck they were making. There was a brief reference to making something for burn patients, but I don't think we have further evidence of that. While I think it is possible that there was simply a fire, this report of the deceased operator finding a room that was too hot indicates there might have been a runaway. 

Continued condolences to the O'Keefe family and the entire PCI team.