Friday, February 5, 2016

Red flag? I don't see no red flag

I challenge UC's call. Credit: PFT
You may have heard about this New York Times story by Amy Harmon about Jason Lieb, the University of Chicago molecular biology professor who resigned after the university administration made conclusions about his behavior at an off-campus retreat (this is a longer post, so the rest is after the jump.) 
...The professor, Jason Lieb, 43, made unwelcome sexual advances to several female graduate students at an off-campus retreat of the molecular biosciences division, according to a university investigation letter obtained by The New York Times, and engaged in sexual activity with a student who was “incapacitated due to alcohol and therefore could not consent.” 
Dr. Lieb, who has received millions of dollars in federal grants over the last decade, did not respond to requests for comment.
“In light of the severity and pervasiveness of Professor Lieb’s conduct, and the broad, negative impact the conduct has had on the educational and work environment of students, faculty and staff, I recommend that the university terminate Professor Lieb’s academic appointment,” reads the letter, signed by Sarah Wake, assistant provost and director of the office for equal opportunity programs. 
Dr. Lieb stepped down last month before any action was taken....

Job posting: experienced process chemist, Gilead, Foster City, CA

From the inbox, a position at Gilead in Foster City*:
Specific Responsibilities and skills for Position: 
LEAD and COORDINATE - chemistry project teams.
  • Identify process improvements.
  • Devise novel solutions and strategies to complex synthetic problems and implement in the lab and Pilot Plant.
  • Deliver high quality API requirements on time.
  • Prepare timely documentation (batch records, reports, development reports, etc).
  • Provide technical, problem solving, and scientific leadership.
  • Preparation of documents for regulatory submission (e.g. IND filing / update, NDA filing etc.)
  • Proven track record of significant accomplishment in Process Development
Knowledge, Experience and Skills: 
  • 7+ years of experience and PhD in a relevant scientific discipline.
  • BS or MS degree with extensive industry experience. 
Apply to the opening here. Best wishes to those interested. 

*Hey, Gilead readers: what's it like to live in Foster City? Do you actually live there? or where do you live?

C&EN: Medicinal chemist selling rotovap chilling device

Credit: C&EN/George Adjabeng
Also in this week's C&EN, a really great little story about a chemist who is selling a rotovap
condenser chiller (story by Marc Reisch, registration required):
[George] Adjabeng’s experience with rotovaps started at Ghana’s University of Cape Coast. After graduating in 2001, he received an M.S. degree in organic chemistry from Ontario’s Brock University and went to work for Roche in California. From 2004 to 2011, he worked for GlaxoSmithKline in North Carolina where he was a discoverer of Tafinlar, a drug that treats advanced melanoma. 
“I used rotovaps while I was in school and at work,” Adjabeng says. At times, he says, “I’d spend all day going back and forth getting dry ice to recharge the rotovap condenser.” He left GSK to get a business degree because, he says, “I didn’t want to be in the lab for the rest of my career.” During his studies, he was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. “I met people who had started up university-research-based spin-outs,” he says. 
Seeking a technology of his own, Adjabeng recalled his experience in the lab and conceived of the EcoChyll. He also sought out people familiar with refrigeration technology and worked with the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University to develop the prototype he is now testing with potential users. Adjabeng and his friend initially funded development of the EcoChyll out of their own pockets. More recently, an angel investor kicked in $100,000. 
Planning to test the EcoChyll in his lab is University of California, Berkeley, chemistry professor Richmond Sarpong. Given California’s water shortage, Sarpong notes, tap water cooling is rarely used. “But we use a lot of dry ice. It’s expensive and not the most sustainable thing,” he says.
The article goes on to say that he plans to charge somewhere in the $9,000-$12,000 range, which is kinda pricey, but hey! I'm not an entrepreneur and George Adjabeng is. Best wishes to him.

(I presume the problem is this: Mr. Adjabeng's product appears to be aimed at the small chemical business and academic market. It would be interesting to know how many chemistry professors care about dry ice consumable usage. (I certainly know that small chemical business do, but how many of those are there?) How many new rotovaps does Buchi sell in a year in the United States, and beyond? How many of those are run by water-based condensers, as opposed to dry ice, or antifreeze-based recirculating chillers?) 

January 2016 numbers show 151,000 new jobs, 4.9% unemployment

The latest from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates somewhat less job growth than seen in previous months. Job growth is getting awfully close to fabled "full employment", with the National Unemployment Rate for January at 4.9%, down 0.1% from December. The broader U6 measurement of unemployment was also flat at 9.9%.

The number of people employed in the chemical manufacturing subsector was 817,100, up 2,100 positions from December's 815,000. I expect this number to trend down as the Dow/DuPont layoffs kick in, as well as all the various oil company perturbations (although that will likely be recorded in the petroleum and coal products subsector.)

The unemployment rate for college graduates, age 25 and up has been flat for a while at 2.5%. The unemployment rate for non-high school graduates, by comparison, is 7.4%, up from December's 6.7%. If we are to have a bagel this year, I suspect we'll see that show up in the non-high school graduate numbers first.

Also, wage news: "Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.5 percent. In January, average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees rose by 6 cents to $21.33." I hope that's good news. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Raise wages? Are you nuts?!?!

Driving into work the other day, I was amused to listen to a story on Marketplace (the public radio business show) where the reporter was marveling at the 3% unemployment rate in Iowa.* I was also amused to hear the "s-word" about the difficulty in finding workers in The Hawkeye State:
...Swenson said a worker shortage is part of the problem. It’s hard to get people to move to Iowa or keep skilled workers from heading to states with higher wage opportunities. The shortage of workers makes attracting new businesses tougher, too. 
Swenson said one would expect employers to start bidding up pay to compete more aggressively. He said average earnings are about 80 percent of the national average, and many rural Iowans work more than one job. 
But Wells Fargo economist Michael Swanson said there are risks to recruiting with higher pay.  
“If I start raising rates to attract new employees, I have to raise wages for everyone in my organization,” he said.
First, I should say this is one of those things that we who criticize employers for low wages don't often take into account - it's not just the latest worker's pay, it's also everyone else's pay that needs to be calibrated to the new higher amount. That said, I don't think anyone has to worry that managers are losing sleep over how to make their new higher payroll:
Kemin Industries, an agricultural and biotech company based in Des Moines, isn’t raising wages much to deal with its worker shortage. Instead, Amanda Formaro, an HR director, said the company has stepped up recruiting and is looking at ways to help low-skilled workers get training.
Well, it's a good thing they've found a solution. Heaven forfend they'd have to raise rates significantly.

*Truly, that is a remarkably low rate for U3 unemployment. Hard to say what the broader U6 measurement might be.

Daily Pump Trap: 2/4/16 edition

A few of the positions posted in C&EN Jobs:

A relative bumper crop: nice to see. 

King of Prussia, PA: Two separate sets of process positions with GSK; looks like they're interviewing for them in San Diego. 

AstraZeneca: Looking for a computational ADME scientist; "Cambridge, UK, Gothenburg, Sweden or Boston, USA." Call me a homer, but I'd choose Boston, though I've heard Gothenburg is nice. 

Moderna: They're looking for a research associate/senior research associate for their solid-phase oligonucleotide synthesis work. 

Amgen: Looking for a Ph.D. solid state scientist in Thousand Oaks. 

Kalamazoo, MI: Kalsec routinely posts these positions, but they're looking for a lead scientist for hops right now. (That's pretty far from the hops growing regions, yes?)

And the other aisle: E&J Gallo looking for a research chemist 3. (It's hard to think about winemaking as a "process", but it undoubtedly is.) 

And the other, other aisle: Coca-Cola (Atlanta, GA) is looking for an experienced analytical chemist. PepsiCo (Valhalla, NY) is looking for a B.S./M.S. R&D chemist to work on packaging solution. 

Interesting: Bionew is an electronics recycling company; they are looking for a "chemical procurement analyst." A little different. 

Oak Ridge, TN: Oak Ridge National Laboratory looking for a senior polymer scientist. 

Cleveland, OH: Not every day around these parts that you see a Sherwin-Williams ad; they're looking for an experienced paint formulation chemist. 

Loving the CamelCase here: WaVe Life Sciences is looking for a Ph.D. synthetic oligonucleotide chemist. Looks relatively entry-level (1 year experience.) 

Ivory Filter Flask: 2/4/16 edition

A few of the academic positions posted at C&EN Jobs:

Worcester, MA: Worcester Polytechnic looking for a professor of organic chemistry, all levels; "expertise in organic synthesis related to chemical biology, bioorganic chemistry, materials or green chemistry."

Stony Brook, NY: Stony Brook University conducting an open search for a faculty member to perform research on radiotracer synthesis/PET.

Kirksville, MO: Truman State University searching for a professor of analytical chemistry.

St. Cloud, MN: Two positions at St. Cloud State. 

Washington, DC: Pretty sure this Gallaudet analytical/physical opening was already posted, but it's so interesting, I thought I'd post it again. 

Princeton, NJ: Princeton looking for a lecturer in inorganic chemistry.

Tacoma, WA: University of Puget Sound is looking for a visiting assistant professor in chemistry.

Ashland, VA: Randolph-Macon College, also looking for a VAP.

Whittier, CA: Whittier College looking for an analytical chemistry VAP.

Evanston, IL: Drug delivery/analytical postdoc in the Kiser Lab. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Anyone got a spare $800,000?

It always amazes me what you can find on the used equipment market, and this 700 MHz Bruker is no exception:
Description: Bruker 700 MHz Ultrashield NMR 
Item-Specific Notes:  
Bruker Avance 700 MHz UltraShield NMR System with CryoPlatform / CryoProbe. 5-channel system for solution protein NMR with 3 probes. Original cost of system and CryoProbe upgrade approximately $1.8MM. 
Date Originally Installed: 2003. System updated to TopSpin 2.1 software in 2009. Firmware updates done in October 2013.
Professionally decommissioned June 2015. 
System was maintained under service contract with Bruker until 2014 with annual maintenance. Magnet helium hold times 4+ months, with helium refills every 4 months, nitrogen refills every 10-14 days.
What does this bad boy cost, anyway? My guess is ~$800,000, but I dunno, it's been a while since I've been in the used NMR market.

(Anyone know the story behind this thing? Who needed a 700 MHz NMR in San Diego? Old Scripps equipment?) 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

This week's C&EN

A few articles from this week's C&EN:

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday conversation: STS winner != Nobel Prize winner

From the New York Times and its book advertisements thinkpieces, a really dumb conclusion from Wharton professor Adam Evans:
THEY learn to read at age 2, play Bach at 4, breeze through calculus at 6, and speak foreign languages fluently by 8. Their classmates shudder with envy; their parents rejoice at winning the lottery. But to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, their careers tend to end not with a bang, but with a whimper. 
Consider the nation’s most prestigious award for scientifically gifted high school students, the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, called the Super Bowl of science by one American president. From its inception in 1942 until 1994, the search recognized more than 2000 precocious teenagers as finalists. But just 1 percent ended up making the National Academy of Sciences, and just eight have won Nobel Prizes. For every Lisa Randall who revolutionizes theoretical physics, there are many dozens who fall far short of their potential...
Wait a minute, is this guy actually arguing that all STS winners have the potential to be Nobel Prize winners? That is a wildly wrong statement; what if a STS winner chooses to be an undergraduate biology professor? No chance of a Nobel there - are they falling short of their potential? This is also evidence to me that Professor Evans has no idea about what it takes to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences.

Here's his concluding paragraphs:
Evidence shows that creative contributions depend on the breadth, not just depth, of our knowledge and experience. In fashion, the most original collections come from directors who spend the most time working abroad. In science, winning a Nobel Prize is less about being a single-minded genius and more about being interested in many things. Relative to typical scientists, Nobel Prize winners are 22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers or magicians; 12 times more likely to write poetry, plays or novels; seven times more likely to dabble in arts and crafts; and twice as likely to play an instrument or compose music. 
No one is forcing these luminary scientists to get involved in artistic hobbies. It’s a reflection of their curiosity. And sometimes, that curiosity leads them to flashes of insight. “The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition,” Albert Einstein reflected. His mother enrolled him in violin lessons starting at age 5, but he wasn’t intrigued. His love of music only blossomed as a teenager, after he stopped taking lessons and stumbled upon Mozart’s sonatas. “Love is a better teacher than a sense of duty,” he said. 
Hear that, Tiger Moms and Lombardi Dads? You can’t program a child to become creative. Try to engineer a certain kind of success, and the best you’ll get is an ambitious robot. If you want your children to bring original ideas into the world, you need to let them pursue their passions, not yours.
I'm sympathetic to the idea that art helps people become creative or think differently, but I think this is a lot of post hoc reasoning meant to sell the author's book. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Defluorination seems like a worthy goal

Via ACS Central Science, an interview with ETH Zurich's Kristopher McNeill and his plans to tear C-F bonds asunder (article by Mark Peplow):
Why do you choose to focus on remediating fluorocarbons? 
There has already been a huge boom in perfluorinated compounds, like Scotchgard. Now fluorine is increasingly showing up in drugs and pesticides. The C–F bond is strong, and this stability can be a curse because it allows molecules to persist in the environment for a long time. 
It’s not like they’re a scourge, but there are some data on environmental toxicity for certain fluorocarbons. So we’ve worked on ways to remediate them under mild conditions, and discovered a rhodium-based catalytic system to dehalogenate fluorobenzene rings. We designed it to work in water at room temperature, because fluorocarbon contamination is largely a groundwater problem. 
The next step would be to try it out on a contaminated site. We don’t know of any that are accessible to us so far—I only know of one reported site—so we could also look at a model of a contaminated site.
Considering this week's hot topic, this seems like a worthy goal and something that's reasonably ambitious. I like it.