Monday, October 26, 2020

Mexican government busts industrial-scale meth lab

From the Associated Press, this news: 
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Soldiers and police in Mexico seized an industrial-scale meth and fentanyl lab that was so big it startled investigators, federal prosecutors announced Sunday.

The lab had chemical preparation vats about two stories tall that could process 11,000 pounds (5,000 kilograms) of raw material at a time, said Felipe de Jesus Gallo of the federal Attorney General’s Office.

“In the Attorney General’s Office, we have no record of any seizure of equipment of this size before,” Gallo said.

The mega-lab was uncovered this past week in a storefront advertising industrial cleaning products on the outskirts of Mexico City.

Behind the storefront was a warehouse, with tall stacks of drums and 265-gallon (1,000 liter) tanks holding precursor chemicals, which Gallo said could be used to produce methamphetamines and the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Hard to know how large the reactors were, but I'm a little surprised that these reactors (16000 liter reactors?) are the largest the Mexican government has seen so far. I'm surprised the cartels haven't gone in for flow chemistry by now.  

C&EN: "Dow, Johnson Matthey win trade-secret case in China"

In this week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News, an article by Hepeng Jia: 

Amid a trade war and other disputes between China and the US, the Western chemical makers Dow and Johnson Matthey have won a trade-secret lawsuit in a Chinese court against Shanjun Clean Energy Technology over their jointly owned oxo alcohol technology. The two companies expect to be compensated with an undisclosed but “significant” amount of money.

The technology is a catalyzed low-pressure process for producing oxo alcohols, often used to make plasticizers. The firms have licensed the technology for more than 20 projects in China.

Liu Wei, an associate professor of intellectual property rights (IPR) law at Shanghai Jiaotong University, says the ruling indicates a growing professionalism in Chinese courts. “It is clear evidence that China’s IPR protection has achieved great progress,” he says.

Will be interesting to see if these sorts of wins continue in the future.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Have a good weekend

 

Well, we made it another week. Here's hoping you have a relaxing weekend, free of customer audits. See you on Monday. 

FDA: Lilly plant making COVID-19 antibody treatment has numerous findings

Via Bloomberg, this unfortunate news: 

U.S. drug-safety inspectors have found continuing quality-control problems problems at a New Jersey plant Eli Lilly & Co. is using to help produce its Covid-19 antibody therapy, posing a potential obstacle to the company meeting its goal of producing 1 million doses by year-end.

In an Oct. 2 memo, Food and Drug Administration compliance officers wrote that findings from an inspection of the facility in July and August “support a major failure of quality assurance.” They noted that Lilly planned to make its antibody therapy at the plant and said the inspection group “feels it is still imperative that FDA take action.”

The assessment was based on a four-week site inspection that ended on Aug. 21, the details of which haven’t previously been reported. The compliance officers recommended that the company receive a warning letter, one of the agency’s strongest enforcement measures, according to documents reviewed by Bloomberg News. Agency inspectors found that in some cases Lilly employees didn’t investigate potential quality problems and routinely overrode testing systems, according to the documents.

...At that time, inspectors found the company’s system for tracking manufacturing quality wasn’t secure and could be accessed and modified by anyone, according to the documents reviewed by Bloomberg...

...In one case described by FDA inspectors, a Lilly employee allegedly used the wrong material in a critical purification step. In another, after routine checks revealed a potential impurity in a drug product, an employee retested it to get a passing result, according to the documents, instead of attempting to figure out why there were signs of an impurity in the sample.Lilly managers downplayed quality missteps in a data-management system FDA has access to during inspections called TrackWise, according to inspection documents. Drugmakers use such workflow tracking systems to record the outcomes of quality checks during the manufacturing process.

A confidential informant told the FDA that Lilly managers documented more details of quality concerns that required personnel action in the company’s human-resources system, according to the Oct. 2 memo. Agency inspectors said in their report that they repeatedly asked to review the human-resources records, but said Lilly refused to grant them access.

It's very surprising to me that there was a computer system without an audit trail in a facility that manufactures a biological. I'd really like to understand the context around the mis-charge of material - I would presume there were about 7 deviations to get there, but I dunno...

I'm looking forward to more context from the inevitable warning letter.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Daily Pump Trap: October 22, 2020 edition

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

Coshocton, OH: Wiley Companies is searching for a MS/PhD experienced chemist for process development work. 

Your home?: Schrodinger is looking for a BS chemist for a sales account manager position for the Midwest US, Southeast US, and Mid-Atlantic US.  Guessing this is a remote position mostly. 

Dudley, MA: GentexOptics is looking for a BS/MS analytical chemist to be a lab manager, and a BS chemist to be an analytical chemist. 

Bethesda, MD: NIDDK has a tenure-track opening for the laboratory of chemical physics. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Crystal mining for a living?

Via the New York Times, a fun article about crystal mining at the Herkemer diamond mines and the people who are beginning to do it for a living: 

For example, after having their jobs and schooling upended by the pandemic in the spring, Frank and Kyndall Stallings, 22 and 27, of Charleston, Mo., pivoted to digging for crystals.

“It all started in February, when Frank took me to the diamond mine in Arkansas for Valentine’s Day,” said Ms. Stallings, of the couple’s visit to a $10-a-day public mine called Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro.

While they didn’t bring home a diamond, they did find a tiny piece of quartz. The experience was a thrill of life-changing proportions. By mid-March, Mr. Stallings’s work as a financial adviser had slowed significantly, Mrs. Stallings’s classes for a bachelor’s degree in horticulture had gone remote, and a job she had recently been offered — data entry at a hospital — never started.

With their newfound time, the Stallingses were mining nearly every day.

By mid-April, the couple had sold everything they owned on Facebook, burned everything they couldn’t sell in a bonfire, packed up their truck and hit the road to work as freelance crystal miners.

“Fifty dollars a day to dig, and if you dig really hard you find $2,000, $3,000, $5,000 worth of crystals,” Mr. Stallings said, referring to Ron Coleman Mining, a crystal mine in Arkansas where the couple recently unearthed a “once in a lifetime” 15-pound clear quartz point, which they later sold for $1,500.

While $5,000 days are extremely rare, the Stallingses do earn a living selling specimens of gold, amazonite, pyrite, quartz, fluorite, shark teeth and obsidian out of the back of their Toyota RAV4 and on eBay.

Sounds like a lot of fun and you probably get a really good tricep workout. Probably no 401k plan, though. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The 2021 Faculty Jobs List: 136 research/teaching positions and 12 teaching faculty positions

The 2021 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 136 research/teaching positions and 12 teaching assistant professor positions.

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

In 2020-2021, we will be adding teaching professor positions, targeting positions that demonstrate an intention to renew permanently, 3 year terms and a promotion ladder and/or are titled "assistant teaching professor" or "associate teaching professor." We are adding community college positions if they explicitly offer tenure.

On October 22, 2019, the 2020 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 417 research/teaching positions and 20 teaching faculty positions.

To see trending, go to Andrew Spaeth's visualization of previous years' list.

Want to talk anonymously? Have an update on the status of a job search? Go to the first open thread.

Job posting: assistant professor, inorganic chemistry, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

From the inbox:

Assistant Professor (Tenure Track) of Inorganic Chemistry

The Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences (www.chab.ethz.ch) at ETH Zurich and its Laboratory of Inorganic Chemistry (LAC) (www.lac.ethz.ch) invite applications for the above-​mentioned position. The research activities at the LAC encompass synthesis of inorganic compounds on the molecular and nanometre scale, extended solids, and characterisation of complex reaction systems with high resolution methods at the atomic and molecular levels.  

The new assistant professor is expected to develop an outstanding research programme in the following areas: main group chemistry, materials chemistry, solid-​state chemistry, computational chemistry, physical method developments and combinations thereof. The development of highly interdisciplinary research projects at the interface of inorganic chemistry and physics, materials science, or biological sciences are additional key assets. Collaboration with theoretical and experimental groups at ETH Zurich is encouraged, and teaching in the areas of General and Inorganic Chemistry is expected at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

Assistant professorships have been established to promote the careers of younger scientists. ETH Zurich implements a tenure track system equivalent to other top international universities. At the assistant professor level, commitment to teaching and the ability to lead a research group are expected.

Applications should include a curriculum vitae, a list of publications, a statement of future research and teaching interests, and a description of the three most important achievements*. The letter of application should be addressed to the President of ETH Zurich, Prof. Dr. Joël Mesot. The closing date for applications is 15 December 2020. ETH Zurich is an equal opportunity and family friendly employer, strives to increase the number of women professors, and is responsive to the needs of dual career couples.

Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

The Chemical Engineering Faculty Jobs List: 34 positions

The Chemical Engineering Faculty Jobs List has 34 positions. It is curated by Lilian Josephson (@lljosephson).

From Dr. Josephson: This year we will try to utilize the list further by circulating among the professors, as well as using the hashtags #facultychemEjobs and #MeettheCandidatesChE2020.

The open thread is found here. 

The Academic Staff Jobs List: 47 positions

The Academic Staff Jobs list has 47 positions.

This list is curated by Sarah Cady and @nmr_chemist. It targets:
  • Full-time STAFF positions in a Chem/Biochem/ChemE lab/facility at an academic institution/natl lab
  • Lab Coordinator positions for research groups or undergraduate labs 
  • and for an institution in Canada or the United States
Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

Want to chat about staff scientist positions? Try the open thread.

Monday, October 19, 2020

This week's C&EN

A few articles from this week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News

BASF closing Muskegon plant; ~70 jobs impacted

From MLive: 

MUSKEGON, MI — A multinational chemical company will close a Muskegon Township facility within the next two years, citing a consolidation of production. The Germany-based BASF announced Monday that it will close a herbicide production facility, located at 1740 Whitehall Road in Muskegon Township, by 2022.

The township facility, formerly a Bayer CropScience facility, produces glufosinate-ammonium (GA) for use as a non-selective herbicide. It has been in operation since 1975.

...Muskegon Township Supervisor Jennifer Hodges told MLive that she had not been informed about the closure prior to being contacted by media. She said the local plant employs about 70 people, and she has since been told the plant is expected to be closed by July 2021...

Best wishes to those affected. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Have a good weekend

 

Well, we made it another week. I hope you had a great week, with or without rubber chickens. See you on Monday. 

Charles Lieber is suing Harvard

From Chemical and Engineering News' Bethany Halford: 

Nanoscientist Charles M. Lieber, who faces charges that he lied to US federal authorities and did not declare foreign income or a foreign bank account to the Internal Revenue Service, is suing to require his employer Harvard University to cover the costs of his defense in the criminal case. Lieber, the former chair of Harvard’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, has pleaded not guilty to the charges and claims that Harvard’s indemnification policy requires the university to cover the cost of his defense. Lieber filed the complaint on Oct. 9 in Massachusetts Superior Court.

An indemnification policy requires an employer to compensate or defend employees who face legal liability for doing their job. Such policies are common. According to his complaint, Lieber requested indemnification from Harvard in March. In May and July, Harvard’s executive vice president Katherine N. Lapp denied the request in letters alleging, among other things, that Lieber did not act in good faith.

Lieber’s complaint states that his defense is complex, with allegations that go back at least 7 years, witnesses in China, and thousands of pages of documents, many of which may require Mandarin-to-English translation. Lieber’s attorney Marc Mukasey declined to say how much the legal defense would cost, but estimates in the complaint suggest it could range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $1 million. “Payment of all of the costs of a robust defense would substantially, if not completely deplete Professor Lieber’s resources,” the complaint states...

I think it's surprising that Professor Lieber has decided to do this, but I imagine it's a last ditch effort to extract cooperation from Harvard. I cannot imagine that Harvard is enthusiastic about its current position. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Coronavirus vaccines need shark livers?

Via the New York Times, this interesting article:

Several companies in the race for a coronavirus vaccine have stumbled upon a new and unexpected hurdle: activists protesting the use of a substance that comes from sharks in their products.

The oily compound, called squalene, is churned out by shark livers and has immunity-boosting powers, which has led several companies to use it as an ingredient in vaccines. A group called Shark Allies has mounted a campaign calling on the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory bodies to halt the sourcing of the compound from sharks, warning that mass distribution of a coronavirus vaccine could require harvesting tissue from more than 500,000 sharks....

...Shark livers are considered among the best sources of the compound. Between 63 million and 273 million sharks die at the hands of humans each year, and liver oil is harvested from at least a couple million of them, according to Catherine Macdonald, a shark biologist in Florida.

Two of the companies under the scrutiny of Shark Allies are GlaxoSmithKline and Seqirus, which each manufacture adjuvants that contain about 10 milligrams of squalene per dose. Those ingredients are found in a number of coronavirus vaccines currently being tested in humans, including products from Sanofi, Medicago and Clover Biopharmaceuticals, which have all partnered with GSK.

According to one estimate, between 2,500 and 3,000 sharks are needed per metric ton of squalene. Shark Allies extrapolated from these statistics to arrive at their widely quoted numbers tabulating the potential ecological toll on sharks.

So there's ~400 grams of squalene per shark? Who knew? (Sounds like no one really knows, and it depends on the shark) The sharks have gotta like Amyris: 

She pointed to Amyris, a California-based company, which has been pursuing a synthetic alternative.

Will be interesting to see if Amyris succeeds...

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The 2021 Faculty Jobs List: 125 research/teaching positions and 12 teaching faculty positions

The 2021 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 125 research/teaching positions and 12 teaching assistant professor positions.

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

In 2020-2021, we will be adding teaching professor positions, targeting positions that demonstrate an intention to renew permanently, 3 year terms and a promotion ladder and/or are titled "assistant teaching professor" or "associate teaching professor." We are adding community college positions if they explicitly offer tenure.

On October 15, 2019, the 2020 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 406 research/teaching positions and 16 teaching faculty positions.

To see trending, go to Andrew Spaeth's visualization of previous years' list.

Want to talk anonymously? Have an update on the status of a job search? Go to the first open thread.

The Chemical Engineering Faculty Jobs List: 33 positions

 The Chemical Engineering Faculty Jobs List has 33 positions. It is curated by Lilian Josephson (@lljosephson).

From Dr. Josephson: This year we will try to utilize the list further by circulating among the professors, as well as using the hashtags #facultychemEjobs and #MeettheCandidatesChE2020.

The open thread is found here. 

The Academic Staff Jobs List: 45 positions

 The Academic Staff Jobs list has 45 positions.

This list is curated by Sarah Cady and @nmr_chemist. It targets:
  • Full-time STAFF positions in a Chem/Biochem/ChemE lab/facility at an academic institution/natl lab
  • Lab Coordinator positions for research groups or undergraduate labs 
  • and for an institution in Canada or the United States
Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

Want to chat about staff scientist positions? Try the open thread.

Monday, October 12, 2020

UPenn chemistry cutting admissions 20%

From last month, this news: 

@PennChemistry will be admitting PhD students in the coming year, although our entering class size will be a bit smaller. 

Here's a more detailed explanation. 

Surprisingly, not too many other chemistry departments are doing this. (none?) Will be curious to see what happens.


Mental health question for readers: ADHD/depression during graduate school?

Does anyone have resources for succeeding in graduate school while managing ADHD and depression? What works best? 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Have a good weekend

 

We've made it another week. It's certainly been a bonkers one, and I am very much looking forward to the weekend. Have a good one, and we'll see you on Monday. 

Consultants, I dunno

A Deloitte commentary about the oil and gas sector: 
...Then came the shale boom a decade ago and the industry ramped up its hiring. But problems started appearing in 2014 when the boom triggered a collapse in oil prices to US$50/bbl, and the talent narrative shifted to mass layoffs. From July 2014 to June 2016, the industry laid off 200,000 people. Additionally, the short-cycled nature of shales made hiring extremely cyclical. During 2014–2019, the sensitivity of OG&C employment to oil prices was at its highest, especially in upstream and oilfield services (OFS) sectors (see sidebar, “About 70% of jobs lost in 2020 may not come back by the end of 2021 in a business-as-usual scenario”).

The employment situation took a turn for the worse due to COVID-led slowdown of the economy and the resulting oil price crash, leading to the fastest layoffs in the industry—about 107,000 workers were laid off between March and August 2020, apart from widespread furloughs and pay cuts. Even the relatively stable sectors, such as refining and chemicals, reported up to 35,000 layoffs combined. Such large-scale layoffs, coupled with the heightening cyclicality in employment, are challenging the industry’s reputation as a reliable employer.

I'm unconvinced of the arguments in this article, but it is worth pondering anyway...  

Thursday, October 8, 2020

34 new positions at Organic Chemistry Jobs

Over at Common Organic Chemistry, there are 10 new positions for October 7 and 24 for October 3. 

Don't forget to check out the Common Organic Chemistry company list, a very helpful resource for organic chemists looking for potential employers.

96 positions were posted in September. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Faculty jobs down across disciplines

 Via Science magazine's Katie Langin, the impact of COVID-19 on academia: 

The scarcity of academic jobs is a perennial problem for U.S. science trainees. But this year, across STEM disciplines, faculty job openings at U.S. institutions are down 70% compared with last year, according to an analysis of job advertisements on the Science Careers job board. (The Science Careers news team operates independently from the job board.) Only 173 U.S.-based jobs were posted between July and September this year, compared with 571 during the same period last year. Non-U.S. job postings dropped by 8%.

“It’s about double-worse than I imagined,” says Andrew Spaeth, an industrial chemist and the co-creator of a popular online faculty job list for chemists. “I thought we’d see a hit—maybe 30%,” he says, but his site currently lists roughly 70% fewer openings compared with last year. An ecology and evolution job list reveals a similar drop, with 65% fewer openings this year.

It's cold comfort to see that it's not just chemistry that's been impacted by COVID-19. Here's hoping that the industrial chemistry job market can attempt to absorb some of the faculty candidates that might ponder a career in industry...