Monday, May 16, 2022

Is tuition driving undergraduate enrollment decreases?

Also in this week's C&EN, this letter to the editor on college tuition: 

I share your concern on dropping undergraduate enrollment numbers as expressed in the editorial in the Feb. 7 issue of C&EN (page 2). The pandemic undoubtedly played a role, but the skyrocketing cost of tuition for higher education is a serious factor that cannot be overlooked. I’m old enough that I remember being able to work two jobs and pay for college tuition, food, and rent. Despite some availability of grants, this is no longer a possibility for the majority of undergraduate students without taking on burdensome student loans.

With a few exceptions, it appears that the ready availability of student loans has only encouraged universities to raise tuition rates to absurd levels. If the US government is to be a source of student loans, there should be accompanying restrictions on how much and how rapidly higher learning institutions can raise tuition. If we cannot make higher education more readily available without a decades-long student debt burden, we will see undergraduate enrollment continuing to decline, much to our detriment.

Robert B. Cody  

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

It seems almost axiomatic to me that, as tuition increases go up, student enrollments would go down, but that doesn't really seem to be the case for the last number of years? I would think that the demographic trends that are pointed to in the original editorial are the true source of the decline...


Chemical manufacturers have a strong Q1

Via this week's Chemical and Engineering News, the first quarter results for 2022 (article by Alex Tullo): 

First-quarter financial results for the major US and European chemical firms are in, and they show that the industry got off to a strong start in 2022.

A couple of problems have executives worried about the quarters ahead, however. They see strict COVID-19 lockdowns in China slowing operations, and they think that inflation—exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—hasn’t quite finished rippling through the economy.

Sales at the world’s largest chemical maker, BASF, climbed 19% in the first quarter from the same quarter a year earlier, while earnings jumped 35%. Higher selling prices, mainly in the firm’s chemical and materials unit, drove the results.

A 60% rise in earnings helped Celanese break a profit record set during the second quarter of last year. Acetyl chemicals remain enormously profitable for the company.

At Dow, results showed solid improvement, but profit margins in its core packaging plastic business thinned because of escalating raw material costs. Eastman Chemical and DuPont posted modest declines in earnings while sales rose.

The challenge for chemical makers, particularly those in Europe, has been keeping up with climbing costs. “The war has led to drastic price increases for energy and various raw materials in Europe and a high level of uncertainty regarding future supplies,” BASF chairman Martin Brudermüller told analysts. Over the past year, costs at the firm’s European operations have risen by over $900 million.

It's good news these large manufacturers seem to be doing all right - will be a good sign (I feel) for hiring for the near future.  Will be important to see the effects of interest rate increases...

Friday, May 13, 2022

Have a good weekend

I expected this to be a stressful week, and it will be, but it is seemingly a little bit less so than I expected. Here's hoping that your Friday is good, and that your weekend is restful. See you on Monday. 

Job postings: CDER, FDA, Silver Spring, MD

From the inbox, a variety of FDA positions, including this one:
Pharmaceutical Scientist 

The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), Office of Pharmaceutical Quality (OPQ), Office of New Drug Products (ONDP) is recruiting for a Pharmaceutical Scientist to be responsible for reviewing and evaluating comprehensive information and data on chemistry, formulation, manufacturing (including process monitoring and controls), biopharmaceutics (including drug release). 

 I believe the deadlines on these positions is May 16, so time is ticking. Best wishes to those interested. 

Chemist sentenced to 14 years in prison for trade secret theft

More on the Shannon You case (from a Department of Justice press release): 

Chemist Sentenced for Stealing Trade Secrets, Economic Espionage and Wire Fraud

A federal judge in Greeneville, Tennessee, sentenced a Michigan woman today to 168 months, the equivalent of 14 years, in prison for a scheme to steal trade secrets, engage in economic espionage and commit fraud. The defendant was also ordered to serve three years of supervised release and pay a $200,000 fine.

In April 2021, following a 13-day jury trial, Xiaorong You, aka Shannon You, 59, of Lansing, Michigan, was convicted of conspiracy to commit trade secret theft, conspiracy to commit economic espionage, possession of stolen trade secrets, economic espionage and wire fraud.

“As the evidence at trial showed, the defendant stole valuable trade secrets and intended to use them to benefit not only a foreign company, but also the government of China,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “Today’s sentence reflects the seriousness of this offense, as well as the Department of Justice’s commitment to protect our nation’s security by investigating and prosecuting those who steal U.S. companies’ intellectual property.”

As someone who has seen and helped sign a great number of NDAs, I've rarely contemplated what I could do with the information that was to be protected, other than my job. I imagine that if I thought about it, I could come up with a case or two where I might have thought "I could buy some stock and make money from this"*. I simply cannot imagine a case where I would have thought "I'm going to take this information, give it to my own company and get investors." 

Here's hoping this case is the last one, but it won't be, sigh. 

*As a rule, I don't buy individual stock. 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

54 new positions at Organic Chemistry Jobs

Over at Common Organic Chemistry, curated by Brian Struss, there are 54 new positions for May 8. The jobs can be viewed on the website or spreadsheet.

Don't forget to check out the Common Organic Chemistry company map, a very helpful resource for organic chemists looking for potential employers. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

When the boss buys a new toy...

Via hilarious Bloomberg writer Matt Levine, this funny story from the Wall Street Journal about a hedge funder purchasing the New York Mets and putting his people to work:  

Some senior employees from Cohen’s firm, Point72 Asset Management, have been moonlighting as Mets employees in crucial roles, according to staffers’ LinkedIn pages, the Mets’ website and people familiar with the matter. Many are tasked with improving the team’s once-outdated infrastructure, data-analytics capabilities and technological prowess. …

Since Cohen took over, the number of people working in data and analytics has grown from eight full-time employees to 35, some of them from Point72, a person familiar with the matter said. Cohen has embedded data scientists in the Mets’ scouting departments. A new data-engineering group is also stocked with people from Point72.

I gotta say, that's better than the PI making you pick up his dry cleaning! I also thought this was a funny detail (also pointed out by Levine): 

Cohen’s chief-of-staff, Michael Sullivan, said Cohen hasn’t missed a day of trading since he bought the Mets and continues to work seven days a week.

“Some members of his senior leadership team that were hoping he’d be distracted by the Mets on weekends have been horribly disappointed,” Sullivan said.

I'm guessing that buying the Mets would not make the boss more mellow, but you'd think that it would distract him. I feel like I've seen a number of bosses mellow because of life and age - guessing they'd get pretty busy if they bought a MLB team... 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The 2022 Faculty Jobs List: 590 research/teaching positions and 109 teaching positions

The 2022 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 590 research/teaching positions and 109 teaching positions. 

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

On May 11, 2021, the 2021 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 337 research/teaching position and 65 teaching positions. On May 12, 2020, the 2020 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 557 research/teaching positions and 80 teaching positions.

To see trending, go to Andrew Spaeth's visualization of previous years' list.

Want to talk anonymously? Have an update on the status of a job search? Go to the fourth open thread. Here's the third open thread. Go to the second open thread. Here is the first open thread. The first open thread was closed on November 10, 2021.

Don't forget to click on "load more" below the comment box for the full thread. 

"Get a job, Ken!", the video

Many of you are familiar with Professor Ken Hanson's "Get a Job, Ken!" series, and also his "Keep Your Job, Ken!" series. Now, we have a video version! 

Chemistry Bumper Cars

Check out the latest moves here! 

To submit information, click here or e-mail chembumpercars@gmail.com

Monday, May 9, 2022

BLS: total nonfarm payroll increased 428,000, unemployment flat at 3.6%

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Calculated Risk:
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 428,000 in April, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.6 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job growth was widespread, led by gains in leisure and hospitality, in manufacturing, and in transportation and warehousing.

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for February was revised down by 36,000, from +750,000 to +714,000, and the change for March was revised down by 3,000, from +431,000 to +428,000. With these revisions, employment in February and March combined is 39,000 lower than previously reported.

This comment from Calculated Risk is notable: 

Excluding leisure and hospitality, the economy has added back all the jobs lost at the beginning of the pandemic.  Leisure and hospitality gained 78 thousand jobs in April.  At the beginning of the pandemic, in March and April of 2020, leisure and hospitality lost 8.20 million jobs, and are now down 1.44 million jobs since February 2020.  So, leisure and hospitality has now added back about 83% all of the jobs lost in March and April 2020.  

It is worth noting that the seasonally adjusted employment in the chemical manufacturing subsector for April 2022 was 889,000 employees. That level in January 2020 was 853,700, so there's been fairly significant job growth since then. 

Help the Percy Julian family home

Also in this week's C&EN, this update on the family home of prominent Black chemist Percy Julian (article by Ariana Remmel): 
The family home of Percy Lavon Julian sits on a corner lot in the Oak Park suburb of Chicago. Julian was already a renowned organic chemist when he bought the two-story stone house in 1950. His daughter, Faith Julian, remembers a time when the home was not just the center of their family life, but also a place where her father thrived as a scientist and entrepreneur until his death in 1975. Despite multiple racist attacks to push them out of the neighborhood, Percy Julian would not leave his home, she says. “My dad never wanted to move. He loved this house,” she says.

You can help Faith Julian with her home at this GoFundMe.

C&EN: Fertilizer industry developing new routes around supply chain problems

In this week's C&EN, a story on fertilizer manufacturing innovation (article by Matt Blois): 

Surrounded by 2,400 hectares of tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables near Fresno, California, the white shipping container looks small. Inside, light flashes through the porthole windows of a buzzing plasma reactor powered by two rows of adjacent solar panels.

The plasma oxidizes nitrogen from the air and sends it to absorbtion colmns where it bubbles up through water. Nitrogen oxides react with hydrogen and oxygen in the water to form a nitric acid solution, which is stored in tanks. A pipe connected to the farm’s irrigation system delivers the diluted nitric acid as an alternative to conventional nitrogen fertilizer.

Nitricity, the start-up operating this pilot-scale fertilizer factory, says its technology is one way to shorten a supply chain that has recently been pummeled by hurricanes, winter storms, export controls, coal shortages, high prices for natural gas, and a viral pandemic. Those disruptions sent costs for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizers to historic highs in 2021. Heavy sanctions on Russia and Belarus after the attack on Ukraine in February 2022 further increased the price of natural gas and cut off a major source of fertilizers, pushing up prices even more.

I'm guessing that this kind of modular system has its limits and its economics would require relatively high value crops, but this is fascinating and bears some watching... 

Friday, May 6, 2022

Have a good weekend


Well, this week was somewhat less stressful than expected. Here's hoping that my Friday is peaceful, and that yours is as well. Have a great weekend, and we'll see you on Monday. 

 

RIP David Evans

Via Chemical and Engineering News, this sad news (article by Bethany Halford):

David A. Evans, the Abbott and James Lawrence Professor Emeritus in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, died April 29 at the age of 81.

Former students and colleagues remember Evans as a dedicated educator and a creative force in organic synthesis. He is best known for devising a way to use chiral oxazolidinone auxiliaries to control a target molecule’s stereochemistry. “That changed the whole mindset of how people thought about going about building molecules stereoselectively,” says David W. C. MacMillan, a chemistry professor at Princeton University who worked with Evans as a postdoctoral fellow in the late 1990s. Before Evans’s work, chemists used a small number of building blocks known as the chiral pool. “When Dave came along, he upended all of that thinking,” MacMillan says.

As a former total synthesis guy, I can't imagine what organic chemistry in the aughts would have been like without the Evans oxazolidinone. Best wishes to his family and friends.  

 

 

Thursday, May 5, 2022

71 new positions at Organic Chemistry Jobs

Over at Common Organic Chemistry, curated by Brian Struss, there are 30 new positions for May 4 and 41 positions for April 29. The jobs can be viewed on the website or spreadsheet.

Don't forget to check out the Common Organic Chemistry company map, a very helpful resource for organic chemists looking for potential employers. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Former chemical company CEO's past claims of greatness exposed as lies

Via random clicking, this is a pretty bonkers story of Nick Clark, a Virginia-area bike shop owner who claimed to have been a former pro cyclist, an international lawyer and also a former UN peacekeeper. Apparently, he was also the CEO of Alexium, a flame retardant company?

Immediately before he started cosplaying as a professional cyclist, Clark’s most prominent and prestigious role was as CEO of Alexium. That’s a chemical company headquartered in Perth, Western Australia, with links to cycling – for a season, it co-sponsored an Australian National Road Series team. The majority of its operations, however, are out of Greenville, South Carolina. 

...Clark played a major role as a cheerleader for the company, but testimony from within suggests that his leadership had its limits. 

One Alexium staff member, speaking to CyclingTips on the condition of anonymity, was hired during Clark’s time as CEO. This individual – who worked as a lab supervisor – came from a military and law enforcement background, and told me that he had no relevant qualifications and no experience in chemistry at the time. He was, he admits, hired purely on the basis of being riding buddies with Clark.

...Like others I have spoken to, this employee gradually built a perception that Clark was, like an actor, inhabiting a series of roles. And indeed, while during his Alexium days Clark is recognisably the same guy as he was when running ProBike FC, his demeanour and presentation is starkly different. Video footage of the time shows that despite his temper, he was far more polished in his corporate life – a dramatic contrast to the sometimes coarse, hyper-masculine persona he had at the bike shop.  

People get hired for all sorts of different reasons, and being buddies with the CEO is, I suspect, pretty common. You can get a sense for what Nick Clark was like as a CEO in the above video; it's a shame that they didn't have him spout some random technical mumbo-jumbo. 

NYT: Bureau of Labor Statistics reports record 11.5 million job openings in March

Via the New York Times: 

A government survey released Tuesday showed a record number of job openings, with 11.5 million positions listed as available in March, underscoring the continuing strength of the labor market.

The number of “quits” — a measurement of the amount of workers voluntarily leaving jobs — also reached a high, an indicator that many workers are confident they can leave their jobs and find employment that better suits their desires or needs.

The data released by the Labor Department as part of its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS report, is a fresh indicator of the anomalous nature of the economy as it recovers from the pandemic recession. A resurgence of household spending and business investment is colliding with a messy reordering of the supply of goods and labor.

Labor force participation has quickly recovered, nearing prepandemic rates, but has failed to keep up with the surge in job opportunities over the past year as business owners expand to meet the demand for a variety of goods and services.

I wonder if this will be a peak? I've predicted 15 of the 1 recessions, so I'm probably wrong...  

Monday, May 2, 2022

Death of Singaporean lab chemist in 2015 results in fines, charges

SINGAPORE: A former executive director of an industrial gas company was fined S$45,000 on Friday (Apr 29) for his part in a laboratory explosion that killed a chemist in 2015.

Gary Choo Pu Chang, 64, was the executive director of Leeden National Oxygen (LNOX), a firm that produces and sells specialty gases. His responsibilities included overseeing the safe operation of the laboratory.

The fatal explosion at the firm's Tanjong Kling premises on Oct 12, 2015 killed 30-year-old Lim Siaw Chian, who had just returned to work after giving birth.

Choo resigned on Aug 12, 2015, before the incident happened, but admitted to not establishing safe work procedures that could have prevented the blast.

Earlier this week, he pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to take measures to ensure the safety and health of his employees at work.

Last year, LNOX and the firm's CEO Steven Tham Weng Cheong were fined S$340,000 and S$45,000 respectively for similar offences.

Ms Lim was carrying out gas analysis on a cylinder when a series of explosions broke out at 21 Tanjong Kling Road on the day of the incident.
This is the first I've heard of this case (and I don't claim to understand Singapore EH&S law). but this is certainly interesting and a seeming contrast from the United States. 

Job posting: Research Scientist III, Iowa State University, Ames, IA

From friend of the blog Dr. Sarah Cady: 

The Department of Chemistry and the Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology seek a Research Scientist to be part of the Chemical Instrumentation Facility (CIF) and Biomolecular Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility (BNMRF) with a main specialty in biological solution NMR, natural products NMR, and/or biological solid-state NMR.

This is a three-year term position with the anticipation that the successful candidate will have the opportunity to apply for a continuous position by the end of the term. The Research Scientist will be responsible for oversight, training, and maintenance for three cryoprobe-equipped high-field solution NMR spectrometers (600 MHz in Chemistry and 700, 800 MHz in BBMB), in addition to other NMR-related and facility maintenance duties in CIF and BNMRF. The Research Scientist will work closely with faculty major users and their research groups, in addition to staff scientists in CIF and BNMRF. Applications should be submitted by May 31, 2022 for guaranteed consideration.

Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

C&EN: Nektar lays of 70% of employees

From this week's C&EN (by Jessica Marshall): 

Nektar Therapeutics says it will lay off 70% of its 700-plus employees. The news follows the April 14 announcement that Nektar and partner Bristol Myers Squibb were halting development of the interleukin-2 (IL-2) therapy bempegaldesleukin. The drug was intended to stimulate growth of T cells, which can attack cancer, but it failed in late-stage trials. Nektar, which focuses on immune modulation, says it will keep working on other drugs in its pipeline. 

 Best wishes to those affected. 

Friday, April 29, 2022

Have a great weekend!

Well, it's the end of the week, and I mostly survived. I hope you have a relaxed Friday, and a great weekend, and we'll see you on Monday. 

GDP fell 0.4% in the first quarter of 2022

Via the New York Times: 

The U.S. economy contracted in the first three months of the year, as supply constraints at home, demand shortfalls abroad and rapid inflation worldwide weighed on an otherwise resilient recovery.

Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, fell 0.4 percent in the first quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday. It was the first decline since the early days of the pandemic, and a sharp reversal from the rapid 1.7 percent growth in the final three months of 2021.

But the negative number masked evidence of a recovery that economists said remained fundamentally strong. The decline — 1.4 percent on an annualized basis — mostly resulted from the way inventories and trade figure in the calculation, as well as reduced government spending as Covid-19 relief efforts wind down. Measures of underlying demand showed solid growth.

Most important, consumer spending, the engine of the U.S. economy, grew 0.7 percent in the first quarter despite soaring gas prices and the Omicron wave of the coronavirus, which restrained spending on restaurants, travel and similar services in January... 

Most of the economics commentators on Twitter seem to think this is no big deal, and I don't have any data to contradict them. But I certainly think this bears watching...

Moderna building a biomanufacturing facility in Montreal

Moderna is expected to announce Friday that it has chosen the Montreal area for a new biomanufacturing production facility that will include a research center.

The Massachusetts-based company, which has seen explosive growth in the wake of its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, announced last year that it would build a Canadian facility along with other production expansion projects that include plans to build a $500 million plant in Africa.

The exact site of the Canadian mRNA vaccine facility, which is forecast to produce about 30 million doses a year and employ between 200 and 300 people when completed in 2024, hasn’t been determined, but Radio-Canada reported it will be in the greater Montreal region...
Good news for Canadian chemists, as Montreal seems to be a more and more popular destination for biopharma...

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Job posting: Quantum Chemistry Applications Scientist, Schrödinger, Portland, OR

From the inbox: 

Schrödinger, a technology leader specializing in software solutions for life science and materials science research and development, seeks an experienced scientist with a passion for the analysis, optimization and discovery of molecular materials systems using quantum mechanical simulations to join our team as a Materials Science Applications Scientist, Quantum Chemistry.

As a member of our materials science applications science team based in the US, you will gain high proficiency with Schrödinger simulation software and apply it to critical technology areas in the materials science industry including organic electronics, catalysis, energy storage, semiconductors, aerospace, automotive, and specialty chemicals.

What You Should Have

  • A PhD in Physical Chemistry, Computational Chemistry, Quantum Chemistry, Materials Science, Engineering, Physics, or a related scientific discipline
  • Multiyear experience using quantum mechanics to study molecular materials systems and/or chemical reactions
  • A solid understanding of the industrial process of applying and managing atomistic-scale modeling and simulation techniques
  • Experience in Python programming and/or machine learning is a plus

Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

That's a pretty big spill!

Via a routine Google search for chemical incidents, this story from the Burlington Hawk Eye from a couple weeks back about a pipe manufacturing plant in West Burlington, IA: 
Just before 9 a.m., the West Burlington Fire Department was sent to the building after receiving an anonymous tip, according to Fire Chief Shaun Ryan. 

A pipe at the factory broke late Tuesday, resulting in a large spill of hydrochloric acid, according to Ryan. 
Ryan said the plant's manager told crews 2000-4000 gallons of the acid is estimated to have leaked. 

Shortly after West Burlington fire crews arrived on the scene, and due to the potential for hydrochloric acid to be explosive, Ryan said he ordered the plant to shut down and send employees home at about 9:15 a.m.

"I basically told the whole plant they had to evacuate," Ryan said. "(Hydrochloric acid) does have the potential to be explosive if the right conditions exist."  

2000 gallons of hydrochloric acid! That sounds bad. (I'm guessing it was dilute.) Further on in the article, some of the workers were reporting inhalation issues and using shopvacs to clean up the spill, which is not exactly ideal...