Friday, March 31, 2023

Have a good weekend


Well, this was a good week, but not an easy one. Here's hoping that you had an easier week than mine, and that you have a great weekend. We'll see you on Monday. 

We're not in charge either

In this week's C&EN, this comment from the chair of the Society Committee on Publications, Christopher K. Ober: 
The Society Committee on Publications (SCOP) has several tasks, but foremost is its role to review and assess the editorial quality and content of the ACS publication program. The membership of SCOP reflects the broad makeup of ACS in all its diversity. Each year, one member is appointed by the ACS president, another by the chair of the ACS Board of Directors, and any additional members are appointed jointly using advice from the Committee on Committees. The chair of SCOP also serves as the chair of the C&EN Editorial Board. SCOP membership serves to connect society members, users of ACS publications, and ACS governing bodies. A term for SCOP membership is 3 years and each member is permitted up to two consecutive 3-year terms.
In the midst of this essay, this grimly amusing comment: 
While the SCOP chair serves as the chair of the C&EN Editorial Board, and the C&EN editor in chief provides a report for each SCOP meeting, the committee has no formal role in advising C&EN. SCOP received news of the recent change in editorial leadership at C&EN at the same time as ACS membership. SCOP looks forward to news on what the changes will mean to C&EN and its ongoing success.

Makes you wonder - is ACS executive leadership unaccountable to ACS governance when it wants to be? (You don't have to wonder.)  

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Job posting: senior lab scientist, Aramco Americas, Boston, MA

Via C&EN Jobs, Aramco Americas is looking for an experienced MS/PhD chemist:

The Boston Research Center is searching for an experienced Research Scientist with a catalysis or materials background who is excited to contribute to the development and success of the Boston Downstream Sustainability Hub. Through the advancement of sustainability solutions, the candidate will contribute to decarbonization efforts and enable Net Zero goals within the oil and gas industry.  The candidate would be expected to mentor junior staff and identify, develop, and lead, new initiatives related to challenges within the area of sustainability (Direct Air Capture, CO2 Utilization, Hydrogen Economy). 

Duties & Responsibilities

  • Develop new initiatives and contribute to existing directions in sustainability, with a focus on Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCUS), hydrogen, and other energy related projects.
  • Build infrastructure for lab-scale prototype demonstration of sustainability initiatives.
  • Play a key role in innovation of novel catalyst systems, reaction pathways, or material solutions for challenges around meeting Net Zero targets.  
  • Leverage understanding of process-structure-property relationships, molecular and/or material design, synthesis & modification to overcome technical challenges, achieve business goals, and advance scientific knowledge.
  • Manage multiple projects to deliver impactful results, meet project timelines, and pro-actively provide strategic inputs to the R&D roadmap.
  • Mentor and develop junior staff.
  • Collaborate with colleagues across functional disciplines.
  • Perform other miscellaneous related duties as requested.
Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Can metals traders really not afford a XRF gun?

From the Wall Street Journal via Insider: 
The London Metal Exchange revealed a surprising mix-up last week at a warehouse in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam.

An operator for the warehouse weighed bags that were thought to contain 54 metric tons of nickel, only to find that they were filled with stones, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It appears that JPMorgan Chase is the unlucky owner of those bags, the Journal said on Monday, citing people familiar with the matter.

Had they contained nickel, the bags would have been worth $1.3 million at current prices, representing 0.14% of nickel inventories, Bloomberg reported. While that means the mix-up will have a relatively minor impact on metal markets, it does call the security of the LME's contracts into question. "In an industry riddled with scandals, the LME's contracts are viewed as unquestionably safe," Bloomberg said.

From Matt Levine's hilarious and informative newsletter, this contribution from Bloomberg News: 

The revelation that about $2 million of “nickel” on the London Metal Exchange was actually just bags of stones has thrown a spotlight on the sprawling web of warehouses and metal stashes underpinning the billions of dollars of derivatives traded daily on the LME.

Over the past week, warehouse staff from Busan in South Korea to Genoa in Italy have rushed to check tens of thousands of two-ton bags of nickel – in some cases, by literally kicking them.

The LME advised warehouse operators to wear steel toe-capped boots for safety, one person who received the instructions said. The rule of thumb: If it hurts when you kick it, it’s probably nickel.

The mass inspection, which also included more carefully calibrated checks like weighing and scanning the bags, came after the LME last week announced it had discovered “irregularities” in nine nickel contracts. 

 I would think that someone receiving bags of nickel would notice a bag of stones, but who knows? 

Monday, March 27, 2023

New ACS CEO Al Horvath on C&EN

In this week's C&EN, this comment from Al Horvath, the new CEO of ACS: 
...I fully support safeguards that ensure our journalists have the necessary independence to pursue the stories that are most important to our readers and to the chemical enterprise as a whole. We are guided in this endeavor by C&EN’s standards and practices, which clearly articulate the important elements for guaranteeing that my C&EN colleagues have the latitude to do their job in the manner they deem most effective. This principle is nonnegotiable.

To underscore this commitment, I made the decision to move C&EN to the ACS Publications Division. This change was made following consultation with a number of colleagues inside and outside the society, including C&EN staff members with deep experience in such matters. It quickly became clear that this organizational change would demonstrate that C&EN has the independence and leeway to cover the issues most important to the chemistry community.

Supporting the high-quality journalism that delivers these stories and producing a multifaceted publication like C&EN comes with a substantial price tag. ACS will continue to provide the financial resources that C&EN requires to achieve its mission....

I'm kind of amused the editorial makes it seem like it's always been in the Publications Division, when we all know that it was moved (disastrously, it turns out) to the Communications Division in 2021. 

(In all sincerity, it is good that Al Horvath is laying down a marker with some pretty unequivocal language. Here's hoping that it is good for the length of his term as CEO. We shall see...)

Friday, March 24, 2023

Have a great weekend

A fun week on the road that was better than deserved. Here's hoping that you had a great week, and that I make it home in one piece, and that you have a great weekend. See you on Monday. 

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Job posting: Researcher - Chemist, FDA, College Park, MD

Via C&EN Jobs: 
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) in College Park, Maryland seeks to hire scientists to participate in our food safety research program. The Office of Regulatory Science (ORS) within CFSAN conducts laboratory investigations in a variety of research areas which include, but are not limited to, food additives, allergens, protein toxins, bacterial identification, plant incorporated protectants, nanomaterials, free radical formation, seafood toxins, species identification, economic adulteration, non-targeted analysis, and industrial contaminants in CFSAN-regulated food, packaging, and cosmetic products. Candidates with expertise in any of the following areas are encouraged to apply: mass spectrometry, non-targeted analysis using HR-MS, spectroscopy, (including IR and Raman), total organic fluorine, antibody-based analyses, and elemental analysis.

Candidates should have a Ph.D. in chemistry or a related field.  Job responsibilities can include, but are not limited to, (1) developing, adapting, and validating quantitative analytical methods for the determination of a variety of compounds in foods, packaging, and cosmetics, (2) operating and maintaining highly complex and specialized scientific instrumentation, (3) writing reports, scientific papers, and scientific publications, and (4) representing the organization on scientific committees and participation at scientific conferences and meetings.

U.S. citizenship is required, and the start date is negotiable. Starting salary is dependent upon experience.  If interested, please email your CV to

Best wishes to those interested.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Retraction Watch: chemist who had PhD revoked still claims it

Via Retraction Watch (article written March 1): 
By the time Shiladitya Sen was officially declared guilty of research misconduct in 2018 by U.S. federal officials, The Ohio State University had long since stripped him of his doctorate in chemistry. 

Years later, however, Sen is still billing himself as a PhD in the signature of his work email at a company that provides lab mice and other animals to many scientists, Retraction Watch has learned.

Sen, now a director of analytical chemistry at Charles River Laboratories, with headquarters in Wilmington, Mass., confirmed to us by phone that he has not earned another doctoral degree. He hung up when asked why his email signature claims he has a PhD.

According to an investigation by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI), Sen “knowingly and intentionally” falsified and/or fabricated data in a now-retracted 2013 paper in PNAS, his PhD thesis, a poster presentation, and two grant applications to the National Institutes of Health. He agreed not to seek federal funding for three years.

A Charles River Laboratories spokesperson told us company’s policy is “not to comment on employees of Charles River.”

I have to say, I am a bit surprised at this, but then again, it's not like people really check transcripts and diplomas. It happens, I guess. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 614 research/teaching positions and 73 teaching positions

The 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 614 research/teaching positions and 73 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 March 22, 2022, the 2022 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 576 research/teaching positions and 104 teaching faculty positions. On March 23, 2021, the 2021 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 314 research/teaching positions and 58 teaching faculty positions. 

Want to talk anonymously? Have an update on the status of a job search? This will be the fourth open thread. Here's a link to the current (third) thread. Here's a link to the second 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. 

Job posting: assistant professor, Morehead State University, Morehead, KY

From the inbox: 
The Chemistry department at Morehead State University is accepting applications for a full-time position as a Tenure Track Assistant Professor, Chemistry (Organic). The anticipated start date is August 7, 2023.

Morehead State University is located in Morehead, KY, a designated Kentucky Trail Town, nestled in the Daniel Boone National Forest, in close proximity to Cave Run Lake. This location provides opportunities for a wide-range of outdoor recreation activities. Morehead State University is recognized as one of the top public universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report. Additionally, Morehead State University is relatively close to a number of larger cities including Lexington, KY, Louisville, KY, and Cincinnati, OH. Morehead State University delivers a strong and affordable education for friendly, ambitious students who thrive in a student-focused learning environment defined by small class sizes and faculty committed to teaching and student success.

RESPONSIBILITIES: Teaching responsibilities will include upper division chemistry courses in area of expertise, chemistry courses for science majors, agriculture and allied health majors, and associated labs. Lab preparation duties may also be required. The successful candidate is expected to establish an active undergraduate research program and participate in various service activities.

REQUIREMENTS: The applicant must have a Ph.D. in Chemistry or Biochemistry (Organic preferred). ABD with completion by December 2023 would also be considered.

Priority date of April 11, 2023. Best wishes to those interested.  

Monday, March 20, 2023

C&EN on elemental analysis

Via C&EN (article by Alla Katsnelson):

A few years ago, Saurabh Chitnis, a synthetic chemist at Dalhousie University, did some math that spurred a radical decision. He calculated what it was costing him to send lab-made compounds away for elemental analysis, a classic technique in which a compound is burned to determine its molecular composition. Then, fueled by that enormous sum, he sat down and wrote a grant to buy a $75,000 machine. Installed last September, it allows him and six other chemists in his department to do the analysis on-site.

“I’m not an analytical chemist who would typically have this instrument,” Chitnis says. “It’s very specialized and expensive, not just to purchase but also to maintain.” But his calculations showed it was worth it. “At one point, 12% of my research funding was going towards burning my chemistry.”

These days, chemists who need to conduct elemental analysis often have to send their compounds to companies, or to other universities that do elemental analysis for a fee. For each sample, these testing companies typically send back three numbers, without the raw data to back them, indicating what percentage of the burned sample consists of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen.

It seems to me elemental analysis is not well suited for confirmation of purity for many compounds! Hard to say what could take its place, though... 

Friday, March 17, 2023

Have a good weekend

Well, this week wasn't a complete disaster, even though it really felt like it might get there. Some good, some bad. I hope you had a good week, and I hope you have an even better weekend. See you on Monday. 

C&EN: Anticompetitive behavior at fragrance manufacturers?

Fascinating news (article by Alex Scott): 
The European Commission has begun investigating fragrance ingredient manufacturers for possible anticompetitive practices that could hurt buyers of their products. The EC, along with authorities in Switzerland and the UK, carried out raids on March 7 to collect evidence at the premises of some of Europe’s biggest fragrance ingredient firms. The US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division is also involved in the probe.

In addition to the raids, the EC says it has sent formal requests for information to several companies in the sector. International Flavors & Fragrances, Firmenich, Givaudan, and Symrise have confirmed to C&EN that they are part of the investigation, and all say they are cooperating fully with authorities.

The Swiss competition commission says it “has indications that several undertakings active in the production of fragrances have violated cartel law.” It adds that “there are suspicions that these undertakings have coordinated their pricing policy, prohibited their competitors from supplying certain customers and limited the production of certain fragrances.” Swiss authorities say they will examine whether competition in the fragrance sector has been restricted in ways prohibited by cartel law.

Read the whole thing here. 

I gotta say, I genuinely do not understand how a group of firms could get together like this without one of them defecting, either to the market or to the authorities, but I suspect that the history of guilds would prove me quite incorrect. This will be interesting to follow... 

(also, how could the Unilevers of the world not notice this?) 


Thursday, March 16, 2023

Ask CJ: transition to data science

From the inbox (redacted for privacy): 

I was wondering if you have any advice on getting OUT of Chemistry? After [3-6 years] of industry after grad school [with a master's] I have found I liked coding & analyzing data a lot more than doing R&D and the issues that come with it in an industrial setting.

 I was just wondering if you know a lot of people who HAVE transitioned to data science/data analytics, so I can manage my expectations on if I should expect a paycut, how long the process takes, how much technical experience people had when they left, etc. [redacted]

A lot of my technical skills are self-taught and not on-the-job experience. I don't think my career path is unheard of, I was just wondering if you have any advice coming from an R&D synthetic chemist perspective that might help me get to an interview.

For past data science questions, here's an old post. 

I don't have much expertise in this, and so I will leave it to the commenters. I think that what a person needs to demonstrate interest in moving to a new field is the basic educational background (which probably can be made clear with some kind of programming/coding certificate) combined with sufficient on-the-job/off-the-job experience in the field to the point that you've demonstrated some kind of level of understanding. 

Readers, I'm genuinely not familiar with this, so do you have any thoughts? 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Eastman chemist plays newly composed work on Erlenmeyer flasks

From an Eastman press release:

As an Eastman chemist for more than 20 years, it might seem unusual for Stephen Orth to be apprehensive working with lab ware. But Orth was anxious during a recent Saturday experiment that included Erlenmeyer flasks, beakers and test tubes.

“I was pretty nervous at first, from the standpoint that this was not my forte,” Orth admitted.

Orth quickly found his rhythm and the experiment was a success — music to the ears of any scientist. And this was, in fact, music created with the tools Orth knows so well on a musical stage in Kingsport, Tennessee, instead of in an Eastman lab. With drumsticks, Orth played percussion a range of lab glass during a Symphony of the Mountains performance titled “Isotone: A Collision of Science and Music” that celebrated Eastman and the wonders of science.

Something tells me that there is a grad student out there who has done a mean version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" on a 24/40 column out there, but they probably aren't on YouTube...

Monday, March 13, 2023


Also in this week's C&EN, this letter to the editor: 
What ChatGPT means for chemistry

Recent inroads made in chemistry seemingly have little to do with historical techniques that advanced the central science. The discovery of a new organic reaction or mechanism, invention of click chemistry, development of powerful light sources for X-rays, advent of 3D nuclear magnetic resonance and cryo-electron microscopy techniques, hyphenation of analytical techniques, and ab initio computation to solve chemical and biochemical problems seem “so yesterday.” Today, these rigorous and pejoratively “incremental” techniques have been broadsided by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and programs such as AlphaFold, which has predicted over 200 million structures to date.

AI’s rapid growth has predictably resulted in the creation of an interactive graphical platform called ChatGPT. Its ramifications for those in academia and the chemical craft cannot be ignored.

ChatGPT’s “dialogue format makes it possible for ChatGPT to answer followup questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises, and reject inappropriate requests,” OpenAI, the company that made the program, says on its website. ChatGPT has revolutionized the search function to upend traditional engines such as Google. Its capacity to improve and accelerate the pace of research is significant. It paves the way for easy and rapid access to tomes of information.

Yet ChatGPT is not designed to substitute human intelligence. Nor is it capable of doing so. It ought to be regarded as a tool that supports, synergizes with, and amplifies researchers’ efforts. ChatGPT’s ability to write abstracts, rectify information, correct mistakes, and even coauthor publications is both welcome and worrisome. While there is no undoing this behemoth, it behooves the student of science and chemistry, be it a high schooler, undergraduate, graduate student, postdoctoral scholar, or academic or industrial researcher, to use it in a manner akin to the library and the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics of the days of yore.

Establishing a culture of responsible use that educates individuals about the capabilities and limitations of ChatGPT is crucial. This can be accomplished by creating rules, best practices, and training programs on how to use ChatGPT responsibly rather than dismissing it, as might be the wont of a purist. Its application should not diminish the significance of contributions that human intelligence and creativity may provide to health, ecological well-being, and general good. While it is incumbent upon us not to subjugate ourselves to it, it is yet another inroad that can take chemistry skyward.

Disclaimer: This article was not written by ChatGPT.

Payam Kelich and Mahesh Narayan
El Paso, Texas
So who knows what ChatGPT will be like in ten years, but what turned me away from ChatGPT as a research tool was learning from Laura Howes that someone emailed her asking for an article that she didn't write because the AI suggested that she did. 

I would imagine that, over time, it would be easy enough to root this out. And, I'm broadly sure that there were errors in the CRC Handbook as well, but I am 100% positive that the rate of errors is far higher for ChatGPT than it is for any text in a typical chemistry library. 

C&EN: Bachem increasing peptide capacity

In this week's C&EN (by Rick Mullin): 

Bachem inks peptide supply pact

Bachem has signed an agreement to supply large volumes of peptides to an undisclosed customer. Manufacturing will primarily take place at the company’s large-scale production facility currently under construction in Bubendorf, Switzerland. The Swiss firm says the order commits it to supplying a volume of peptides valued at over $530 million between 2027 and 2031. The facility at Budendorf, scheduled to open in 2024, will nearly double its manufacturing capacity for peptides and oligonucleotides.
Bold prediction: I'm curious to see if this will increase over the next 1-3 years. I have a real feeling about this...