Monday, July 22, 2019

Lieutenant Colonel to staff scientist is a little unusual

Interesting 2nd (?) career for a former Air Force chemist:
...In October 2017, James Rohrbough became the first staff scientist in the Marty Lab. 
Rohrbough spent nearly 21 years in the U.S. Air Force as a chemist and taught chemistry as an assistant professor at the Air Force Academy. But 18 months into retirement, Rohrbough, who retired as a lieutenant colonel, was bored. When he saw that Michael Marty, an assistant professor of chemistry at the UA, was hiring, Rohrbough picked up the phone. 
“I thought, ‘I can actually use my degree back at the university,’” says Rohrbough, who grew up in Tucson and received both his undergraduate degree and his Ph.D. from the UA. 
“James told me he’d like to get back into a lab, and with someone of his level of experience, I was happy to have him,” Marty said.
Read the article (really, a press release) to see how Professor Marty and Dr. Rohrbough are working to bring veterans to the sciences.

This week's C&EN

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

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
  • 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.)