Thursday, March 31, 2011

Whatcha gonna do, brother, when our med chemists run wild on you?!?!

Of course our compound is going to make it
 through the clinic! Brother, would I ever lie
to you? Photo credit: Wikipedia
 "Kayfabe" is a professional wrestling term of art. Wikipedia refers to kayfabe as "the suspension of disbelief that is used to create the non-wrestling aspects of promotions, such as feuds, angles, and gimmicks, in a similar manner with other forms of entertainment such as soap opera or film."

I think there is a kayfabe aspect to being a leader in any sort of a research organization. You have to project a sense of hope and optimism that things are gonna work out. You have to tell the people around you that, hey, we're pretty smart and if we work hard and have just a little bit of luck, we can crack this thing (intractable SARs, tough chemical development issues, whatever).

At the same time, I suspect it must be difficult to not take a little sip of your own Kool-Aid. If you keep saying very hopeful things to other people, you might actually start believing some of the very hopeful things that you say. While that's okay, I think that most bench scientists are deeply skeptical in general and pretty knowledgeable about boss kayfabe, and will get nervous if the boss delves too deeply into it.

Ultimately, I believe scientific leadership works well when there is a careful mix of determination, optimism and realism. Too much of any of those, and you're going to upset that willing suspension of disbelief.

Daily Pump Trap: 3/31/11 edition

Good morning! Between March 29 and March 30, there were 29 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 3 (10%) were academically connected.

MEEEERRRRCCCCKKK!: 16 (55%) jobs posted by Merck. You want to be a regulatory specialist in an emerging market? Merck's got a job for you. You want to be a chemist? Well.........  

Do you get a free Vaio?: Sony of America is looking for an organic chemist to be director of chemistry for their display R&D team. "Ph.D. required, with at least two years postgraduate experience or training or demonstration of a decade plus of superlative performance of chemical innovation and development. At least seven years industrial experience in organic chemistry." I think they want a Ph.D., a postdoc and lots of experience in fluorophore synthesis. Got it.

More batteries!: Pellion Technologies (the Cambridge battery startup) has posted 3 more positions: a battery cell engineer (ChemE preferred), an electrolyte developer (Ph.D. organometallic chemist) and a B.S./M.S. materials technician.

Smells: Firmenich is looking for a Ph.D. analytical/organic chemist in Princeton, New Jersey.

"Casual but focused environment": Takeda/Millenium is looking for a Ph.D. pharmaceutical scientist (degree in pharmaceutics or physical organic chemistry) to work on pre-formulations with formulators and process chemists.

Broader look: For the search term "chemist", Monster, CareerBuilder and Indeed show 354, 784 and 3901 positions (respectively.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

ACS job fair numbers from #ACSAnaheim

Love the plush green carpet.
Photo credit: Carmen Drahl, C&EN.

Good morning! Thanks to intrepid (and very kind!) C&EN reporter Carmen Drahl, we have news (and a photo) of the white board numbers from the ACS Anaheim Career Fair:

39 employers
182 positions
746 job seekers

Looks not half bad. Not the high of Boston (fall 2010, 68 employers), but not the low of Salt Lake City either (spring 2009, 32 employers.)

The all-time high seeker/position ratio (of a grand n = 4) was close to 10:1 of Spring 2010 in the Bay Area. (Maybe a graphic representation tomorrow? Suggestions?)

Good luck to all of those looking for a job in Anaheim.

Scaling up: results of the poll on 1 gram reactions

Last week, I asked two questions:
  • If a trusted colleague came to you and ask you to scale a reaction from 1 gram to 100 grams, would you expect the results to be the same?
  • What is the largest scale at which you expect the major parameters of a 1 gram reaction (product yield, purity, time, temperature) to be basically similar?
I thought 10 grams was about the limit. 20 or 50 grams, if you're lucky and anything larger than that (100 grams) is a complete crapshoot.

From the comments, we had variety of responses, mostly on the low end of the given range:
  • A4:38a: "I'd say 10 grams too - but it would depend on the purification."
  • See Arr Oh: "I would say it might be similar at 20 g, depending on temperature profile and solubility. 100g is completely out, though. I never scale anything more than 5x at a time."
  • Kay: "The general rule for production scale is 3x but that's for larger lots at the pilot plant stage. For something as small as 1 g, I think you could go up 5x or even 10x."
  • A7:14a: "10g is the highest I'd go before reevaluating."
  • CMCguy: "In reality answers mostly a function of the chemistry/reactions involved and what you know from literature or lab. I have done routine development at 100mg-10g scales then jumped with confidence immediately to 1-25kg scales."
  • NS29: "When it comes to scaling up high pressure hydrogenation reactions, my experience is definitely not. The surface/volume ratio and thus the size of the gas/liquid interphase differs too much when scaling up by a factor of 100."
  • A10:09a: "In my experience it is variation of one or more seemingly unimportant variables that ends up being the cause of a disparate result. Allowing that disparate result to guide further experimentation into determining the most important variables you need to control is actually the crux of development of a robust and repeatable process."
I'm glad that my gut feeling was more-or-less similar to some of the (dearly appreciated) longtime professionals that are reading the blog. Thanks to all for participating in the poll!

Process Wednesday: Kilomentor's questions on crystallization

Continuing on in Kilomentor's questions for scaling up, let us confront crystallization:
  1. Is a method in place to determine the solvent composition?
  2. Is there a method in place to determine the ratio of volatile solvent to non-volatile residue?
  3. Is there provision to initiate crystal formation? (seeding)
  4. Is there a provision for managed crystal growth?
  5. Is there provision for crystal size assessment?
  6. Is there a study of crystal aging(ripening)? Does the purity change depending on aging?
  7. Is there an IPC (in-process control -- CJ) to verify that the crystallization is complete and the correct quantity of residual product is left?
Considering I've never really done crystallization as part of a formal process (as opposed to the informality of looking at the flask and saying "Yep, them's crystals!"). I think it is interesting to learn all the different things that you have to control for. I'll be honest and say that I can't really begin to answer questions 1, 2, 5 and 7 HPLC?).

Crystal aging/ripening is something that can be an unpleasant surprise. You have to prepare yourself for the potentiality of leaving a tray of nice white/yellow crystals and coming back to a (figuratively) hot brown mess. Of course, Kilomentor's talking about something a lot less dramatic than that, I'm sure.

As a relatively young chemist, the one thing that I was surprised to learn was the density of seeding. I think we're all used to the concept of just a pinch of seed crystal from school. I was surprised to learn that seed crystals may need to be added in a much higher amount on larger scale reactions; 10% of total mass (or higher) may be necessary to induce appropriate levels of crystallization.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Unemployed chemists working for free? A bad idea.

Please, pay me a salary. Just a little one, please?
Photo credit: adpowers
An uncomfortable little story from CNN/Fortune on the plight of the unpaid worker:
"People who work for free are far hungrier than anybody who has a salary, so they're going to outperform, they're going to try to please, they're going to be creative," says Kelly Fallis, chief executive of Remote Stylist, a Toronto and New York-based startup that provides Web-based interior design services. "From a cost savings perspective, to get something off the ground, it's huge. Especially if you're a small business."
In the last three years, Fallis has used about 50 unpaid interns for duties in marketing, editorial, advertising, sales, account management and public relations. She's convinced it's the wave of the future in human resources. "Ten years from now, this is going to be the norm," she says.
Elsewhere, people are calling this person a moral cretin. This sort of thing is something I really, really hope doesn't spread to chemistry.

There are a lot of different kinds of low-paid labor in chemistry; while undergrad interns are sometimes unpaid, they're actually supposed to be learning the craft of chemistry. Summer students are typically paid in money or in class credit. Grad students, however minimally, are actually paid in tuition and their (meager) stipends. Industrial internships are traditionally paid and usually fairly well-compensated in my experience. (Academic postdocs, of course, are an entirely different story.) But the bright (?) line is that training (learning by doing) is different from working (just doing).

I really hope that this trend that seems to have started in the publishing/web-based world doesn't spread too far in chemistry. It'd be a really awful way to treat young inexperienced workers.

Daily Pump Trap: 3/29/11 edition

Good morning! Between March 24 and March 28, there have been 65 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 11 (17%) of them are academically connected. 13 (20%) from Merck; wanna be a mechanic?

Arch at ACS Anaheim!: Arch Chemicals is a global biocides company. They have posted 5 positions; all of which are being interviewed for at ACS Anaheim. They have a nice Ph.D. organic chemist position for someone who has 5+ years experience in the lab, including scale-up/pilot plant experience.

Soap in the shower this morning? Thank us!: Unilever is looking for a Ph.D. analytical chemist with experience in LC/MS and GC/MS for analysis and method development. GPC and IC experience desired as well.

MatSci? MatSci!: Goodyear Tires and Rubber is looking for 2 Ph.D. chemist positions; a material scientist and a senior research chemist. Polymer synthesis and characterization skills desired.

A rare bird: Celgene in San Diego is looking for a Ph.D. medicinal chemist with 8 to 13 years experience to well, do everything, looks like. Looks promising for someone; not too often you see one of these fairly senior positions posted.

Zeroes mean so much: Kodak is looking for a Ph.D. physical chemist with experience in polymer physics (what's that?) 0-2 years experience acceptable; you need your degree by June 1st. (cutting it close, aren't you guys?)

Batteries, again: Pellion Technologies is in Cambridge, MA; they're looking for M.S./Ph.D. scientists to perform battery research. They're looking for both a M.S./Ph.D. organic chemist (organometallic, most likely) and a M.S./Ph.D. physical chemist; they want 5-10 years experience. Hey, guys, you're about a year late into the job market -- you don't think these people haven't had a bunch of money waved at them already?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bleg: laptop choice for blogging

I'd like to purchase a laptop for blogging on the go (coffee shops, airports, abandoned crack houses, etc.)  Any recommendations?

Here's what I need: 4 to 5 hour battery life, medium sized screen, okay to travel with and type on, can do standard web-based stuff (Blogger (duh), Flickr, Gmail, video chat, etc.), can access YouTube and other parts of the internets.

I've looked at the HP laptops at Best Buy (oh, here comes the spam) and been tempted; the $429 G42-415DX is something I'm looking at (AMD Athlon II processor). I've been tempted by the HP laptops with the Intel i3 processors ($599, I think.)

I don't have the money right now for an Apple product, so I apologize for that in advance. Sorry, folks.

I'm also looking at purchasing a Verizon mobile broadband card, too. Any thoughts on this and how much I need to purchase? $50? $100?

Thanks in advance for any help you might give.

Computer programmers versus chemists: no contest.

When I was a young B.S. chemist working at a small company, I was ecstatic over one of our company's small perks: free peanut butter sandwiches and all the free soda you could drink. I should have been a computer programmer, according to the New York Times:
Free meals, shuttle buses and stock options are de rigueur. So the game maker Zynga dangles free haircuts and iPads to recruits, who are also told that they can bring their dogs to work. Path, a photo-sharing site, moved its offices so it could offer sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay. At Instagram, another photo-sharing start-up, workers take personal food and drink orders from employees, fill them at Costco and keep the supplies on hand for lunches and snacks.  
Then there are salaries. Google is paying computer science majors just out of college $90,000 to $105,000, as much as $20,000 more than it was paying a few months ago. That is so far above the industry average of $80,000 that start-ups cannot match Google salaries. Google declined to comment.
Wow. Assuming the industry average is actually 80k for a bachelor's CS major, that's a sign that chemists would be hard-pressed to compete for young talent against the computer field. (Actually, I assume that 80k is the industry median salary for all programmers; the numbers just don't make a lot of sense otherwise. Thanks, BLS!)

But you'd be challenged to find a single B.S. chemist who was making a Google salary as a chemist, I'll bet.

The other tidbits in the article about the field are revealing as well:
“The atmosphere is brutally competitive,” said Keith Rabois, a Silicon Valley veteran and chief operating officer at Square, where Mr. Firestone works. “Recruiting in Silicon Valley is more competitive and intense and furious than college football recruiting of high school athletes.” [snip]
Nationwide unemployment among computer scientists and programmers is higher than in other white-collar professions — around 5 percent — in part because many jobs have vanished overseas. But even with a glut of engineers on the job market, few have the skills that tech companies look for, said Cadir Lee, chief technology officer at Zynga. [snip]
Tech recruiters have also expanded their searches. They still scout college campuses, particularly Stanford’s computer science department, where this year it was common for seniors to receive half a dozen offers by the end of first semester.
Interesting to note that (assuming the reporters didn't mess it up), the 5% unemployment rate for computer scientists is actually higher than chemists (ACS (2010): 3.8%, BLS (2011): 3.1%.)

Well, if you have a teenager that's trying to decide on a career, you might send them Google's way...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Plastic cable ties

Sorry -- things are busy today. Not much time to blog. (Maybe tonight?)

A list of small, useful things (links):

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The ACS Anaheim Career Fair, by the numbers

The ACS Career Fair will be March 27-30 in Anaheim, California. On the ACS Careers website, there are currently 132 positions posted (as of 8 am EDT 3/24/11)  that recruiters claim to be interviewing for. Here they are, by the numbers (if they are tagged correctly by the search function. Duplication a real possibility here):

Education: A.A./some college (4), B.S. (38), M.S. (12), Ph.D. (44), Ph.D./postdoc (12)

Country: Canada (3), China (22), India (1), Singapore (1), U.S. (105)

Specialization (must be some duplication): analytical (29), biochemical (15), biological (15), biotechnical (5), catalyst (2), cheminformatics (1), cosmetics (5), energy (10), engineering (12), general/technical (10), inorganic (8), materials (22), nanotechnological (4), organic (29), organometallic (6), paint (2), petrochemicals (6), pharmaceutical (36), physical (10), polymers (38), rubber (6).

Work function: analyst (3), process development (15), product development (21), manufacturing (11), marketing (4), pilot plant (8), QA/QC (2), applied research (59), basic research (31), sales (5), technical services (10)

Level: entry level (33), experienced (94)

Organization type: academia (8), government (6), industry (107), non-profit (1), small business (<500 employees) (10)

Obviously, the country one is an interesting number to look at. I should track these over time, huh?

Daily Pump Trap: 3/24/11 edition

Good morning! Between March 22 and March 23, there have been 27 new positions posted on the ACS Careers database. Of these, 4 (15%) are academically connected. 3 (11%) positions are posted by our friends at Kelly Scientific.

Uh, Ididnotknowthat: Sometimes, you can read a blurb and have no idea what they're talking about (okay, so it's more like I have a tiny inkling, but that's it):
Cambrios is currently focused on the development of electronic materials for the display industry. Our proprietary nanostructured materials can be deposited using existing production equipment to achieve enhanced performance of display devices and components at lower manufacturing cost. The company’s first product, a directly patternable, wet-processable transparent conductive film, is poised to replace the industry standard sputtered indium tin oxide (ITO).
So they're looking for a Ph.D. polymer/organic chemist with "[e]xperience with formulation of aqueous and solvent-borne coatings systems." Uh, sounds great.

Sunshine and palm trees: The LA County Museum of Art is looking for a Ph.D. for a postdoctoral fellowship in art preservation. "A strong background in materials science, organic chemistry, or polymer science is desirable." Looks like you'll be using the museum lab's fairly involved analytical suite (XRD, etc.) and working towards a project "to develop preservation strategies for plastic objects in museum collections."

Aaand not so much: Owens-Corning's lab in Granville, OH is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist with a strong background in analytical and organic chemistry (5+ years) to work in their analytical laboratory. You'll be performing "qualitative and quantitative chemical analyses of organic/polymer systems in a range of samples from around the world."

Zeroes!: Couple sets of positions for youngish organic chemists. ARMGO Pharma in Tarrytown, NY is looking for Ph.D. organic chemists (0-5 years experience) and M.S. chemists (4+ years.) Gilead Sciences is looking for a research associate for medicinal chemistry with 0 years experience.

Workin' for the man: Brookhaven National Labs is looking for a postdoctoral fellow to work on "advanced hybrid photovoltaic devices by combining inorganic semiconductor device platforms with self-assembled conjugated polymer and DNA-nanoparticle light-harvesting structures." Yeah, that.

Sandia National Labs is looking for a permanent Ph.D. synthetic polymer chemist to work on block copolymers for electrical energy storage. Looks like you'll need to be able to get a clearance (A "Q" clearance? Who knows.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New taglines for Scifinder

We all know that SciFinder's trademarked tagline is "Part of the process." I think that's kind of boring, so as a public service, I've offered 10 new taglines for SciFinder.
  1. SciFinder: Two weeks in the lab will save you two hours with me.
  2. SciFinder: Find the reaction you want? What am I -- Google?
  3. SciFinder: Destroying your original proposal ideas one hit at a time.
  4. SciFinder: Yes, the Egyptian Journal of Chemistry really does exist.
  5. (Web) SciFinder: Time to get a cup of coffee... in Colombia!
  6. SciFinder: Discovering the journals you don't have access to.
  7. SciFinder: Revealing the convoluted world of patents to you.
  8. SciFinder: You pay dues to us, remember? Or is it the other way around?
  9. SciFinder: Shenzhen ABC Chemical Company? Oh, yes, they'll sell you that.
  10. SciFinder: Sorry, your favorite paper you've published still hasn't been cited.

Contest: The Duck of Sabotage

Commenter 032220110550a commented yesterday about:
hearing rumors of grad student locking their hoods at night in Boston College (lest their co-workers sabotage their work)
I have also heard these sorts of rumors about elite groups in Europe, that coworkers were sabotaging each other's reactions.

Label me a skeptic, but I have always found these sorts of cutthroat stories about highly competitive groups to sound a little ridiculous. That being said, there are obviously a great number of nutty folks in academic groups that are willing to pull some really bad/awful stunts. Whoever Michael Pemulis is, if he's willing to attempt blackmail, he was probably willing to toss a little water in your reaction. Also, the Vipul Bhrigu case is documented laboratory sabotage where the wrongdoer was caught on tape.
Quack! Don't you want me?
But I'll stick my neck out and say that these stories in chemistry are mostly grad student urban legend / late-night bad reaction paranoia / "friend of a friend"-type stuff. So to prove me wrong, I am running a contest to draw out the most ridiculous, convoluted and terrible stories of lab sabotage. As a prize, I am offering the below pictured duck, now named "The Duck of Sabotage." The winner of this contest will have this duck mailed to them, with 100 of the most excellent Chemjobber business cards and the finest hard candies* of the land filling its back.

The contest rules are as follows:
  • Submissions in the comments of this post or by private e-mail to chemjobber -at- gmail/dot/com
  • Submission deadline: May 1
  • Winner to be judged on most awful and true** story of chemistry laboratory coworker sabotage that is best documented.
    • "Friend of a friend" isn't enough. One degree of separation is about the edge, I think.
    • Sames/Sezen is off limits.
  • Contest winner cannot be perpetrator of sabotage. Confirmation by asking detailed questions by private e-mail will happen.
  • Winner to be determined by CJ and/or popular acclamation. (i.e. to be decided)
  • Use good judgment here; if it's not your story to tell, don't tell it.
What am I hoping to gain from this? I'm hoping for 2 things: 1) that I can show, to the best of my ability that sabotage is always rumored, but rarely proven*** and 2) that I can get this ridiculous ceramic duck out of my home.

*Don't get your hopes too high.
** Thanks, Joel!
***I know -- sometimes, I'm a crazy optimist, aren't I?

Process Wednesday: a quick poll on scaling up

Imagine a scenario where a trusted colleague has come to you and said, "I have run a 1 gram (starting material) reaction. Please run this reaction at the same conditions at 100 gram scale." Would you expect the purity, yield and time to completion to be basically the same?

Personally, I would not. So a quick poll for the process chemists out there -- if a colleague has run a reaction at 1 gram scale, what is the largest scale at which you expect the major parameters of the reaction (product yield, purity, time, temperature) to be basically similar?

My answer in the comments.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

East Coast versus West Coast?

Dude, I don't care about your CV.
Photo credit: Wikipedia
 Commenter 032120110219p asks:
CJ, would you consider the chemical industry on the West Coast as pedigree-obsessed as on the East Coast? Can work experience and tangible abilities trump a novice with a Big Name on his/her CV?
Here's my comment in reply:
No, I don't really believe so. At the same time, I don't really know. The West Coast is primarily known for the small companies, i.e. the biotech scenes of the Bay Area and SD. Those tend to be a lot more fluid about pedigree; nevertheless, they have their favorite schools/profs, too.
I have to say that I've never really found anyone super-pedigree obsessed in my travels in the pharma world. At the same time, I've never worked in the Boston or Philadelphia pharma/biotech worlds. I assume that when employers think about this sort of thing, it's a "no one ever got fired for purchasing IBM" mentality that keeps people going back to the Ivies of the world. At the same time, of course, it's not entirely a mistake that people keep going back to the big schools and the big groups -- that's where a lot of the good people are.

In my short time in the San Diego area, I didn't find that people cared a lot about pedigree, but maybe that's just the employers that I happened to meet. At the same, (just like everywhere else) it seemed like the same two or three institutions (TSRI, UCSD, etc.) kept popping up in people's pasts.

Readers, what's your experience with pedigree obsession? Got any good stories?

ACS Career Fair at Anaheim, March 27-30, 2011

At the Anaheim ACS conference next week, they're having the career fair. It'll be interesting to see the final white board numbers, but here's a portion of Susan Ainsworth's short article on the Career Fair:
More than 30 companies and organizations—including Arch Chemicals, Asymchem Laboratories, Dow AgroSciences, Gilead, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Merck & Co., Momentive Performance Materials, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals—will be scouting for new hires at the career fair.

During the Anaheim meeting, some employers—including Celanese and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory—will be making themselves more accessible by participating in Recruiters Row, a series of booths that will be set up in the Exposition Hall, Harwell says. At previous meetings, candidates were only able to meet recruiters if they had set up an appointment to meet in the career fair hall, he adds.
"Being on Recruiters Row will allow us to promote our company and create interest among future and passive job seekers," says Tricia Hayes, a senior recruiter with Nalco Energy Services. The company will be actively recruiting chemists to fill R&D positions in Sugar Land, Texas, and to work at its new lab in Pune, India.
Good luck to the job seekers!

Daily Pump Trap: 3/22/11 edition

Good morning! Between March 17 and March 21, 87 new positions were posted on the ACS Careers database. Of these, 10 (11%) are academically connected. 1 (1%) is from our friends at Kelly Scientific Resources.

Batteries FTW: Sion Power Corporation is "the leading developer of the next high energy rechargeable battery technology." They have 3 positions open, including one for a Ph.D. polymer chemist who has 3+ years professional experience with "UV, e-beam and chemically initiated Polymerization processes", among other technologies. (Tucson, AZ)

Pretty cool: InVisage is a Bay Area company that "created a new generation of QuantumFilm based image sensors. It is based on quantum dots, semiconductors with unique light-capture properties." They're looking for a B.S. chemist to synthesize quantum dots. Schlenk line and glovebox experience a plus.

Cheese: Hilmar Cheese Company is in California's Central Valley. They're looking for a B.S./M.S. chemist to "support product development projects and QA/QC testing needs by developing, validating, and implementing analytical methods to measure composition, chemical and physical properties, and biological activities." Sounds like a good time for somebody; a basic knowledge of dairy chemistry is desired.

Mustbematureaboutthis: IRIS International is  "a leader in in vitro diagnostic urinalysis systems"; they're looking for a Ph.D. biochemist with 2 years postdoctoral experience with hemo/urinalysis-type projects. You'll be evaluating dyes for staining in flow systems; actually, that sounds pretty neat.

Not winter all the time: Segetis, outside of Minneapolis, MN, is looking for a Ph.D. analytical/physical chemist (5+ years experience) to run their analytical chemistry team and method development for their manufacturing needs.

Outsourcing corner: BMS, looking for a medchem head in Hyderabad. ShangPharma, with 6 very senior positions.

Merck: 30 positions (34%), including a nice one for a senior research biochemist. Are you a chemist? Do you like chemistry? You might want to be a MBA financial analyst or a change manager (what in the devil is this position?)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Interview: Christine Herman, Just Another Electron Pusher

Christine Herman is one half of the latest incarnation of Just Another Electron Pusher, C&EN's blog on alternative careers in chemistry. She's an aspiring science writer and (interestingly to me) a writer for her university's newspaper, The Daily Illini. She graciously agreed to a quick interview with me; this e-mail Q&A has been lightly edited by CJ and checked for accuracy by Christine.

Chemjobber: Can you tell me a little about your background? What kind of chemistry do you do right now?

Christine: I got a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where I did undergraduate research in natural product synthesis. In the last two years of undergrad, I took several biology and biochemistry courses, which got me really interested in the chemistry-biology interface. I applied to chemical biology programs for graduate school and am now in my 4th year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

My research can be classified as “biointerface science”, which broadly speaking refers to tailoring surfaces and materials to be compatible with biological applications. I modify glass microscope slides with a photoactive molecule, and use light to attach proteins to the surface in gradients. I am trying to design surfaces that mimic the blood vessel, so that I can use them in experiments to better understand the process of inflammation and the way the body recruits white blood cells to a site of injury or infection. So, I make these surfaces, place them into a flow chamber, and then I flow white blood cells over the surfaces in a way that mimics blood flowing through a blood vessel. I use a microscope that has a camera attached to it to record white blood cells as they roll along the surface, and study how various parameters (i.e., amount of protein on the surface, flow rate) affect cell behavior.

Here’s a video I made for the “Dance Your Ph.D.” contest last year that explains the process of inflammation more.

CJ: What kind of science writer are you hoping to be?

Christine: At this point, it’s hard for me to say what kind of science writer I want to be. I am formally trained in chemistry and biology, so I’d love to write for a magazine that specializes in either or both of those areas. So far, I have found the variety to be one of the most enjoyable things about science writing: One day I’m interviewing a professor about her research on biofuels, the next week I’m on the phone with a company that is developing artificial retinas. It’s so awesome to talk to experts in various fields about what they do, and write it in a way that non-experts, scientists or non-scientists, could understand. I’d be happy with any job that allows me to do that!

CJ: Who do you read right now (science and non-science)? What are your inspirations?

Christine: I have been working my way through the “Best American Science Writing” books, to get a taste of lots of different writing styles. I also have started reading Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”—good stuff! I admire a journalist who invests 10 years into uncovering a story that raises more questions than it does answers and challenges people to think about the issues at hand. That’s the kind of writing I really I hope to do in the future-- maybe even write a book some day if I can find an interesting topic that I want to dive into.

CJ here again. Thanks to Christine for the fun interview and go over to JAEP and read!

Good employment news from the West Coast?

In the March 21 edition of Chemical and Engineering News, Susan Ainsworth writes on seemingly positive chemist employment news on the US' West Coast. It's worth reading in full.

Ol' Kelly Scientific: They're optimistic about overall chemistry job growth right now.
But now, the employment picture for some chemists on the West Coast may finally be brightening. Although growth in job volume for chemists was “flat to declining” last year, it is now “definitely picking up,” according to Alan E. Edwards, a senior director for the Americas Product Group in the scientific arm of Kelly Services, a staffing services company. “I would say that California is climbing back and is now well out of the trough it was in. The West Coast job market for chemists is better than that in the Southeast but still lags behind the Midwest and the Northeast,” he adds. 
As companies accelerate hiring, they are doing so cautiously, bringing in more people on a temporary or contingent basis, Edwards says. Eager to stay in step with slow improvements in the economy, companies are hiring in the skills they need for only the period of time that they need them. Changing business models dictate that many professional, highly skilled science positions will now span about 18 to 24 months, he adds.
I'm surprised to learn that the Midwest is on par with the rest of the country; that being said, I've been seeing a lot of polymer chemistry positions from the Midwest. Haven't seen a lot of positions out of the Southeast, though. An interesting set of comments, though.

No good news for medicinal chemists: Unsurprisingly, really. But still tough news to take.
On the West Coast, hiring seems to be stronger in emerging businesses such as biofuels, solar energy, and biomaterials. And some chemists are finding openings in government labs, which are benefiting from increased funding aimed at energy research and national security, for example. [snip] 
Although demand for chemists “is improving in certain job categories, demand in others remains depressed,” cautions Meredith Dow, managing partner at San Diego-based staffing consultants firm Proven. “I think it is still really tough out there for medicinal chemists,” Dow says, noting that many of the positions the company has traditionally filled have been outsourced overseas. “Although we used to be able to place medicinal chemists within just a few weeks, we now have some amazing candidates who have been looking for a job for two years.” [snip]
Breaking into the medical device or diagnostics field, however, can be difficult for some chemists with a pharma or biotech background, “who may have to completely retool their skills” to do the work required, recruiter Dow says. “Unless they are able to find a company with a combo product such as a medical device combined with a biologic such as a drug-eluting stent, they may not be able to successfully market their chemistry skills,” she says. 
Worthwhile Californian initiative?: I'm always a little skeptical about job retraining programs. But here's one that sounds pretty good, really:
Not surprisingly, many chemists are trying to build on their chemistry foundation and retrain for jobs in fields where workers are in high demand. 
To help in that effort, in July 2010 the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency awarded the San Diego region a $4 million grant to implement new workforce training programs for careers in the emerging biofuels industry. The San Diego Biofuels Initiative—a collaborative effort including CleanTECH San Diego, life sciences trade association Biocom, the Biocom Institute, the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, and the San Diego Workforce Partnership—used the grant to set up the Educating & Developing Workers for the Green Economy (EDGE) Initiative. 
Beginning this month, the initiative will provide education, training, and placement services to unemployed and dislocated workers including chemists and chemical engineers within the San Diego area, according to Kristie Grover, executive director of the Biocom Institute, which links learning institutions and life sciences companies to build education initiatives. 
For those with the requisite skills, jobs seem to be plentiful in the biofuels market. 
We'll have to keep track of the biofuels retraining initiative; if it's good news, this could be a way out of this mess. Maybe.  

Friday, March 18, 2011

What's your lab superstition?

What would you do if saw this in front of your hood?
Photo credit: Flickr user AlishaV (Creative Commons)
The ever-prolific Glen Ernst wrote in the comments of last week's dishwashing post that:
Even though was we had a glass washing service at AZ I always, always, always washed my own glassware, so the good luck would no be washed off by those unskilled in the art. Are chemists superstitious? Um, maybe a little.
I have to confess that I am a little superstitious, in that I refuse to consider and/or discuss the possibility of good results before I actually perform the experiment. If you've done a reaction once or twice and it's worked great, great! We need to scale it ten times or run it with a slightly different analogue? Well, we don't know what will happen. "Don't know" means "don't know". Let's not talk about those good results until we get them, eh? I can get a little irrational about adding the word "potential" or "believed" when I want to hedge my bets, as if there was a Great Pumpkin/Scientist who dinging me for my positive assumptions.

I never had a lucky flask or a lucky stir bar or anything like that. But I do knock on wood sometimes, and once I worked in hood number 13. Did I scribble it out and write "Hood 12 + 1" on there? You bet.

The perils of industrial postdocs

A constant reader writes with questions about an industrial postdoc. There are a few concerns:

Missing the seal of approval: Let's not be coy about this: we all know that there are informal networks of  (insert famous professor's name here) Group Alumni within larger companies (especially Big Pharma). While their power and influence is probably overemphasized, I'm sure that it does skew hiring at least a little bit. Those of us (myself included) who did not do postdocs with the Blank Group are excluded from those networks. An industrial postdoc further excludes you from those networks.

Whether or not it will matter is a different story. Trouble being, of course, that if you take an industrial postdoc, your new network is within your company and will probably not extend elsewhere very far. (Unless, of course, your company is so huge and your reputation so strong that you're a star, no matter what.)

Exploitation: I think we've all heard the stories about companies that bring in postdocs basically to hire cheap labor. It happens; I have seen it.

How do you avoid it? Ask the terms of your employment as an industrial postdoctoral fellow. What is the point of your postdoc? Is it to do your own research? Is it to help other people in their research? Can you publish your findings? Are you put on a project to make money immediately or develop new science?

Are you being considered for a position within the company afterwards? In larger companies, quite often the answer is: "No, we view this as an academic experience. After your X years are up, you're expected to go elsewhere." Also, there's the question of past history: have you hired postdocs before? Did they publish? (Did you allow them to publish?) Where did they go after they left? Is this an appropriate learning experience?

Pay now or pay later?: Industrial postdocs are typically paid higher than academic postdoc salaries (10 to 35%? SWAG) I view this as a double-edged sword. As a Ph.D. chemist, you're trying to grow a ten to twenty year career. Taking a higher salary that closes off other networking and learning opportunities may not be a good idea. But if your industrial postdoc offers training that cannot be gained elsewhere, why not?

If I were to rank these concerns, I would rank the most important concern as: exploitation, then networking concerns and then pay. Good luck to all of those considering industrial postdocs; just remember to consider them carefully.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What do you want in a boss?

Oh, and did you spot that compound correctly on the TLC?
Those big spots can really smear, you know.
Photo credit: The Collared Sheep
Via the New York Times, I read recently about Google and their initiative to ask their employees what they want in a boss. Using data mining (hey, it's Google), they came up with 8 important things, in order from most important to least important:
  1. Be a good coach.
  2. Empower your team and don't micromanage.
  3. Express interest in team members' success and personal well-being.
  4. Be productive and results-oriented.
  5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team.
  6. Help your employees with career development.
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.
  8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team.
While I can't help but really like this list, I find it fascinating how (relatively) unimportant it is for the group leader/manager to be a technical adviser. I'm not quite sure how that works, but it's worth pointing out that Google has a reputation for hiring highly intelligent and skilled people (or, at least, they used to.) Here's their comments about the technical competence issue:
For much of its 13-year history, particularly the early years, Google has taken a pretty simple approach to management: Leave people alone. Let the engineers do their stuff. If they become stuck, they’ll ask their bosses, whose deep technical expertise propelled them into management in the first place.

But Mr. Bock’s group found that technical expertise — the ability, say, to write computer code in your sleep — ranked dead last among Google’s big eight. What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.

“In the Google context, we’d always believed that to be a manager, particularly on the engineering side, you need to be as deep or deeper a technical expert than the people who work for you,” Mr. Bock says. “It turns out that that’s absolutely the least important thing. It’s important, but pales in comparison. Much more important is just making that connection and being accessible.”
I really don't know how to process this; in the academic world, the professor (the boss) is usually the smartest and/or most knowledgeable person in the room. But again, the distribution of experience and talent is going to be a lot different at Google than it going to be in a typical academic chemistry group. (I suspect that the distribution of medicinal and/or process chemistry knowledge in an industrial setting is a lot closer to Google's distribution than an academic groups.)

I think Mr. Bock sells it short when tends to imply that the manager doesn't have to have the same level of technical knowledge as his subordinates. That sort of imbalance seems dangerous somehow, and I can't quite put my finger on it.

While I think that these skills are going to be difficult to grow in people (you either have skills #2, #3, #4, #5 and #7 or you don't), I certainly agree that they're very important. (Presumably, you can learn to develop your people's careers.) It will be interesting to see if anything comes out of this initiative by Google.

You asked for it, Merck.

Isn't this what you want to be selling?
This job DEMANDS your degree in chemistry.
Photo credit:
Of the 71 positions posted, 37 are from our friends at Merck. So, along with a smattering of science-related positions, there are some real doozies. Are you a chemist? A member of the American Chemical Society? Merck wants to know if you're interested to be:
You know, when I got my degree in chemistry, I thought to myself: "You know, self, I really like footcare products. And when I really get good at synthetic chemistry, I'd like to become the head of the leader in footcare products, a brand that has been around for over 100 years. That would make my Mom and Dad proud of me."

Well, dreams die hard.

Daily Pump Trap: 3/17/11 edition

Good morning! Between March 15 and 16, there were 71 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 3 (4%) are academic positions.

Shanghai: Unilever is hiring -- in Shanghai. 11 new positions posted for there, including 5 doctoral positions. Interesting.

San Jose, CA: Cheil Industries is seeking 2 Ph.D. chemists with organosilicon and dye experience.

Vista, CA: "ColomerUSA, Inc., a full-service manufacturer & distributor of quality salon & spa products with brands that include: American Crew, CND, ROUX, ABBA, Revlon Realistic, and Crème of Nature." Oooh -- American Crew, that sounds fancy. They're looking for a B.S. chemist with 2 years of experience in polymer formulations and 3+ years in process development.

San Diego, CA: Celgene in San Diego is looking for a Ph.D. analytical chemist to do, well, everything. (Principal scientist level.)

West Chester, PA: UTC Fire and Security is "a global leader in fire and security." They're looking for a B.S./M.S. chemist with 5+ years experience in formulations. Check out this awesome qualification: "Strong hand and lab tool." Well, if you're looking for a lab tool, oh, I could find you a few...

Morrisville, PA: Gelest is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. synthetic chemist. Needs to be "able to handle more than one thing at a time." Also, this is a swing shift position -- you don't see those very often.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Interview: Glen Ernst, Just Another Electron Pusher

Glen Ernst is one half of Just Another Electron Pusher, C&EN's blog on alternative careers in chemistry. Glen has a great deal of experience from industry and he's lived through quite a few changes in the pharmaceutical world. I was terribly happy to get an interview with him. This e-mail Q&A was formatted by CJ and checked for accuracy by Glen.

Chemjobber: Can you tell me a little about your background?

Glen: How far back do you want to go? I grew up in Montana – my father was in the Air Force and that’s where he was stationed and where we settled when he decided to retire. As an undergraduate at Montana State University, I pursued a double major and received a BS in Chemical Engineering and a BA in Theatre Arts. After interviewing for typical bachelor’s level chemical engineering positions, I knew I wanted to go into research. In engineering, research positions all but required a graduate degree, at least at that time. At Montana State, I was made aware of an opportunity in the chemistry graduate program, specifically for a chemical engineer. My advisor did both organometallic and asphalt research, and wanted me for the latter, but included some organometallic projects among my choices for a research project. I chose an organometallic project, and he was fine with that. I knew early on that I was going to leave with a Master’s, and go on for my PhD elsewhere – I didn’t want to look too “inbred” by having everything accomplished at one school.

I landed a job as a synthetic chemist at ICI Americas (which became Zeneca which became AstraZeneca) at Wilmington, Delaware in 1987. I worked as a synthetic organic chemist, and found I really enjoyed both the synthetic aspect and that of designing new compounds, where I was encouraged to contribute. I was having too much fun and felt really scientifically fulfilled, so I felt leaving to return to grad school would be impractical, and a bit selfish. As it turned out, I was given a rare opportunity to transition into a PhD-level team leader position after about ten years. There were some initial struggles, but I really enjoyed to enjoy the challenges of medicinal chemistry, and began to have a fair amount of success in the role. I guess the validation of all that was being promoted to Principal Scientist back in 2007. I was very fortunate to work in that role, and I’m deeply grateful.

When AstraZeneca announced in March of last year the intent to exit several disease areas and close three major drug discovery sites, including the one in Wilmington. I don’t think anyone was truly shocked, because we knew that was certainly on the table. But there was still some element of surprise, since AZ also has its US corporate HQ in Wilmington.

Process Wednesday: filtration

Continuing on Kilomentor's list of questions for scale-up, let's face his questions on filtration:
Does the process have a filtration process step? If so:
  1. Has the rate of filtration been checked?
  2. Does the solid shrink in diameter size on the filter after removing solvent or does the filter cake crack?
  3. Do your instructions make provision to prevent shrinking or cracking to facilitate washing?
  4. Have you done a split run (reaction mixture is worked in several parts) to assess the effect of inadequate washing of the crystalline mass?
  5. If the filtration uses charcoal or filter-aid- has the substrate been completely removed from the filter material? Do you have an in-process control to assess the quantity in filtrate and the quantity caught in the adsorbant?
Having confronted filtration on a not very large scale, I can't answer these questions very well for myself. The cracking of the filter cake is something that happens on a regular basis, even on small scale. I presume that this is not a good thing, as it promotes a easier channel for air and wash solvent to proceed through (rather than through the cake itself.) I'll be honest, I'm not quite sure how to prevent it -- I hope there's a reader who has more experience than I.

Question 4 is something that I note about process chemists; they want to find out what happens when something doesn't go as planned. While the protocol is written (I imagine) to ensure adequate washing, what happens if it doesn't happen and the material goes on to the next step? Planning for things to go wrong (and knowing in advance what might happen) is a good idea.

Readers, any comments on these questions?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fukushima Daiichi: on the skyline

Best of luck, fellas. We're all pulling for you.
Photo credit: Tokyo Electric Power/AP/
From David Danielo's "Blood Stripes: The Grunt's View of the War In Iraq":
A problem unit is "on the skyline." This expression comes from the way Marines are trained to climb over an obstacle. They are taught to keep a low profile: being on the skyline, absent cover and concealment, is wrong and could get a person killed.

No unit wants to be on the skyline. Their commanders closely scrutinize them to decipher the exact reason behind their flawed performance...

Every Marine spends at least some time as a boot. Every unit -- from squads to regiments -- spends at least a few days on the skyline. The test of the individual Marine and unit leader comes when they are the boots or outcasts or their units are on the skyline. Can they bounce back? Can they fix themselves? Nobody asks these questions unless the unit or Marine is skylined.
This blog is more about the scientist than about the science. So it probably comes as no surprise that I find myself in extreme sympathy with the people trying to stop whatever incident may be occurring at these plants. Of course, the engineers and operators at Fukushima Daiichi are skylined through no fault of their own; they were the men and women who happened to be there (or happened to work there) when this very awful double natural disaster hit.

But the fact of the matter is that a small group of people (less than 150?) are trying desperately to stop some very dangerous things from happening. Within this group of people, there undoubtedly must be some people who have gone without sleep for days, who are on the verge of breaking but have summoned all their strength and self-discipline to carry on. Outside of this group is a small cottage industry of people who are kibitizing, Monday-morning quarterbacking and doomsaying. 'Twas always thus; if it happens to you and your group (whatever it might be), you just have to work the problem, ignore everything else and suck it up.

All I can say is: fellas, best of wishes. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

Daily Pump Trap: 3/15/11 edition

Good morning! Between March 10 and March 14, there were 55 new positions posted on the ACS website. Of these, 9 (16%) are academically connected and 2 (4%) are from our friends at Kelly Scientific.

Well: Seems to me there are a goodly number of medium-to-large size chemical companies that are hiring people right now.

An old champ: Vertex is looking for folks (when has it not been?). 7 positions, with 3 full-time positions (including a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. formulation scientist) and 4 internships. All appear to be in the development side of the house.

An even older champ: W.L. Gore is looking for a B.S./M.S. analytical chemist with experience (5+/3+ years) in HPLC method development in Flagstaff, Arizona. A lovely town if there ever was one.

In this corner: Gilead, with 5 positions. 2 process chemistry positions in Foster City, CA and 3 in Alberta, Canada. Eh? (cheap joke)

In that corner: Northwestern's Integrated Molecular Structure Education and Research Center (a mouthful) (read: in-house analytical center) is looking for a Ph.D. mass spectrometrist.

A young upstart: Ebonite International is a company that (really) manufactures bowling balls and bowling equipment. For some unknown reason, they fail to mention this wonderful fact in their ACS ad; they're looking for a polymer research / product development chemist.  "We seek a highly motivated individual with background and experience working with polymers with the ability to propose, develop and execute strategies directed at creating innovative new products, enhance current technologies, and support our sales staff. Additional working knowledge with casting polyurethanes, epoxies and polyesters is a plus. As a part of our research team, you will be actively involved with the development of new products from concept through transfer to manufacturing."

A contendah: Akermin, Inc. is a company "developing novel cost-saving approaches to addressing carbon capture needs. Its primary focus is removing greenhouse gas emissions from large fixed-base industrial facilities." They're looking for a Ph.D. polymer chemist with experience with polymer coating methods, phase-separated polymeric materials or micellar polymers and with immobilizing enzymes.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Interview: what's it like to do chemistry in China?

I am terribly pleased to have secured an interview with Paul of China Bonding, the blog of an American chemist working in China at a chemistry CRO. Paul graciously agreed to answer some questions about his journey and his experiences so far.

This e-mail Q&A was lightly edited and formatted by Chemjobber and checked for accuracy by China Bonding.

Chemjobber: Can you describe your US-based background?

China Bonding: Before coming to China, I worked for 12 years in the US. After getting my BS on the east coast and PhD on the west coast,I spent 7 years with a large biotech, then 5 years with a big pharma. I enjoyed both of those jobs and learned a lot from having smart co-workers.

CJ: What was the catalyst for your decision to move yourself to China?

CB: A good question, and I get asked this by Chinese people all the time. ‘Why would you come here?’ is the implication. For me, it was a perfect storm of events, and I think no single one would have been enough for me to make the jump, so maybe my situation is unique. I advised my cousin, the recent undergraduate chemistry major, on how to proceed with a chemistry career. He listened attentively, then, soundly contrary to my helpful advice, took a year off to teach English in China. I was upset at first, until I realized the anger stemmed from simple jealousy. Since I had gone straight to grad school, I did not get a chance for a travel adventure of that kind and seeing such a similar version of myself engage in it, I could not help but feel an opportunity lost.

About the same time, I had a chance to give a talk in Germany and spend some time there, which I really enjoyed. I had not been outside the US for sometime, and started seriously thinking about options to live abroad. Unlike my cousin, though, I did not feel comfortable taking a year away from my career.

Given the climate in large pharma at the time, I feared for my future professional development. I wanted to explore non-traditional ways to expand my skill set. The search ultimately pointed towards China/India.

Well, that's not good news

Chart credit: Chemical and Engineering News
Yesterday, Chemical and Engineering News published its 2009 survey of new graduates. The data was collected from October 2009 until January 2010. The results are in the above chart and in the attached article by David Hanson, based on work performed by Jeffery Allum and Gareth Edwards of the ACS Department of Member Research Technology.

  • Check out the unemployment rates for B.S./M.S./Ph.D. graduates: 15%, 19% and 9%. What happened to "new M.S. chemists are most employable?"
  • The "further study" numbers for Ph.D. chemists ain't so hot, either. I figure that's where postdocs go. 
  • Median starting salaries for B.S. and Ph.D. chemists dropped 5%.
  • Isn't it disturbing how many of these kids are employed by academia? While I suppose that it makes sense for postdocs/academic-types, it doesn't make any sense for B.S. and/or M.S. chemists. 
Boy, this isn't pretty. (I think this is my first time covering this survey -- I'll have to go back and find previous versions of it.) 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Filter flask adapters

A list of small useful things (links):

Is washing your own dishes a good thing?

Maybe I'll do these tomorrow...
Photo credit: Imelda (Creative Commons)
When I was washing my own dishes in the lab yesterday, I thought of this passage. From the Anthony Bourdain travelogue "A Cook's Tour", on Thomas Keller's French Laundry:
Maybe you've heard some of the stories. That he used to make his cooks climb up into the range hoods each day to scrub out the grease personally. How he stores his fish belly-down, in the swimming position. That every fava bean in his kitchen is peeled raw (never soaked). How his mise-en-place, his station prep, is always at an absolute minimum - everything made fresh.
When I worked at a much, much larger pharmaceutical company, there was a nice young man who would take my dirty glassware away and a day or two later, he would return with them sparkling clean. While I loved it (I had just left graduate school -- getting your dishes washed is the greatest perk a young chemist could want), I always felt a little guilty, as if it was slightly decadent.

There is certainly a good negative feedback loop in washing your own dishes -- if you're a chemist who loves to use a lot of new glassware to do each operation, you're building yourself quite a pile at the end of the day. Foisting these dishes on someone else is externalizing these consequences. Of course, there is the productivity argument, too. If (relatively) high salaried chemists are spending an hour doing dishes, that's an hour they're not actually working.

I'm not quite sure that there's a moral lesson to be learned here (as Bourdain seems to be implying about Keller.) Washing your own dishes isn't great fun, but sometimes, it can be humbling.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why the art and craft of chemistry cannot be captured on paper

Just in case you didn't know (I didn't):
Vanadium 2+, 3+, 4+ and 5+
Credit: Wikipedia
While searching for various uses of the term "chemical lore", I found a delightful passage in a book with the spellbinding title of "A manual for the chemical analysis of metals" by a Thomas R. Dulski. I'm going to present it out of order a little; if you want the whole thing, you can find it here. (Emphasis CJ's.)
Unfortunately, academic credentials are an inadequate preparation for this sort of career. The universities and colleges have de-emphasized analytical chemistry and,  in particular, classical analytical chemistry. And descriptive inorganic chemistry has largely been replaced by theory. While these changes may serve larger needs, they have hurt certain pragmatic concerns, among them, metals analysis. It is entirely possible that an individual may be awarded a Ph.D. in chemistry and have no idea of the colors of vanadium ion in aqueous solution. This observations is not meant to reflect on individual achievement, academic standards, or the quality of academic programs, but simply to illustrate that industry's perhaps parochial concerns are not being met. [This comes later than the next passage - CJ.]

Which leads us finally to the raison d'etre of this book. The last quarter of the twentieth century has witnessed a prodigious loss of classical analytical chemistry lore from the industrial workplace. I have used the word "lore" advisedly, because other aspects of this discipline - theory, good laboratory practices, and specific methods - can still be extracted from public, university and industrial libraries. But with the exception of a few long-out-of-print and somewhat dated texts, there is no sources from which to learn the thinking and manipulative skills that makes a classical analyst. "Lore" also implies a degree of art that must accompany the science -- the things that work even though their chemistry is poorly understood.* But the unfortunate fact is that most of the lore that has been lost as wet labs were closed and classical analysts were retired without replacement. As we have seen, these decisions have been short-sighted and potentially disastrous.

*The notion of lore is not new to science, nor is it antiscience. Rather, it precedes science. How many lives have been saved, for example, by drugs whose mode of action is only dimly understood?

An equally disturbing trend is the recent spread into industry laboratories of a dogma, widely held by lawyers and bureaucrats, that any human act, no matter how involved and complex, can be precisely specified in a written set of instructions. This credo is patently false, as anyone who reflects a moment on the works of man can plainly see. That is why there is only one Sistine Chapel ceiling, why all violins do not sound like a Stradivarius, and why open heart surgery is not offered as a correspondence school course. The simple fact is that no written protocol, even when the last "t" is crosses and the last "i" is dotted, can ever reduce the analyst to that hypothetical "pair of hands" -- a cheap, readily available, ultimately disposable "human resource," in the ultimate implication of that term. Well-written analytical procedures, such as ASTM standard methods are, of course, indispensable recipes, but one does not become a great chef, or even a good cook, by reading recipes.