Friday, September 30, 2016

The View from Your Hood: flash flood edition

Credit: H.J. Elston
A View from Your Hood from H.J. Elston: "Taken on the Mamalahoa Highway on the island of Hawai'i - pretty much the definition of "Flash Flood."  The road closed moments after we went through."

(got a View from Your Hood submission? Send it in (with a caption, please) at; will run every other Friday.)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Postdoc: synthetic organic chemistry, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA

From the inbox:
A Postdoctoral Research Fellow position is available in Drexel University’s Department of Chemistry. The successful candidate will have a PhD in synthetic organic or organometallic chemistry and a strong background in catalysis and/or multi-step organic synthesis. The highly motivated candidate will be responsible for both method development and target-oriented molecule synthesis. 
Interested applicants should apply by email to Professor Dionicio Martinez Solorio at Please attach PDF files of the following: (A) cover letter; (B) CV (including publications with list of authors, summary of research and teaching experience, and contact information for three professional references); and (C) one-page personal statement discussing career goals and mentoring/teaching philosophy. 
Review of applications begins immediately and will continue until the position is filled.
Link here. Best wishes to those interested.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Contest: Dumbest thing ever put in a glass waste container?

There's probably a couple of 4L jugs
and a hairbrush in there.
Credit: MIT
A funny-if-horrifying story from respected commenter Old Biddy:
I used to work with with some people testing toothpaste additives. They were in the lab next door to me. They used to have to do some tests involving pig tongues. 
One day I noticed my broken glassware/waste container smelled bad. For a day or two I assumed it was just glassware with traces of amines, but then I realized they were dumping the pig tongues in there. Worst waste container smell ever. I can't even imagine what they were thinking, because the containers only got emptied when full.
Can anyone top Old Biddy? I can't, but it sure annoys me when non-glass things end up in glass waste boxes.

I should promise a fine prize to either Old Biddy or the winner, but I can't think of something at the moment... 

Microbial corrosion?

I was amused to read this Popular Mechanics story (via Foxtrot Alpha): 
Wash your hands, airman!
Credit: Paul Sancya/AP
...But materials specialists at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) recently have come to realize that organic contaminants—mold, mildew, fungi, bacteria—corrode aircraft surfaces more seriously than they had thought. Corrosion caused by living organisms is generated by moisture, humidity, human contact and by the increasing use of drop-in biofuels, and the microbes they bring with them are for all intents and purposes, eating airplanes. While the Air Force spends approximately $6 billion annually on corrosion issues, up to $1.2 billion of that could be spent on microbiologically-influenced corrosion. 
"Microorganisms can eat away at surface materials, and some of the worst areas affected are tight, hard-to-reach areas that maintainers have difficulty disinfecting," said AFRL Biological Materials and Processing team leader Wendy Goodson.
Apparently simple handling by maintenance staff is enough to transmit bacteria onto the surface of planes. (Gloves?) Also, it's fascinating that biofuels tend to introduce more microbial contamination. David Tracy of Foxtrot Alpha talks about the Air Force's solution:
The process is called the Joint Biological Agent Decontamination System, and it essentially just heats up the aircrafts in an oven to about 180°F to kill bio agents and viruses. According to the Wright-Patterson Airforce Base, the process “eliminates over 99.9 percent of biological contaminants on aircraft surfaces.” Plus, since it kills microbes, the chance of them regrowing is hugely decreased.
So I know 180°F isn't very hot, but doesn't this heat treatment itself introduce aging issues? (Apparently not, if they're deciding to go with it.) 

Warning Letter of the Week: smelly smells edition

This morning brings us a warm missive from the Food and Drug Administration to Mr. Hung Chih Wu of Cheng Fong Chemical Co., in Taoyuan City. A fairly typical set of findings, but this one is new:
3.    Failure to properly maintain buildings used in the manufacture of API in a clean condition.

For example, our investigator observed filth, insects, wet layers of [redacted] unidentified material on the floors, and foul odors in the cold rooms used to store raw materials and intermediates used in the manufacture of your finished API. Firm officials noted that the rooms had never been cleaned.

We acknowledge your corrective actions, including cleaning, and adding the cold rooms to your pest control program.
Gotta say, "foul odors" is one that I haven't seen before.

(How is that not a discretionary judgment on the part of the inspector? Granted, if you're smelling something rotting, it's probably a prima facie case of your warehousing not being sufficiently clean.) 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 333 positions

The 2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated mostly by Andrew Spaeth, with minor help from me) has 333 positions. The open thread is here. 

Daily Pump Trap: 9/27/16 edition

A few positions posted recently at C&EN Jobs:

Seattle, WA: Startup looking for an experienced (2-4 years) Ph.D. polymer chemist.

Menlo Park. CA: The SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory's SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis is searching for 2 Ph.D.-level associate staff scientists; looks to be computational in nature.

The person who takes this position is so screwed: Whoever is writing copy for Polysciences' (Warrington, PA) is completely different than before, I feel. A new opening for a Technical Services Manager (B.S., 3-5 years experience desired), with this gem:
This is a newly created position and we’re looking for someone who is a fearless critical thinker with an entrepreneurial sense.  We want a rock star who is ready to take this position and make it their own!
[Insert Paula Abdul clapping here.]

Columbus, OH: First time I've seen one of these process formulations positions with Scotts Miracle-Gro. Looks like a good position for the right B.S.-level chemist.

A vague description: Not typical for a R&D consulting position to be posted. Huh.

The vaguest description you will see today: From Affinity Research Chemicals (Wilmington, DE):
We are seeking highly motivated synthetic chemists at MS/Ph.D level to join our dynamic team. The main job responsibilities include, but not limited to:  deesign and execute scientific work such that there is a timely delivery of project objectives;  solve complex synthetic problems relating to assigned projects using scientific and technical expertise.
 Huh, dunno what to think of that.

Faculty postings: assistant professor, inorganic chemistry, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA

From the inbox, a position at Drexel: 
The Department of Chemistry at Drexel University is seeking an outstanding early-career candidate for a tenure-track position at the assistant professor level. Candidates must hold a Ph.D. degree in chemistry or an allied field, develop a strong commitment to teaching in inorganic chemistry and be able to establish a vigorous, externally funded research program.  
Candidates should have experimental research interests that fit into one of the department's two core research areas: sustainability or synthesis. Potential areas include, but are not limited to, green chemistry, energy, photovoltaics, reaction efficiency, catalysis, bioinorganic chemistry and organometallic chemistry. Candidates should upload a cover letter, C.V., a research proposal (5-10 pages), and a statement of teaching philosophy (1-2 pages) to  
Candidates should also arrange for at least three letters of reference to be sent to Dr. Tony Addison ( and The review process will start on October 17, 2016 and continue until the position is filled. The successful candidate must be qualified to work in the United States. Drexel University is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and encourages applications from qualified women, members of minority groups, disabled individuals and veterans.
Best wishes to those interested.  

Faculty position: assistant professor, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI

From the inbox:
Assistant Professor in Organic Chemistry available in the Chemistry Department at Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan, to begin August 2017.  This tenure track position requires a strong commitment to undergraduate teaching and research.  Ph.D. in Chemistry required; ABD will be considered with Ph.D. completed by August 2017. The Department values candidates who demonstrate an ability to work in a collaborative environment with a diverse population of colleagues and students.  Responsibilities include teaching in all areas of the organic curriculum and possibly general chemistry, mentoring undergraduate research students, and service.  Applications must be submitted online at 
See the Position Announcement at for complete details and application instructions. 
Application review will begin October 17 and continue until the position is filled.  Grand Valley State University is an EOE which includes protected veterans and individuals with disabilities. See
Official posting here. Best wishes to those interested. 

(An amusing-only-to-me observation: Grand Valley State University is close to Grand Rapids, MI. There is a Big Rapids, MI. There is, however, no "Big Valley State University.") 

Ivory Filter Flask: 9/27/16 edition

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

tOSU bolus: 5 positions from The Ohio State University.

Atlanta, GA: Georgia Tech is seeking a professor of chemistry or biochemistry with a focus on renewable energy feedstocks. (open rank search)

Logan, UT: Utah State University is searching for two assistant professors, one in environmental chemistry, the other in analytical/physical chemistry. 

Sacramento, CA: Sacramento State is looking for an assistant professor of biochemistry.

Greeley, CO: The University of Northern Colorado has two positions available.

Los Angeles, CA: UCLA is looking for their Boyer/Cram/Libby Scholars, i.e. teaching postdocs. 

Overly honest ads: From Wofford College (Spartanburg, SC), some unusually honest statements for an assistant professor position: "The position became available in early June when our Analytical Chemist accepted a position outside of academia."

Monday, September 26, 2016

Is there demand for scientific glassblowers?

Some cutting-edging science today relies on the centuries-old art of glassblowing. When researchers in chemistry, physics and medicine need special glass tools for complex experiments, they sometimes sit down with a glassblower to sketch out designs for customized beakers, flasks and condenser coils. 
New Jersey's Salem Community College is trying to keep that tradition going with the country's only degree program in scientific glassblowing. Housed among corn and soybean fields about an hour south of Philadelphia, the school's Glass Education Center in Alloway, N.J., specializes in one of the most popular materials in a research lab. 
"It's clear. You can see what the experiments are doing. It holds no chemical history. And it can be shaped into any form you like," explains Dennis Briening, the instructional chair of the college's two-year scientific glass technology program. "Whatever your imagination is, it can be made." 
His students learn how to make tools for research universities and glass manufacturers at workbenches across a row of glowing furnaces....
So, here's my question: is there demand for scientific glassblowers? Would you recommend someone become a scientific glassblower as a career? How many openings are there a year for scientific glassblowers? My thoughts:
  • This seems to me a field with a very limited number of standard, benefits-providing full-time positions. You probably have to be a decently large Ph.D.-granting institution to employ one glassblower with their shop. I estimate that there are less than 400 full-time scientific glassblowers in this country.
  • There's not a lot of evidence, one way or another, as to what job growth might be. The Occupational Outlook Handbook is pretty silent, classifying glass workers under "artists". (I could believe there are plenty of amateur glassblowers who are good at making various smoking implements; I don't think they're qualified for scientific glassblowing, but maybe I'm wrong.) 
  • It seems to me that the real requirement for bespoke laboratory glassware is something that the folks at ChemGlass or Ace could easily handle.
That said, some opinion on Twitter and Reddit is suggesting there's a little demand. So, readers, what do you think? I'm probably wrong, but I don't think so. 

Anyone think there's a market for renting lab equipment?

Also in this week's C&EN, an interesting little article by Marc Reisch about a new intermediary for lab equipment rental? 
Up and running for a year and a half, the firm acts as an intermediary between potential renters and instrument suppliers. Robin Salter, Kwipped’s chief marketing officer, calls his firm an “Uber for the equipment space,” referring to the phone app that hooks up drivers with customers who need a ride. 
Like Uber, Kwipped connects manufacturers and refurbishers with prospective renters of electronics testing, environmental testing, medical, and even heavy construction equipment. Kwipped’s staff directs inquiries to potential suppliers, who submit bids that are then passed back to renters. 
Although Kwipped can make rental arrangements for a variety of equipment, laboratory equipment has been the firm’s most active category, Salter says. The bulk of inquiries, many about renting for less than a year, come from contract and clinical research organizations in the pharmaceutical industry, he says. 
...Wallis Blumm, project management vice president at Innovis, a clinical development consulting firm, says that was the reason she helped arrange a freezer rental through Kwipped. Her client, the operator of a clinical research site, didn’t want to invest in a freezer needed for just one short-term project, but the study sponsors would pay for the rental, she says. 
“Most of the sites we work with have all the equipment required for a clinical study,” Blumm says. “In this case, one site was missing a freezer.” Kwipped, she says, saved her the trouble of calling a variety of suppliers for quotes because it acted as a clearinghouse...
This is an interesting idea, but my problem with Kwipped's business model is that it still relies on refurbishers, who have a terrible track record on the Dovebids and LabX's of the world. Selling as-is used equipment with nonexistent customer service seems to be standard; I guess the fact that one would be renting, rather than buying, would be the upside.

I'm probably too down on this. 

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles in this week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News:

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ask CJ: How should a candidate answer "Why don't you want to do a postdoc?"

From the inbox, a darn good question (lightly edited for grammar, redacted for privacy) from a senior graduate student we'll call EBZ:
During the onsite interviews I've had, I always get asked: Why don't you want to do a post-doc? I feel like my answers for this are never well received (I usually say that during my PhD, I've worked on a variety of different types of chemistry and I'm excited to work in the fast-paced world of drug discovery). Do you know what kinds of answers they are looking for? 
To be frank, I have no idea how to answer this question. My answer, if I were EBZ, would be something like "My understanding is that a postdoc is more training, and demonstrating that I can get started on a new project, and make an impact quickly, and I feel that I have already done that blah blah buzzword synergy disruption BOOM." (To the literal-minded: this would not be a good answer.)

Readers, do you have a good answer to this question? Help EBZ out!

*I would personally never ask such a question, because I wouldn't ask "Why don't you want to saw off your pinky toe?" or "Does this striped shirt make me look fat?" either. (Yes, CJ, it does. -ed. Thanks for the honesty! Anytime. -ed.)

Jin-Quan Yu is a 2016 MacArthur Fellow

Congratulations to Professor Yu and his group! (Someone at the MacArthur Foundation sure likes chemists!) 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Warning Letter of the Week: simultaneous analysis edition

In a friendly note to Hebei Yuxing Bio-Engineering Co., the FDA notes a problem with their analytical methods: 
2.    Failure to follow and document laboratory controls at the time of performance, and failure to document and explain any departures from laboratory procedures.
During the inspection, your firm provided our investigator a chromatogram for an assay analysis of [redacted] batch [redacted] dated August 30, 2014, at 9:46:39 a.m. Your firm later submitted to FDA a different chromatogram corresponding to the same analysis, instrument, date, time, and batch. The second chromatogram appears exactly the same as the one provided during the inspection, but it includes a different method file name, column type and serial number, and system temperature. Both versions of these documents cannot represent the actual assay analysis that you conducted for batch [redacted] on August 30, 2014, at 9:46:39 a.m.
I don't quite understand the circumstances where this could have happened, but perhaps the good folks at Hebei Yuxing have an answer.