Thursday, March 31, 2016

Phil Baran's thoughts on private versus public funding

Interesting to hear Phil Baran's thoughts on private funding and Elon Musk/SpaceX upon accepting honors from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (an organization I have never heard of before). From his conclusion:  
Ladies and gentleman, society’s message to scientists is clear: simple curiosity is insufficient justification for our research. Scientists are great at thumping our chests and getting on our soap boxes about the importance of fundamental research. And, we are right. The problem is that nobody is listening.  
The average taxpayer has no idea what we do and the long-term benefits of basic science. Arguably, the public is more interested in the air pressure of a football than the atmospheric pressure on Mars. Moving forward, in addition to making the most of precious public funding and occasional philanthropy, perhaps we should follow Mr. Musk’s lead and turn to the private sector to help fund our own missions to Mars.
Obligatory wisecrack: I feel like I'm listening to David Drumlin in "Contact."

Two problems that I see: first, I don't think there's that much private funding to be had. Second, do we really want the US private sector driving US academic R&D research priorities? I believe in the ideals of the free market just as much as the next kid who grew up in suburbia in the US, but given the choice between research priorities being set by Presidential appointees and Congressional funding approval versus Wall Street, I just might choose the government. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Afternoon fun: scientist fighting game

Madame Curie emits lots of alpha particles, I expect.
Credit: The Verge/ Superinteressante
As you can imagine, it's been a very busy day/week around here, but I did want to mention this super-cute "Scientist Kombat" game, for those of you who may have wasted an hour (or thousand) playing 2-D fighting games. (No game consoles in high school, but I loved Street Fighter and I definitely enjoyed a game of Tekken now and again in college.)

Seems that the Brazilian media site that is running this game has chosen Darwin, Hawking, Einstein, Tesla, Newton, Curie and Pythagoras of Samos. (click here to see gifs). Note that the browser game takes a very long time to load.

I sure would enjoy a historical "Chemist Kombat" game. Who would be the boss? Professor Corey and ability to project chiral oxazaborolidine-coordinated hydrides would be challenging.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Job posting: Associate Scientist/Scientist/Sr. Scientist, Pasadena, CA

From the inbox, a position at Protomer Solutions, a company in Pasadena, CA: 
Protomer Technologies is seeking to fill a position in our new and rapidly growing biotechnology company. We are looking for people who are passionate about biotechnology and improving the world through cutting edge bio-chemical research and technology development. We are a biotechnology company dedicated to alleviating and addressing diabetes through novel bio-engineering and glucose-responsive treatments. 
Desired education and experience level: BS, MS and/or PhD with 0+ years of experience. Compensation and position varies depending on experience level.
Ability to work in molecular biology or chemistry laboratory is a must for all levels. Scientist level position requires expertise in one of: peptide chemistry, protein chemistry or molecular biology. Additional demonstrated expertise in protein engineering is a plus. 
Sr. Scientist requires MS with 5+ or PhD with 3+ years experience. We will consider all applicants with any level of experience and complementary skills. 
Please send your CV directly to
Here's a little media tidbit about them. Best wishes to those interested.  

Monday, March 28, 2016

Job posting: senior chemical safety specialist, Argonne, IL

From the inbox, a position at Argonne National Laboratory:
Position Description  
Establishes and leads the Argonne National Laboratory process related to chemical safety, with special emphasis and focus on reactive chemistry. Plans and executes tasks to ensure implementation of the chemical safety program and prime contract stipulated requirements. This is expected to include development of appropriate controls to ensure that work is safely and effectively controlled to the extent possible to minimize risk. At the Directorate and division level, serves as a technical resource for implementation of chemical safety programs to meet contract and regulatory requirements. This may include participating on work plan reviews and development of tools to aide in the evaluation of reactivity hazards to be integrated with the Laboratory`s existing work planning and control processes. Serves as a resource in the development and education of Argonne personnel as related to chemical safety program/process requirements. Provide consultation for the disposition and removal of chemical waste. 
Position Requirements 
  • Master's Degree and 8+ years work experience or equivalent.
  • Comprehensive knowledge of chemical safety program development and implementation, to include reactive chemistry, at laboratory or high hazard facilities; corporate chemical safety policies and requirements; exposure assessments; exposure controls; training; and program appraisal.
  • Comprehensive skill and experience in analysing chemical reactivity hazards and developing and implementing work controls....
There is more at the link. If you're interested in applying and would like to talk to the hiring manager, contact me ( and I can put you in touch with them. 

Is it a big deal to switch from Fortran to C++ and Python?

The article about a computational comeback in drug discovery was a good read (C&EN, Jan. 25, page 19). I do agree that graphics processing unit (GPU) technology has made computer calculations faster in drug design. Using GPU technology in conjunction with advanced computer languages is really how the computer systems work. 
One benefit to computer modeling is using scientific computer languages such as C++ and Python, which have made the calculations of advanced chemical mathematics much faster. Previously, the use of the Fortran language was acceptable for chemical math equations that were simplified. Continued advancement in computer hardware and languages will spur growth for future years. 
Mike Renier
South Range, Mich.
I wish I could comment intelligently on this, but I can't.  

This week's C&EN

A few articles from this week's C&EN:
*fixed - thanks, uncle sam! 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

What is the smell of TATP?

First, my condolences to anyone who is living in the Brussels area. These bombings are terrible. From a New York Times article (by Andrew Higgins and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura) about the terrorists' preparation of the explosive triacetone triperoxide, an interesting detail: 
...Mr. Rodrigues said that Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui were his first tenants, and that they had provided him with fake identity papers and bogus pay slips to obtain a one-year lease. Three others, including a man since identified as Mr. Laachraoui, visited regularly. 
The smell in their apartment was horrendous, the owner said, recalling how he had seen on the floor two large fans similar to ones found on construction sites, and an exhaust fan on the wall. Such fans would be useful in the final stages of preparing TATP, the homemade peroxide-based explosives used in the bombings on Tuesday, and also by the November suicide bombers in Paris. 
After breaking into the apartment on Tuesday morning, police officers found 30 pounds of TATP — enough for another powerful bomb — as well as nearly 40 gallons of acetone and eight gallons of hydrogen peroxide, materials used in producing TATP. They also found a suitcase full of nails and metal bolts, used to make bombs more lethal, as well as an Islamic State flag. 
Mr. Rodrigues said that whenever he visited the apartment, the door to the living room was always shut, while windows throughout the apartment were always open. Mr. Rodrigues said he would smell a “very strong chemical odor” that he could not quite put a finger on. “If it smelled like bleach or drugs, I would’ve recognized it,” he said....
OK, I know what acetone smells like, and I know what 50% hydrogen peroxide smells like. Do they really smell so bad? I like the smell of acetone, and 50% hydrogen peroxide just smells sour-ish to me. Here's NYT correspondent C.J. Chivers on Twitter:
TATP production often involves multiple distinct odors, at different stages. Sounds like odors were noted, no one acted. 
So I am not asking anyone to give me a detailed treatise on the making of TATP (although I seem to recall one (ok, just a simple synthetic procedure) in JACS a few years back), but what's the smell of making TATP? 

Friday, March 25, 2016

The View from Your Hood: Seoul, South Korea

Total synthesis, Snowy Seoul, South Korea
Anonymous submission.

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

Job posting: research associate, 0-5 years, Gilead Sciences, Seattle, WA; also summer intern position

As Research Associate, you will participate in an integrated research team aimed at discovering and synthesizing novel chemical entities for various targets. Under the guidance of an experienced Research Scientist you will be responsible for planning, designing and executing multi-step synthesis pathways toward key target molecules, followed by purification and compound characterization. Communication of results, methods and conclusions to departmental colleagues is essential. Collaboration with colleagues across disciplines, participation in project team meetings, and contribution toward creative problem solving are all encouraged. 
BS or MS in Organic/Medicinal Chemistry
Familiarity with modern chromatographic techniques, including LCMS, flash chromatography and preparative scale HPLC highly preferred.
Familiarity with modern analytical techniques (NMR, IR etc).
A strong interest in medicinal chemistry combined with good laboratory skills
Familiarity with MS Office and ChemDraw required.
Essential: BS degree in Chemistry with no industry experience.
Best wishes to those interested.

UPDATE: Also, a summer intern position at the same Gilead site in Seattle. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Daily Pump Trap: 3/22/16 edition

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

Hanover, NH: Avitide is looking for a Ph.D. biochemist to work on purification of biological molecules.

Zeroes!: Seattle Genetics (Bothell, WA) is looking for a B.S. chemist (0-4 years experience) to perform bioconjugation chemistry.

Cambridge, MA: Gen9 is seeking a Ph.D. "synthetic DNA chemist"; 5 years industry experience desired

Indianapolis, IN: Heritage Research Group appears to be involved somehow with asphalt chemistry? They're looking for a chemist/industrial hygienist.

Chicago Heights, IL: The Thorn Creek Basin Sanitary District seeks a chemist/laboratory supervisor. "Expected to respond to emergencies 24 hours per day, 7 days per week."

Water chemistry jobs up? (doubtful): The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (Southborough, MA) is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. program manager for chemistry. Not often you see a water organization looking for a Ph.D. chemist; 84,800.00 - 114,900.00 offered.

Berkeley, CA: This Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories position is fascinating:
Berkeley Lab’s Material Sciences Division (MSD) has an opening for a Divisional Communications Lead. You will provide a full range of comprehensive scientific and technical communication functions to support MSD's research.
M.S. in science, 5 years of experience of research/science communications experience desired.

"Canada": The National Research Council of Canada is looking for a Ph.D. physical scientist to perform optical research. "From $49,670 to $140,418 per annum": a broad range.

Ivory Filter Flask: 3/22/16 edition

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

Not too many faculty positions recently: Probably not a surprise in March. At some point here, we'll start seeing ads for the Last Minute Lecturer.

Urbana, IL: Speaking of which, UIUC is looking for two organic/general chemistry lecturer/instructors to start as early as May.

Galesburg, IL: Knox College looking for a fall sabbatical replacement; general/organic chemistry instruction desired.

Baltimore, MD: Biology-ish postdoc at Johns Hopkins - what the heck is "molecular engineering?"

Also...: Time-resolved spectroscopy post-doc at UIUC. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mental health survey for graduate students and postdocs

Via Twitter (and one of the co-investigators), a survey about mental health for graduate students and postdocs: 
Dear Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows: 
All Master's and PhD students and postdoctoral fellows from all disciplines are invited to participate in a research study that aims to measure the prevalence of anxiety, depression, stress, and burnout in the graduate student and postdoctoral fellow population. Through this study, you will be asked to confidentially respond to a series of questions via an online study questionnaire. Although you may not get immediate personal benefit from taking part in this research study, your responses may help improve the level of understanding of these issues in this population and thus help establish the need for developing programs and resources to address these measured issues. All participants will be entered into a drawing for the chance to win one of several prizes including an iPad, Kindle, or a gift card ranging in value from $25-$100.  
Of course, you have a choice about whether or not to complete the questionnaire. If you do participate, you are free to skip any questions or discontinue at any time. If you desire, you may receive the results of this study when it is completed.
Interested? The survey is here.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

This week's C&EN

A few stories from this week's Chemical and Engineering News

Sunday, March 20, 2016

EdX class in medicinal chemistry

From the inbox, Professor Erland Stevens of Davidson College is once again teaching his class on medicinal chemistry:
I teach a free, online course in medicinal chemistry on the edX platform.  The course was developed at Davidson College and is currently offered through a collaboration with Novartis.  In three previous iterations, the course has attracted over 30,000 registrants from around the world.  The course repeats on Monday, March 21st.

The course runs 7 weeks and covers topics ranging from pharmacokinetics (Vd, clearance, half-life), metabolism, activity against drug targets (Ki, Kd, IC50), lead discovery (screening, filtering hits), and lead optimization.  The target audience for the course includes chem/bio/pharmacy graduate students, very recent hires in pharma, or anyone looking for an introduction into topics relevant to drug discovery.
Sounds interesting!  

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Postdoc loses arm in lab explosion in Hawaii

I was first alerted of this via the Division of Chemical Health and Safety's listserv; it has only gotten worse. From Hawaii News Now (the website of the three Honolulu television stations), the story: 
MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Officials say the 29-year-old researcher seriously injured in an explosion at a University of Hawaii lab Wednesday was conducting a routine experiment and handling relatively stable compounds when something went very wrong. 
"Something happened out of the ordinary and we don't know what that is yet," Brian Taylor, dean of UH-Manoa's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, told reporters at a news conference Thursday. 
Post-doctoral fellow Thea Ekins-Coward lost an arm and suffered other injuries in the explosion, which happened about 6 p.m. Wednesday in a basement lab at the Pacific Ocean Sciences and Technology Building. 
 On Thursday, engineers determined the building where the explosion occurred remains structurally sound, and employees and students will be allowed to return Friday.
The university is reviewing its protocols and safety procedures in the wake of the explosion, and reaching out to experts nationally for assistance on the investigation. 
Ekins-Coward was conducting a routine experiment -- something that had been done every day since 2008 -- when the explosion happened in the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute lab, UH officials said. They said she was working with hydrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide...
The morning news reports were pretty bad, but I didn't understand why the Chancellor of the school decided to hold a press conference (with the EH&S director telling us all about Dr. Ekins-Coward's safety training from the university) until I saw the above news report that she has been quite seriously injured.

Twitter report from Hawaii prof. Hope Jahren on the story. 

WWWTP: Czech academia edition

Credit: Anonymous reader
From the inbox, a reader comments: "This is an ad for vscht, a chemistry school in Prague, Czech Republic, one of the most prestigious and big in central Europe. They just ran an ad campaign featuring 2 pentavalent carbons."

Daily Pump Trap: 3/18/16 edition

A few of the positions posted on C&EN Jobs this past week:

Cambridge, MA: Another Moderna position, this one in analytical development.

Morgantown, WV: Mylan Therapeutics is looking to hire a senior QC chemist (B.S. degree, 4-6 years experience desired.) I like the request for "consensus gathering skills."

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) "1000+", 431, 10,863 and 0 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 2134 positions for the job title "chemist", with 216 for "analytical chemist", 33 for "research chemist", 44 for "medicinal chemist", 25 for "organic chemist" and 6 for "synthetic chemist."

Irvine, CA: Allergan looking for a B.S./M.S. chemist.

South San Francisco, CA: Reset Therapeutics, looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. synthetic chemist.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Job posting: scientists, nanoComposix, San Diego, CA

From the inbox, a couple chemist positions in San Diego, CA. The first, a research associate position at nanoComposix:

  • Experience fabricating, functionalizing, and processing nanomaterials
  • Experience with the bioconjugation of targeting molecules to surfaces or particles
  • Experience with optical microscopes, UV-Vis, DLS, Zeta-Potential,TEM, or SEM

  • Sol-gel chemistry, specifically the fabrication and functionalization of silica and titanium dioxide nanoparticles and core-shell composites. 
  • Synthesis of unagglomerated, low coefficient of variation gold, silver, copper, platinum, and magnetite nanoparticles. 
  • Strong analytical background including experience with TEM, DLS, Zeta Potential, and optical microscopy and spectroscopy.
  • Nanoparticle surface functionalization for transfer between organic and aqueous dispersions. 
  • Pilot or production scale chemistry including reactor design, production scale manufacturing, or continuous flow processes.
  • Experience with the bioconjugation of targeting molecules to surfaces or particle, 
Best wishes to those interested. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

San Diego Career Fair numbers

Reported to the ACS Council this morning at the San Diego National Meeting:
Job Seekers: 739
Employers: 30
Positions: 106
Recruiters Row Booths: 13 
Resume reviews: 360
Mock interviews: 217
The 7:1 ratio is a little higher than normal, but not too high (I should really track this better.)

(There was no white board this year.) 

You forget how blue the skies are in San Diego

Horton Plaza skyine (Credit: Chemjobber)
March in San Diego is lovely. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Who are the top 10 Ph.D. programs in chemistry?

It's sweeps month at Chemjobber (this is a joke.)

I keep seeing references to "top 10" schools in chemistry, or "top 50" or "top 5" schools. I sure would like to know what this list of "top" schools is, so here we go.

I would like to know what subjective/objective rankings of worldwide or US-wide Ph.D. programs in chemistry (broadly defined) exist, or if you can make up your own. Readers? 

"Facility Services Associate"

Position Description 
Responsible for ensuring the cleanliness of all store areas, inside and out, such as bathrooms, break rooms, sprinklers, and parking lots. Perform preventative and basic maintenance on all store equipment, ordering and installing parts needed for repair, coordinating with contractors when appropriate. Assist customers on the sales floor when necessary.
How many postdoctoral fellowships does the facility services associate need to have completed?  

Daily Pump Trap: 3/15/16 edition

A few of the positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website: 

Seattle, WA: Once again, Seattle Genetics is searching for a senior process chemist. I really gotta ask myself - are they growing, or do they just have turnover? I suspect it is growth, but I am not sure.

South San Francisco: If I were a new Ph.D. wanting to do medicinal chemistry, I might consider this Johnson and Johnson-related postdoc. However, I'd sure want to know what happens at the end of two years. 

Branchburg, NJ: Fascinating Lilly manufacturing support position; bet it's a lot of fun. 

It has to be good: Smucker's hiring a R&D analytical chemist.

Interesting: Dr. Bronner's (the fancy? earthy? soap company) is looking for a R&D manager.  

Petaluma, CA: Valeant wishes to hire a senior analytical scientist for pharma-related research; 104,000.00 - 176,500.00 offered.  

Columbus, OH: Chemical Abstracts Services sure are hiring a lot of computer-related folks (5 positions); I wonder if they are hiring Ph.D. chemists these days? 

Teterboro, NJ: Never heard of this sort of thing before, but of course, you know it exists: 
Diana Food, A Division of  Symrise, a leading supplier of ingredients to major food processors and manufactures worldwide, has an immediate opportunity for a highly motivated scientist to lead the development and application testing of food color products located at Teterboro in the New Jersey area.  
These are probably the folks to blame for blue M&Ms (this is a hoary joke.)

Mountain View, CA: Chinese state-owned enterprise looking for 15 openings that are ~biofuels-related (?)

San Diego Career Fair Watch: 87 positions posted. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 3/15/16 edition

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

Athens, OH: Ohio University is searching for a tenure-track assistant professor in analytical chemistry.

Edinburgh, Scotland: This University of Edinburgh "Chancellor’s Fellow: Chemistry Research Impact and Engagement with Industry" fellowship appears intriguing - I wonder if UK academics can comment on the potential success of the holders? Pay scale ("38,896.00 - 55,389.00") seems reasonable? I dunno. 

Standish, ME: St. Joseph's College is searching for a 2-year visiting assistant professor in organic chemistry. 

Urbana, IL: UIUC, looking for lecturers/instructors. 

Swiss biophysics group at the University of Fribourg seeks students, postdocs

From the inbox:
The Mayer Biophysics Lab is seeking applicants on the Master’s, Ph.D. and Postdoc level for our brand-new facility and labs in Switzerland. 
We are seeking interest and expertise in the following areas:
  • Electrophysiology, including patch clamp recordings
  • Biophysics or biochemistry of transporter proteins such as ABC transporters
  • Biophysics or biochemistry of amyloids such as amyloid-beta and tau proteins
  • Nanopore recordings and nanopore fabrication
We offer a highly motivated and creative team, state-of-the-art facilities, and exceptionally high salaries. Our lab and the Adolphe Merkle Institute comprise a dynamic and international work environment located in Fribourg, a Swiss city with a vibrant local community, spectacular views, and easy access to other Swiss and European cities and attractions by rail.  The language in the lab and the Institute is English; in Fribourg the official languages are French and German but many locals also speak English. 
Please contact Michael Mayer: 
For more information on: 
  • Our group and research:
  • The Adolphe Merkle Institute:
  • The University of Fribourg:
Best wishes to those interested. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Anyone using Slack for group chatting?

This morning on Twitter, a lot of academic chemistry groups talking about using Slack. Thoughts? 

C&EN talks to the founder of WuXi AppTec

Also from this week's issue, Jean-François Tremblay talks to Ge Li, the founder of WuXi Apptec. Some interesting observations, and some in his own words:
But, thanks to outsourcing, he does expect the number of new drug approvals to continue to rise. Many scientists who were hired by major firms in the 1980s, the heyday of the pharmaceutical industry, are nearing retirement age. “All those scientists—imagine, over 30 or 35 years, they accumulate a lot of knowledge,” Li says. He expects that, rather than retire, some of them will start their own drug research firms, relying on WuXi and other CROs to do much of the work. 
Li may not know who among these scientists will be successful, but he’s confident that some of them will be. “Regardless if it’s about large molecules or small molecules,” he says, “the entry barriers have decreased so much.”  
I wonder if those small companies will hire American CROs, rather than Chinese. I suspect the Chinese will be competing on price and capacity... And in Ge Li's own words, more of his thoughts, including about concerns about intellectual property in China:
On protecting intellectual property (IP) at WuXi: 
When people send their IP to us, they trust us. We now have 10,000 colleagues worldwide. Even if 0.01% are bad guys, something is going to happen to us. Right? So that’s why our three policies are very important. Prevention: We have 15 minutes a day every day to do a compliance meeting. Protection: We have a whole series of methods, such as cameras. We also have software that we developed to look at the behavior of individuals. And prosecution: You really want to go after the 0.01% of bad guys.
I suspect the problem here is that there's not enough trust in the prosecution, and the negative incentives. 

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles in this week's issue of C&EN:

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Postdoc: chemistry, induced pluripotent stem cells, St. Louis University

From the inbox, a postdoc in the laboratory of Professor Christopher Arnatt at Saint Louis University: 
Saint Louis University, a Catholic, Jesuit institution dedicated to student learning, research, health care, and service, is seeking a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Chemistry. A successful candidate for the post-doctoral position should be capable of designing and completing multistep synthetic routes to make small molecules capable of acting as chemical probes for biological systems. Once synthesized, the candidate will be responsible for the biological evaluation of the small molecules using cell-based techniques. The primary project that the candidate will be responsible for is the design, synthesis, and biological evaluation of small molecule fluorescent probes to evaluate the pluripotency (quality) of induced pluripotent (engineered) stem cells. Additional responsibilities include maintaining a safe laboratory environment and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students. Overall, this position consists of 60% chemical synthesis, 25% cell-based techniques, 10% mentoring, and 5% maintaining laboratories. 
Application materials, including: 1) letter of interest, 2) curriculum vita, 3) graduate transcript, and 4) names and contact information for three references, must be submitted online at
Link here. Best wishes to those interested.  

Friday, March 11, 2016

The View From Your Hood

"the biggest safety shower you've ever seen"
Anonymous submission, February 12, 2016.

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

Ask CJ readers: where is the best place for a mildly autistic synthetic chemist to work?

Inspired by the discussion about the homeless medicinal chemist, a longtime reader of the blog has a question, regarding good places for a mildly autistic person to practice synthetic chemistry. They believe they function best where:
  • Social stress is low
  • Boss talks straight (good is good, bad is bad, politics is explained)
  • Hours can be flexible (I work >40h always, but autism comes with minor health issues)
  • Quality > quantity
They note "there is amazingly little knowledge how to job-stabilize and help mildly autistic and otherwise productive adults." I don't know the field, but this wouldn't surprise me. 

I don't really know where this might be, but I would think that one of the academic research institutes might be a good choice. Certainly a CRO would be a bad choice. Large pharma? Probably not the best idea. Readers, your thoughts? 

Federal judge: In the state of Massachusetts, a student and a PI do not have a fiduciary relationship

Elizabeth Wilson's article in C&EN is a great update in the state of play in the lawsuit between Dr. Mark Charest, Professor Andy Myers of Harvard University and Harvard itself. The back story is that Dr. Charest was (at the time) a graduate student for Professor Myers and developed a new route to tetracycline antibiotics; his work was ultimately was patented, published (he was the first author of 5) and then commercialized via a company, Tetraphase. 

When the Harvard technology transfer department announced that Professor Meyers would be paid a 50% share of the royalties and that Dr. Charest would receive an 18.75% share, Dr. Charest objected. He was seemingly threatened by his research advisor who told him to "be careful" and ultimately refused to act as a reference when Dr. Charest later applied to a venture capital firm.* He ultimately filed a lawsuit, which has continued to grind on until last month, when the judge in the case issued a ruling dismissing Professor Myers from the case, dismissing many of the charges, but allowing the lawsuit between Harvard's technology transfer office and Dr. Charest to proceed on the basis of Dr. Charest's argument that he was not treated fairly by Harvard.

One of the interesting aspects of Dr. Charest's lawsuit was his claim that Professor Myers needed to be acting as a "fiduciary", which is a technical term meaning (according to Wikipedia):
A fiduciary is a person who holds a legal or ethical relationship of trust with one or more other parties (person or group of persons). Typically, a fiduciary prudently takes care of money or other asset for another person.
Back when this case came out, we had a bit of a discussion about this on the blog, and I expressed my surprise that there could be a legal basis for a fiduciary relationship between a PI and a student, but I acknowledged that past legal rulings were somewhat murky.

Well, the federal judge (the Honorable Douglas Woodlock) has spoken (PDF), and he rejects Dr. Charest's argument that the there is a fiduciary relationship between a PI and a student. From Judge Woodlock's ruling:
...Dr. Charest claims that Dr. Myers assumed the role of a fiduciary by virtue of his role as Dr. Charest’s supervisor and academic advisor, and as head of Dr. Charest’s laboratory, (Am. Compl. 166-69,) and that Dr. Myers breached his fiduciary obligations by using his position to obtain a more favorable share of the royalties from the tetracycline research at Dr. Charest’s expense. (Am. Compl. 262.)  
Dr. Charest’s attempt to allege a fiduciary relationship fails for two reasons. First, I conclude that under Massachusetts law, a student-advisor relationship is not fiduciary in nature. (emphasis CJ's) Justice Fremont-Smith of the Massachusetts Superior Court addressed precisely this issue in Battenfield v. Harvard Univ., No. 915089F, 1 Mass. L. Rptr. 75 (Mass. Sup. Ct. Aug. 31, 1993), and held that the relationship of an academic advisor to a student does not constitute a fiduciary relationship, xplaining that “[o]ne party cannot unilaterally transform a business or academic relationship into a fiduciary relationship by reposing trust and confidence in another.” Id. at *9. (Citing Comstock v. Livingston, 97 N.E. 106, 108 (Mass. 1912)). [footnote follows]
Judge Woodlock's footnote: Dr. Charest contends that the relationship at issue in Battenfield v. Harvard Univ., 1 Mass. L. Rptr. 75 (Mass. Sup. Ct. Aug. 31, 1993) was an employee-employer relationship, making that case inapplicable. It is clear that, as to at least one defendant in Battenfield, Sue Weaver Schopf, the relationship was purely that of an academic advisor, which the court determined was not fiduciary in nature. Id. at *9. 
Dr. Charest also relies upon Chou, 254 F.3d 1347, for the proposition that a student-advisor relationship is fiduciary in nature. In addition to being decided under Illinois law, there were specific facts existing in Chou that are absent in the present case. These include the fact that Chou’s advisor “specifically represented to her that he would protect and give her proper credit for her research and inventions” and had “responsibility to make patenting decisions regarding Chou's inventions.” Chou, 254 F.3d at 1362.  
There is no allegation that Dr. Myers made any such promises or assumed such responsibilities with respect to Dr. Charest. (emphasis CJ's)
Well, just in case you thought your adviser had your best financial interests in mind (if you were in the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts), the answer is "not on a legal basis, no." 

The worm must have turned

Courtesy of the public radio show Marketplace, the best "skills gap" article I have read in months, written by Mitchell Hartman (emphases mine): 
...Amy Glaser, of the national HR and recruitment firm Adecco Staffing USA, said that early last year, employers started complaining in earnest about a growing “skills gap” — saying they couldn’t find enough qualified applicants to fill current job openings. And Glaser said their concerns have only heightened since then, with “problems in the high-demand job areas such as engineering and technology, health care and customer service.” 
Glaser lays some of the blame with employers, some of whom she said are not willing to raise wages enough to attract the best talent, even as the job market becomes more of a “candidate’s market.” 
Economist Michael Strain at the American Enterprise Institute said many employers also expect to be able to find the perfect candidate — with precisely the skills and prior experience they list on the job description. 
“Firms are looking for somebody who won’t require training,” said Strain, “someone who will hit the ground running on day-one. And they’re not able to find that.” 
Strain believes the so-called “skills gap” that employers complain about might be mitigated by employers investing in on-the-job training once they’ve hired people with the general skill-set they think is needed....
Surely the world must be ending tomorrow.  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Daily Pump Trap: 3/10/16 edition

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

New York City, NY: D.E. Shaw has lots of openings; would love to hear what they're up to. Looks like drug discovery is at least a part of it.

Hunt Valley, MD: Sterilex is hiring a formulation chemist; B.S., 0-3 years experience desired.

There it is: PharmAgra Labs (Brevard, NC), back again.

Laurel, MD: The FDA  Center for Veterinary Medicine is looking for a Supervisory Chemist; pays $108,887 to $141,555. Looks to be analytically oriented.

Berkeley, CA: LBNL would like to hire a protein function postdoc.

"Central New Jersey":  Porton USA is looking for analytical and process chemists; looks promising with 8 openings.

San Diego, CA: Lilly is searching for a principal research fellow for protein purification.

San Jose, CA: The Santa Clara Valley Water District is hiring a Chemist I (B.S. chemist) for water testing work; $79,040.00-$101,171.20 salary range. Gee, looks good.

San Diego Career Fair watch: 68 positions posted. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Open thread for new PIs and lab setup discussion

Over at ChemBark, the following request:
a new discussion thread for those of us who are trying to set up labs? It would be nice to discuss experiences with different vendors/products, strategies for stretching startup money, etc.
I hereby announce this open thread. Enjoy.

Also, I wanted to note this request on Twitter from Julia Kalow on good literature to read in preparation for running a new laboratory that generated a lot of good responses, including this small list of "new assistant prof lit":
Best wishes to all new assistant professors and Godspeed.

UPDATE: Here's Paul's thread from 2013 talking about new laboratory setup, deals and pitfalls. 

The inaugural winner of the Banholzer Award: Anon749am at ChemBark

In the midst of the long faculty jobs thread at ChemBark and the current sub-discussion about a postdoc thinking about turning down a faculty position and re-upping for their postdoc, a hiring manager for Ph.D.s at "the big 3" chemical company breaks in about extended postdocs and faculty candidates looking for industrial positions (emphasis mine): 
I work for one of the big 3 chemical companies and lead PhD recruiting for our division. We evaluate hundreds of applications from top 25 schools every year and interview dozens of outstanding PhD and postdoc candidates, many of whom have pedigrees and CV’s worthy of getting TT positions at top schools. The candidate pool is INSANELY deep right now, and excellent candidates really are a dime a dozen. 
@ March 8 10:34: I’d be very careful about “holding out” and adding years to a postdoc. It sounds like you’re determined to work in academia, but you should know that extended postdocs will hurt your chances of landing an industry job as well. I can’t even begin to tell you how many awesome candidates I have interviewed who have tried and failed to get TT jobs and are now trying to get into industry, only to find that the bar is just as high (or higher, if you look at soft skills). You obviously want to minimize regrets in your life, but you have a chance at 5 years of guaranteed job security. That’s more than I have now, and certainly more than most will ever have. I’d hate for you to regret passing up what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
...and later on in the thread:
As I mentioned earlier, the talent pool is much deeper than most people really want to admit. The assumption that you’re making is that an extended postdoc confers broader knowledge, training, and experience? Does it, though? Most of the post-docs I look at are working in areas that could reasonably be considered extensions of their thesis fields, and those few who have stepped out of their comfort zone to get broad experience are generally able to demonstrate their talents within 3 years. Many of the post-docs in their 2nd or 3rd appointment are basically acting as the “synthesis expert” in a non-synthetic group. I’m not trying to disparage the post-doc experience whatsoever. Just recognize that post-doc is not always synonymous with terms like “more” or “better”. Sometimes post-doc is just a synonym for “holding pattern” or “cheap labor”. 
The Banholzer Award is awarded for "Truth-Telling about Chemical Employment" from chemical employers, no matter how uncomfortable, unpopular or annoying. Congratulations, Anon749am and thanks for the insight.

[CJ's editorial re-comment: postdoctoral positions are quite often the scientific equivalent of an inferior good, that is a position that one would not take, if one had a better option.]

Truly the alt-est of #altchemjobs

From See Arr Oh, who found it in the Wall Street Journal.

It'd actually be interesting to know what percentage of American chemical company employees were actually CIA officers over the years; I suspect the number is larger than zero. 

EPA regulation AMA

From friend of the blog Susan Ainsworth (formerly of C&EN, now with ACS Industry Programs), an interesting question: 
For many in the chemical, pharmaceutical and related industries, comprehending and complying with Environmental Protection Agency regulations—which span across a wide range of areas—can present challenges. We invite you to submit the EPA-related questions that are foremost on your mind using this form. 
The survey closes on Thursday, March 17. Ask your question here! 

Daily Pump Trap: 3/8/16 edition

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

Springfield, MO: Brewer Science is a C&EN Jobs stalwart; they have two positions available and they'll be interviewing at the ACS San Diego career fair.

"Basking Ridge, NJ or The Woodlands, TX": Lexicon Pharmaceuticals is looking for an experienced director of analytical development. Did Lexicon acquire a Houston area site?

Mountain View, CA: Chemocentryx looking for Ph.D. synthetic/medicinal chemists. Looks to be entry-level.

Bethesda, MD: Anyone think this NIH staff scientist position is awfully specific?

Sturgis, MI: I am routinely surprised by the existence of third shift QC chemists, even though I really shouldn't be. Here's one working for Abbott Laboratories.  

Domo arigato, Mr. Chromoto: Georgia-Pacific is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist/"chromotographer."

San Diego Career Fair watch: 68 positions posted. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Ivory Filter Flask: 3/8/16 edition

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

Topeka, KS: Washburn University is conducting an open search for a professor of forensic chemistry.

Reading, PA: Albright College is conducting a search for an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry.

Sackville, NB: Mount Allison University is looking for an assistant professor of bioanalytical chemistry. "All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority."

"Adjunct professor": UCSF is searching for a computational chemist to fulfill what I suspect to be a staff scientist position. Interesting that they give the adjunct title as well.

Shreveport, LA: Centenary College of Louisiana is looking for a one-year visiting assistant professor of analytical chemistry.

San Antonio, TX: Trinity University is offering 3 visiting positions, starting at $42,000. I'm guessing that goes a long way in San Antonio, but still! 

Postdoc: synthesis/characterization of photoactive polymer films, Florida State

We are looking for a synthetic chemist that is interested in making and characterizing photoactive polymer films. 
For the past few years, Prof. Billy Oates (Mechanical Engineering) and myself, Ken Hanson (Dept of Chemistry) have been collaborating on a project involving polymer films that exhibit a mechanical response (bending, contracting, relaxing) under irradiation but reverse with heating. These materials are of interest for a number of applications including solar energy harvesting, wireless control of adaptive structures, and optics. 
We are interested in getting someone who is primarily a synthetic chemist. 
Contact me at and if you are interested.
Best wishes to those interested.  

Saturday, March 5, 2016

New month, new biotech hotspot

Seems to me that Edmonton is missing something. 

Weekend discussion: STEM shortage mythbusting at NPR

NPR Ed: What about the need for more people with STEM skills? 
Well, we certainly need people who know how to do coding. When it comes to engineers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we're producing all the engineers we need. The skills shortage is a myth. The chief shortage is getting people who will work for low wages. That's why companies in California want to bring people in on H-1B visas who will live eight in a room and do coding for a small amount above minimum wage.
Couldn't have said it better myself. His book is called "The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions."; curious if readers agree that we should be teaching "numeracy, not mathematics":
NPR Ed: How do you define numeracy? 
Andrew Hacker: Being agile with numbers. Regarding numbers as a second language. Reading a corporate report or a federal budget. This is not rocket science—it's easy to do. Kids become numerate up through 5th or 6th grade. 
And what is the difference between numeracy and mathematics? 
There's a firm line between arithmetic and mathematics. When we talk of quantitative skills, 97 percent of that is arithmetic. Mathematics is what starts in middle school or high school, with geometry, algebra, trigonometry, precalculus and calculus.
I, for one, hope my children become proficient at both, but I recognize there's an argument for teaching broad things that most people (not just a few) can get. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

10 ml Dean-Stark traps

Small, useful things (links): 
Readers, an open invitation to all interested in writing a blog, a hobby that will bring you millions thousands hundreds tens of dollars joy and happiness. Send me a link to your post, and I'd be happy to put it up.

What is an employer allowed to ask, once the employee is hired?

From the inbox, an interesting question, paraphrased as such:
If the boss likes to ask other employees about their life plans (marriage, children) in open forums, is that legal? What should employees do in this situation? 
I have to say, I have never been asked that question by my boss, and if I were asked, I would probably feel the need to answer vaguely or politely demur answering. But I tend to be deferential to authority, and only if pressed, I would probably feel the need to say, "That is not your concern, sir." 

It is important to note: this is NOT a question about interviews, this is a question about "questions from your boss, once you are hired." 

Readers, what say you? 

Daily Pump Trap: 3/4/16 edition

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

Nice to see: lots and lots of positions.

Foster City, CA: Gilead has posted 21 positions, which is great. Wanna be a director of chemical development?

Saint Louis, MO: American Radiolabeled Chemicals, Inc. is looking for experienced synthetic radiochemists. (There must be a specific sub-society for this?)

Wilmington, DE: Incyte has an entry-level Ph.D. medicinal chemistry position open; 0-2 years experience. (Zeroes!)

Carpinteria, CA: Never heard of Trelyst before, but "silicone-based drug delivery" sounds fascinating. 4 positions posted.

Atlanta, GA: Interesting 2 year program with Georgia-Pacific for those with a B.S. in chemistry; curious about that ability to lift 25 pounds, though.

Durham, NC: Been a while since I've seen a RTP medicinal chemistry position around these parts.
Aerie Pharmaceuticals is looking; B.S./M.S. desired.

"New York Metro area": An interesting, mysterious one:
Small public company doing R&D in the field of smart materials is seeking motivitated, independent thinker with a PhD in polymer chemistry to learn all technical aspects of the business.  
5 years experience desired.

A funny question: What is magical about "5 years experience?" You see that term a lot - is it some sort of proxy for "been around a while?" "Been through a business cycle, and a tough six month period"... I dunno. As someone who will be reaching that milestone at some point in the near future, it seems an odd term....

Edwards AFB: ERC is the contracting company that does hiring for the Air Force Research Laboratory's branch at Edwards; they're looking for a B.S. chemist. A good opportunity for those interested in energetic materials, I suspect.

Petersburgh, NY: Taconic is looking for an engineering manager for its PTFE-related materials business. "Bachelor’s degree in Materials Science, Polymer Science, Chemistry, or Chemical Engineering or a related discipline, M.S. preferred."

Louisville, KY: Can someone tell me what working at Hexion in Kentucky is like? Why do they keep reposting this product development chemist position?

2016 San Diego Career Fair watch: 58 positions posted so far.

Ivory Filter Flask: 3/3/16 edition

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

Hays, America: Fort Hays State University is searching for two tenure-track positions, starting in August of 2016 for organic chemistry and biochemistry. 

New Orleans, LA: The University of New Orleans is looking for a tenure-track assistant professor of biomaterials chemistry.

Orangeburg, SC: ...And the first of the 2017 season has been posted. Claflin University is looking for an assistant professor of chemistry for fall 2017.  

St. Paul, MN: Metropolitan State University looks for a fixed-term professor of analytical chemistry. This is pretty much an adjunct position, yeah? 

Albion, MI: Visiting assistant professor position at Albion College in organic chemistry.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Homeless pharma chemist w/40+ patents in NYT today

The time had come for Gene to leave the ground-floor apartment, as he knew it would. The owner who let him stay there rent-free had been dead for more than a year, and the estate wanted it back. With the marshal at the door, Gene delivered his cats to a neighbor, then bundled blankets, pillows and some clothes. Parked right outside was his next home: a 1996 Ford Explorer. He moved into the back seat. That was Feb. 27, 2015. 
One year later, Gene still sleeps on a mildewing futon in that sport utility vehicle, parked on the same tree-lined street in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He will turn 60 in May. An organic chemist who did postdoctoral research at Columbia University, Gene shares credit on more than 40 patents for work he did at a major pharmaceutical maker, a job he left 12 years ago. Gene is his middle name, and he asked not to be further identified. 
Although he has not physically moved, what has happened to him over the last year can be mapped as a journey, still in progress, from nameless menace to neighbor, a change both in his trajectory and in the esteem of those with whom he shares one small block of New York City....
His background, and how he lost his position:
A voracious reader as a child, he discovered chemistry in college, and earned a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A grant from the National Institutes of Health paid for his postdoctoral work. At a large pharmaceutical company, he worked with a team on variations of an immunosuppressant, and compounds useful in treating diabetes. Records list him as a co-inventor on at least 44 “composition of matter” patents in the United States and Europe. 
Gene said he was married for three years in the late 1990s, and records show that he once owned a house in Princeton Junction, N.J. By 2004, he said, he was unhappy in his job and living on the East Side of Manhattan. When his mother, who was living in Arizona, had a stroke that year, he said, he took a three-month leave of absence, and never went back. Why not? Perhaps, he speculated, the trauma of 9/11 had affected him. And, he said, he had been unable to find a position close to his old rank. “They wanted someone cheap,” he said. “They weren’t going to pay $115,000 for a bench chemist.” 
He moved to Brooklyn and took a job with Barnes & Noble in Park Slope that paid about $10 an hour. He also managed to run up $40,000 in credit card debt. How? 
“Going out, eating,” he said. “Like I was still making $115,000.”
And the denouement of the story:
...He was let go by Barnes & Noble in late 2014, he said. While still covered under the company’s health insurance, he had gotten a new hip. His health problems continued: He developed severe arthritis in an ankle, and broke a toe. 
....Gene reported that his disability claim had been approved, and that he had been awarded about $2,500 a month. Though some people on Fifth Street are skeptical that he has righted himself, and a few friends worry that he has gotten too comfortable in the Explorer, he insisted that was not true. He plans to move to Wisconsin in the summer, he said, where he went to graduate school and where the money will go further. 
On a walk through the neighborhood, he passed the soup kitchen where he had often eaten. Was he going to stop for lunch? 
He shook his head. 
“I’m on the other side now,” he said.
If you read the whole article, it sounds to me like there are a number of factors contributing here.* That said, his difficulty in attempting to make the transition to caregiving for his mother and then his apparent inability in 2004 to find another position in chemistry that would make a sufficient amount of money and also make him happy is worth contemplating.

Best wishes to Gene, and to all of us.

*I really dislike amateur psychological diagnosis, but I suspect there is some untreated depression?

For those of you who like to look over the back fence...

Yes, I did make more than 1 dollar last year.
credit: Wall Street Journal
...find out how your salary stacks up with everyone else's, here (courtesy of the Wall Street Journal) 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Got a good promotion story? Share it with C&EN

Chances are, your promotion ceremony wasn't this fancy.
Credit: U.S. Army
From the inbox:
Do you have a good job promotion story to share? C&EN senior editor Linda Wang’s April 28 employment feature will offer stories on how chemists landed their promotions and offer advice on how to get promoted in this tight job market. If you have a story or advice to share, please e-mail her at
Help out your fellow chemists and share your story!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Postdoc: Biomolecular NMR/organic synthesis, Lima, Peru

From the inbox, something you don't see everyday: a postdoc in Peru: 
The NMR laboratory at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru in collaboration with the NMR & Molecular Interaction Group headed by Dr. Guy Lippens (CNRS-INSA Toulouse, France) is looking for highly motivated postdoctoral fellows and research associates to apply to a Peruvian Grant associated with UNESCO. The goal is to attract researchers from abroad to consolidate R&D lines in Peru which respond to the priorities of the Science and Technology National System. Five positions will be available as part of our proposal “Nuclear Magnetic Resonance for Food and Health Science”. The selected candidates will work in a multidisciplinary environment. 
All applicants must possess an advanced degree (Ph.D. or equivalent) in Chemistry, Biochemistry or Physics with research experience in one or several of the following areas: Metabolomics and chemometrics, computational chemistry, organic synthesis, biochemistry and molecular biology, structural biology and biomolecular NMR.
They must be fluent in English. Spanish is not mandatory.
Full flyer can be found here. Best wishes to those interested.