Monday, December 5, 2022

Seattle Times on a medical mystery

Via the Seattle Times, this look at a pretty horrific recall from this summer: 

Kirsten Paulsen began 2022 wanting to eat healthier and incorporate more vegetables into her diet. She found Daily Harvest, a food delivery company that touts easy to prep, plant-based meals, and signed up for regular shipments of smoothies, vegetable bowls and vegan ingredients to add to other dishes.

In one shipment, the Bellevue resident received a bag of French lentil and leek crumbles, for customers to add protein to a lasagna or an empanada. She prepared them according to the company’s instructions and added them to a meal. Within a day, she recalled, she was sweating profusely, dry heaving on the floor, in pain she equated to worse than giving birth to her son.

Her husband took her to an emergency room, where she was told she had heightened levels of bilirubin that could indicate potential issues with her liver or bile duct, and she was severely dehydrated. The doctors weren’t sure what caused the symptoms...

...In July, Daily Harvest posted on its website that it had identified tara flour, a plant-based ingredient that’s high in protein, as the cause. The company launched an investigation, founder and CEO Rachel Drori wrote, and worked closely with the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “as well as top doctors, microbiologists, toxicologists and three independent labs” to determine what caused the adverse effects. The crumbles were the first and only time tara flour was used by Daily Harvest, which has more than 140 items, Drori wrote.

Tara flour comes from the tara tree (which comes from South America). Seems to me that there's probably some kind of hepatotoxin that wasn't well-known that will ultimately be found, but we shall see...

C&EN: "Cannabis research bill clears US Congress"

In this week's Chemical and Engineering News, this update (article by Britt Erickson): 

A bill that would make it easier for scientists in the US to study the potential benefits and harms of medical cannabis cleared the Senate on Nov. 16. The House of Representatives had passed the legislation (H.R. 8454) in July, and President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law.

The bill directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to identify policies that inhibit cannabis research and to recommend how to overcome those barriers. It also paves the way for research institutions to grow their own cannabis or import cannabis for medical research purposes, but it does not allow scientists to purchase cannabis from state-run dispensaries.

Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it has no accepted medical benefits and has a high likelihood of addiction. Because of that classification, researchers need approval from several government agencies to conduct clinical studies using cannabis.

H.R. 8454 aims to streamline and speed up that approval process. It gives the US attorney general a 60-day deadline to approve cannabis research applications or request additional information from the applicant.

I used to say "it is guaranteed there will be more cannabis chemists in (next year) than there are (this year)" simply because we were growing from a time where there were zero regularly-employed full time chemists working in this field, and then people were moving into the field regularly. It will be interesting to see when this will plateau, but it doesn't seem to be stopping yet. The seemingly-inexorable move towards descheduling/full legalization seems like that would only accelerate the move of more people into the industry...

Friday, December 2, 2022

Have a great weekend

This has been a delightfully quiet week, so that was great. I imagine I'll enter the full fury of the end of the year/holiday stuff soon. I hope that you had a good week, and a relaxing weekend. See you on Monday. 

Wood *ethanol* from Japan

Distilled spirits from... wood?
Credit: Japan Times, Alex K.T. Martin
Via the Japan Times, this fascinating story: 

To begin with, harvested wood is crushed into 2-by-2-centimeter pieces using a chipper, and then processed using a hammer mill with a 0.7-millimeter screen. This powdered wood is then slowly inserted into a rapidly rotating mill with circulating spring water and heavy beads made of zirconia-reinforced alumina to create wood slurry. The resulting gooey, pinkish substance is then sterilized and put in a fermenter. An enzyme solution that breaks down the cellulose into glucose is added and enzymatic saccharification and alcohol fermentation is performed to brew doburoku, the Japanese term for an unrefined alcoholic liquid. This unfiltered solution then undergoes solid-liquid separation and, voila, the base product is made.

“Here it is,” Otsuka says, as he pulls out labeled glass bottles filled with liquids of varying colors produced from a range of trees: cedar, birch, the Somei-Yoshino and yamazakura varieties of cherry trees, mizunara oak and kuromoji, a deciduous tree endemic to Japan. “But at this stage, the alcohol content is very low, at around 2.5% or even 1% when we’re using hardwood,” he says.

“To raise the strength to around 30% to 40% alcohol by volume while retaining the aroma, we double-distill these,” Otsuka continues, proceeding to fish out smaller bottles filled with clear liquids. “All in all, it takes around two weeks to make wood alcohol. Now, take a whiff.”

The alcohol made from cedar lets off that familiar, refreshing woody aroma, while the mizunara oak is mellower, reminiscent of whisky, perhaps because the tree is often made into barrels that are used to age the liquor in. From the birch spirit wafts a fruity smell, akin to brandy, while the cherry trees have a softer but bright, sweet presence, similar to white wine. The scents, in any case, are surprisingly strong, clear and distinct from tree to tree.

How do they taste? Besides the pleasant fragrance, Otsuka says the spirits are quite smooth, without any of the burning sensation associated with downing high-proof liquor.

“I’ve finished one of these smaller bottles on my own one night and didn’t have the slightest hangover,” he says.

I would definitely be interested to try this, but I'm guessing that those who don't like peaty/smoky Scotches won't like this... 

Endpoints: "Catalent to cut about 600 jobs in Indiana, Maryland and Texas"

Via Endpoints News, this sad news: 

Contract manufacturing company Catalent is cutting around 600 jobs in Maryland, Texas, and a major manufacturing facility in Bloomington, IN.

According to a report from a local news site, The Bloomingtonian, the manufacturer announced in an email sent out to employees that it will be cutting 400 positions at the Indiana facility. The company will also cut 77 jobs by Jan. 15 of next year at a cell therapy facility in Webster, TX, just outside of Houston. In Maryland, the company is reducing staff at two locations, with 82 jobs being eliminated at Catalent’s facility in Gaithersburg, and 53 in Rockville. The layoffs go into effect at those locations on Jan. 14.

In a statement, Catalent said it had increased its capacities during the Covid-19 pandemic and was now rolling back some of that expansion.

It is surprising to me that Catalent is dialing back its headcount in manufacturing; they must have had a product portfolio that was weighted towards pandemic-related productions and didn't successfully make the transition.

There is a fair bit of talk that there will be a recession in 2023, and I'm genuinely not sure what I think (i.e. how many quarters of negative US GDP growth will there be in 2023? More than 2? Less than 2? Zero? Not sure yet. "More than zero, less than 3" is my safe bet.) I think the market for younger chemists will be fine (not as hot as 2021, but less hot than 2022) and it will not be as good for experienced chemists (less hot than 2021). How to falsify these calculations?") 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

31 new positions at Organic Chemistry Jobs

Over at Common Organic Chemistry, curated by Brian Struss, there are 31 new positions for November 24. The jobs can be viewed on the website or spreadsheet.

Don't forget to check out the Common Organic Chemistry company map, a very helpful resource for organic chemists looking for potential employers. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Carolyn Bertozzi on Kara Swisher's podcast

I don't really listen much to the tech media podcasts, but I often listen to Kara Swisher's podcast (especially when she was with the New York Times), as she asks pretty blunt questions and sometimes gets good answers. I was surprised to learn that Carolyn Bertozzi was on her latest podcast. Here's a link to the transcript (soft paywall):
Tech journalist Kara Swisher admits she is not a science person, but she believes it’s essential to have conversations with scientists in order to better understand the complex and critical work they do. In the latest episode of On With Kara Swisher, Kara talks to Stanford chemist Carolyn Bertozzi, who just won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for inventing the promising new field of bioorthogonal chemistry, which consists of chemical reactions that scientists can use to study molecules in a living biological environment without interfering with the natural processes of that environment. As Stanford noted in its celebration of her award, these methods have since been used by Bertozzi and other researchers “to answer fundamental questions about the role of sugars in biology, to solve practical problems, such as developing better tests for infectious diseases, and to create a new biological pharmaceutical that can better target tumors, which is now being tested in clinical trials.”

Al Horvath named new CEO of the American Chemical Society

Via C&EN, this news (article by Alexandra A. Taylor): 

ACS treasurer and chief financial officer Albert G. Horvath will succeed Thomas Connelly as head of the American Chemical Society, effective Jan. 1, 2023. Connelly will retire at the end of 2022 after nearly 8 years with ACS. (ACS publishes C&EN.)

“I am pleased that a person with Al Horvath’s skill will be the next CEO of ACS,” Paul W. Jagodzinski, chair of the ACS Board of Directors, says in a statement. “His dedication to the mission and core values of ACS, coupled with his experience in member and public-serving organizations, position him well to lead the Society as we move forward.”

“I'm incredibly honored and humbled by this opportunity,” Horvath tells C&EN. “We're in a very good spot. We have our issues. But I think the challenge for me will be to continue that momentum and keep us moving forward as we have.” 

As CEO, Horvath plans to focus on growing the information services businesses that make up a significant portion of ACS’s revenue. He hopes to facilitate a successful transition to hybrid work and bolster staff engagement after the tumultuous years of the pandemic. “That's obviously something that I want to work closely with the executive leadership team on,” Horvath says. “How do we continue to help people around the society feel positive about their place here?”   

I don't really know very much about Mr. Horvath, so I guess I will reserve judgment. I do think it is interesting that we've gone from folks with a chemistry/chemical engineering background (Madeleine Jacobs and Thomas Connelly) to a non-chemist/scientific organization administrator. Developing...

Monday, November 28, 2022

UC campus graduate students are on strike

In this week's Chemical and Engineering News, this update from Andrea Widener: 

Graduate students and postdoctoral researchers at all 10 University of California (UC) campuses are on strike, a move that is impacting many chemists and chemistry departments.

The strike, which began Nov. 14, is over alleged unfair labor practices by UC, which the union representing the students and postdocs says is not negotiating new contracts in good faith. The larger issues underlying the contract negotiations center on wages and benefits for UC’s graduate students, teaching assistants, postdocs, and academic researchers, who fuel much of the UC system’s research and teaching. The union, the United Auto Workers, represents 48,000 academic workers on the campuses, making the strike the largest in higher education in US history.

“Clearly, 48,000 people across the state are really fired up about this,” says Khalid Mahmood, a chemistry graduate student at UC Berkeley.

Mahmood, who lives with six roommates, says that 40% of his income goes toward rent. In addition, there is little consistency in salary between departments or even from semester to semester. “We really care about our research, but we want the contributions that we make to the university to be reflected in our compensation,” he says...

Six roommates! That sounds awful. 

C&EN: "Chemical warehouse fire kills 38 in China"

Also in this week's C&EN, this news (article by Alex Scott): 
Some 38 people have died in a fire at a facility in Anyang city, Henan Province, China, according to Xinhua, China’s official state news agency. The fire occurred Nov. 21 at a site operated by Kaixinda Trading Company, a chemical wholesaler, media reports state. Chinese president Xi Jinping ordered all-out efforts to rescue and treat the injured, Xinhua reports. The incident is reminiscent of a 2015 warehouse fire in Tianjin, China, that killed 165 people.

Here's a Reuters report saying that it might have been sparks from welding: 

BEIJING, Nov 22 (Reuters) - A fire at a factory in China that killed 38 people, many of them women, was caused by electric welding that flouted regulations, media said on Tuesday.

The fire broke out at Kaixinda Trading Co Ltd in Anyang, in the central province of Henan, on Monday afternoon and fire teams sent 63 vehicles to the scene, state broadcaster CCTV said.

The fire was brought under control by 8 p.m. (1200 GMT) and put out by midnight. Two people were taken to hospital for minor injuries, CCTV added. 


Friday, November 25, 2022

Have a good weekend

Mostly a restful week, so this was really nice. Here's hoping you have a great weekend, and we'll see you on Monday. 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving!

Every year, I am incredibly thankful for my family, my friends, my community (physical and online) and my job. 

I am also thankful for you, my readers and commenters. Thank you for your reading, your advice, your e-mails and your brilliant, insightful comments. I am grateful for your continued reading over these many years. 

[An additional note: if you would ever like to meet for a cup of coffee or a beer, please reach out to my e-mail address. I don't know what my travel schedule for 2023 looks like, but I will still be traveling, and I love to meet readers of the blog. 

My family and I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving and if you're not in the United States, a happy Thursday and Friday! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Nature: "First active chemistry on an exoplanet revealed by Webb telescope"

Via Nature, this astrochemistry news: 
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has produced the most detailed information ever on an exoplanet, making it the world we know most about after the eight major planets of our Solar System. Observations of the planet, called WASP-39b, reveal patchy clouds, an intriguing chemical reaction in its atmosphere, and provide hints about its formation.

“We’ve studied lots of planets before,” says Laura Kreidberg, director of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Heidelberg, Germany, and part of the observation team, which posted five papers on their observations on the arXiv preprint server on 22 November. “But we’ve never seen a data set like this.”

...Using three of its instruments, JWST was able to observe light from the planet’s star as it filtered through WASP-39b’s atmosphere, a process known as transmission spectroscopy. This allowed a team of more than 300 astronomers to detect water, carbon monoxide, sodium, potassium and more in the planet’s atmosphere, in addition to the carbon dioxide. The gives the planet a similar composition to Saturn, although it has no detectable rings.

The team were also surprised to detect sulfur dioxide, which had appeared as a mysterious bump in early observation data. Its presence suggests a photochemical reaction is taking place in the atmosphere as light from the star hits it, similar to how our Sun produces ozone in Earth’s atmosphere. In WASP-39b’s case, light from its star, slightly smaller than the Sun, splits water in its atmosphere into hydrogen and hydroxide, which reacts with hydrogen sulfide to produce sulfur dioxide.

“Photochemistry, because it is such an important process here on Earth, is probably an important process on other potentially habitable planets,” says Jacob Bean, an astronomer at the University of Chicago in Illinois and the observation team’s co-leader. Until now, “we’ve only been able to test our understanding of photochemistry in our Solar System. But planets around other stars give us access to completely different physical conditions”.

Pretty cool!  

C&EN: Snapdragon to be acquired by Cambrex

Via C&EN's Rick Mullin, this interesting news: 
Two months after US Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) derailed the acquisition of Snapdragon Chemistry, a flow chemistry specialist, by the Chinese pharmaceutical services firm Asymchem, Snapdragon has a new buyer.

Cambrex, a leading US pharmaceutical services firm, says it has agreed to acquire Massachusetts-based Snapdragon for an undisclosed sum. Cambrex specializes in the contract manufacture of small-molecule active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and operates several plants in the US and Europe.

Snapdragon will complement Cambrex’s own continuous flow chemistry team, based in High Point, North Carolina, says Brandon Fincher, chief strategy officer at Cambrex. “It’s a technology and technique that has come in handy on a few projects with important customers of ours, and it is a part of the market growing faster than batch processing,” he says. Cambrex views Snapdragon as an ideal strategic fit, Fincher says: “best in class” at flow process development and “ideally positioned right outside of Boston.”

Snapdragon CEO Matthew Bio says his firm will continue to operate with current staff and leadership. “It is still evolving, but their intent is to maintain the brand and maintain our group intact,” Bio says of Cambrex. Snapdragon has 74 employees, including 31 PhD scientists. It recently commissioned a 4,700 m2 research and manufacturing facility in Waltham, Massachusetts.

What I think is notable about the Snapdragon story is that the US government stepped in to stop the sale to Asymchem. That Cambrex (owned by a UK private equity firm) bought them is actually not very surprising, i.e. Cambrex has bought a lot of companies, why not Snapdragon? 

Will there ever be further Chinese interest in acquistion of American pharma manufacturers? Hard to say, but (hindsight being 20/20) Snapdragon was the obvious choice (i.e. a leader in a technology that is expected to play a very important role in the future of pharma manufacturing.) Can't think of any others, so I predict there will be no further American governmental intervention in Chinese acquistions in this sector either... 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 522 research/teaching positions and 34 teaching positions

The 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 522 research/teaching positions and 34 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 November 23, 2021, the 2022 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 470 research/teaching positions and 44 teaching faculty positions. On November 24, 2020, the 2021 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 195 research/teaching positions and 17 teaching faculty positions. 

Want to talk anonymously? Have an update on the status of a job search? The second thread is the current open thread. Here's a link to the first open thread. 

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

Postdoctoral position: SRI, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

From the inbox: 
The College of Science at the University of Utah invites applications for postdoc-level positions to support undergraduate research as part of its Science Research Initiative ( SRI ) while also carrying out their own independent research program and other professional development. The SRI is a unique program that focuses on providing students with authentic research experiences during their first and second years of undergraduate education ( ). The SRI Fellow position offers three years of training in mentorship and teaching, as well as the opportunity to develop high-impact undergraduate research experiences at an institution with a world-class research infrastructure and community. The SRI Fellows divide their time between teaching research courses, mentoring undergraduate students through research projects developed by the fellow, and working on their own research and professional development.

SRI Fellows are scientists and mathematicians with Ph.Ds in astronomy, biology, chemistry, environmental science, mathematics, physics, and related fields. This year there is a particular emphasis on hiring fellows carrying out astronomy, environmental science, and biochemistry research applied broadly. The position is for three years, subject to review after one year, and can begin as early as July 1, 2023. It provides a starting salary of $57,000 per year, an annual research fund, and benefits including retirement, along with discipline- and pedagogy-specific mentorship. Researchers interested in pursuing academic positions at primarily undergraduate institutions may be especially interested in this position, as SRI fellows will have the opportunity to develop a robust plan for, and gain a large amount of hands-on experience in, undergraduate teaching and research, and can transfer their research program into their next position.

Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested.  

The Chemical Engineering Faculty Jobs List: 126 positions

The Chemical Engineering Faculty Jobs List has 126 positions. It is curated by Lilian Josephson (@lljosephson) and Andrew S. Rosen (@Andrew_S_Rosen).

Go to the open thread for this year's search.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Ian Fleming's James Bond in "Rontogram of Solace"

Via Marginal Revolution, this important news from Nature: 
By the 2030s, the world will generate around a yottabyte of data per year — that’s 1024 bytes, or the amount that would fit on DVDs stacked all the way to Mars. Now, the booming growth of the data sphere has prompted the governors of the metric system to agree on new prefixes beyond that magnitude, to describe the outrageously big and small.

Representatives from governments worldwide, meeting at the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) outside Paris on 18 November, voted to introduce four new prefixes to the International System of Units (SI) with immediate effect. The prefixes ronna and quetta represent 1027 and 1030, and ronto and quecto signify 10-27 and 10-30. Earth weighs around one ronnagram, and an electron’s mass is about one quectogram.

This is the first update to the prefix system since 1991, when the organization added zetta (1021), zepto (10-21), yotta (1024) and yocto (10-24). In that case, metrologists were adapting to fit the needs of chemists, who wanted a way to express SI units on the scale of Avogadro’s number — the 6 × 1023 units in a mole, a measure of the quantity of substances. The more familiar prefixes peta and exa were added in 1975 (see ‘Extreme figures’).

Clever college kids will joke about having a quectogram of sympathy...  

C&EN: "Another bad quarter for Germany’s chemical sector"

In this week's Chemical and Engineering News, this update from Alex Scott: 
The tough market conditions experienced by the German chemical industry carried into the third quarter, the result of high energy prices and weakening demand for chemicals across most markets, according to VCI, Germany’s largest chemical industry association.

German chemical sales in the quarter fell 1.6% to $62.3 billion from the year-ago period, while production was down 4.2%. At 79.3%, average plant capacity utilization in the third quarter was well below normal, VCI states.

“The chemical industry faces more dark months,” VCI President Markus Steilemann warned in a recent report on the state of the German industry. “Many companies are already in an extremely dramatic situation with their production in Germany, mainly because of the massive increase in energy costs.”

VCI expects chemical production in Germany for the whole of 2022 to be down 5.5%. Medium-size chemical companies have been struggling the most, it says.

It really doesn't sound like things are getting better in Germany, but I suspect we are in for a difficult winter. Here's hoping we all make it through.  

Friday, November 18, 2022

Have a good weekend

Well, this was a strange week, but overall a good one. (One of these weeks where you look around and think to yourself "why am I in this room?") Here is hoping that you had a great week, and a good weekend. See you on Monday! 

Job posting: Sr. Principal Scientist - Analytical Chemistry Separations Scientist, Amgen, Thousand Oaks, CA

From the inbox:

The Synthetic Separations Group at Amgen in Thousand Oaks, CA is seeking a talented separations scientist to manage staff and the day-to-day analytical/purification support for the analysis and purification of small and hybrid (mRNA, LNP, siRNA, oligonucleotides) molecules to support pharmaceutical discovery efforts.  Responsibilities of the position include:

  • Support drug discovery teams by developing chromatographic methods and processes for the analysis and purification of small and hybrid (mRNA, LNP, siRNA, oligonucleotides) molecules.
  • Develop custom separation, detection, and quantitation methods to solve analytical problems encountered in various areas of small, hybrid, and large molecule discovery.
  • Utilize a diverse set of instruments and technologies, such as (but not limited to) HPLC, SFC-MS, HPLC-MS, CE, mass-directed purification, and preparative SFC.
  • Actively participate in research efforts directed at improving process efficiencies, expanding the range of assays and applications, and improving technologies and infrastructure, from conceptualizing to experimental design through implementation.
  • Supervise junior-level staff, participate in national and international scientific meetings, and provide scientific reports that support the generation of publications, patents, or regulatory submissions.

Basic Qualifications:

  • PhD degree with 3 years of scientific experience OR
  • Master’s degree and 6 years of relevant experience OR
  • Bachelor’s degree and 8 years of proven experience

Preferred Qualifications:

  • 10 years of chromatographic experience in the pharmaceutical industry
  • Record of publication in high-impact journals and oral presentations at scientific conferences.
  • Experience managing and/or mentoring junior scientists.
  • Demonstrated expertise in multiple chromatographic techniques across multiple modalities.
Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

The US government has a plutonium problem

Via the New York Times, the disassembly of nuclear weapons creates some unintended issues: 
...What now for the B83? How many still exist is a federal secret, but not the weapon’s likely fate, which may surprise anyone who assumes that getting rid of a nuclear weapon means that it vanishes from the face of the earth.

Typically, nuclear arms retired from the U.S. arsenal are not melted down, pulverized, crushed, buried or otherwise destroyed. Instead, they are painstakingly disassembled, and their parts, including their deadly plutonium cores, are kept in a maze of bunkers and warehouses across the United States. 

...The plutonium cores of retired hydrogen bombs are of particular concern, Mr. Alvarez and others say. Roughly the size of a grapefruit, these cores are usually referred to as pits. The United States now has at least 20,000 pits in storage. They’re kept at a sprawling plant in the Texas panhandle known as Pantex. 

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (unsurprisingly) has some concerns:  

Safely ridding the nation of one of the world’s largest excess stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium will be no minor feat. At issue is the US Energy Department’s 2016 decision to dilute and dispose of, all told, about 48.2 metric tons of plutonium, including 26.2 tons of components, known as “pits,” from several thousand dismantled thermonuclear warheads and 22 metric tons in other forms. These massive quantities of plutonium are destined for the Energy Department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the nation’s only geologic burial site for radiological waste, dug into a deep-underground salt formation near Carlsbad New Mexico.

48.2 metric tons! That's a lot of plutonium. 

(The government seems like it takes old plutonium for new nuclear warheads. I imagine there are a great deal of treaties and precedents stopping us from doing something useful with this plutonium, like, I dunno, getting energy from it by turning it into reactor fuel...) 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

19 new positions at Organic Chemistry Jobs

Over at Common Organic Chemistry, curated by Brian Struss, there are 19 new positions for November 13. The jobs can be viewed on the website or spreadsheet.

Don't forget to check out the Common Organic Chemistry company map, a very helpful resource for organic chemists looking for potential employers. 

Job posting: Sr. Scientist I or II - Principal Scientist I, Cambrex, Longmont, CO

From the inbox: 

Cambrex is seeking an experienced and motivated synthetic organic chemist (Sr. Scientist I/II or Principal Scientist I) for the Process Chemistry department. This position performs routine and complex organic synthesis, purification, and analytical evaluation of materials as part of a process chemistry research and development team. The chemist will optimize synthetic routes to drug substance for purity, reproducibility, scalability, and yield. The chemist will also design and proposes new synthetic routes to drug substances. May be asked to lead the process chemistry portion of customer projects and potentially a group of process chemists. Will present work internally and externally to clients. Experience in process chemistry research and development is desirable. Expertise in synthetic organic chemistry is essential.

Full ad here. 

Interested? Send resume to or to apply directly at the link. Best wishes to those interested.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Stealth car smuggling boats?

Via Marginal Revolution, this very odd story: 
The smuggling of cars into china has been a widespread problem since at least the 1980s, and slowly evolved into an arms race between the authorities and the smugglers. The ultimate smuggling boat is known as the Armored Stealth Boat (ASB). You read that correctly; this may sound too James Bond to be real, but it is.

The rate of smuggling has been so high that it a major driver in China’s investment in car technology for domestic production, buying some Western manufacturers wholesale: the idea is to offset smuggled cars with more attractive local types. This strategy may have diminished the attractiveness of imported luxury cars but the demand is still high.

The car smuggling trade is estimated to be worth over 1 billion dollars annually. One network of linked ‘car smuggling gangs’ broken up by authorities in 2013 was accused of importing about 1,000 cars per year. Smuggled cars come in all flavors but are often high-end and luxury types including BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Bentley and even Rolls Royce. The smugglers find many ways of getting the cars in, from stacking them within standard shipping containers, to breaking them down into parts. Many of the cars arrive by boat, often in ways which disguise their presence. Some are turned upside down to alter their silhouette, some are hidden amongst legitimate imports or scrap.

 Click through for some bonkers pictures. The demand for illegal cars must be pretty strong in China! 

C&EN on airbag propellants

Via Chemical and Engineering News' Beth Halford, this fascinating look at airbag chemistry: 
Imagine that you’re driving on a two-lane road. It’s dark and rainy. Maybe you’re driving faster than you should be. Perhaps some animal darts into the road. Or maybe another driver loses control of their vehicle. You swerve and slam on the brakes, but the collision has already been set into motion. Your seat belt tightens as your car crashes, and the only object between you and a serious injury or even death is a thin nylon bag full of nitrogen gas—an airbag.

The chemistry used to inflate airbags has evolved. Over the years, automakers have sought to use more efficient, less expensive chemical transformations and to reduce use of any potentially hazardous compounds. But those changes haven’t always been for the better. In the late 1990s, the automotive parts manufacturer Takata launched an airbag formulation that led to recalls that the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) describes as “the largest and most complicated automotive recalls in United States history.” Today, a combination of chemical reactions and compressed gas canisters helps save lives.
I gotta say, I did not expect to read about Ostwald ripening in this article: 
But why did the ammonium nitrate break down? Blomquist, who studied Takata airbags for NHTSA’s investigation, says moisture from humid air penetrated the seals around the ammonium nitrate’s housing. Over time, moisture transformed the ammonium nitrate from a uniform solid to one riddled with channels via a process known as Ostwald ripening. The problem was exacerbated by high temperatures, so it was worse in parts of the US with warm, humid weather. When the airbag deployed, hot gas from combustion flowed through the channels quickly and burned through the material in just 3–5 ms, rather than the 30 ms it was designed to.

Cool article - read the whole thing!