Friday, July 24, 2015

The best #chemjobs paragraph I read today: Ray Freeman and Gareth Morris on Varian

From the inbox, an incredible piece by Professor Ray Freeman and Professor Gareth Morris on the history of Varian, the company, and Varian NMR technology. This paragraph is tremendous (formatting, emphasis mine):
...It is left to the reader to judge the reasons behind the decision to shut down the Varian NMR operation in this ruthless manner; it is perhaps too soon to reach any meaningful verdict. Future MBA student projects will doubtless examine how it was possible to pay an immense cash sum to acquire another company, and then close it down after just four short years. The wider science community will deplore the massive and irreplaceable loss of personnel and expertise in the key areas of chemistry, structural biology and clinical imaging. Here the most widespread reaction will be incomprehension.  
There remains an acute sense of loss, resentment, and even betrayal, not least at the lay-off of hundreds of former employees, many of whom were popular and respected members of the NMR family. Scientists in general will mourn the disappearance of an enterprise that contributed so much to research, that worked so hard to popularize NMR in chemistry, that greatly extended the scope and performance of spectrometers, that enabled users to devise a rich field of new pulse programs, and that bequeathed a valuable legacy for future instrument development. Colleagues in other branches of science will feel a chill wind: if a management misjudgment can lead to such a sudden and irreparable loss of personnel and expertise in a field so central to progress in so many areas, we are all losers...
 Read the whole thing.

10 comments:

  1. Just like Pfizer buying up competitors, stripping out the marketed drugs, and destroying everything else?

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  2. Those of us acquainted with NPV calculations and other business reasoning might seriously pose the question of whether or not NMR might have been properly developed in most business settings. The demise of Varian is truly sad and a strong indictment of our society's values.

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  3. Thank goodness helium is no longer a daily hassle. In a big department like mine, that would take a devoted full-time staff member. (And until just recently, we had a little 200 MHz that did resemble R2D2.)

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    1. For now. Tapping our dwindling reserves of this non-renewable resource is not a long-term solution to anything.

      Helium is almost unique in its non-renewable traits. If it leaks from your spectrometer or any other use, it is lost to us forever as it escapes into space. Nothing else has this property, and remains here. It may be a pain and require lots of energy, but everything else is ultimately recyclable.

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    2. Helium is always leaking from our spectrometers. We don't have any recapture systems in place. Our top-off schedule doesn't even come close to being daily, though. Nitrogen is weekly, but on the newer magnets, we can go several months between helium fills. Believe me, the helium issue is one that I think about a lot.

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  4. "In the early 1960s the entir reporting heirarchy was made up of physicists all the way to the top; not an MBA in sight. Flexibility was the order of the day, offering freedom to explore new avenues of magnetic resonance..."

    I bet those folks would have reported "highly meaningful" work. Sounds like fun times.

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  5. Shelley might have been referring to Varian when he wrote

    "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
    Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

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    1. Good morning, Mr. White. :-)

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    2. This is one of my favorite poems. I'll never see it the same way again. Haha.

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    3. Also a favorite poem of mine.

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