Wednesday, April 24, 2024

You can get drunk without drinking alcohol?

Via the New York Times, I learned about auto-brewery syndrome: 

...In Belgium, the brewery worker — a 40-year-old man who wishes to remain anonymous, according to his lawyer — was pulled over by the police in April 2022 and registered a blood-alcohol reading that was more than four times the legal limit. A month later, he was pulled over again and registered more than three times the limit.

It was the third time the man had been cited — he had been pulled over and fined for driving under the influence in 2019. He was unaware that he had A.B.S. until his latest charge — tests administered by three doctors confirmed that he had the condition and validated his claim in court.

“I think he was somehow relieved that he finally knew what was up,” the man’s lawyer, Anse Ghesquiere, said. Her client is now following a strict diet and receiving medical treatment to avoid flare-ups and manage the condition...

According to this paper, it's cured with anti-fungal medication and a low-sugar diet. To be honest, this doesn't sound very fun. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 552 research/teaching positions and 86 teaching positions

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 552 research/teaching positions and 86 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 April 25, 2023, the 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 622 research/teaching positions and 81 teaching-focused positions.

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

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

Monday, April 22, 2024

C&EN: Disagreement about the decision to vent and burn the vinyl chloride

In this week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News, this comment: 

Thanks for publishing Priyanka Runwal’s fine article on East Palestine, Ohio, in the Feb. 26, 2024, issue of C&EN (page 24).

The Norfolk Southern train derailment should have received a prompt federal response since the onboard cargo was being used in interstate commerce (from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania). The State of Ohio did respond to this disaster, but it took some poking and prodding for the state to act.

I spoke to the governor’s representative in my region, who indicated that the state maintains multiple boards and commissions. The State Emergency Response Commission looked like a good choice for active engagement. But membership was limited to elected officials, emergency management personnel, environmental advocates, firefighters, first responders, industry and trade personnel, law enforcement personnel, and utility personnel. Nothing to engage scientists and engineers in this emergency.

The lack of an expert in science and engineering in charge rendered communication of the facts to residents of East Palestine, people in the nearby communities, and those who sought answers to be spotty at best.

It is my considered opinion that the decision to vent and burn the vinyl chloride was made without expert consultation. As Runwal’s piece noted, former American Chemical Society president William Carroll pointed out in a hearing that the polymerization reaction of vinyl chloride to polyvinyl chloride requires an initiator. Free radicals, such as chemicals containing peroxides, can initiate polymerization. I don’t know whether the conditions existed for the polymerization of vinyl chloride to have occurred.

People in the East Palestine region are still suffering from the response to the derailment. The federal government response to East Palestine must not be the norm, and the states should expand the relevant boards and commissions to include scientists and engineers. In events such as East Palestine, the designated scientists and engineers would handle communicating the facts to those in the impacted communities and beyond.

ACS should play a central role in having regional experts available to the state and federal entities needing such guidance. This is a role in which ACS can make a real, quantifiable difference.

Mitigating disasters is important, as are the lives of the people in the impacted areas. While each incident is different, there is nothing more reassuring to the people in the impacted areas than knowing that they have the best available facts (in real time) and that we’ve got their backs.

David M. Manuta, Waverly, Ohio

I'm terribly curious to see what the various agencies report when the ultimately do so... 

Friday, April 19, 2024

Have a great weekend

Well, I was gifted two quiet days this week, and I got half of what I wanted to get done, done. So here's hoping I can get the other half done on Friday. I hope that you got accomplished what you hoped to, and that you have a fantastic weekend. I know I will try to! See you on Monday. 

Would you pay $1500 to be an Japanese steel manufacturing worker?

Via the New York Times, this very fun trip to an ancient Japanese steel foundry: 

...Safety was paramount because around the flames, at various stations, milled a team of some 20 excited tourists, a mix of both Japanese and a few foreigners, all dressed in very hip dark gray jumpsuits. These were people paying roughly ¥200,000, or about $1,500, for the chance to be a worker in a tatara-ba for a day and night. (They would get to keep the jumpsuits and a small piece of raw steel as souvenirs.) Their faces and hands were streaked by charcoal.

Jewel steel is produced by sprinkling iron sand — alluvial (river-deposited) sand saturated with iron — slowly over a charcoal pit. The tourists spent hours chopping the pine charcoal to precise sizes. They used scoops woven from bamboo to gather heaps of charcoal and dump them atop the furnace.

Off to the side stood a man named Noriaki Yasuda. He was the designated conductor — called a murage — of this slow dance between heat, charcoal and dampened iron sand. Dressed in an electric blue jumpsuit, he stood out in beautiful, almost poetic, contrast to the licking orange flames.

Monitoring the airflow, the color of the fire and the height of the charcoal with paternal concern, Mr. Yasuda scowled and watched, sometimes retreating to sit in his dark alcove, his arms crossed, still scowling and watching. To produce steel using the tatara technique, it turns out, you spend a lot of time watching.

I'm delighted (and not surprised) that there is a touch of chemistry: 

...“Steel is just iron with a little bit of carbon,” Mr. Yasuda explained to me. When I finally built up the courage to talk with him, his face lit up in a wide smile from behind his mask. (Everyone was wearing masks, less out of Covid concerns and more because of the charcoal dust.) He casually led me to a blackboard in the back of his resting space and sketched out the basic chemical formulas of what was happening in the furnace, how charcoal serves two purposes. First, it burns much hotter than wood. And second, its carbon atoms are essential to the formation of steel; embedded between iron atoms, they increase the strength of the metal.

First, as someone who works in chemical manufacturing, I'm guessing that we cannot get tourists to pay $1500 to work a shift - more's the pity. It is also interesting how they are careful with the size of the charcoal - makes sense, i.e. more uniform pieces allow for better control of the heat. Fun article - read the whole thing. 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Job posting: chemistry teacher, Regis High School, New York City, NY

Via C&EN Jobs: 

Position Summary

Regis seeks a qualified candidate to join its faculty as a Chemistry Teacher beginning September 2024 for the Academic Year 2024-2025. This is a full-time faculty position. Position comes with full benefits. Work hours may vary and will include some evenings and weekends for special school events. Salary is very competitive for the New York City area and is commensurate with experience. The 2024-2025 school year for faculty members ends on June 13, 2025.

Job Responsibilities

  • Supports and Advances the Catholic Jesuit Mission of the School
  • Works in collaboration with the administration in observing the principles and ideals for which Regis High School stands for
  • Devotes energies to teaching in conformity with the policies of Regis High School and is subject at all times to the general control and supervision of the Principal
  • Will perform services that include the preparation of examinations, the correction and assignment of grades, and assigned proctoring
  • Responsible for ongoing professional development, the customary conferences with students and parents, individual guidance of students, serving as an academic advisor with a student advisement group, direction of student extracurricular activities, service on faculty committees, active service in studying department and school issues, preparation of syllabi, attendance at events listed in the school’s Faculty Handbook under “Faculty Staff Participation in Key Events,” attendance at faculty meetings, and participation in other such professional incidental services, in the judgment of the Principal, the needs of the school require
  • Will be generally available to the students in their assigned department resource room through the school day when not teaching class; further, is to have one hour after school availability weekly, according to a schedule subject to the approval of the Principal

Qualifications & Skills

  • Position includes teaching 10th grade chemistry classes
  • Position may include working with students in advanced individual science projects in school’s SRP Program (Science Research Program) and may include teaching an advanced chemistry class in the future
  • Experience working with adolescents
  • Excellent organization and communication skills
  • Successful teaching experience (high school or higher education)
  • Familiarity with and understanding of practical uses of technology for instruction


  • B.S. Degree with a major in Biology or Chemistry is required
  • Master's Degree in Biology or Chemistry or a Master of Science in Education is preferred
  • Evidence of continuing professional education through conferences, seminars, or professional associations is preferred

Compensation & Benefits

Salary range - $71,660. Commensurate with years of experience and level of success in the institutional advancement area, eligible for most benefits immediately.

Most benefits go into effect immediately. Participation in the 403 (b) occurs after one year of employment.

To Apply:

Interested applicants should submit a cover letter and resume by email to Qualified applicants will be contacted regarding next steps once all required documents have been submitted. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled.

Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The craziest hybrid sheep story you will hear today

Via Twitter and the Department of Justice: 

Defendant Worked to Traffic Marco Polo Sheep Parts from Kyrgyzstan, Clone Sheep, Illegally Inseminate Ewes to Create Hybrids and Traffic Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Parts

A Montana man pleaded guilty today to two felony wildlife crimes – a conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and substantively violating the Lacey Act – as part of an almost decade-long effort to create giant sheep hybrids in the United States with an aim to sell the species to captive hunting facilities.

Arthur “Jack” Schubarth, 80, of Vaughn, Montana, is the owner and operator of Sun River Enterprises LLC – also known as Schubarth Ranch – which is a 215-acre alternative livestock ranch in Vaughn. The Schubarth Ranch is engaged in the purchase, sale and breeding of “alternative livestock” such as mountain sheep, mountain goats and various ungulates. The primary market for Schubarth’s livestock is captive hunting operations, also known as shooting preserves or game ranches.

According to court documents, Schubarth conspired with at least five other individuals between 2013 and 2021 to create a larger hybrid species of sheep that would garner higher prices from shooting preserves. Schubarth brought parts of the largest sheep in the world, Marco Polo argali sheep (Ovis ammon polii), from Kyrgyzstan into the United States without declaring the importation. Average males can weigh more than 300 pounds with horns that span more than five feet. Marco Polo argali are native to the high elevations of the Pamir region of Central Asia. They are protected internationally by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, domestically by the U.S. Endangered Species Act and are prohibited in the State of Montana to protect native sheep from disease and hybridization.

Schubarth sent genetic material from the argali parts to a lab to create cloned embryos. Schubarth then implanted the embryos in ewes on his ranch, resulting in a single, pure genetic male Marco Polo argali that he named “Montana Mountain King” or MMK.

Court documents explain that Schubarth worked with the other unnamed coconspirators to use MMK’s semen to artificially impregnate various other species of ewes – all of which were prohibited in Montana – and create hybrid animals. Their goal was to create a larger and more valuable species of sheep to sell to captive hunting facilities, primarily in Texas.

Presuming this is true, I can't feel very sorry for Mr. Schubarth. I do wonder if the people who were doing the cloning knew what he was doing, and if they knew it was illicit.  

WuXi in the NYT

There's an article in the New York Times about the BIOSECURE Act, and its impact with WuXi on the general pharmaceutical market. This is the only relevant portion (I feel): 

Last month, after a classified briefing with intelligence staff, the Senate homeland security committee advanced a bill by a vote of 11 to 1: It would bar companies from receiving government contracts for work with Wuxi, but would allow the companies to still obtain contracts for unrelated projects. Government contracts with drugmakers are generally limited, though they were worth billions of dollars in revenue to companies that responded to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The real question is 1) will a bill pass, and 2) what will the bill look like? If the Senate version looks like this (i.e. banning the government from working directly with WuXi, but not stopping pharma companies from working with WuXi), I suspect this is going to not be particularly impactful.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 548 research/teaching positions and 84 teaching positions

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 548 research/teaching positions and 82 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 April 18, 2023, the 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 619 research/teaching positions and 80 teaching-focused positions.

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

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

Monday, April 15, 2024

What's wrong with the new MLB uniforms?

That's a sweaty uniform. 
Credit: The Athletic
Also in this week's C&EN, this vitally important topic (article by Prachi Patel): 

Soon after the 2024 Major League Baseball (MLB) season started in March, sweat stains began to bloom along with spring flowers. In particular, sweat seemed to be soaking through the gray uniform jersey that team members wear when they play away from home, turning them visibly dark.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially sports apparel companies, that athletes sweat. And synthetic sport performance fabrics, whether they’re intended for soccer, track, tennis, or lower-impact activities, are designed to provide temperature control and antibacterial properties to help keep their wearers comfortable and fresh.

In fact, 6 years’ worth of engineering went into the Nike Vapor Premier baseball uniforms, designed by Nike and manufactured by Easton, Pennsylvania–based Fanatics, according to the MLB. So what went wrong?

C&EN asked textile researchers to speculate, and they had fun doing it. “Textile structures are incredibly complex, and when you add chemical finishes, the degree of complexity multiplies,” says Juan Hinestroza, professor of fiber science and apparel design at Cornell University. So the answer to what possibly went wrong is “all of the above,” he says...

Because I'm a chemical manufacturing weirdo, this from the article makes the most sense to me. 

...Whatever the underlying chemical or material gaffe, the problem most likely stems from the uniforms’ complex manufacturing chain. Every MLB jersey and pair of pants is the product of multiple fiber and yarn producers, textile mills, and chemical suppliers spread across the world. To Henry Boyter, an expert on textiles and finishes and director of the Center for Environmentally Sustainable Textile and Apparel Businesses, it’s probably a quality control issue. “There is a large amount of testing that should have been done to ensure quality and that was probably not done,” he says. “We only know for sure that human wear trials were not completed, or ignored.”

I am rather surprised that these issues didn't turn up in their testing, or they ignored these issues. Either way, it doesn't seem like this is turning out well for MLB. I suspect that the second version of these uniforms will be better, but we shall see. 

Bloomberg: Metals prices are surging

Via Bloomberg: 

Aluminum and nickel surged on the London Metal Exchange as traders responded to new US and UK sanctions that banned deliveries of any Russian supplies produced after midnight on Friday.

The new restrictions, aimed at curbing President Vladimir Putin’s ability to fund his military, inject major uncertainties into metals markets that have already been reshaped in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Aluminum jumped as much as 9.4%, the most since the current form of the contract was launched in 1987, while nickel rose as much as 8.8%. That suggests traders believe that removing one of the largest producers from the market will drive prices higher.

The rally is being fueled by “worries that the sanctions will reduce Russian flows to Western markets,” said Jia Zheng, head of trading and research at Shanghai Dongwu Jiuying Investment Management Co. “Any stimulation will be amplified amid an existing bullish backdrop.”

Still, there are also concerns over the prospect of a flood of old Russian metal — which is still permitted — getting dumped onto the LME.

I'm still learning the metals supply chains, so I don't think I have much to say about this, but it is still fascinating. 

Friday, April 12, 2024

Have a great weekend

I have one big thing to do today, and then I get to have a weekend. Here's hoping that you got your work done, and that you're having a great week. Have a good weekend and we'll see you on Monday. 

Moderna pauses its Kenyan manufacturing site

Via FiercePharma: 

Moderna made headlines in 2021 with a commitment to bringing more mRNA manufacturing capabilities to Africa, eventually landing on Kenya as the site of a $500 million plant project. Now, amid waning global vaccine demand, the company has hit pause on the endeavor.

The Spikevax maker is taking a step back to evaluate future demand for mRNA vaccines in Africa as it has not received any vaccine orders from the continent since 2022, Moderna said in a statement.

Cancelations of previous orders have stacked up to “more than $1 billion” in losses and write-downs, according to the mRNA specialist. The company said demand "has declined since the pandemic and is insufficient to support the viability of the factory planned in Kenya." 

Too bad - I was looking forward to the start of biopharma manufacturing in Africa. Here's hoping for brighter days. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Job posting: CMC reviewer, FDA, Silver Spring, MD

Via the Chemistry Discord (deadline is April 12):

The mission of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) is to perform an essential public health task by making sure that safe and effective drugs are available to improve the health of people in the United States. CDER regulates over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs, including biological therapeutics and generic drugs.

The Office of Pharmaceutical Quality (OPQ) oversees and coordinates the overall regulation of pharmaceutical quality within CDER, including quality assessment of regulatory submission, manufacturing facility assessment, research, policy development, and surveillance of the quality of marketed pharmaceutical products.

The Offices of Product Quality Assessment (OPQA) III evaluate and assess product quality aspects over the product lifecycle for all types of human drug product applications, including Investigational New Drugs (INDs), Biologics Licensing Applications (BLAs), New Drug Applications (NDAs), Abbreviated New Drug Applications (ANDAs), and Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) information supporting these applications, and make risk-informed recommendations on the approvability of such products and evaluates and assesses post-marketing activities for these drug products.


As the Pharmaceutical Scientist, the incumbent is responsible for reviewing and evaluating comprehensive information and data on chemistry, formulation, manufacturing (including process monitoring and controls), biopharmaceutics (including drug release), as well as technical aspects of labeling and environmental impact submitted in Biologic License Agreements (BLAs), New Drug Applications (NDAs), Abbreviated New Drug Applications (ANDAs), and supplemental BLAs, NDAs, as appropriate. 

Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Drones as corporate intelligence tools

Via the New York Times, this interesting news about a plastics recycling plant: 

Then in November, Bleecker Street Research — a New York-based short-seller, an investment strategy that involves betting that a company’s stock price will fall — published a report asserting that the white pellets that had rolled off PureCycle’s line in June weren’t recycled from plastic waste. The short-sellers instead claimed that the company had simply run virgin polypropylene through the system as part of a demonstration run.

Mr. Olson said PureCycle hadn’t used consumer waste in the June 2023 run, but it hadn’t used virgin plastic, either. Instead it had used scrap known as “post industrial,” which is what’s left over from the manufacturing process and would otherwise go to a landfill, he said.

Bleecker Street also said it had flown heat-sensing drones over the facility and said it found few signs of commercial-scale activity. The firm also raised questions about the solvent PureCycle was using to break down the plastic, calling it “a nightmare concoction” that was difficult to manage.

PureCycle is now being sued by other investors who accuse the company of making false statements and misleading investors about its setbacks.

Mr. Olson declined to describe the solvent. Regulatory filings reviewed by The New York Times indicate that it is butane, a highly flammable gas, stored under pressure. The company’s filing described the risks of explosion, citing a “worst case scenario” that could cause second-degree burns a half-mile away, and said that to mitigate the risk the plant was equipped with sprinklers, gas detectors and alarms.

It is fascinating to see how these short selling firms work, and it's pretty clever to fly drones to find out more data (beats counting cars in a parking lot, I bet.)  

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 547 research/teaching positions and 82 teaching positions

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 547 research/teaching positions and 82 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 April 11, 2023, the 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 618 research/teaching positions and 77 teaching-focused positions.

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

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

Job posting: visiting assistant professor, Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego, CA

Via Twitter: 

PLNU is a Christian liberal arts university in the evangelical, Wesleyan tradition, offering quality undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. We provide higher education in a vibrant Christian environment where minds are engaged and challenged, character is modeled and formed, and service is an expression of faith. PLNU is an institution that is committed to reflecting the rich diversity of God’s kingdom. We therefore encourage applications from culturally and academically diverse faculty of the highest caliber, skilled and/or demonstrating great potential in the practice of teaching and scholarship. 

The Department of Chemistry is seeking candidates for a one year Visiting Professor of Chemistry. Responsibilities will begin mid-August 2024 and continue until mid-May, 2025. Academic rank will be based on degrees and experience, and the compensation level also depends upon the education and experience of the appointee. Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. The University encourages applications from a diverse group of applicants who support the mission of Point Loma Nazarene University.

Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

C&EN: "Chemours completes financial probe"

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

Chemours’s board of directors has completed an internal review of accounting irregularities that led to the ouster of CEO Mark Newman. In February, Newman was placed on leave pending the review. The probe found that $100 million in payments from Chemours to vendors due in the fourth quarter of 2023 were delayed until the first quarter of this year. Meanwhile, Chemours’s collection of $260 million in receivables due in the first quarter of this year was pushed to the fourth quarter of 2023. The moves boosted the company’s cash flow numbers. The audit found similar gaming in 2022 of $40 million in payments delayed and $175 million in receivables accelerated. Newman has resigned, but the audit may not close the book on the scandal. More than half a dozen law firms are preparing shareholder suits against the company. 

It is remarkable to me that Mr. Newman would decide to attempt this sort of accounting finagling, especially with a publicly traded company. 

Friday, April 5, 2024

Have a great weekend

Well, this has been a pretty chill week (by comparison) for me. Here's hoping that you've had a great week, and that you have a wonderful weekend. See you on Monday! 

Chemical drums found buried beneath a New York community park

Credit: Patch/Town of Oyster Bay
Via Patch: 

BETHPAGE, NY — Six 55-gallon chemical drums were found buried seven feet beneath Bethpage Community Park near the ball field and skatepark, the Town of Oyster Bay announced Wednesday. Supervisor Joseph Saladino renewed demands for Northrop Grumman to excavate all contaminated soils in the park.

"These chemical drums are encased in concrete coffins, which is highly uncommon according to environmental experts," the Town of Oyster Bay wrote.

The town called it a "graveyard of chemical drums."

A Grumman spokesperson said the company discovered several drums encased in concrete beneath a closed area of the park while conducting environmental remediation.

"We promptly notified NYSDEC and other relevant stakeholders and we are working with NYSDEC to assess and address this situation as quickly as possible," Grumman stated. "We remain committed to protecting the health and well-being of the community and to continuing our partnership with NYSDEC and other government regulators to address environmental conditions in the area."

It is really hard to imagine a world in which hazardous waste was not disposed of "properly."* It would be fascinating to know what the thought process around burying these drums were, and what potential other disposal methods there might have been years ago. 

*I'm loathe to credit federal legislation for business regulation, but it seems to me that a United States with RCRA is better than one without.