Friday, January 31, 2014

Who are these people?

Via LinkedIn, a very interesting request for applicants:
We are working on behalf of a multinational pharmaceutical company in the Bahamas that is looking to hire two PhD candidates in organic chemistry, preferably with management experience.
There are pharmaceutical companies in the Bahamas? (Roche, apparently -- huh, an API plant, even) 

God forbid salaries go up in tech!

Via Kevin Drum (and a lot of other places), a fascinating story of Silicon Valley CEOs conspiring to keep salaries down:
Just before joining the wage-theft pact with Apple, Google’s human resources executives are quoted sounding the alarm that they needed to “dramatically increase the engineering hiring rate” and that would require “drain[ing] competitors to accomplish this rate of hiring.” One CEO who noticed Google’s hiring spree was eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who in early 2005 called Eric Schmidt to complain, “Google is the talk of the Valley because [you] are driving up salaries across the board.” Around this time, eBay entered an illegal wage-theft non-solicitation scheme of its own with Bill Campbell’s Intuit, which is still being tried in ongoing federal and California state suits.
Driving up salaries?!?! Quit that, Google!

I think because chemistry is a much more mature business, there's a lot less likelihood that there is conspiracy amongst CEOs of chemical companies to keep salaries down. (Those CEOs much less likely to talk to one another, and much more likely to keep their legal departments in the loop -- I hope.) (Um, there's probably a lot more likelihood that there are conspiracies to keep prices of certain products high.)

Also, there's not enough growth amongst chemical and pharmaceutical companies to really drive a boom in hiring, which would put upward pressure on salaries and engender this sort of anti-poaching collusion. What a shame. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

I'm not dead

Really, I'm not. A few things I can point you to:
More to come, tonight or tomorrow -- really! 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Underemployed chemistry grad gets Jon Stewart to ask for a job

From the comments (thanks, Anon!) (and also from someone on Twitter, as I recall), Jon Stewart was helping with an underemployed Boston University B.S. chemistry graduate:
Since graduating in May 2012 with a degree in chemistry, Engel has worked at several part-time jobs, including substitute teaching, running an a cappella workshop at an elementary school in Arlington, Mass., and teaching music in Nicaragua, but hasn’t had much luck landing a full-time position. Influenced by Binyomin Abrams, a College of Arts & Sciences senior lecturer in chemistry, his long-term goal is to teach high school chemistry. 
Currently in the process of applying to graduate schools, Engel estimates he’s applied for dozens of positions across the country in a variety of fields—chemistry, computer science (his minor at BU), music. “It’s been really frustrating, receiving rejections from some places or having my applications ignored,” he says. 
Stewart told Engel he had studied chemistry himself during his first two years of college before switching to psychology. “He said he changed because in chemistry they want the right answer, but in psychology they just want an answer,” Engel says. “Stewart then asked me why I haven’t found a job teaching chemistry yet, saying he was sure there were people looking for a young teacher who’s passionate. Normally his responses to these questions are really short, but we had a dialogue going.” 
Soon after the show’s taping got under way, Stewart made a plea on his behalf in front of millions of viewers, catching Engel by surprise. 
“If your school is currently looking for a chemistry teacher, I want you to call us,” Stewart said to the camera, as he opened Monday night’s show. “I got a guy over here, Boston University, seems smart—could have shaved. He’s a chemistry major, he’s looking for a job teaching chemistry…so if you need a chemistry teacher, contact us, and I will finally get this [expletive] kid out of his parents’ house. That’s what I’m going to do.”
You can watch the first segment here (after the ad, it's basically less than a minute into the show.) Best of luck to Mr. Engel -- and, no, you're not alone by any means. Best wishes to you, and to all of us. 

Good news?: Chemical Activity Barometer up for January, ACC says economy still improving

From the American Chemistry Council (the chemistry industry's lobbying group), a comment on the latest readings from the Chemical Activity Barometer. This measures economic activity in the chemical manufacturing sector, which they believe has forecasting ability for the overall economy (emphasis mine):
The first Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB) reading of 2014 strengthened slightly, pointing to continued growth and an improving U.S. economy throughout 2014. The barometer in January ticked up to 94.0, increasing 0.2 points over December on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis. This marks the ninth consecutive monthly gain for the CAB, which is now up 2.6 percent over a year ago. This growth is at a more moderate pace since the 0.4 percent gain last seen in September of 2013. The Chemical Activity Barometer is an established leading economic indicator, shown to lead U.S. business cycles by an average of eight months at cycle peaks, and four months at cycle troughs. 
“Slow and steady isn’t a bad thing when you consider the alternative,” said Kevin Swift, chief economist at the American Chemistry Council. “This recovery seems to lag compare to previous post-recession recoveries, but overall the fundamentals remain strong, including the ongoing expansion in chemistries related to construction and consumer-related resins, as well as light vehicle sales,” he added. Pointing to a particularly bright spot, Swift noted that there have been strong gains of late in electronic chemicals, food additives, foundry chemicals, lubricant and paint additives, mining chemicals, and printing ink.   
Overall results in the four primary components of the CAB were mixed, with production and inventories up, product/selling prices flat, and a drop in equity prices....
Read more here. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

More #chemjobs goodness

Rejoice! See Arr Oh has found a new position; he writes up his job search by the numbers. Worth a read, in terms of an early-career Ph.D. chemist looking for a position.

Another great analysis of STEM jobs statistics by Beth Haas (love that SHTEM acronym) and some personal thoughts on job searching. 

Lilly's John Lechleiter and PhRMA's John Castellani on pharma layoffs: no good answers for ScienceCareers' Beryl Benderly

This past week, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America held a "STEM Saves Lives" event (don't click on the link until you want an autoplay of the video to start) in conjunction with U.S. News and World Report. It was held to flog a new report from Battelle on what pharmaceutical companies are doing in terms of STEM education. The report is pretty mundane, with very little new substantive information (despite what USNWR's Brian Kelly has to say about it.) The real core of the report is that PhRMA members are donating time and money to STEM education. Here's my summary of the report:
  • America needs STEM! There are lots of STEM jobs! 
  • America sucks at STEM education. 
  • Pharma knows this! 
  • Pharma is sending its people and spending its money into the classrooms to Get! Kids! Excited! about STEM. 
For what it's worth, it's a worthwhile endeavor. I'm all in favor of K-12 STEM ed, no matter what form it takes. 

But what I have a real problem with how the main speakers of the event, John Lechleiter (CEO of Eli Lilly) and John Castellani (the CEO of PhRMA) justify their efforts. There's a lot of talk about how STEM jobs are the future (true, but relatively speaking, they're not in pharma. They're in health care and in technology and engineering.) There was a lot of talk about how the teachers of America suck at getting kids interested in STEM (hey, if you have better ideas than "we need to get kids excited" I'm all ears.) There was a wonderful bit where Dr. Lechleiter said that kids don't want to go into STEM because it's hard -- nothing quite like impugning the moral fiber of American kids for compelling analysis. 

But the highlight of the event had to be ScienceCareers's Beryl Benderly asking John Lechleiter and John Castellani, "Um, why did you have all these layoffs in the past decade, if you guys need STEM workers like crazy?" Here is her summary of the event. She asked a tough question and got absolutely horrible answers. They boil down to "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying employment numbers?" The audio is above.

[Does John Lechleiter really see Lilly as "the only one left standing"? I feel that this is a very unusual comment, but I can't put my finger on it. Also, I think it's ridiculous to assert that the layoff statistics do not account for the growth in the biological side of the house; maybe I'm wrong.]

Also, I've appended in the audio box (press the fast forward button) John Lechleiter's desire to have access to "the global talent pool" and that if Lilly can't get a visa for anyone they want to hire, it's "a disaster" for Lilly and for the scientist.

I transcribed Dr. Lechleiter's answers and Mr. Castellani's answers to Beryl Benderly below the jump, as well as Brian Kelly's (the editor of USNWR) comment as well. Trust me, they're completely unimpressive. If this is the blather that our business/media elites have to serve, we're in real trouble.


Also in this week's C&EN's letters to the editor, the magic of chemical engineering knowledge to provide people with job skills: 
An Idea For Unemployed Chemists 
Have you ever wondered why chemical engineers fresh out of school, or at any level for that matter, are offered higher salaries than chemists? Or, why is unemployment for chemists a more likely circumstance than it is for chemical engineers? Both majors take the same organic and physical chemistry classes. We all love the beautiful science of chemistry, so why this startling difference? 
Linda Wang’s recent article, “Hired … for Now,” highlights eight career-related benefits from the American Chemical Society to aid unemployed members (C&EN, Dec. 2, 2013, page 33). Here’s another: Any students majoring in chemistry as well as any unemployed chemists would find their career enhanced by even a brief exposure to chemical engineering. 
For an introduction to chemical engineering, chemists at any level should consider enrolling in two gatekeeper courses in the chemical engineering curriculum: “Material Balances” and “Energy Balances.” No need to fret about that great demon for many nonengineering students—math—for in these two courses the most advanced math required is arithmetic. Rather, what is required is detailed analytical thinking and practice in application to many different sorts of problems. Consider this one: Your car runs on gasoline with 10% excess air having a relative humidity of 30%. Calculate the quantitative analysis of the exhaust from the tailpipe. 
One can easily imagine all sorts of similar complex problems to solve. They seem trivial in principle, but they are tedious in practice. So be prepared. Chemical engineering courses are hard—no auditing. After this taste, one might try a course that covers thermodynamics or perhaps heat transfer. But now advanced math becomes essential. 
Henry McGee
Richmond, Va.
Personally, I would attribute the higher salaries and lower unemployment of chemical engineers to the fact that it's a smaller, more specialized field, with higher barriers to entry in terms of schooling (harder to set up a College of Engineering than a College of Science, probably, and there are likely fewer of them) and licensing requirements for chemical engineers. But that's my Economics 101 view of the world, and I'm probably missing something.

[Fans of logical fallacies -- is Dr. McGee's "any unemployed chemists would find their career enhanced..." statement an example of "question begging"? I don't think so, but I can't find the correct logical fallacy.]

I find it amusing that Professor McGee believes that it is the higher amounts of mathematical training that results in chemical engineering being more remunerative. Well, maybe; it certainly results in yet another barrier-to-entry for non-mathematically inclined folks. But somehow I think there are other factors in play. 

This week's C&EN

Lots of worthwhile reading in this week's C&EN:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

When is an job offer irrevocable? A series of hypothetical ethical dilemmas

Is that your final, final answer? 
Let's say that it's December 13, 2013, you're going to be a new graduate in chemistry and you have an offer from Company A to start on March 17, 2014. You accept that offer gratefully; you've accepted no money for relocation. Let's even say that you've signed something saying that you've accepted the offer (but again, no money has changed hands.) Presumably, Company A has begun to set aside a desk for you, and they're expecting you to show up. You're pleased as punch to be working at Company A, since it will mean that you will not be unemployed. 

Let's say that one day in January, say, January 6, you get a request from Company B for a phone interview. It's common knowledge that Company B pays much better (20%+) than Company A; both are major U.S. corporations of similar size. 

So, dear reader, a series of questions:
  1. Is it ethical to accept the phone interview? 
  2. Is it ethical to accept an on-site interview? 
  3. Company B invites you for an on-site on February 3rd; it goes swimmingly. On February 11, they call you and offer the position. You think it's a much better fit. Should you take it? 
  4. What are your ethical obligations to Company A? 
  5. What would happen if Company B called you with the offer on March 10, 2014? How would your ethical obligations to Company A change? 
  6. What happens if you've accepted relocation help? What happened if you took a signing bonus? 
My answers are: 1. Yes 2. Yes 3. Yes 4. To tell Company A as soon as you've made the decision 5. Still a good decision to take the offer from Company B, (changes urgency of informing Company A). 6a. Pay it back (get Company B to help?), 6b. Pay it back (you're on your own for this one.) 

I assume (perhaps wrongly) that most readers would agree with me. Has anyone been in a similar situation? What went well? What went poorly? I'd love to hear your stories. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Oh, just not THESE #STEM workers."

From a friend's Twitter feed. I guess those were the wrong kind of STEM jobs.

(That #STEMsaveslives events was livestreamed here. I find it terribly, horribly, absolutely ironic that it's the CEO of Lilly, the company that's been laying off chemists and then rehiring them as lower-paid contractors, that's telling us about the STEM crisis in the US.) 

MCHM is probably not a "deadly poison"

Huffington Post is doing its absolute best to troll on the West Virginia/Freedom Industries disaster with this headline:

From the text of the article (italics from the article): "Among the other no-brainer regulations that Tomblin would finally install for the purpose of public safety, this legislation would require businesses like Freedom Industries -- the company that owns the recently liberated contaminants -- to tell regulators where their tanks of deadly poisons are actually located. It's a start, I guess!"

I think my frustrations with the media are small beer considering the absolute mess that this leak of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the Elk River has wreaked on the Charleston, West Virginia metropolitan area. But really, there's not much evidence that MCHM is a "deadly poison." It's probably toxic and if you eat enough of it (like 100 grams), it will probably kill you.

But it's a chemical and like all chemicals, the dose makes the poison. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Daily Pump Trap: 1/21/14 edition

Good morning! Between January 16 and January 20, there have been 91 positions posted on C&EN Jobs. Of these, 42 (46%) are academically connected and 23 (25%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Groton, CT: Pfizer is hiring entry-level Ph.D. chemists (no academic experience required!) for process chemistry. This is part of 6 positions that they've posted, from senior associate level up to research fellow level.

Bermuda: Anyone want to be a chemistry teacher in Bermuda? Might sound nice; B.S./M.S. in chemistry required.

Brevard, NC: PharmAgra is looking for B.S., M.S.,  and Ph.D. organic chemists. "APPLICANT MUST BE AVAILABLE TO START WORK WITHIN 2 WEEKS OF OFFER."

Carlsbad, CA: Verdezyne Inc. is looking for a B.S.-level process development chemist with 2 to 5 years of experience; looks like industrial biotechnology on pilot-plant scale. Lotsa fun, I'll bet. 65-75k? Not too shabby.

Columbus, OH: Roxane Laboratories is hiring a B.S./M.S. formulations chemist to work on solid dosage forms.

Washington, DC: Just in case you thought that there weren't irrelevant private sector positions on C&EN Jobs, anyone here an architect? Anyone?

Ivory Filter Flask: 1/21/14 edition

Good morning! Typically, this is the space where I would tell you about how many positions there are between January 14 and January 20, but recently, this become too difficult. I'll tell you why:

There's something wrong with C&EN Jobs: All of a sudden, around the beginning of the year, more and more irrelevant academic job postings have been showing up on the site. It's become obvious that no one is curating the job listings. There's been a rather ridiculous jumble of positions that I can't keep track of which assistant professorships are relevant and which ones (like this clinical chemistry position that requires an M.D. or this neurosciences faculty position) are completely irrelevant. Harper College has (for some reason) reposted its "Dean of Mathematics and Science" position 4 times. How about this UCLA position for the Director of Gift Planning? Anyone here at C&EN Jobs have a Ph.D. in physics? You could become a lecturer in Space Science at Santa Clara University!

If this continues, I will begin sorting the positions out by hand. The statistical nature of this blog feature (believe it or not, even if I haven't published my tallies yet) are important to me; it is frustrating to me that this is happening. How am I supposed to categorize these 44 positions posted by Stanford University, most of which are social science or biomedical laboratory positions? I could wade through each one by hand and categorize them as "staff", but at the moment, I am tempted to throw up my hands in frustration.)

When I talk to chemists who are looking for work, I continually say that C&EN Jobs is the best place online to look for positions -- I'd sure like to continue to be able to say that.

OK, I'm done ranting. On to the relevant positions:

Romeoville, IL: Lewis University is searching for an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry.

Boston, MA: Brandeis is looking for an organic chemistry lecturer.

New York, NY: CUNY - Hunter College is also looking for an organic chemistry lecturer - 45k-54k. (Hmmm.)

Platteville, WI: Also, the University of Wisconsin - Platteville is an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry.

Bemidji, MN: Bemidji State is looking for an assistant or associate professor of medicinal chemistry.

Innnnteresting: Recall that post about Delaware's new preceptors? Here's an assistant professor in "chemistry or biochemistry instruction" position that's not tenure-track. (It's titled "continuing"; hard to know what that means...)

Hong Kong: Two positions for organic/organometallic chemists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Another brilliant graphic from Beth Haas: STEM really is TE

Go over there and check it out -- a really stark representation of how computer technology is really where the employment (and the employment growth!) is.

In case you'd like to read further, here's the links to the Census Bureau reports she references. 

Oh, that tricky job market

Also, in this week's C&EN, an article on preceptors at the University of Delaware by Celia Henry Arnaud. This is a rather interesting concept, in that it's an extra set of mentors or tutors for science students:
At Delaware, preceptors are skilled scientists who work alongside the professors and teaching assistants. They are full-time staff members, not adjuncts, who work closely with students and mentor teaching assistants (TAs).... What preceptors don’t do is grade students. That task is left to the professors and TAs. Weir likens his relationship to students to that of a “friendly uncle you can come to with problems and who isn’t going to punish you for doing things wrong.” The arrangement allows students to have an interaction with a professional that “doesn’t have to be threatened by an assessment and the outcome of that assessment,” says Alenka Hlousek-Radojcic, a biology professor involved in the program.
Of course, who gets hired to be preceptors? (emphasis mine)
The success that they’ve already had wouldn’t have been possible without the university’s strong team of preceptors. Five of the six preceptors (five for the integrated biology/chemistry curriculum plus one who works with a more physics-related class) are Ph.D.-level scientists, some of whom also have postdoctoral experience. The sixth has a master’s degree. 
Baillie attributes the strong team in part to the weak job market. “The talent pool we had to draw from was fantastic,” he says. “We have a team basically of five extra professors who are helping with this course.” 
Jungck and Baillie both hope to help the preceptors meet their larger career goals. “If this is a stepping-stone they’re using on the path to something else, my goal is to make sure that they have as much experience as possible with different aspects of teaching so they can use these experiences to be better teachers,” Baillie says. 
Martin plans to stick around, at least for now. “I really enjoy teaching,” she says. “This puts me in a situation where I’m in constant interaction with students,” she adds. “I work every day with small groups of students over and over again. It’s the kind of teaching I prefer.” Martin, who currently has a master’s degree, assumes that she’ll eventually go back for her Ph.D. “I would like to stay on board to see the program continue to go through paces and improve,” she says. “I know it’s going to take a few years for that to happen.” 
Weir hopes to be able to find a position as a professor. “I came from a postdoc that was a pure research position,” he says. “I missed teaching. This is not a permanent career move for me. It’s a step back toward where I want to be eventually.” But he’s glad that he has had this experience. “I’ve learned a lot about teaching. I’ve been able to put a lot of things that I’ve been thinking about into more concrete terms. It is temporary, but to me it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. How often do you get to help design a new program from the bottom up?” 
One thing that I admire about this Delaware program is that the preceptors are full-time staff, which indicates a commitment on the part of Delaware to making this novel teaching concept work. I am also glad that the professors that work with the program recognize that their strong applicant pool comes from the relatively poor job market. It will be very interesting to see where these preceptors end up with respect to their long-term careers. Best wishes to them. 

An incongruent picture

In this week's C&EN, a worthwhile article from Jean-François Tremblay on the Indian pharmaceutical industry and how it is doing. It's worth watching the two-minute video that he was able to shoot at the Cipla plant. To me, it looks like a fairly typical API plant (I note that I've not been to very many.)

However, in his article, a very incongruent picture:

It took me about 10 minutes to figure out why this picture looks instantly weird to me. Here it is:
  • The operator is wearing an apron instead of a fire-resistant Nomex suit. 
  • The "green gloves" are usually used to handle product, but there's no product in sight. 
  • He's wearing a half-face respirator, but again, no product in sight. 
  • The apron is an interesting choice -- I don't normally see those in pictures of plant operators. 
  • Finally (and most incongruous to me), where's his hard hat? 
Who knows how this picture came about? Read the whole thing.

Friday, January 17, 2014

BREAKING: 4-methylcyclohexylmethanol is NOT made of (or from!) methylcyclohexane and methanol

Thanks to a very intrepid reader in the Charleston area, you are privy to the first of many (well-deserved, to be honest) lawsuits against Freedom Industries, the company whose leaking tank disrupted lives for thousands/millions of people in West Virginia. Amusingly, the lawyer appears to believe that 4-methylcyclohexylmethanol is made of methylcyclohexane and methanol. (page 9) Below is my annotated comments on his assertions:
Ultimately, this lawsuit doesn't matter. Freedom Industries will be hounded into bankruptcy for their negligence and their failure to respond adequately. Sad for those who will lose their positions through no fault of their own.

UPDATE: That didn't take long. The Wall Street Journal reports Freedom Industries has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. 

Reminder: ACS/NESACS sponsoring small chemical business pitch/investment competition

A reminder about the Small Chemical Business Pitch/Investment competition:
The  ACS - in cooperation with The Northeastern Section of the  American Chemical Society, the ACS Small Chemical Businesses Division, and the Nova Biomedical Corporation - is sponsoring a one-day business competition with a cash prize for the  winning pitch delivered to investors and potential commercial partners on Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at the headquarters of Nova Biomedical Corporation at 200 Prospect Street, Waltham MA, 02454.  
Entrepreneurial candidates must be ACS members and have an early-stage chemistry based startup that is investor ready.  
To qualify for participation in this business competition, candidates must complete our investor readiness survey. Access the survey here. Survey closes January 20, 2014. Note: There are only 20 slots available. Candidates who are selected for participation will  work with an assigned mentor to develop a winning pitch.
Details are here, here and here. Survey closes on Monday -- best wishes!

43% of 2009-2011 college graduates in the sciences work in fields where a degree is not required

From the New York Fed, a very interesting paper on the difficulties of new college graduates in finding positions. Their conclusions:

- It is typical, even in past years, for new college graduates to have higher levels of unemployment or underemployment. 
- "That said, both unemployment and underemployment have
followed a clear upward trend for recent college graduates over the past two decades, and particularly since the 2001 recession. In addition, it has become more common for underemployed college graduates to find themselves in low-wage jobs or to be working part-time."
- Unemployment and underemployment rates
differ markedly across majors.

What I find really disturbing about the chart to the left is the number of graduates in the sciences who are working in fields where a B.S. is not required. 43%! That's a big number -- that's more than 2 out of 5 graduates. And for all of us who like to make jokes about "would you like fries with that?", we're not doing all that much better than the social sciences (48%) or liberal arts graduates (52%). 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Rest in peace, Sheri Sangji

Five years ago today, Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji died of her injuries sustained while running a reaction with tert-butyl lithium in the laboratory of Professor Patrick Harran at UCLA. My thoughts are with her friends and her family.

Dear C&EN Jobs

What is going on over there? Why are we looking for PTSD specialists? And university funding development directors? Psychology instructors? 

Daily Pump Trap: 1/16/14 edition

Good morning! Between January 14 and January 15, there were 71 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 39 (55%) were academically connected and 16 (23%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Ummmm: Not much there, really. Probably a tough week, what with the beginning of the year and all. Yeah, that's the ticket. Lots of random academic positions, not much else. 

Orlando, FL: A cheminformatician position has been posted for the Sanford-Burham site in Florida; B.S. to Ph.D., looks like lots of experience desired. 

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 188, 733, 2624 and 15 positions for the search term "chemist." For LinkedIn, there were 140 positions for the job title "chemist", with 16 for "analytical chemist", 3 for "organic chemist", 1 for "synthetic chemist", 1 for "medicinal chemist" and 16 for "research chemist." 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Enjoy some Bill Nye

We've discovered Bill Nye at my home recently; this video on chemical reactions (23 minutes long, I note) is eminently watchable and frequently requested. He and his team of kids manage to teach a bunch of simple facts, including that:
  • Everything is made of chemicals. 
  • Chemicals react to create new chemicals. 
  • Some of the reactions are energetic, some of them are not. 
The PPE requirements are interesting (I note that "Candace the Science Gal"* goes into Bill's lab, stands in front of the flame and then puts on her eyewear). All in all, a classic of chemical education. 

I wonder if people think that there are too many explosions in this video? I thought there were just enough. 

Roger Perlmutter is God's gift to reporters

After this quote about Roger Perlmutter's direct reports 'betting their jobs' and then yesterday's gem (covered here by Derek Lowe) about Merck needing to lay off chemists in order to hire more biologists, I was beginning to think that Forbes reporter Matthew Herper has some sort of magic mind ray that makes Perlmutter and other sources start spilling their guts unwisely.

But, no, with this latest quote from a Reuters interview (noted by "nameless" at ItP), I think Dr. Perlmutter just likes to talk: 
But the situation Perlmutter faced was sobering. Merck had introduced no important innovative medicines since 2006, when it won approvals for Gardasil, the first vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, and a new type of diabetes drug called Januvia. 
A trail of disappointments had ensued, including failed studies of cholesterol treatment Tredaptive and migraine drug telcagepant and ongoing regulatory delays for osteoporosis medicine odanacatib. 
"I had one of our very senior chemists express to me her concern that maybe she just isn't any good at this," Perlmutter said. "She got to the point where she really doubted her own ability. And that level of self-doubt has an effect on people's performance." 
Perlmutter said some promising developments with new drugs were beginning to lift morale, including a closely watched cancer treatment called MK-3475 that works by harnessing the immune system, highly potent new oral therapies for hepatitis C and an improved version of Gardasil.
Something tells me that this sort of comment is made to one's management in some level of confidence and the chemist in question wasn't expecting her quote to go out on the wire services in service of Dr. Perlmutter's rescuing-Merck's-confidence narrative. 

#SheriSangji update: to the Appeals Courts!

I've been remiss in not updating from the latest on the criminal proceedings surrounding Professor Patrick Harran. According to the indomitable Jyllian Kemsley, it looks like the case is headed to an appeals court, based on the fact that the law might might be unclear (CJ's words) as to whether or not Professor Harran is legally responsible as a supervisor, as opposed to UCLA (the ultimate "employer"):
On Oct. 24, 2013, Harran’s attorneys filed a “petition for writ of mandate, prohibition, or other appropriate relief” with the California Court of Appeal. The petition covers similar territory as the demurrer motion from last August: The defense argues that UC was the employer and Harran merely a supervisor.... 
So far, the Court of Appeal has not done anything with the petition. Until it does, the case cannot proceed.
To get the legal language full-blast, click here. This case just keeps going and going and going. 

Process Wednesday: the smelly chemical operators of Widnes

I recently purchased a copy of Derek Walker's "The Management of Chemical Process Development in the Pharmaceutical Industry." Lots of good stuff in there (including some really wild speculation in the back about the economy and such). But, in the middle, lots of good lessons on process development and fun anecdotes about life in pharmaceutical companies in the 1980s and 1990s. Here's a good one about sourcing a new fermentation starting material for a process to generate penicillin G:
Despite the turbulence encountered in all process improvement and process development work, there were the occasional triumphs of applied common sense. One of considerable social as well as economic consequence, occurring in the manufacture of penicillin G, resulted from the Ulverston process improvement attending the switch from buying solid phenylacetic acid to purchasing an aqueous solution containing 50% sodium phenylacetate. In using the solid, our factory workers weighted the required amount of phenylacetic acid and then dissolved it in aqueous sodium hydroxide to produce the aqueous solution used for feeding the penicillin fermenters. 
The handling of solid phenylacetic acid had created problems for many years, both for the Ulverston factor and for our vendor, Albright and Wilson (A&W). Solid phenylacetic acid introuced an obnoxious, pervasive, sweaty aroma to the penicillin G buildings and the workers' clothes and homes in Ulverston. The odors in Ulverston and surrounding communities were, however, almost trivial besides those encountered by the A&W workers. 
Keith Partridge, Sales and Marketing Manager for A & W during my time at Ulverston (1966-1975), recounted the privations of process operators manufacturing phenylacetic acid in A&W's Ann Street works in Widnes. They were paid a "social bonus" for working in the plant. Keith said you could walk down the street where they lived and identify their houses by the smell!! No one would sit in their seats at the local public house -- even their beer glasses were segregated!! The ultimate indignity occurred, when Vernons, the football pool company, asked one worker not to send in his weekly pool coupon because of odor complaints from the clerks who processed it!!!  
The common sense use of the 50% aqueous solution of phenylacetic acid virtually eliminated the handling of solid material, though it took some time and a few plant trials to convince the production managers that there was nothing else int he A&W aqueous solution which might have an adverse effect on the penicillin G titer.  
I definitely sympathize with the production managers here: "Yes, this stuff stinks, but it works, it keeps our quotas up, and we're still getting paid. We go to this liquid stuff, it doesn't stink as much, but if we screw up, we blow two or three batches and we're behind for the year." It must have felt like a real risk in making the switch, even if the chemistry made a lot of sense.

That said, you wouldn't see me volunteering to take shifts in a phenylacetic acid plant. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What's a full-size drop?

Amboceptor is a newer science blog that looks at papers from 100 years ago. Here's an interesting little comment about drops from the July 1918 New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal:
Now, one drop of plain water is added. Drops can vary enormously in size, and while, if the proportions in the test were carried out to suit, no harm would ensue, still, for working purposes, we need a full-sized drop. In this instance the standard drop is measured by preferably using the ordinary medicine dropper held almost parallel to the table, so that the drop collects on the side of the elongated glass tip of the dropper.
The post goes on further to talk about the history of micropipetting -- a worthwhile read.

IFF/DPT and more to come. Busy morning.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bureau of Labor Statistics revises expected chemist job growth from 4% to 6%, lowers material scientist job growth from 10% to 5%

BLS has released the 2014 edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook; its entry for Chemists and Material scientists has been updated. From this, you can see that the expected chemist job growth for the 2012-2022 period is 6%, still well-below the expected job growth in the US for all occupations (11%). This is a upward revision from 2012, when the projected job growth for chemists was 4% for the 2010-2020 time period.

Also, it is interesting that material scientist job growth is now predicted to be 5% for the 2012-2022 period; it was 10% just two years ago. It would be fascinating to know (and I am efforting to find out) why material scientist job growth was revised down significantly.

Finally, I find it really troubling that the overall expected occupational job growth was just 10% for the 2012-2022, as opposed to the 14% expected 2 years ago for the 2010-2020. That's not a good sign for the overall US economy, I think.

Best wishes to all of us.

UPDATE: PQ comments to note that he was right, ~3 years in advance. Nice job, PQ! 

Where's Chingy when you need him?

From the august pages of C&EN Jobs, true #altchemjobs.

If I had to choose, I think I would like to be the banqueting operations manager. Appeals to the logistician in me.

Impact Factor points to graduate?

Thanks to A. Maureen Rouhi's editorial on impact factors in this week's C&EN, I've been made aware of the policy of Professor David Lou of Nanyang Technological University and how his students graduate from his group:

Obviously, I think this is a strange sort of way of deciding if a student has been productive enough to graduate. That said, I have to comment Professor Lou for honesty, at the very least. I'm sure lots of professors have informal policies that they'd very unwilling to write down anywhere, much less one's group webpage.

I also liked this little tidbit from his site:

Note: Please don’t contact me if you are not truly passionate about this type of research, or if you just treat the position as a job.  

Well, okay, then. 

This week's C&EN

Lots of interesting stuff in this week's C&EN:
  • The World Chemical Outlook is worthwhile. I liked this quote from Cambrex's CEO in Rick Mullin's  that smaller drug startups like to be "touchy-feely" when dealing with fine chemicals manufacturers -- can't say I blame them, really. 
    • I was rather bemused at this comment in Lisa Jarvis' article on the pharma outlook from an Ernst and Young analyst: "Flochel expects the headcount reductions to continue in 2014 but says they will be weighted toward sales, manufacturing, and supply-chain positions, rather than the deep cuts to R&D seen in recent years. “There’s a limit to how much you can cut because then you cut in the muscle rather than the fat,” he says." Oh, we're only getting to the muscle now?!? I'm pretty sure we hit the bone in 2009, maybe 2011. 
  • The U.S. had a lower proportion of the world's biomedical R&D spending in 2012, attributable mainly to lower industrial spending. (article by Rick Mullin)
  • Chuck Schumer wants to phase out an older model of tank car, potentially responsible for recent incidents where after the tank cars full of Bakken crude derail, they explode. Oh, dear. (article by Glenn Hess.)
  • Can anyone make heads or tails of this letter to the editor about Canadian science? It's confusing as all get-out.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Thanks, Division of Organic Chemistry, for the videos!

I've talked about paying dues to the Division of Organic Chemistry ($15/year). I note that I said that I wanted video of all Division presentations, including those made at the National Organic Symposium. 

Well, according to my DOC Newsletter this morning, those videos are available to members at the Division website. I have indeed viewed the page; I can confirm that, if you're a division member, you have access to talks from David Evans, Lawrence Scott, Joanna Fowler, Shana Kelley, Eiichi Nakamura and Hanadi Sleiman from this year's NOS at the University of Washington. 

I know that I'm a regular critic of the American Chemical Society, so I like it when I can say something positive. A lot of us in industry don't get to see presentations from academics anymore (and still enjoy it); this (and ACS Presentations on Demand) is an exciting thing to see. 

4-Methyl-1-Cyclohexanemethanol leak in Charleston, West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Residents in eight counties and part of a ninth were told Thursday evening not to drink, cook with or wash with water supplied by West Virginia American Water after a leak earlier in the day at a chemical facility along the Elk River. 
Any water supplied by West Virginia American Water in Kanawha, Putnam, Boone, Jackson and Lincoln counties was to be used only for flushing toilets and putting out fires, officials said just before 6 p.m. A couple hours later, Roane, Clay and Logan counties were added to the warning. The Culloden area of Cabell County was also affected. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency in all of those counties....
...Tomblin said he expected the state of emergency to still be in effect this morning. He said it would stay until the state Department of Health and Human Resources, the Department of Environmental Protection and the water company say the water is safe. 
He called the chemical -- 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, according to a DEP spokesman -- a "sudsing agent" and said, "It could take some time, they can't tell us how long it will take, to get the system flushed clean because some of these pipes go out as far as 60 miles." The chemical is used in the processing of coal...
Mike Dorsey, director of emergency response and homeland security for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said his division learned of the incident around noon from Department of Environmental Protection air-quality officials -- who had received odor complaints about the facility as early as 7:30 a.m. 
The DEP's air-quality officials discovered the spill -- which the company had not self-reported to regulatory agencies -- and called Dorsey's unit, which handles such matters for the DEP.
...State investigators discovered the material was leaking from the bottom of a storage tank, and had overwhelmed a concrete dike meant to serve as "secondary containment" around the tank, Dorsey said. 
"That was going over the hill into the river," Dorsey said. "Apparently, it had been leaking for some time. We just don't know how long."
Ooops. I know at least one Chemjobber reader is being affected by this. Best wishes to all of you. (Most links I've seen have placed it as being this compound.)

Unemployment rate down 0.3% to 6.7%, non-farm payroll jobs increased by 74,000

Credit: Calculated Risk
The unemployment rate fell 0.3% to 6.7% in December and non-farm payroll jobs increased by 74,000, well below the expected number (~200,000, I'd say.) The broader U6 unemployment rate was flat at 13.1%.

The chemical manufacturing subsector lost 1,800 jobs, down to 793,300 people employed.

The unemployment rate for non-high school diploma holders was down 0.8% to 9.8%. The unemployment rate for college degree holders was down 0.1% to 3.3%.

The media this morning has rightly focused on the disappointing payroll numbers -- I think that's fair. Also, the labor force participation rate was down 0.2% to 62.8%. That's not good, either. All in all, a disappointing report. Hopefully, we will leave that behind with the new year.

Thanks, as always, to Calculated Risk for the graph. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

More on the Beacon School incident: FDNY finds code violations

The latest from The New York Times on the Beacon School incident, where both FDNY and state labor officials are closing the barn door after the horses have left exerting their regulatory oversight:
Fire Department investigators have cited Beacon High School in Manhattan for eight violations, finding that dangerous chemicals were being stored unsafely and that safety equipment and practices were lacking in at least three rooms. One was the makeshift lab where two students were engulfed in flames last week when a chemistry demonstration went horribly awry. 
The department gave the school, which is on the Upper West Side, 10 days to correct some of the violations of fire and building codes, and 30 days for others. But it did not issue a “cease and desist” order, which could have closed the teaching labs, James Long, a Fire Department spokesman, said on Wednesday. 
The state Labor Department is also investigating the accident and its context, state officials said, because regulations require safety equipment like chemical fume hoods when teachers handle potentially explosive flammable liquids and toxic chemicals in the workplace. There was none in Room 317, a “science demo room,” where Alonzo Yanes, 16, was badly burned when fumes from the methanol used by a teacher to burn different substances ignited. Alonzo remained in critical condition on Wednesday in the burn unit of New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The other student suffered relatively minor burns. 
The Fire Department violations, issued to the principal, Ruth Lacey, also focused on the chemical storage room, Room 331; the school was ordered to immediately reduce the supply of hazardous chemicals to the amounts allowed by law, including no more than 15 gallons of flammable liquids and no more than five pounds of toxic substances. In a formal science laboratory, Room 321, the school was ordered to provide a safety shower and eye wash for decontamination, and to show that a chemical fume hood there was being tested annually for safe ventilation of dangerous fumes...
It is a funny aspect of American life that regulators always seem to show up after an incident and rarely before; also, they tend to regulate equipment and logistics rather than people*. Of all their concerns, only the fume hood would be been helpful in this particular situation.

Something tells me that New York public high schools are about to have some surprise inspections, either by FDNY or by the city Education Department. Should be interesting to follow.

*It's probably actually their statuary authority that does that.

It's getting deep in San Diego

A reader sends in the Union-Tribune's coverage of Biocom's (San Diego's life science business association) endorsement of San Diego mayoral candidate David Faulconer:
SORRENTO VALLEY — City Councilman Kevin Faulconer launched the first salvo of San Diego’s post-holiday mayoral runoff campaign on Thursday, landing the endorsement of Biocom, a group of 600 life science industry officials who had backed Nathan Fletcher in the first round of the race to replace Bob Filner. 
In the article, an interesting comment from the opposing candidate, fellow councilman David Alvarez:
Rival David Alvarez, a fellow councilman, responded to the endorsement by saying he’s a strong supporter of the biotech and high-tech sectors. 
“As mayor, I’ll work to draw more of these high-growth, high-wage employers to San Diego by streamlining regulations and working with our governor to offer incentives,” he said in a prepared statement. “We also have to better prepare young people for these types of jobs. I’ve set a set a goal of 10,000 internships for high school students to ensure our young people are prepared for opportunities to fill the jobs these employers provide today and in the future.”
10,000 internships!?! Wow. That's darn near 30% of kids in San Diego-area high schools, I'll bet.* What are these companies going to do with all of these kids? I think it's a rather absurd goal myself. My reader's comment:
Aside from the economic absurdity of using tax dollars to shift jobs from one part of US to another (I'll grant from overseas is net benefit to chemists....) what jobs is he referring to?  You can't drive 20 feet in Sorrento Valley without seeing a 'lab space for rent' sign from a company that's recently laid off employees.....
Also, my commenter notes Arena's CEO's endorsement of Faulconer:
"Arena Pharmaceuticals founder and chief executive officer Jack Lief said Faulconer understands the need for research and development dollars." 
Brilliant!  ARNA has cut R&D spending from $204 million in 2008 ($221 mill adj for inflation to 2012) to $54 million in 2012, I guess Jack understands the need for R&D dollars so long as he's not providing them.  
 Good to see that our business and political elites are grounded in reality. Best wishes to the rest of us.

*Can't find a lot of data, but this PDF from San Diego Unified suggests that the graduating classes for San Diego Unified for the entire district was in the 7000-8000 student range. 

Job postings: Director of Chemistry, San Diego, CA

From the inbox, a position with Retrophin, a startup with a lab in San Diego, CA:

Department: CMC
Position/Title: Director of Chemistry, Validation and Tech Transfer

  • Coordinate analytical chemistry testing and evaluation of Retrophin’s drug substances, drug products and excipients, for identity, purity and strength 
  • Verify suitability, qualification and validation of analytical chemistry methods at Contract Manufacturing Organizations (CMO) and other external laboratories
  • Coordinate technology transfer of analytical methods to and from internal or external laboratories
  • Write technical reports on a wide variety of chemistry-related subjects
  • Maintains up-to-date knowledge of US and EU GMPs, USP, Ph.Eur, and ICH guidelines as applicable to analytical methods development and validation
  • Provide analytical support, trouble shooting, on internal and external project teams
  • Assist management during regulatory inspections and internal, and external audits
  • Assist with the development of CMC sections of regulatory submissions
  • Manage group of CMC experts
  • Ph.D. degree in Analytical Chemistry or closely related discipline
  • 10 years relevant experience (biotech, pharma, etc.)
  • Expert knowledge in analytical separation techniques, validation and technology transfer procedures
  • 2 years management experience
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
Interested? Contact Fazela Mohamed at  fazela -at-

Daily Pump Trap: 1/9/14 edition

Good morning! Between January 7 and January 8, there were 13 positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 6 (46%) were academically connected and 2 (15%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Neat new look: C&EN Jobs has gotten a newer, cleaner look; I believe the underlying search software (and the underlying jobs being posted, sigh) are basically the same.

Spring House, PA: Dow AgroSciences is looking for a regulatory manager; M.S./Ph.D. in chemistry desired.

Geneva, IL: Roquette America is a company working with starches; they're looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist for a position as a food applications scientist. Also, a rather wonderful "Confectionery Food Applications Scientist" (M.S. in Food Science required):
Develop solutions to support confectionery customer projects by conducting application study requests with various sweeteners, polyols and other Roquette ingredients. 

Detroit, MI: Fairmount Minerals is looking for a B.S./M.S. chemist. They've been looking for a while now...

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 176, 737, 2368 and 12 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 128 positions for the job title "chemist", with 16 for "analytical chemist", 10 for "research chemist", 5 for "organic chemist", 1 for "medicinal chemist" and 1 for "synthetic chemist." Looks like BMS is looking for experienced process folks -- good news, I'd think. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Synthetic chemist wanted for THC extraction

From an astute reader in the comments, a little Tuesday night/Wednesday morning gift:

Production Chemist, Essential Oil Refinement (San Jose, CA)
Immediate opening for a synthetic chemist with organic and/or inorganic experience to refine essential oils from extracts. Responsibilities include commercial production as well as refinement to existing processes and development of new ones. 
Educational Requirements: Bachelor's degree in chemistry with 2+ years industry experience, or master's degree in chemistry. 
Experience: Knowledge of and experience with derivation and purification of essential oils highly desirable. At a minimum, experience in product purification and isolation of desired compounds. Experience in a commercial production environment highly desirable. 
Salary: Starting at $60-$80K, depending on education and relevant experience. Very significant bonuses and salary increases if you successfully solve specific problems, hit target dates, and meet a very reasonable production schedule.  
You will have flexible hours and schedule. You'll have an opportunity to work in a small friendly company where a few of us work closely together and enjoy our lives immensely. You will have control over your process. You will get personal respect and recognition from others for your contribution. You'll have say-so in your area of responsibility and a vote in company decisions and direction. Additionally, you'll be part of a red-hot new industry with tremendous upside potential.  
TetraLabs is a leading, successful, medical cannabis company based in the San Jose area. We have all the required legal documentation, and are considered a "poster child" for regulatory compliance. Our products that are strictly medical. We have operated successfully for six years at a consistent growth rate. We have the highest quality products, best image and most memorable branding in our sector. Although we are small compared to big corporations, we are considered the leading company in our sector. We are the company others try to copy and emulate. Learn more at
I check my pocket that my wallet is still there whenever anyone says "upside potential." That sort of thing makes me suspicious. That said, the legal cannabis industry is undoubtedly growing. Best wishes to whoever might be interested in this position.

(What's the exposure risk for THC in the lab? Stuff's not very volatile, right? (Shows how naive I am.)  

Job postings: St. Jude's, 2 positions

The director of the lab featured in yesterday's DPT wrote in -- this was his comment:
The ‘Cheminformatics Analyst’ position is in my lab. I wanted to clarify the job posting. The job description states this person ‘assists the CBT Cheminformaticist with computing resources for cheminformatics’  and will be developing software applications, hence the background in CS. Apologies if the job title is a bit ambiguous.

I also want to highlight two positions that do require a background in chemistry:
Click here, search for "Chemical Data Warehouse Specialist" (32063) and "Senior Scientist Cheminformatics" (32064) under "Scientific Research" 
I think that's a fair statement. I apologize to Dr. Shelat and I thank him for more relevant postings.

UPDATE: Apologies, links fixed. St. Jude's website does not like outside links.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Placeholder for Beacon School incident

I'm mostly gathering thoughts, articles together for (potentially) a longer comment on the Beacon School "rainbow flame" experiment. Still haven't come up with any great thoughts yet.

Here's the New York Post's account of the accident. This section is detailed (almost too detailed; I am withholding judgment until I see more):
...Two sophomores were injured in the explosion. Alonzo Yanes, 16, remains at Cornell Medical Center’s burn unit with second and third degree burns to his face, neck and torso; Julia Saltonstall, 16, suffered first degree singes to her arm, torso and face and was treated and released. 
“It’s absurd that those students weren’t wearing goggles,” said one source. “It’s lucky they weren’t blinded.” 
Additionally, the teacher poured the highly flammable alcohol out of a gallon container rather than having on hand only the few milliliters necessary, one source said, speaking of the ongoing investigation on condition of anonymity. 
Finally, and most critically, Poole did not ensure that the fire had completely gone out in all four crucibles used in the experiment. 
Unbeknownst to her or her students, one of the ceramic vessels still had a low, clear, barely visible fire...
The invisible flame aspect of methanol is not necessarily well-known.

A more sober account of the regulatory aspects (including our favorite CSB investigator, Mary Beth Mulcahy) is in the New York Times' longer look at the Beacon School incident.

It will be very interesting to see what sort of initiatives flow out of this incident or if it will be ignored. Clearly, the UCLA incident (and legal coercion from the Los Angeles District Attorney) were enough to get changes in University of California procedures. Will such things flow out of the Beacon School incident?

Daily Pump Trap: 1/7/14 edition

First one of the year, just trying to push something out the door. 

Los Angeles, CA: Materia (the Grubbs' catalyst folks) are hiring two process chemists: a Ph.D.-level one and a B.S./M.S.-level one. Good luck!

Boston, MA: Aramco Services is looking for a B.S.-level chemist; looks to be polymer/nanomaterials-oriented.

Spring Valley, NY: Adecco is looking for a "Sales Assistant with Inorganic Chemistry Background":
The Inorganic Chemical Sales Assistant should have a degree in Chemistry specializing in inorganic chemistry specifically and have strong analytic and mathematical skills . While this is a sales support position, the Sales Assistant will be working with technical documents and must understand and be able to communicate with the Sales Engineers and customers about details of chemical products.
40-50k; could be worse, I'm guessing.

Joy: I love how this cheminformatics position with St. Jude's wants someone with a computer science degree. I guess the chemistry isn't important.

UPDATE (010814, 11 am): A very kind e-mail from the director of the laboratory that's hiring above:
The ‘Cheminformatics Analyst’ position is in my lab. I wanted to clarify the job posting. The job description states this person ‘assists the CBT Cheminformaticist with computing resources for cheminformatics’  and will be developing software applications, hence the background in CS. Apologies if the job title is a bit ambiguous.
 He also provides some other positions that I'll be highlighting today.

Ahhhhhhh, Aldrich: Gotta love the combination of Kelly and Aldrich trolling for chemical operators:
A leading manufacturer of chemicals is in need of several Operators to join their team!  These are perfect positions for individuals with a chemistry or related degree, with a year of industry experience who is seeking a foot in the door type of position.  
As a Chemical Operator, you will be able to;
- Monitor chemical reactions using analytical and laboratory equipment
- Perform distillations, filtrations, extractions and re-crystallizations
- Record data in laboratory notebooks
- Label reactions, products, and waste with content and status related information 
An associates degree or higher, in a science field, is required.  Experience may be able to replace a degree.
Someone please tell me that this position isn't as bad as it looks. It's probably not. Right? Right? Someone with Aldrich experience, what are these positions like? 

Ivory Filter Flask: 1/7/14 edition

Trying to get something out out the door; morning is a little rough.

Northfield, MN: I see Carleton College is looking for a one-year VAP, and dangling "possible renewal for a second year at the Assistant Professor level starting September 1, 2014." Hmmmm.

Boca Raton, FL: Florida Atlantic University is looking for an assistant professor of physical or analytical chemistry "with research interests in biological and/or pharmaceutical applications."

Colorado Springs, CO: I see the United States Air Force Academy is looking for an assistant professor of organic chemistry. That'd be a fun one, I'll bet.

Shenzhen, China: The South University of Science and Technology is not quite two years old (founded April 2012), and they appear to be looking to hire some faculty: "invites applications for full-time faculty positions at the rank of tenure-track Associate or tenured Full professor in the area of Physical Chemistry (preferably molecular spectroscopy), Structural Chemistry (with profound expertise in X-ray crystallography), Chemical Biology (with an education in chemistry), and Analytical Chemistry (preferably NMR or Mass Spectroscopy)." Good luck! 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Tom Barton is making sense

From this week's C&EN, a lovely little section from ACS President Tom Barton on #chemjobs: 
Availability Of Jobs For Chemists 
In 2011, unemployment among ACS members reached 4.7%, the highest point recorded since ACS began compiling data in 1972 on the employment status of its members. In the most recent survey, done in 2013, the picture had improved slightly, with unemployment among members falling to 3.5%. 
Despite this modestly encouraging news, job seekers at ACS Career Fairs, held at each national meeting, still find the number of available positions to be minuscule compared with the number of applicants. For example, at last year’s ACS national meeting in New Orleans, 131 job listings were posted, but there were 807 candidates for those openings—slightly more than a 6:1 ratio. Of those 807 people looking for work, 590 (73%) hold advanced degrees. 
The response to this invariably seems to be that we need to generate more jobs for chemists in the U.S., and of course this is a logical and laudable goal. However, another view that should be equally obvious is the possibility that we are training too many advanced-degree chemists, especially at the Ph.D. level. That’s an elephant-in-the-room viewpoint that needs to be addressed. (emphasis CJ's)
Because the overwhelming majority of chemists are employed in industry, I believe it behooves ACS to expend considerable effort to learn what it is that industrial chemists need from us. I have a concern that chemists in industry may view the society as more of an academic endeavor. (emphasis CJ's) That actually is not the case, and we must put in some serious effort to make sure that it is not reasonably perceived to be the case. Any thoughts on how to achieve this would be much appreciated.
I do not recall ever reading such a section from the presidential addresses of recent years past. I'll have to do a little double checking. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Another accident with the "rainbow flame" experiment

A teacher’s chemistry experiment exploded during a demonstration at Beacon High School in Manhattan on Thursday, creating a fireball that burned two 10th graders, one severely, according to Fire Department and school officials. 
The incident happened about 9 a.m., as Anna Poole, a science teacher at the public school, gave a lesson on how electrons react to different chemicals and give off different colors, according to students and school officials. 
“There was a science experiment underway in this classroom and it went bad,” said James Long, a spokesman for the Fire Department. “There were students that were believed to be in the front rows of the classroom, there was a flash of the fire, and they were caught within that flash.” 
A boy suffered severe burns on his face and neck, and a girl was burned on her hand, officials said. Both were taken to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Carmen Fariña, the new schools chancellor, said that the boy, whom she identified by only his first name, Alonzo, was in serious condition on Thursday afternoon at the hospital, and that the other student, identified as Julia, had been sent home. 
When the experiment exploded, students dived under their desks and screamed for help, students in neighboring classrooms said. But the two students sitting near the front were engulfed in flames. Students and teachers helped put the fire out, and it was no longer burning by the time firefighters arrived.
Here's the same story from the Daily News and The Gothamist. I find it sadly ironic that her students said that she was fairly safety-focused -- evidence, to me, that even the safety-conscious amongst us can fail -- and the consequences can be life-shattering.

I still don't know what can be done to stop this specific accident, but I'd really like to try. 

Crude oil is probably flammable

Thanks to my morning Wonkbook e-mail, I see that there is concern that crude oil from the Bakken shale is more explosive than normal for crude oil:
After three fiery accidents involving trains carrying crude oil out of North Dakota's Bakken Shale, regulators and industry officials are trying to figure out why the oil is exploding. Crude is flammable, but before being refined into products such as gasoline it is rarely implicated in explosions. 
Yet earlier this week, when a BNSF Railway Co. train hauling 104 tank cars filled with Bakken crude struck another train, some of the cars exploded one after the other, releasing fireballs that blazed several stories above the frozen prairie. "Crude oil doesn't explode like that," said Matthew Goitia, chief executive of Peaker Energy Group LLC, a Houston company that is developing crude-by-rail terminals....
Of course, there are nasty chemicals to blame for this!:
...The energy industry has been reluctant to discuss publicly what might be causing the problem. It is possible, experts say, that unusually large amounts of naturally occurring and highly flammable petroleum products such as propane and ethane are coming out of the ground with the Bakken crude. Last March, Tesoro Logistics LP reported the Bakken crude it was transporting by rail was increasingly volatile. The San Antonio company didn't respond to a request for comment. 
Another possibility is that impurities are being introduced during hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. That process involves pumping chemicals or other additives along with water and sand into a well to free more fossil fuels. One such additive is hydrochloric acid, a highly caustic material, which federal investigators suspect could be corroding the inside of rail tank cars, weakening them. 
Oil from fracked wells can also be laced with benzene and other volatile and highly flammable organic compounds.
Laced! With benzene! What's this? The aromatics range of crude oil can be anywhere from 3 to 30%? Nuh-uh!

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd go with the first explanation, which is that crude that is fracked probably carries with it a higher percentage of trapped volatiles that are more flammable. I could be convinced that corrosion might play a role in this, but I'd be much likelier to believe that old/busted tank cars are being pressed into service inappropriately rather than an explanation about fracking fluid contamination. Interesting issue -- I'll try to keep an eye on this.