Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reflections on seeing a picture of an empty lab

Tom Stanton of the real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle shows off empty lab space at Roche in Nutley, N.J.
Credit: WYNC
NPR has an story today about the old Roche facility in Nutley, New Jersey. I find this picture incredibly sad for its emptiness. There are no reagents on the shelves, no dishes on the rack, no clutter on the bench top nor reactions in the hoods. 

Someone once said that Spielberg used flashlights to tell you "something is not quite right here"; when I look at that real estate guy in that lab without lab glasses on, I have that same feeling. 

Of course, something isn't right there -- what was once probably a bustling laboratory is now empty, what might have been filled with laughter, or swearing or hopeful science isn't anymore. 

Here's hoping that some enterprising souls will purchase that lab and do some good with it. Best wishes to them, and to all of us. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Busy this morning

But in the meantime, a favorite story from Derek Lowe:
There was, the story goes, a pork-pie company over in England that was producing huge numbers of the things. Huge, that is, compared to their number of employees. In fact, on closer inspection, they were cranking out more pork pies than even seemed possible. This began to attract attention, and soon a team of managerial consultants had flown over from the US, eager to learn the secret. 
"Do you have Pareto chart analysis?", they asked the owner of the firm. "No, no, nothing like that, he said. "Six-sigma black belt tiger teams?" asked another. "Speak English," said the owner, squinting at the consultant. "Multifactor quality control analysis, then?" came the next question, but that just got another impatient "No, no, never heard of it". 
"Look now", said the factory owner, waving them all off, "I'll tell how things work here. Every so often, I just go over to that window there, the one that looks out over the floor, and I stick my head through, and I have a look around, and then I scream FASTER, YOU BASTAAAAARDS! And that's all there is to it."
FASTER, YOU BASTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARDS! 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Suggestions for the ACS' industrial chemists committee?

Also in this week's C&EN, a column talking about what ACS is doing for industrial chemists by Dawn Mason, the chair of Corporation Associates committee, which is the ACS's "formal link between these chemists and the society."

Here are the list of areas the CA commitee is currently working on: 
  • Safety
  • Lobbying Congress 
  • ACS policy statements
  • Educational outreach
  • Entrepreneurialism
  • Awards 
Dr. Mason ends with this statement:
We don’t do this work in a vacuum and are appreciative of all the other committees we team with to accomplish our common goals. We continuously strive to improve ACS’s ability to address the needs of its industrial members. If you have ideas or have identified unmet needs for our industrial members, please send them to industry@acs.org.
I'm a little surprised that there is not more of an "needs of industrial chemists" focus, as opposed to "needs of industrial chemistry", which is where most of the policy focus seems to be. Thinking about wages, salaries, unemployment and growing careers amongst industrial chemists would seem to be a great start. 

Chemtura in lawsuit on brominated flame retardants?

In this week's C&EN, a fascinating little comment from the CEO of Chemtura on flame retardants (article by Marc Reisch): 
Although growth is promising in lubricants and urethanes, the bromine business is going through a difficult time because of a lull in demand for flame retardants used in electronic equipment, Rogerson acknowledges. 
That business is also under pressure from regulators. Methyl bromide, for example, is being phased out as a fumigant because it depletes Earth’s ozone layer. And last year California, which sets the regulatory tone for the rest of the U.S., redefined safety standards for upholstered furniture so that brominated flame retardants would not be required. 
Earlier this year, Chemtura sued the state over the upholstery standards revision. “We probably didn’t respond as strongly as we should have to the negative media coverage in 2012,” which suggested that bromine in upholstery affects human health, Rogerson says. “By not saying enough and putting the facts out there, we probably were implicitly saying maybe they had something to the story.” 
With the lawsuit, “we said we are going to make our position known.” The suit may or may not succeed, but “it will at least bring to people’s attention that the standards were weakened” and that the state didn’t follow proper procedures in making the changes.
Kind of an expensive press release, no? I hope it works out for them.  

This week's C&EN

Lots of interesting articles in this week C&EN:

Friday, July 25, 2014

"It's a miracle"



Management lessons from Bull Durham. Have a great weekend! 

Why STEM is TE: post-secondary education requirements edition

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, a fascinating microcosm of the STEM problem: 
Casale said during the recession, the education level expected by Minnesota employers rose and as the state bounced back, degree requirements fell. In June, the state had the 10th-lowest unemployment rate in the nation. 
Still, there are remaining factors that determine a higher degree’s level of success — especially its area of focus. In the fourth quarter of last year, 80 percent of responding computer and mathematical employers in Minnesota required post-secondary education and 92 percent required at least one year of previous experience, according to the Job Vacancy Survey.
That contrasts with life, physical and social sciences, where about 95 percent of employers required post-secondary education and just over 80 percent of them required previous experience. 
In the survey, the department asks employers twice a year for the lowest level of degree that would qualify someone to fill their positions. Casale said the job market for biological science graduates isn’t as strong as it is for those who go into engineering and chemistry. 
Dani Mae Janssen, a mechanical engineering doctoral candidate, said she hopes to leave the University [of Minnesota -- CJ's note] next spring and pursue work as an academic or do research, potentially around Minneapolis. 
She said she doesn’t think employers consider people with less than a master’s degree for open positions in her field. But she said she lacks the internships that other students have and that employers have come to expect. 
For now, the only way the University tracks its graduate students after they leave is through their chosen program, said Belinda Cheung, assistant vice provost of the University’s Graduate School, and definitive numbers for given departments and degrees aren’t easy to locate.
Longtime readers of this blog will note that computer science positions want less education and experience than life, physical and social sciences, which is either evidence that 1) they're willing to train their people more or 2) they have reasonable job growth in their field.

Also, I think it's fascinating that the University of Minnesota and its programs are basically willing to admit that it doesn't know really what happens to its graduates after they leave the university. It's almost as if LinkedIn (and Google and the telephone and perhaps the United States Postal Service) doesn't exist. Ah, well.

Here we go again: biologicals are chemicals, too

I should probably quit beating this drum, but I cannot resist this one. From the Washington Post's Health Reform Watch, Jason Millman writes about the new FDA biosimilars news:
The Food and Drug and Administration for the first time has accepted an application for a copycat version of what's known as a biologic, which is a complex drug made from proteins of living organisms. These biologics are cutting-edge therapies that can be more effective than regular drugs made from chemicals — and, not surprisingly, they also can be expensive.
What's the right way to talk about this? Do you go back to "everything is chemicals", or do you say "small molecules"? I dunno.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Anyone ever had grad student/postdoc pay stop because of the university changing its policies?

I'm hearing about grad students at a research university having their pay periods change, and therefore basically missing a paycheck. There is blame on the Affordable Care Act, which is a little odd.

What happens in these sort of situations? Has anyone ever heard of such a thing? What is the most effective way for a group of graduate students or postdocs to mount a response? 

Job posting: FDA postdoc in surface analytical chemistry, Winchester, MA

From the inbox:
I am looking for post-doctoral fellow to work with me on a project developing Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS) methods.  Raman experience is not required, analytical chemistry skills are needed.  I can provide more information to interested individuals.  Please follow up if I can provide more information or if you know someone looking for a position.  The monthly stipend is $6,239 (no benefits/insurance is provided).  The position is for one year, if mutually agreed can be renewed an additional year.
Interested? Contact Abdur-Rafay Shareef at Abdurrafay.Shareef-at-fda.hhs.gov 

Daily Pump Trap: 7/24/14 edition

A few of the recent positions posted on C&EN Jobs:

我的工作去了哪里?: Abbvie is looking for medicinal chemists... in Shanghai:
We currently have openings for medicinal chemists at our new, state-of-the-art facility in Shanghai, China.  
...Must have fluency in both Mandarin and English, and be willing to relocate to China.
Ahhhhh: It's time for CJ to grind this ax again -- IRIX is looking for a QC senior scientist:
Analyst will utilize analytical instrumentation and wet chemistry techniques for analysis of raw materials, in-process samples, and finished products.  
Minimum BS, prefer MS with 5 - 10 years  laboratory experience in a cGMP enviornment . 
Additional Salary Information: Great benefit package + bonus program
 They're offering 50-75k. Does that seem low to anyone? It's probably just me.

Irving, TX: ITW Polymers is looking for a polymers chemist. Rather wide educational credentials:
Minimum Bachelor’s Degree in chemistry, chemical engineering, polymer science, polymer engineering or equivalent discipline with 5 to 7 years of related industry experience or 3 to 5 years related industry experience with a Master’s Degree in any of the above disciplines.
Wide-ish pay as well, with listing between 70-100k.

Pleasanton, CA: The Clorox Company posts its usual slate of openings, this time including a postdoc position in microbiology.

ACS SF Career Fair Watch: 27 openings for the Career Fair, 4 for the Virtual Career Fair. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer senryu

Busy today, but I thought I would write a few senryu:

Summer undergrad
Can't work the rotovap yet
Hope they will learn soon 

Project reports suck
I hate doing them so much
Maybe beer will help

Management cites lit
Pretty sure it doesn't mean
What you think it does

Another meeting
Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah
Please let's have one more

Monday, July 21, 2014

Well, since you asked


I got randomly selected for an online survey about the ACS. I found this one to be a good question. 

What is a project house?

In an article by Alex Scott about Clariant and its R&D structure, an interesting paragraph (emphasis mine):
The company now has eight R&D centers and 50 technical application labs worldwide. “We now have a very good infrastructure for trying to develop innovations,” Kottmann said. 
Clariant is also testing models for accelerating innovation. One such model, in trials for the past couple of years, is the so-called project house, which draws together chemists and commercial executives from Clariant and beyond to identify and execute intensive product development. The firm’s first project house, which is in Italy, is for its masterbatches business, which supplies color and performance additive concentrates to plastics makers. The project house is still at the trial phase but is proving extremely beneficial, the company said. 
Even in businesses without the project house structure, Clariant is seeking to closely link research with commercial activities, said Christian Kohlpaintner, Clariant’s board member responsible for R&D. This has been the case with the firm’s Synergen OS adjuvant, a blend of methylated seed oil and a polymeric surfactant. The product encourages sprayed-on pesticide to stick to plant leaves, leading to enhanced exposure to the active ingredients.
I don't quite understand -- is the "house" an actual physical building or is it a structure? 

C&EN tackles chronic traumatic encephalopathy

Lauren Wolf looks at scientists trying to track the accumulation of tau (and other signs of CTE) in vivo: 
...One question they’d like to answer is how much brain injury a person can handle before CTE sets in. With support from the Nevada Athletic Commission and local fight promoters, the group is gathering data by periodically testing its fighters and comparing them with a control group of age- and education-matched people who have never had head trauma. When the test subjects visit the Lou Ruvo Center, they update their fight records, take cognitive tests, and lie down inside a magnetic resonance imaging machine. 
“We’re looking at a variety of MRI modalities,” Bernick explains. He isn’t yet sure which combination of MRI scan types will be most useful for detecting CTE-related brain damage and tracking it over time, so his group is running a full battery of them. 
A few have shown promise so far. Volumetric MRI, which constructs a three-dimensional view of the brain, has indicated that subjects who fought more bouts during the study’s first year had greater tissue loss in regions of the brain called the corpus callosum and putamen. The corpus callosum is a bundle of nerve fibers that connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and the putamen is a structure deeper within the brain that helps regulate movement and learning.
The results of diffusion tensor imaging, another type of MRI, also suggested that some of the study’s fighters have a thinning corpus callosum. This type of imaging maps the 3-D movement of water throughout the brain. Water typically flows parallel to nerve fibers, so when that flow pattern changes in a particular brain region, scientists take it as a sign of neuronal damage in that spot.
[snip]
...Four years ago, when Robert A. Stern was writing grants for a large-scale CTE study, he says it was far-fetched that scientists would be able to see phosphorylated tau in the living brain anytime soon. “Much to my delight, there are a couple groups who have now done it,” says Stern, a neuropsychologist at Boston University who collaborates with McKee. 
Stern is working with one of the groups, now at Eli Lilly & Co. subsidiary Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, to test a tau radiotracer in retired NFL players. The trial has been tacked onto Stern’s larger study, called DETECT (Diagnosing & Evaluating Traumatic Encephalopathy using Clinical Tests), which is comparing participants with a control group of age-matched athletes, such as baseball players, who never played contact sports... 
I am really disturbed at the mounting scientific evidence that some contact sports are actively harmful to players' brains. Here's hoping that, over the years, we can understand if all or just some individuals tend to get CTE and why. Is there a correlation between sport/position played and likelihood of CTE diagnosis? How long does it take before CTE sets in? (The article says that it has been detected in high school athletes.) Yikes.

Am I crazy, or did most folks know Chris Benoit as just "Chris Benoit"? I never heard the "Canadian Crippler" nickname until now. 

This week's C&EN

From this week's issue: 

Wonderful quotes on committees: This letter on open workspaces takes a funny turn towards the end:
...Teamwork and collaboration are important, but so is individual thought. The late science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein defined a committee as “a creature with three or more legs and no brain.” The National Aeronautics & Space Administration put it similarly: “None of us is as dumb as all of us.” 
James M. Castro
Helena, Mont.
Um, what's going on in Atlanta?: Andrea Widener covers the CDC anthrax debacle. I'd love to know what's going on and what internal employees think of it. It certainly seems dangerous, anyway.

The ACS Presidential race: An interesting slate of candidates (article by Sophie Rovner):
Candidates for president-elect are Peter K. Dorhout, dean of arts and sciences and a professor of chemistry at Kansas State University, Manhattan; William A. Lester Jr., a professor of the graduate school in the chemistry department at the University of California, Berkeley, and faculty senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and Donna J. Nelson, an organic chemistry professor at the University of Oklahoma.
I wonder if Professor Nelson's association with "Breaking Bad" (she was the show's technical adviser) will help or hurt her candidacy? I'll bet it will help.