Friday, July 19, 2019

It's ain't over until the parachutes open...

I love this picture of a part of Apollo 1 being assembled
Credit: Ralph Morse/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty Images
In the New York Times recently, an interesting view of the Apollo 11 moon landings, from the perspectives of the people who built the equipment:
...Many Americans thought that the dream of the moon was impossible, but Apollo was a siren call to engineers. 
Charles Lowry was living in Columbus, Ohio, a parachute expert working at a division of North American focused on fighter jets. He remembered being in church when the topic came up. 
“At some point, the leader said, ‘I understand now that the United States government has a plan to go to the moon. How many people really think we’re really going to the moon?’ And my hand went up. I looked around me, and no other hands went up. Not even my wife’s hand.” 
Mr. Lowry wanted to move to California and join the moon effort, which would need parachutes for the Apollo capsule’s return to Earth. But his wife did not want to move far from their families. “Finally, she said to me, ‘If you’ll buy me a big swimming pool, we’ll go to California,’” Mr. Lowry said. “So we did.” 
...When the lunar module, named Eagle, was finally on the moon, Dr. Gran said, “Then I jumped up and down. It’s like winning the lottery.” 
Others were also elated, but had more yet to worry about. The parachutes of Charles Lowry were still packed, waiting for the return to Earth. That development was more arduous than first anticipated, as the command module had gained weight during its development. The parachutes had to successfully slow down 13,500 pounds. 
But four days later, on July 24, 1969, the astronauts returned to Earth. The parachutes deployed, and Mr. Lowry could celebrate, too. 
“It was,” he said, “an amazing feeling of ‘Yeah, we really did it.’”
It's a funny aspect of certain fields where thousands (millions) of intricate little things have to work right, either thousands of times, or as in Mr. Lowry's case, just once. Those on the outside may think that it's all a smoothly running machine, but only those on the inside know the cracks and crevices and where the risks will pop up. Here's to the folks behind the scenes that made it work and still do.  

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Job posting: Nanomaterial-Based Biosensor Scientist, UES, Dayton, OH

From the inbox:
UES has an opportunity available for a Research Scientist to join our team working with the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. This position will support research in the area of sensor development related to the selection of recognition elements (peptides and nucleic acids) using high throughput instrumentation and their integration in different sensor platforms. Experience in the synthesis and characterization of nanomaterials and their use in assay development is required, as well as experience with handling biomaterials (DNA, RNA, etc.). Knowledge of techniques to select DNA and peptides recognition elements is beneficial, but not essential. Some of the primary functions for this role will include:
  • Conducting lab experiments related to selection of recognition elements
  • Characterization of binding affinity and integration of binders and sensors
  • Supporting collaborations with external partners
  • Presentations of results at meetings and conferences
 Requirements:
  • Ph.D. in chemistry, biochemistry, nanotechnology or a related discipline is required
  • Proficiency with general chemistry and biochemistry laboratory techniques is required
  • Experience with nucleic acid and peptides binding, synthesis, and characterization of nanomaterials is required...
Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

The Analytical Chemistry Jobs List: 28 positions

The Analytical Chemistry Jobs List has 28 positions; this is curated by the ACS Division of Analytical Chemistry. Want to help out? Fill out this form. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Update on the University of Hawaii explosion

On March 16, 2016, Dr. Thea Ekins-Coward was working in the laboratory of Dr. Jian Yu at the University of Hawaii on a biofuels project with a high-pressure hydrogen/oxygen mix. Because the mixture was in an inappropriate tank and the system was not grounded, the tank exploded and Dr. Ekins-Coward was severely injured. Here is the longer C&EN article about the investigative report about the incident. Via KHON (a Honolulu TV station, article by Manolo Morales), an update on the University of Hawaii Manoa hydrogen explosion:  
...In March 2016, a powerful explosion inside a laboratory rocked a building at the UH Manoa campus. HFD determined that a wrong pressure gauge was used, which caused a spark that led to the explosion. 
Ekins-Coward, a postdoctoral fellow was in that lab and lost part of her right arm. Her attorney says she has since moved back home to England and has struggled with getting her life back. 
“She still is very traumatized by the event, it distresses her to speak about it still and she still can’t do a lot of things,” said attorney Claire Choo. Things that most people take for granted. “Even eating a steak, cutting a steak, she can’t do it. Someone has to cut up her food for her so that takes a toll,” said Choo. 
She adds that Ekins-Coward is still trying to find the proper prosthetic. In the meantime, there’s the legal fight against UH which says that she was an employee at the time of the explosion. So she’s only entitled to workers compensation benefits, and cannot sue the university. “We think that the amount that she would be given at workers compensation is not sufficient to cover the pain and suffering and the injuries, and the injury to her career that she suffered through because of this incident,” said Choo. She says Ekins-Coward was never an employee and that UH made that clear when she was invited by UH to do her research. “They told her specifically that she was not an employee and she didn’t get the benefits of being an employee,” said Choo. 
She says UH then said it has an internal policy that considers researchers like Ekins-Coward as employees only to get workers compensation benefits. She is challenging this with the labor board. “So our position is she was not an employee. They made it very clear that she was never an employee, and that you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” said Choo. 
A hearing with the labor board is scheduled in December. Choo says it will likely take years before the issue is resolved because of appeals. UH says it is unable to comment on pending litigation.
It sounds like the case has not advanced much further than where it was in September 2018. Another reminder for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to not become Schrödinger's employee, and determine their status in terms of worker's compensation, benefits and the like. (Short answer: whatever status benefits the university? That's your status.) 

Warning Letter of the Week: inadvertent scrap yard edition

In a missive from the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research to the Managing Director of Strides Pharma Science Limited in Bangalore, India: 
1.  Your firm failed to establish an adequate quality control unit with the responsibility and authority to approve or reject all components, drug product containers, closures, in-process materials, packaging materials, labeling, and drug products (21 CFR 211.22(a)). 
Your quality unit (QU) lacks appropriate responsibility and control over your drug manufacturing operations. 
During the inspection, our investigator observed discarded CGMP documents and evidence of uncontrolled shredding of documents. For example, multiple bags of uncontrolled CGMP documents with color coding indicating they were from drug production, quality, and laboratory operations were awaiting shredding. Our investigator also found a blue binder containing CGMP records, including batch records for U.S. drug products, discarded with other records in a 55-gallon drum in your scrap yard. CGMP documents in the binder were dated as recently as January 21, 2019: seven days before our inspection. Your QU did not review or check these documents prior to disposal. 
...The uncontrolled destruction of CGMP records, and your lack of adequate documentation practices, raise questions about the effectiveness of your QU and the integrity and accuracy of your CGMP records. 
In your response you state the binder of CGMP documents in your scrap yard was “inadvertently come [sic] to scrap yard” and that you were investigating the issue....
You hate it when controlled documents end up in a 55-gallon drum in a scrap yard... 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The 2020 Faculty Jobs List: 38 positions

The 2020 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 38 positions.

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions. In 2019-2020, we will be adding teaching professor positions, targeting positions that demonstrate a promotion ladder and/or are titled "assistant teaching professor" or "associate teaching professor."

On July 17, 2018, the 2018 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 30 positions.

Here's the link to the latest open thread.

The Academic Staff Jobs List: 31 positions

The Academic Staff Jobs list has 31 positions.

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

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

Monday, July 15, 2019

Major budget cuts hit University of Alaska system

Also in this week's C&EN, a brief article about the cuts to the University of Alaska system, with an update from the perspective of UA-Fairbanks' department chair (by Andrea Widener):
The chemistry department at the school’s main campus in Fairbanks expects to be hit by the cuts, says department chair Thomas Green, but they don’t know exactly the impact yet. “This is all thrown at us all at once,” he tells C&EN from a rural Alaska beach where he is trying to keep up with the news while on vacation. “We are sort of in limbo now.”  
Before the failed override attempt, the university had already implemented a hiring and travel freeze and sent furlough notices to staff. Now they are waiting for a more detailed plan. “Of course everybody is worried,” Green says. The Fairbanks chemistry department includes 13 faculty and multiple staff, including a safety officer, stock room manager, NMR lab manager, and part-time administrative assistant. Green also doesn’t know what might happen to funding for the school’s 35 graduate students, about 15–17 of whom are supported through teaching assistantships each year. The university’s Board of Regents will meet July 15 to plan next steps.
Best wishes to all affected. 

This week's C&EN

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

Friday, July 12, 2019

Chemical Activity Barometer Is Flat In June

WASHINGTON (June 25, 2019) – The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), was flat (0.0 percent change) in June on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis, following three monthly gains. On a year-over-year (Y/Y) basis, the barometer is up 0.3 percent (3MMA). 
The unadjusted measure of the CAB retreated 0.2 percent in June and fell 0.3 percent in May. 
The diffusion index rose to 65 percent in June. The diffusion index marks the number of positive contributors relative to the total number of indicators monitored. The CAB reading for May was revised downward by 0.38 points and that for April by 0.22 points. 
“The slowing economy and rising trade tensions have weighed on business confidence and investment, resulting in mixed manufacturing activity,” said Kevin Swift, chief economist at ACC. “In summary, the CAB reading continues to signal gains in U.S. commercial and industrial activity through late 2019, but at a moderated pace.” 
The CAB has four main components, each consisting of a variety of indicators: 1) production; 2) equity prices; 3) product prices; and 4) inventories and other indicators...
This isn't the greatest news, and of a piece with recent economic news that led the Fed to signal that it will be cutting rates soon.

A couple of crazy questions from a milquetoast economic doomsayer:
  • 2019 is turning out to be a seemingly decent economic year, as measured by GDP. Does anyone expect 2020 to carry this along? 
  • When will the next recession be? I got a dollar that the next recession (casually) two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth) will happen in the next 2 years. 
  • What is the American Chemical Society doing to prepare its members for that next recession? 
Here's hoping that 2020 will be a decent economic year, especially for those looking for jobs this coming fall and spring...

(For those students/postdocs who will be forwarded this post, in general, I'm pessimistic on the economy. Watch the trends, not the data points.)

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The 2020 Faculty Jobs List: 24 positions

The 2020 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 24 positions.

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions. In 2019-2020, we will be adding teaching professor positions, targeting positions that demonstrate a promotion ladder and/or are titled "assistant teaching professor" or "associate teaching professor."

On July 10, 2018, the 2018 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 18 positions.

Here's the link to the latest open thread.

Faculty position: assistant professor of biochemistry, The College of New Jersey, Ewing Township, New Jersey

Tenure-Track Chemistry / Biochemistry Faculty Position  
The College of New Jersey 
The Department of Chemistry at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) invites outstanding applicants for a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in biochemistry, broadly defined, to join our community starting August 2020. 
TCNJ has a strong commitment to inclusive excellence and to supporting a healthy work-life balance for our faculty of teacher-scholars. TCNJ has been recognized by The Chronicle of Higher Education on its honor roll of “Great Colleges to Work For.” 
For this position, we seek a broadly trained scientist who has the potential to establish a highly visible undergraduate research program and who will be passionate about teaching chemistry at all levels of the curriculum in a primarily undergraduate, residential, liberal arts-centered institution. We are especially interested in candidates whose research and pedagogy will connect and integrate chemistry with other disciplines and who have the potential to collaboratively contribute to interdisciplinary curricular and scholarly efforts within the School of Science and at the College. The successful candidate will also display dedication to inclusive excellence in STEM and higher education.... 
...Applications are due by October 1, 2019. Late submissions will be considered if a suitable candidate pool is not identified by the deadline. Final offer of employment will be contingent upon successful completion of a background investigation.
Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested.  

The Academic Staff Jobs List: 31 positions

The Academic Staff Jobs list has 31 positions.

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

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

Monday, July 8, 2019

Against food for your committee members in graduate school

Via Jen Heemstra on Twitter, this article from Science by Kate Bredbenner: 
I never thought I would spend so much of my time and money setting up still-life worthy displays of flaky croissants and shiny fruit for people who are judging my science, and that of my colleagues. Yet that’s the expectation: At my university, and many others, students bring food to our thesis committee meetings and defenses, adding to the already sky-high pressure. My first taste of it came 5 years ago, for my first committee meeting. I prepared furiously. I meticulously proofread my written proposal and aligned all the figures. My slides all used the same font. I had even prepared some extra slides to address possible questions my judges might ask. Even so, I was sure the meeting was doomed—because I didn’t know how to make coffee.
I believe I've heard of this tradition, but it wasn't a tradition where I went to graduate school and I'm really happy about that. Let's be clear - I'm not talking about providing food for a celebration after passing, we're talking about bringing food to a meeting where people will be judging your work product.

It is absolutely absurd that schools would allow this tradition. Yes, it would be smart not to have irritated committee members by scheduling a long meeting right before lunch (or maybe it is! -ed.) Perhaps it would be even better to provide a warm drink for your committee members! Students shouldn't be pressured into spending their time providing snacks for their committee.

In the discussion on Twitter, it sounds like a number of graduate schools actively or passively discourage this practice. I think that's the right approach. Readers, tell me why I'm wrong. 

Job posting: associate scientist, Protomer Technologies, Pasadena, CA

From the inbox, a position in Pasadena:
Associate Scientist, Peptide Chemistry 
Multiple Openings for MS, PhD, Postdocs
Protomer Technologies is an exciting biotechnology company based in Pasadena, California, which is engineering next-generation protein therapeutics. Protomer was founded by Caltech faculty and alumni, and has active collaborations with Caltech faculty.... 
As an Associate Scientist in Peptide Chemistry, you will lead efforts requiring design, execution, and management of chemical synthesis projects. Candidates with a doctoral degree in a related field are preferred, but all exceptional candidates will be considered at all levels. You must have the requisite experience to make technical insights in chemical library design, peptide synthesis, and chemical modification of peptides, and you will be encouraged to push the boundaries of these fields.... 
Minimum qualifications:
  • Advanced degree in chemistry or chemical engineering (or equivalent practical experience.)
  • 5 years of wet lab experience in chemistry, biochemistry, or chemical engineering or graduate level/post doc
  • 2 years+ of experience with peptide synthesis or other related chemical synthesis experience or experience with small molecule synthesis, SAR, or medicinal chemistry 
Preferred qualifications:
  • PhD degree in chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering, or related field with strong publication record.
  • 2 years+ of relevant research experience in bio-conjugation, protein modification or protein engineering. 
  • Experience with mass spectrometry sequencing is a plus.
Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Independence Day



It's Independence Day in the United States, which is a national holiday. We'll see you tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Warning Letter of the Week: short attention span edition

In a note to the Managing Director of Aurobindo, this amusing comment from the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (emphasis mine):
1.  Changes to methods or controls were not reported to FDA through a supplement to an approved [redacted]. (21 CFR 314.97(a) and 314.70(c)(6)(i)) 
...Investigators observed, in your [redacted] API, non-carcinogenic impurities of [redacted] and [redacted] at levels up to [redacted]% and [redacted]%, respectively, in residual solvent testing for [redacted] API batches. These impurities are present in drug substances at levels exceeding the [redacted] USP specification limit for Any other individual impurity (i.e. NMT [redacted]%). These impurity levels are also above the ICH Q3A(R2) reporting threshold for drug substance impurities. 
Your Quality Unit failed to report to FDA these impurities, which were also above your internal reporting threshold limit of no more than [redacted]%. You updated the information in your Drug Master File (DMF) only after FDA investigators communicated during the inspection that you should be reporting all observed impurities above the reporting threshold.  
In your response, you explained a “scheduled regulatory update skipped our attention.” In addition, you stated you would undertake an additional CAPA for controls of residual solvents. Your response is inadequate, as you did not commit to conduct a full review of all impurities observed in all your APIs above the reporting threshold and ensure that your DMFs and [redacted] are updated accordingly...
I hate it when things skip my attention. 

This week's C&EN

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

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The 2020 Faculty Jobs List: 17 positions

The 2020 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 17 positions.

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions. In 2019-2020, we will be adding teaching professor positions, targeting positions that demonstrate a promotion ladder and/or are titled "assistant teaching professor" or "associate teaching professor."

On July 3, 2018, the 2018 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 12 positions.

Here's the link to the latest open thread. 

The Academic Staff Jobs List: 31 positions

The Academic Staff Jobs list has 31 positions.

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

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

Monday, July 1, 2019

BREAKING: Alonzo Yanes awarded $59 million by jury

A Manhattan jury on Monday awarded nearly $60 million in damages to a former Beacon High School student who was badly burned in a botched chemistry experiment five years ago. 
After a nearly three-week trial, the six-person jury panel — made up of three men and three women — agreed with Alonzo Yanes that the city and teacher Anna Poole’s negligence led to the Jan. 2, 2014, fire that scorched the then-16-year-old 10th-grader. 
Poole — who testified as a defense witness and attended the entire trial — had been conducting the “Rainbow Experiment” using highly volatile methanol to ignite four different salts to show the various flame-colors each displayed.
From the New York Daily News (by Stephen Rex Brown):
A Manhattan jury awarded $59 million Monday to a student disfigured by a botched chemistry demonstration that set him on fire in the classroom at a prestigious Manhattan high school... 
...Half of the award was for past pain and suffering, the other half for the mental and physical pain that Yanes feared will define the rest of his life.
Well, now we have a number for this, although I imagine that the lawyers of the New York City Department of Education will be working towards appeals and reducing the jury award.

Alonzo Yanes' lawyer: my client deserves $70 million

The lawyer for the Beacon High School teen who was badly burned in a botched chemistry experiment asked a jury to award his client more than $70 million in damages for past and future pain. Ben Rubinowitz asked for the stunning figure for Alonzo Yanes, now 21, who was disfigured after a fireball erupted while his teacher Anna Poole was conducting the “Rainbow Experiment” Jan. 2, 2014. 
“No matter what an award in a case like this is they [Yanes’ parents] would return it in a heartbeat if they could return their son to the way he was. But I can’t do that,” Rubinowitz said. Rubinowitz asked jurors to award Yanes the amount just for his past pain and suffering alone and didn’t suggest an amount for his future suffering but asked them to consider that his life expectancy is another 53.8 years.... 
...Earlier Thursday, lawyer Mark Mixson — who is representing the city and Poole — told jurors that Yanes should be awarded just $5 million for past and future suffering.
Jurors began deliberations Thursday afternoon and will resume again Friday.
Will be interesting to see if a verdict is reached by Wednesday afternoon.