Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

As always, I am incredibly thankful for my family, my friends, my community (physical and online) and my job. I am looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with my folks tomorrow.

I am also incredibly thankful for you, my readers and commenters. Thank you for your reading, your advice, your e-mails and your brilliant, insightful comments. I am truly blessed.

My family and I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving and if you're not in the United States, a happy Thursday and Friday! 

Weird job posting for Ottawa, ON: someone who knows stoichiometry

Lead Chemist  
Vapor Candy, LLC - Ottawa, ON 
We are in the Electronic Cigarette Industry specializing in high quality nicotine based products, and are looking for a Canadian based chemist to help us set up operations in Ottawa. We are looking for someone who can help us with the logistics side of lab operations in Ottawa, as we are a new corporation in Canada. We have been very successful in the USA and are trying to expand the business. 
This position is for part time, with a great possibility of becoming a full time position. The position requires the candidate to have the ability to mix, handle and store the chemical nicotine, safely. The process entails mixing 99% pure nicotine with Propylene Glycol and or Vegetable Glycerin, to dilute the nicotine into specific amounts that are safe for consumption via an electronic cigarette device. 
We are looking for a chemist who understand the following: 
When determining how much Nicotine Liquid to use, we'll start by finding the concentration of the Nicotine Liquid. We will use the mg/mL on the label to find the volume of Nic Liquid to add to the 250 mL erlenmeyer flask. This volume will correspond to the amount of nicotine that will be exactly neutralized by 25 mL of the 0.1N HCl solution. 25 mL of 0.1N HCl will neutralize exactly 0.0025 moles of a mono-hydroxy base (or of an organic base acting as a mono-hydroxy base). The molecular weight of nicotine is 162.26, so 0.0025 moles of nicotine is: 162.26 grams * 0.0025 = 0.4056 g. We call it the 406 Method. 
4ml of Nic Liquid 100mg (VG or PG)
46ml distilled water
30 drops PH Tester (Bromothymol Blue Aquous)
Acid HCI 0,1N 
Pay is negotiable.
But they've given away the secret formula!

(From my uneducated perspective, it seems the entire "vaping" industry is unregulated and could pose unexpected danger to those hired by new entrants to the market. As always, caveat emptor (and caveat artifex!))

Warning Letter of the Week: Hey, this cheese isn't smoked!

I'm not aware of the extent of FDA's statutory powers, so I was amused to read this warning letter about smoked cheese:
Misbranded Food
1.    Your Smoked Horseradish Pasteurized Process Cheese Food, Smoked Habanero Pepper Pasteurized Process American Cheese with Habanero Peppers, and Smoked Cheddar Pasteurized Process Cheddar Cheese Food products are misbranded within the meaning of 403(a)(1) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 343(a)(1)] in that the product labels are false and misleading. For example, your Smoked Horseradish Pasteurized Process Cheese Food, Smoked Habanero Pepper Pasteurized Process American Cheese with Habanero Peppers, and Smoked Cheddar Pasteurized Process Cheddar Cheese Food product labels declare “smoked” as a part of the statement of identity; however, according to the establishment inspection report the products do not go through a smoking process but rather have liquid smoke applied to the surface of the cheese. The products should not include the term “smoked” in the statement of identity but “with added smoke flavor,” “smoke flavored,” or with “natural smoke flavor” would be permissible.

2.    Your Smoked Horseradish Pasteurized Process Cheese Food product is misbranded within the meaning of 403(i)(1) of the Act [21 U.S.C. §343(i)(1)] because the labels fail to declare the common or usual name of the food. Specifically, “Horseradish Pasteurized Process Cheese Food” is not an appropriate common or usual name for a product that does not contain any horseradish, but rather horseradish flavor [21 CFR 101.3(b)].  
You know, if I were to find that Horseradish Pasteurized Process Cheese Food didn't have any horseradish, I might be disappointed.  

Process Wednesday: (not so?) stinky burn at 200 gallon scale

Graphic adapted from Pesti and Anzalone [1]
I happened upon a copy of "Asymmetric Catalysis on Industrial Scale" and rather enjoyed this passage
in a chapter by Pesti and Anzalone [1]:
Our first pilot plant run was designed to prepare 45 kg of thioester. As safety was particularly important with the use of mercaptans, our two reaction vessels (200- and 300-gallon glass-lined reactors) would be vented through a scrubber containing bleach and sodium hydroxide solution to control emissions. Another unexpected consideration was the late-stage replacement of n-butyllithium for n-hexyllithium. n-Hexyllithium is preferred since the conjugate acid, hexane, is safer to handle as compared with the volatile butane, but this had become necessary due to a shortage of hexyllithium. At this scale, we could not vent outside the quantity of butane we would form from the use of n-butyllithium, but instead it was directed to our thermal oxidizer to be burned. The rate of natural gas uptake to the burners would also provide a handy means of measuring the butane produced and in turn the endpoint of the reaction.  
The preparation of the silylated mercaptan went smoothly; 24.5 kg of 1-propanethiol was reacted with 2.5M n-butyllithium followed by chlorotrimethylsilane in THF/heptane as in our established procedure. As we had calculated, a 6 hour sparge of nitrogen through this 30°C solution eliminated all the butane. This solution was transferred via a cartridge filter to the larger vessel that already contained 50.0 kg of [isobutyl ester] in THF.  
Addition of the aluminum chloride at this point required careful planning. It is a reactive solid and we wanted to minimize operator exposure. Our engineering designed a solids-charging adapter for safe delivery in portions without exposing the reaction or the operators. 
I thought the idea of using the thermal oxidizer burn rate as a measurement of the reaction progress was pretty interesting. I've never had experience with a thermal oxidizer unit before (I presume that one of those comes with boatloads of paperwork.) Also, the shift to nBuLi because of a shortage of hexyllithium is a fun, real part of the story -- logistics issues always pop up and it's neat to see that they were able to adapt.

Sure wish there was an explanation of how they adapted to the challenge of adding a reactive, hygroscopic solid to a reactor. I know that there are "glovebox" mountings to add reactive solids to reactors, but I'd be curious to know what is done at larger scale...

1. Pesti, J.A.; Anzalone, L. "Multi-Kilo Resolution of XU305, a Key Intermediate to the Platelet Glycoprotein IIb/IIIa Receptor Antagonist Roxifiban via Kinetic and Dynamic Enzymatic Resolution." Asymmetric Catalysis on Industrial Scale: Challenges, Approaches and Solutions. 2004, Copyright © 2004 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Angela Merkel, scientist

I found this New Yorker article (written by George Packer) about Angela Merkel very interesting. I don't really know enough about German politics to really deeply understand her, or her role (and I really don't understand how she can be seemingly blamed for the European economy, but I don't understand the relationship between the German government and the European Central Bank.) But this section about her life as a chemist/physicist was interesting:
In 1977, at twenty-three, Angela married a physicist, Ulrich Merkel, but the union foundered quickly, and she left him in 1981. She spent the final moribund decade of the G.D.R. as a quantum chemist at the East German Academy of Sciences, a gloomy research facility, across from a Stasi barracks, in southeastern Berlin. She co-authored a paper titled “Vibrational Properties of Surface Hydroxyls: Nonempirical Model Calculations Including Anharmonicities.” She was the only woman in the theoretical-chemistry section—a keen observer of others, intensely curious about the world. 
People who have followed her career point to Merkel’s scientific habit of mind as a key to her political success. “She is about the best analyst of any given situation that I could imagine,” a senior official in her government said. “She looks at various vectors, extrapolates, and says, ‘This is where I think it’s going.’ ” Trained to see the invisible world in terms of particles and waves, Merkel learned to approach problems methodically, drawing comparisons, running scenarios, weighing risks, anticipating reactions, and then, even after making a decision, letting it sit for a while before acting. She once told a story from her childhood of standing on a diving board for the full hour of a swimming lesson until, at the bell, she finally jumped. 
Scientific detachment and caution under dictatorship can be complementary traits, and in Merkel’s case they were joined by the reticence, tinged with irony, of a woman navigating a man’s world. She once joked to the tabloid Bild Zeitung, with double-edged self-deprecation, “The men in the laboratory always had their hands on all the buttons at the same time. I couldn’t keep up with this, because I was thinking. And then things suddenly went ‘poof,’ and the equipment was destroyed.” Throughout her career, Merkel has made a virtue of biding her time and keeping her mouth shut. 
“She’s not a woman of strong emotions,” Bernd Ulrich, the deputy editor of Die Zeit, said. “Too much emotion disturbs your reason. She watches politics like a scientist.” He called her “a learning machine.” Volker Schlöndorff, the director of “The Tin Drum” and other films, got to know Merkel in the years just after reunification. “Before you contradict her, you would think twice—she has the authority of somebody who knows that she’s right,” he said. “Once she has an opinion, it seems to be founded, whereas I tend to have opinions that I have to revise frequently.”
I feel like I've met people like Dr. Merkel before -- this description reminds me of some of my professors. (That said, I cringe at the thought of some of my former professors being major politicians! (Not that I would do any better...))

An interesting development: Novartis fires employee for academic dishonesty

I'm sure folks saw this Retraction Watch posting
A former Vanderbilt University biomedical engineer committed fraud on a massive scale, according to a new Office of Research Integrity (ORI) report. 
Igor Dzhura is banned from receiving federal funding for three years, and is retracting six papers, which have been cited more than 500 times. Since leaving Vanderbilt, he has worked at SUNY Upstate Medical University, and now works at Novartis.
But this little tidbit is definitely worth noting:
Update 1:20 p.m. Eastern, 11/21/14: A Novartis representative reached out to inform us that they’ve fired Dzhura after discovering he included the faked papers on his application: 
"We have learned that Igor Dzhura included papers with fraudulent data in his application for employment at Novartis.  Falsifying data is not acceptable and we have terminated his employment with the company. We are conducting an internal review to ensure that there was not any scientific misconduct related to his research here."
Dr. Oransky says (at Pharmalot) that "[this] is the first case we’ve seen in which a drug company has immediately fired someone for such revelations." I'm guessing that this may set a precedent, or highlight contradictions where people have not been dismissed. That said, most folks don't get the full blast of an ORI report.

Readers, is Dr. Oransky correct in that this is the first case of a pharma company firing an employee for academic integrity issues? 

First status check for Prof. Patrick Harran was last Thursday

Via Michael Torrice of C&EN, the first status check of Prof. Harran's deferred prosecution agreement in the case of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji was last Thursday: 
Judge George G. Lomeli said in court that he had reviewed reports submitted by the DA’s office and determined that Harran is complying with all terms of the agreement. 
Lomeli set the next status check for May 21, 2015. 
In the June deal, Harran agreed to complete community service and pay a $10,000 fine. After five years, if Harran has complied with all terms of the agreement, the DA’s office will drop all charges. 
After the hearing, Deputy DA Craig W. Hum said that his office receives reports from Harran’s attorneys detailing what the chemist has done to comply with the agreement. Investigators for the DA’s office then verify the claims in the reports. 
The UCLA chemist has paid the $10,000 fine to the Grossman Burn Center. He also has developed and started teaching a chemistry course for South Central Scholars, a volunteer organization that helps prepare Los Angeles area high school students for college. In court, Thomas O’Brien, Harran’s attorney, said that the chemist had started his first several hours of nonteaching community service at the UCLA hospitals. Harran must complete 800 hours by the end of the five-year term of the agreement.
I'm appreciative that C&EN is staying on this case.  

Daily Pump Trap: 11/25/14 edition

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

Ridgefield, CT: Boehringer Ingelheim has multiple B.S. chemist openings; looks to be HTS work.

Union, NJ: BASF is looking for a B.S. analytical chemist to perform precious metal assays; I didn't know that BASF had "precious metal trading, refining and catalyst manufacture businesses," but I suppose that I should not be surprised. Sounds interesting; bet you'd have some good stories for cocktail parties.

Rahway, NJ: Merck looking for flow chemistry and biocatalysis chemists -- Ph.D., 0-10 years of experience desired.

North Chicago, IL: AbbVie has an opening for a Ph.D. analytical chemist for a position working on antibody-drug conjugates.

And another one: AbbVie looking for an experienced Ph.D. analytical chemist to "develop and lead analytical strategies in the area of clinical-phase Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) process development."

Ivory Filter Flask: 11/25/14 edition

A few of the recent academically-related positions posted on C&EN Jobs:

Florence, SC: Francis Marion University is looking for a tenure-track assistant professor of chemistry; no subfield designated.

Burton, OH: Kent State University at Geauga desires an assistant professor of chemistry; no subfield designated.

Rockford, IL: Rockford University wishes to hire an assistant professor of organic chemistry.

Tempe, AZ: Arizona State is hiring for a M.S./Ph.D. general chemistry lecturer.

Tuscon, AZ: Pima Community College is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemistry instructor; 43k-63k offered. Looks like mostly general chemistry.

Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh has two openings for postdoctoral fellows in PET chemistry; no radiochemistry experience required. 40-45k offered.

Grinnell, IA: Grinnell College is looking for a B.S. chemist to be a chemistry technical assistant; looks to be mostly lab prep? 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Does anyone know what Cambrian Genomics' Austen Heinz is talking about?

I've covered Cambrian Genomics before. This is the Bay Area startup that claims to be "laser printing DNA." (Long story short: it's not actually "printing." Cambrian appears to be using lasers to sort DNA on microbeads.)

Cambrian's CEO, Austen Heinz, seems to have gotten himself in a little bit of trouble last week by claiming that his company's technology would enable (through making synthetic biology cheaper) sensitive body parts* to smell better. (Mr. Heinz has apparently dramatically recasted the original intent of another startup founder's idea.)

I'm really not interested in discussing that, since I don't think there's much value to be added from me/us to the discussion. However, I am very interested in figuring out if Austen Heinz's claims are true. Here's one from VentureBeat that I'd like to understand better: 
Cambrian’s technology is already being used for far less sensitive, and perhaps more useful, use cases. The company has been doing work printing DNA for the huge pharma company Glaxo Smith Kline. It’s also in talks to formalize a similar business relationship with Roche. 
Big pharma companies are asking Cambrian to print various types of DNA that can be used in the drug discovery and testing process. 
“We’re helping them make drugs,” Heinz said. For example, Cambrian’s DNA can be used for producing small molecules or for making new screens to find small molecules, Heinz said. “DNA can be used for every part of the process,” Heinz said. 
Heinz says that his company also intends to print DNA for customers in the industrial chemical and agricultural industries. He says producing seeds used by consumers is in itself a million-dollar industry.
So, first, I don't know what Mr. Heinz means by "Cambrian's DNA can be used for producing small molecules." Do they mean biologicals? (i.e. Cambrian is cloning genes that will make monoclonal antibodies?) I presume that "making new screens" is about using their technology to make protein for in vitro assays. 

I sure as hell don't know what Mr. Heinz is going to do with DNA for industrial chemical industries -- maybe this is a reference to biocatalysis? 

I also want to point out this interview with Planet Tech, where his predictions of what synthetic biology can do begins to wander into science fiction: 
...You recently described your vision of the future as "Anyone that has a mobile phone and bitcoin can create creatures." What exactly do you mean by this and how do you imagine it coming about?  
I mean that anyone with a phone can use genome design software for instance Benchling which runs on a web browser and order genes and DNA to make creatures that are useful to them.

Will people only be able to create new single-cell life or do you imaging the invention of entirely new larger organisms?

Yes i think new multicellular life forms built from a text file are possible but we need more progress in construction of large artificial chromosomes and the ability to print and sequence methylated dna at scale.

How do you plan to stop people from using your technology to create very dangerous microorganisms?

Virtualization. Instead of mailing out DNA we will send the DNA to a virtualization center like Transcriptic, Synthego, or Emerald Cloud Lab. From there they can put thousands of different DNA strands into thousands of cells then make thousands of video files of what those cells are doing and then do image process and machine learning on those videos and send that data back to the user to do the next design.

Not until the final organism is made will it be evaluated for release. This definitely lowers the bar for us for processing orders because as long as the screening is heavily locked down there is little risk of release of malicious code.
...Where do you see the future of the company in 5 and 10 years?

In the next 5 years we want to be the largest manufacturer of DNA in the world. In 10 years we hope to be closer to our longterm mission of replacing all natural organisms on the planet with better synthetic ones. For instance having made the DNA for say 10% of all plant on the planet surface sounds like a reasonable goal.
"Thousands of video files?" Does this even remotely make sense? Has there been some sort of advance in computer processing of microscopy files that I haven't heard about? (entirely possible) I know that he's predicting the future, speculating, "visioncasting", whatever. Count me highly, highly skeptical.

What I find really weird about the tech/venture journalism scene is how no one seems to be asking any scientists subject matter experts anyone if any of the stuff Austen Heinz says can happen is true or untrue:
  • Is it true that GSK has purchased DNA from Cambrian? 
  • Is it true that Cambrian is doing deals with Roche and ThermoFisher? (Somehow, I doubt it -- whose words are we relying on here? Mr. Heinz's, so far as I can tell.) 
  • He's obviously speculating about the future of synthetic biology -- how far off are his predictions from the median prediction of recognized experts in the field? 
Readers, what do you think?

UPDATE: Also, here are Cambrian Genomics' patent applications. 

*I'm not entirely a prude, just trying to write around corporate firewall software. 

This week's C&EN

A short week, still lots of interesting chemistry-related tidbits:

Friday, November 21, 2014

Daily Pump Trap: 11/20/14 edition

A few of the jobs posted on C&EN Jobs in the last week:

Princeton, NJ: This "senior research scientist" position at BMS is interesting, in that it seems aimed at a B.S./M.S. chemist that's spent 10-15 years at the bench. Anyone know what it is about?

Shanghai, China: This position with the USP is pretty interesting:
The person in this role will be responsible for the management, leadership and execution of the strategy for USP's operations in China including all laboratory activities supporting USP's monograph and reference standard needs, monograph modernization, and other allied compendial programs.  
250-325k. Wow. Ph.D., 10-15 years experience in pharmaceutical analytical chemistry, etc., needed.

Augusta, GA: KaMin is a kaolin clay manufacturer -- they're looking for a lab tech. They're offering $19.90 - 25.76, which is pretty good, I'm guessing. (Are they really going to pay that?)

East Syracuse, NY: This "product marketing chemist" for a GC instrumentation company is interesting; claiming 25-30% travel time. Considering your clients are in petrochemicals, I'm guessing it's more like 50% or higher.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 187, 1033, 2742 and 18 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 546 positions for the job title "chemist", with 27 for "research chemist", 78 for "analytical chemist", 2 for "medicinal chemist", 5 for "synthetic chemist" and 5 for "organic chemist." 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Can't leave on a depressing note quite yet

The author who got a paper accepted in a spam journal titled "Get me off your [expletive deleted] mailing list" should be given an award of some kind. 

Busy day, but more coming

In the meantime, I thought I should mention this long essay by William MacPherson, a former Washington Post reporter who finds himself nearing retirement age and being a lot poorer than he was planning: 
...Against the advice of people who thought they knew better, I bought shares in AOL before it really took off and in Apple when it was near its bottom. I figured Apple’s real estate must be worth more than the value the market gave the company. I was right. Shares in both companies soared. If I’d shut up and stayed home…but I didn’t. On the advice of these same people who advised me against AOL and Apple, I turned my brokerage account into a margin account for someone else to handle, and I left the country again. A few more dips into the well, a few turns in the market, a few margin calls, and when I went back for another dip, the well was empty. The old proverb drifts back to me on a wisp of memory. A fool and his money are soon parted. My adventures were over. 
The story is, of course, more complicated than that—whose story isn’t?—but these are the essentials. It’s unlikely, and it’s not intended, to evoke sympathy. I’d acted like one of those people who win the lottery and squander it on houses, cars, family, and Caribbean cruises. But I hadn’t won the lottery; I’d fallen under the spell of magical thinking. In my opinion, I didn’t squander the money, either; I just spent it a little too enthusiastically—not on Caribbean cruises but on exploring the aftermath of the fall of Communism in eastern Europe. I don’t regret it. When my writing was bringing in a little money I had a Keogh plan, and when I was at the Post a 401(k) account. I’d made a little money in real estate and received a couple of modest but nice inheritances, which together, and with Social Security and the pension, would have given me enough income to live on, had I not felt I’d lost the ability to continue writing and had I forgone, or at least spent more modestly on, my work in Europe and related activities, avoided the margin account, and so on. The “so on,” I should add, included a major heart attack that led to congestive heart failure, a condition that greatly reduced my physical resilience and taxed my already-limited income.  
There are a lot of people like me, exiles from the middle class who suddenly find themselves on Grub Street....
For those who do not have a spouse or children (or other family, as he does) to rely on, this sort of slow drift into poverty has got to come with a slew of negative second and third order effects. Best wishes to the author, and to all of us. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Starting chemist salary at gold refiners' in Jackson, Ohio? $25,000

Via the Wall Street Journal*, more anecdata about how we do not have a shortage of chemists in this country (emphasis mine): 
JACKSON, Ohio—Building contractor Alan Stockmeister is known around town for his stewardship of local businesses: radio stations, a movie theater and a bank, for example. But nothing has been quite like his refinery just off Main Street, which has become an outpost in the multibillion-dollar global gold trade. 
Ohio Precious Metals LLC owns one of five refineries in the U.S.—there are 73 world-wide—certified to melt scrap gold and pour it into ingots that can be traded on global markets. OPM’s more than 170 workers process several billion dollars a year in gold and silver headed for banks and jewelers in New York, London and Shanghai... 
...Mr. Stockmeister, 62 years old, who took over his father’s small construction business, wasn’t particularly interested in gold or recycling when he bought OPM a decade ago. His goal was to protect and create local jobs, he says. When he heard that the assistant manager at a local Wendy’s had a chemistry degree, Mr. Stockmeister gave him a job. Starting wages for entry-level chemists at OPM are $25,000 a year. Engineers start at $45,000. 
Gold from all over the world arrives in this city of 7,200 people in UPS envelopes and armored trucks. The plant, about two hours east of Cincinnati, is ringed by barbed wire. Employees pass through metal detectors and put their shoes through an X-ray machine. Violating the “no metals in, no metals out” policy can result in dismissal...
For some reason, I am inclined to wonder if there's some sort of typo here. I hope  OPM is just a really stingy employer (although, not according to Glassdoor) and that they don't actually employ all that many chemists. Also, if Wendy's is the only upwards wage pressure in Jackson, Ohio, there might be a problem.

That said, as long as rock-bottom wages like that exist, I'm going to keep thinking that not all is well with the chemistry job market.

*Can't get to the article without a subscription? Search "Gold Rush in Ohio? Small Town Plays Big Role" and the WSJ website will let you in.

Process Wednesday: the most horrifying plant story you will hear today

Thanks to a Derek Lowe post, longtime chemblogosphere commenter Thomas McEntee tells a story of his past: 
Complacency...can be a killer. In December 1974, I was called by the plant supervisor to come out to where the day shift was running another 2000-gal oxidation of tetrachlorocatechol using a process I'd developed for the production of high-purity o-chloranil. We had run this 15 or 20 times before without problems. The process involved use of considerably less than a stoichiometric quantity of nitric acid in hydrochloric acid under about 15 psig oxygen in the headspace. When the oxidation was complete, we centrifuged pure o-chloranil and washed the cakes with hexane..(uh oh). The problem I was presented with was that the reaction was not taking up oxygen. We checked the oxygen cylinders (OK), the dual manifold system (OK), and scratched our hard hats. 10 minutes later, the reactor exploded. Flames erupted from where the sight glass had been. 
Long story short, 3 of us nearly died and it was a week before I got out of the hospital.
The graveyard shift had the job of cleaning the GL reactor, finishing the cleaning with water washes and a final spark test for explosivity. 
After months of denials, the truth came out that the reactor cleaning had not been done at all and that about 100 gallons of hexane were in the reactor when the day shift loaded it for the new run. The batch sheet had been filled in as if all the cleaning and spark testing had been done. Under the agitation conditions we used and in the presence of pure oxygen, the hexane auto-ignited. 
Critics will say 'well, that should teach you..." but we had been able to bypass messy recrystallizations from carbon tet using this process. We had the forms and the boxes to check but the plant workers, all good guys but a tad lazy in those eerie hours after midnight, tried cutting some corners. As Derek wrote, it all gets back to people thinking about what they're doing.
This is pretty horrifying to me, for a variety of reasons. It's pretty clear that pencilwhipping the batch record was seen as an okay thing to do, which is an obvious problem (and not one that the chemist should be responsible for, said a chemist).

I wonder if the operators knew how deadly leaving hexane in the reactor was in this case. Also, I presume that a lot of development work had gone into avoiding the use of nitric acid. Yikes -- what a mess and I am glad no one died. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Anyone give the Rheo Thing some help?

He's looking for a new position. Go over there, see if you can help him out. 

Daily Pump Trap: 11/18/14 edition

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

Wever, IA: I always highlight bench chemistry positions in rather obscure places because it's a fun story. I feel like I should give it a tagline or something. Today's entry is the Iowa Fertilizer Company, who is looking for a lab chemist for its new fertilizer plant:
Iowa Fertilizer Company seeks those who are looking for a challenging career with a new company at a large, new facility which is poised to change the face of the fertilizer business in the Midwest. The selected candidate will grow their career with us as we grow our business. Iowa Fertilizer Company (IFCo) is currently seeking a Lab Chemist to become part of our organization at our location in Wever, Iowa. 
IFCo is looking for a Lab Chemist to join our Engineering team in Wever, Iowa. This individual will assist in training and partner with the lab superintendent to develop laboratory and operations personnel in the technical aspects of wastewater analyses and treatment, product quality with Ammonia, UREA, UAN, Nitric Acid, and air quality monitoring. Assistance will also be needed in planning, directing, and conducting technical reports and review on regulatory issues. The incumbent will oversee training of chemical laboratory tests to assist making qualitative and quantitative analyses of solids, liquids, and gaseous materials for purposes, such as research and development or processes, quality control, maintenance of environmental standards, and other work involving experimental, theoretical, or practical application of chemistry and related sciences.
Spring House, PA: Johnson and Johnson is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. radiosynthetic chemist.

Ipswich, MA: I'd like to know what this New England Biolabs postdoc is about -- they're looking for a Ph.D. organic chemist. Also, a production associate position (B.S. chemist desired.)

Cleveland, OH: Sherwin-Williams is looking for a polymer process control engineer; 5+ years experience and a B.S. in chemical engineering desired.

Malta, NY: GlobalFoundries desires a failure analysis engineer; they desire a M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist with broad instrumental experience.

Ivory Filter Flask: 11/18/14 edition

A few of the academically-related positions on the C&EN Jobs website:

Terre Haute, IN: Indiana State University is seeking an assistant professor of organic chemistry. Deadline is January 5, 2015.

Charlotte, NC: UNC - Charlotte desires an assistant professor of nanoscale chemistry, which is a new, interesting title.

Bay City, MI: Delta College seeks a M.S. chemist for a position as a chemistry instructor; starts at 48k -- not bad.

Conway, SC: Coastal Carolina University is looking for an assistant professor of marine chemistry; "specializations in environmental biogeochemistry and global cycling are particularly encouraged."

La Crosse, WI: The University of Wisconsin - La Crosse is seeking an associate lecturer to run its organic chemistry laboratories. M.S./Ph.D. desired; 37-45k offered.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Well, the e-mails and the ads worked: Donna Nelson is your 2015 ACS President-Elect

Via Twitter:
Donna J. Nelson is the 2015 @AmerChemSociety president-elect.  Full story coming soon.
I thought it was interesting that this was the first year that 1) one of the candidates (Professor Nelson) sent e-mail blasts to vote for her and 2) both she and Professor Dorhout ran ads in print editions of C&EN.

I am a little bit concerned that this will usher in a new wave of spam into our inboxes...

This week's C&EN

A quieter week this week:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

DuPont methanethiol leak results in 4 deaths in LaPorte, TX plant

Via the New York Times: 
Four Texas workers died and a fifth was hospitalized Saturday morning after a hazardous gas leak at a DuPont chemical plant east of Houston. 
The workers were overcome about 4 a.m. Central Standard Time, apparently as they were responding to the leak of the gas, methyl mercaptan, according to the plant’s manager, Randall Clements. 
Methyl mercaptan is mixed with odorless natural gas to give it its characteristic rotten-egg smell. The company said the leak was contained at about 6 a.m. The worker who was not seriously injured was being hospitalized overnight for observation.
The leak spread a stench across broad areas of La Porte, an industrial town on the Gulf of Mexico about 20 miles east of Houston, but the company said it posed no hazard to the community. 
A spokesman for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an independent agency, said a team of experts would arrive in La Porte on Sunday to search for the cause of the accident.
Mr. Clements said in a written statement that the company was cooperating with federal, state and local authorities, and was conducting its own inquiry into the accident. “We will share what we learn with the relevant authorities,” he said in a statement. 
...The company said that the leak began when a valve on a container of methyl mercaptan malfunctioned. La Porte’s emergency management coordinator, Jeff Suggs, said the accident occurred in an operating unit that produces additives for fertilizers....
Questions that I have:
I'll be monitoring the story...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fun card game, I'll bet

From Carney, J.M. "Retrosynthetic Rummy:
A Synthetic Organic Chemistry Card Game." [1]
Here's a fun idea for a card game: "Retrosynthetic Rummy" [1]:
ABSTRACT: A deck of cards and a card game have been developed in an effort to make practicing organic chemistry and synthesis more fun for students. 
The game is played as a variation of rummy, in which players collect sets of similar cards and runs of cards in a synthetic sequence. This card game reviews knowledge of functional groups and reaction types and requires an ability to place many organic transformations in an appropriate order to synthesize target molecules.
I'm waiting for Chemical Commodities Pit, though -- I'll corner the market on HPLC-grade acetonitrile every time.

1. Carney, J.M. "Retrosynthetic Rummy: A Synthetic Organic Chemistry Card Game." J. Chem. Ed. ASAP DOI: 10.1021/ed500657u

Testing travails for shale crude on rail

I have been following the shale oil on rail story a little. I don't know why, but I find it (and the Wall Street Journal's coverage of it very interesting), especially since it hinges on accurate chemical testing: 
Regulators set to decide on crude-by-rail shipping rules are relying on testing methods that may understate the explosive risk of the crude, according to a growing chorus of industry and Canadian officials. 
The tests’ accuracy is central to addressing the safety of growing crude-by-rail shipments across the continent: whether Bakken crude contains potentially dangerous levels of dissolved gases. Several trains carrying Bakken crude have exploded after derailing, including a fiery accident last year that killed 47 people in a small town in Quebec. 
...The U.S. government recently tested the same North Dakota crude using both the older and newer methods to compare the results.
Testing crude after the light ends have escaped is like popping open a bottle of soda and trying to determine how fizzy it was in the bottle, said Bob Falkiner, refinery director at a Canadian crude-quality association that is calling attention to problems with existing studies. “If your goal is to measure the amount of carbon dioxide in a can of soda pop, clearly you can’t pour it into an open beaker because the very thing you want to test for will be gone,” said Mr. Falkiner, an engineer at Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM -1.01%  ’s Canadian subsidiary.
The testing controversy centers on how to determine vapor pressure, a measure of how quickly a liquid fuel evaporates and emits gases. Traditionally, the industry has relied on Reid Vapor Pressure, a decades-old methodology but one that doesn’t require sealed or pressurized containers to collect or test crude samples. 
“For some of the production there are some differences that they wouldn’t have picked up on unless they sampled it properly,” said Andre Lemieux, a board member at the Canadian crude-quality association. In October, Ottawa acted on the recommendation of Mr. Lemieux’s group and said it would analyze how crude reacts in a sealed cylinder to better understand how it reacts during transport in a tank car. 
Canada’s transport ministry doesn’t typically test oil or other potentially hazardous products, but decided to run a series of tests following up on a Transportation Safety Board investigation of crude involved in the Quebec train disaster. The study will look at 80 samples of Canadian crudes and will incorporate sealed and pressurized cylinders.
“We’ve identified it as probably being for our purposes the most accurate test to make sure we’re not losing any light ends” said Patrick Juneau, a Transport Canada engineering research officer in charge of the tests. “The science on this is evolving. Where we were a year ago or five years ago is different from today,” he said. 
Under normal conditions, these light ends can boil out of the crude, creating a volatile head on the crude inside the tank car that can increase the risk and magnitude of an explosion. Many light oils contain elevated levels of highly volatile gases like butane and propane, but where they are highest-such as in the Eagle Ford shale in Texas—crude is routinely stabilized to remove them. As The Wall Street Journal reported, producers in the Bakken have rejected calls so far to stabilize the crude, citing studies such as those by the North Dakota Petroleum Council and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. Both concluded that Bakken crude wasn’t more volatile than other crude oils in the U.S. 
The lead author of the North Dakota Petroleum Council study defended the work, saying his technique was more than adequate for determining the amount of dissolved gases in crude. “The results would be no different” using sealed containers, said John Auers. “We used the standard methodology used for years.” 
There is no information about how samples were collected in the AFPM study, but the author, Frits Wybenga said there are no data to suggest the commonly used test is inadequate. “Nobody has demonstrated this is a problem,” he said. 
A scientist with North America’s leading testing firm said in a February presentation that measurement of volatility in crudes “can be easily affected by the loss of light end materials during sampling process.” And a study conducted under more stringent conditions by the U.S. government did find more volatile compounds present in Bakken crude. The government study was the only one that tested a variety of companies; other studies relied on companies volunteering to be tested....
I have no doubts that there are more volatile gases in crude from fracking, but I suppose that it's all about data and testing methods here. Lots of money is riding on which testing method needs to be used.

(How would they get rid of the gases anyway? Purge/sparge the tanks with nitrogen? Pull vacuum on the railcars for 20 minutes (oh man, the mess.))

UPDATE: And this post appears to be overtaken by events -- from this morning's physical copy of the WSJ (emphasis mine):
North Dakota plans unprecedented steps to ensure crude pumped from the state’s Bakken Shale oil producing region is safe enough to be loaded into railroad tank cars and sent across the country. In the first major move by regulators to address the role of gaseous, volatile crude in railroad accidents, the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which regulates energy production in the state, said it would require Bakken Shale well operators to strip gases from crudes that show high vapor pressures. 
“We believe the vast majority of our Bakken oil will fall well below the standard,” Lynn Helms, director of the state’s Department of Mineral Resources, said at a news conference. The proposed state rule will require all operators to run crude oil through equipment that heats up the crude and forces out gases from the liquid. An estimated 15% of current producers without such equipment will have to submit quarterly test results showing their wells don’t exceed the state’s proposed 13.7 pounds a square inch vapor pressure limit, Mr. Helms said.... 
...A representative for the North Dakota Petroleum Council, an industry lobbying group, criticized the proposed rules for “micromanaging the industry,” and said they could lead to unintended consequences such as increased burning of excess natural gas at well sites.
The proposal also would prohibit blending condensate or natural gas liquids back into crude and require rail loading terminals to inform state regulators of any oil received for shipment exceeding the vapor pressure limits, Mr. Helms said...
Huh. Well, ND crude-by-rail just got a little more expensive. Good for whoever is selling them the heating equipment, maybe.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Help a chemist? Analytical chemist looking in southern California area

A reader writes in to say that they are looking for a position for an experienced M.S. analytical chemist in the southern California area. Lots of GC experience, pesticide method development in GLP environmental, 4 years of QC lab experience w/HPLC, GCMS, and LD/TD-MS. 

Anybody know of any positions available? If so, e-mail me at chemjobber -at- gmail/dot/com and I'll put them/you in touch. 

Feel free to leave "situations wanted" ads in this thread -- try to keep them under ~200 words, say. 

Job posting: organic chemist, Rochester, NY and analyst, Henderson, CO

From the inbox:

"Might be a great job for someone with general organic synthesis skills and especially with small-scale chemical development experience. Of course, the person would have to be willing to go over to the Dark Side of materials chemistry..."

Orthogonal Inc. in Rochester, NY, is seeking a Research Organic Chemist to carry out the design and synthesis of specialty photoactive compounds and polymers. The position requires:
  • PhD in Organic Chemistry or related field 
  • 0 - 10 years industrial experience in synthetic organic chemistry 
  • expertise in multi-step organic synthesis, including purification and instrumental characterization 
  • strong self-motivation 
  • ability to work closely with a diverse team of scientists 
Best wishes to those interested. A link to the position is here and the response e-mail is careers (at) orthogonalinc (dot) com

Daily Pump Trap: 11/13/14 edition

Good morning! A few of the industrial positions posted on C&EN Jobs: 

Chicago, IL: A company is looking for a glovebox salesperson? Interesting, never seen that before.

Dayton, OH: UES (a defense contractor) is looking for a Ph.D. polymer researcher.

When an organization's internal language meets the outside: I didn't know that Colorado Springs was home of the National Swimming Pool Foundation, or that they had need of a Ph.D. chemist to be a product development manager. But the language is... interesting (emphasis mine):
Position Summary: The Product Development Manager at the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) guides a product development team that is magically charged to serve customers with products that promote healthy living, encourage more aquatic activity, make pools safer, and keep pools open. This position balances product and mission development with financial sustainability, and ensures the preeminence of new and existing NSPF products based on industry experience in product development and market research of the pool and spa industry. 
Principle Responsibilities • Delivers magical products to customers by managing the entire life cycle of aquatic health and safety product/educational development from strategic planning to tactical activities...
Who knows, maybe you get a wand.

North Charleston, SC: MWV Specialty Chemicals is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. product development chemist.

A broader look:  Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 1000+, 984, 2737 and 22 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 521 for the job title "chemist", with 75 for "analytical chemist", 4 for "organic chemist", 6 for "synthetic chemist" and 2 for "medicinal chemist." 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

ACS newsletters, you can do better

Dewitos? Are you kidding me?

If you're asking me to unsubscribe, this is a not-so-subtle way of making it happen. 

Possessing *no* confidential information? Hmmmm

An interesting lawsuit between Lyft and Uber about the defection of a Lyft executive: 
According to the lawsuit, forensic computer evidence shows that in the "months and days" before leaving Lyft, VanderZanden synced his personal Dropbox account to his Lyft laptop and "systematically uploaded confidential and proprietary Lyft documents" to it. The suit also alleges that VanderZanden backed up his work emails and contacts to his personal computer and iPhone. The forensic computer report found that VanderZanden used his Lyft computer to search "how to archive in google apps" and "how to backup google apps email," and also wrote "Backup Lyft Email and Contacts" on an Evernote list of tasks to complete after he resigned. 
The complaint says that VanderZanden has repeatedly refused to sign Lyft's termination certification—which asks him to verify that he no longer possesses or will use confidential Lyft information—and that both he and Uber have repeatedly ignored requests to return proprietary Lyft information. Instead of turning over his phone for Lyft to check, VanderZanden allegedly sold the device on gadget trade-in site Gazelle shortly after he resigned. "An odd thing for a high-net worth individual to do, it was likely to cover his tracks and dispose of evidence of his misdeeds," the suit speculates. According to the filling, Uber's counsel has maintained that VanderZanden does not possess any confidential Lyft information and has not done so since leaving the company back in August. 
The "termination certification" that Lyft makes its employees sign on their way out the door is a new wrinkle.

When I left my pharma employer, I was given a copy of the NDA that I signed the first day I was there. But (if I recall correctly), I was not asked to certify anything about documents in my possession (which, I note, I had none.) If you asked me "Do you possess any confidential information that belongs to the company?", I probably would have said "No", but I can't be 100.00% positive.

Readers, have you heard of this certification popping up in the chemistry/pharma world? 

Process Wednesday: plant preparation for alkyllithium use

"Auntie Markovnikov" and Jyllian Kemsley pointed out a pretty awesome article in Organic Process Research and Development which I somehow missed. It's a long review of the safe use of alkyllithiums in process chemistry. [1] It has a nice overview of what you might have to do to prepare your larger-scale reactors to use alkyllithiums as well: 
In larger pilot plant or production equipment, the equipment can be dried and inerted by applying heat to the jacket of the reactor and vacuum to the equipment itself, isolation of the vacuum, and releasing the vacuum to the vessel with an inert gas. The vacuum/inert gas cycle should be repeated several times. The jacket may then be cooled to allow processing. An alternative is to apply heat to the jacket of the reactor and purge the vessel with an inert gas. It is also possible to dry a reactor train by boiling a water absorbing solvent, such as THF in the reactor under an inert gas. The solvent is then drained from the reactor, along with the water. The water content of the solvent can be determined analytically, for instance via Karl Fischer titration, to determine the efficiency of water removal. If the detected water value is higher than the background, the solvent boil up process can be repeated. 
Sometimes it is more cost efficient to simply charge sufficient excess organolithium solution to account for the water content although all chemistry will not allow this shortcut. 
Another hazard consideration for larger scale equipment is that the heat transfer fluid must be nonreactive with organolithium compounds. If there is a leak in the jacket or condenser and the heat transfer fluid comes in contact with the organolithium solution, the result can be catastrophic. Clearly this is not a risk worth taking on large scale although large-scale equipment rarely leaks into the vessel. Water, glycol, and brine solutions are examples of reactive heat transfer fluids that should not be employed as heat transfer fluids in this service.
The suggestion about heat transfer fluid is something that is really important and (more or less) unique to the plant. To control temperature, reactor jackets are typically filled with either water, steam or ethylene/propylene glycol, all solutions that would happily react with nBuLi. There are silicon-based heat transfer fluids and I think that's what tends to get used in these situations, though I have no direct experience with that.

(Also, I'm amused at the suggestion of adding a little more nBuLi to get things dry -- world's most expensive drying agent? The thrifty process chemist would not agree.)

1. “Preparation, Properties, and Safe Handling of Commercial Organolithiums: Alkyllithiums, Lithium sec-Organoamides, and Lithium Alkoxides” Rathman, T. L.; Schwindeman, J. Org. Process Res. Dev. 2014, 18, 1192.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"These are not the retractions you're concerned about"

"We're not concerned about these retractions... move along..."
Credit: darthmaz314
You may remember the nanochopsticks paper from last year. More of them have been retracted and Retraction Watch has had the goods -- but here's an interesting comment at RW from the University of Utah's research integrity officer about federal funds and the possibility of federal investigation: 
The funding question is a little complicated.  The authors acknowledged NSF and NIH funding for the Nano Letters paper and NIH funding for the ACSNano paper.  However, the authors subsequently determined that federal funds were not used for the work reported in the NanoLetters paper and were not used for the work under question in the ACSNano paper. 
An internal investigation confirmed that federal dollars were not used and the annual progress reports to NSF and NIH for the relevant grants do not refer to the work in question.  University of Utah funds were used to support the research.  Therefore the acknowledgements in the Nano Letters paper were inappropriate. 
NSF and NIH were notified about the investigation when it began and both agencies (actually ORI and OIG) were provided the final reports of the investigation and our information regarding use of federal funds.  I do not know the status of any discussion of the case at either ORI or OIG.
I'm not an expert in the research integrity bureaucracy, but it appears that NIH ORI and NSF can only investigate when their research funding is involved. To avoid a federal investigation, is it really simple enough to say "your research dollars were not involved here" to get them to go away? 

Couple of things

Derek Lowe has a link to a rather amusing inadvertent addition to a paper, John Spevacek has noted an equally amazing admission, but one that's on purpose. (2nd page, first paragraph)

Tien Nguyen has written a really nice "successful assistant professor candidates talk on their job search" roundtable. Lots of good advice on that one, especially the "get there a night early" tip.

See Arr Oh gets sent some fun pictures, including a rather amusing Austrian "yay chemistry jobs!" poster!

Finally, please let me know if you're having trouble commenting. If you're writing a longer comment, remember to copy it before you submit, so that the Blogger comment monster won't eat it forever. Worst case, you can e-mail me your comment and I'll post it for you. 

ACS Starting Salary Survey results in infographic form

If you're interested in seeing the 2013 ACS Starting Salary Survey in infographic form, here it is.

Hat tip KZ 

Job posting: Scientist, Medicinal Chemistry, San Diego, CA

We are looking for a highly motivated, hands on medicinal chemist to become a key member of Crinetics team. This individual will be an integral part of our medicinal chemistry effort to discover small molecule therapeutics. This is a growth and learning opportunity in a small company environment. 
Design, synthesis and purification of small molecule drug candidates and other molecules as part of drug discovery programs. 
PhD in Organic Chemistry with strong synthetic chemistry training and 0-3 years in small molecule drug discovery experience. 
To apply, please email CV to San Diego area residents only, please.
Best wishes to those applying.  

Daily Pump Trap: 11/11/14 edition

Good morning! Some of this week's positions posted on C&EN Jobs: 

Livermore, CA: This Sandia senior manager position for biotechnology seems very interesting. Q-clearance makes it sound important. 

Trenton, NJ: Interesting "technical service chemist" position from Gelest -- first time I've seen that. M.S./Ph.D. desired. 

The Woodlands, TX: This must be the shortest job description I've seen in a while. From Flotek Industries: 
Candidate must have a fundamental understanding of products related to the oil and gas industry. This position requires conducting research or technical support including developing technologies. Must effectively conduct literature searches on relevant topics to form new ideas, develop useful chemical formulations, develop and test chemical product performance, develop new products, publish patents and scientific articles and effectively communicate with staff and management. 
Preferred: PhD in chemistry or other scientific related field with 2-4 years of relevant experience. Minimum: BS in chemistry or related field with 8-12 years of relevant experience.
Hanover, PA: Not very often you get an agriculturally-related chemist position; looks to be B.S.-level?  

Ivory Filter Flask: 11/11/14 edition

Good morning! A few of the academically-related positions posted this week on C&EN Jobs:

Hempstead, NY: Hofstra is looking for an assistant professor of either computational chemistry or chemical education.

Birmingham, AL: Samford University desires an assistant professor of organic chemistry.

Washington, DC: Postdoc for organofluorine work at Georgetown.

Houghton, MI: Michigan Tech is looking for an assistant professor of physical chemistry (experimental.) Is there a 4-year school in a more remote, beautiful part of the United States?

Gainesville, FL: Nanotech postdoc at University of Florida. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Minnesota professors respond on the 5 gram azide limit

I e-mailed Professor William Tolman, the chair of the University of Minnesota's chemistry department for further explanation of the 5 gram limit on azide reactions within the department. Here was a portion of his response: 
We estimated how big an explosion would occur if the azide prep was done on various scales, and what mitigation is readily available (blast shields, capabilities of hoods, etc.), and from this we estimated that a prep done on a 5 gram scale (or less) could be handled safely and with minimal risk. That is, an explosion of a 5 gram prep, if properly mitigated by a standard blast shield, would be unlikely to cause harm. Obviously, we’re guessing here, but in a somewhat educated way (we hope).
Also, via Twitter, Minnesota professor Ian Tonks responds:
Basic idea is that 5 g could be contained w engineering protocols in our labs (fume hood, safety sash, blast shield)  
I think the important point is to emphasize that there are limits for all sorts of rxn risks (tox, explosion, fire, etc) that when reached should trigger discussions w/ PI/peers/safety committee wrt how to (or can you?) safely carry them out. 
I don't think a hard cap is necessary in many cases because all labs are differently equipped, but in this case it made sense. 
Caps can engender a sense of complacency if you're operating under the limit, so open discussion on hazards is still critical. 
There's probably nits to pick with this policy, but overall, it seems reasonable. 

The Silence of The Hiring Process

From the inbox, a common thought amongst chemistry job seekers expressed extremely well (I have made one redaction to protect their identity): 
I have been looking for a job for about 12 months and under-employed for 6. During this time I have conducted about a dozen initial interviews, 3 second interviews, and most recently, 3 interviews with a company that I felt really good interviewing with. In 8 of these cases, despite being told I could email with questions and explicitly asking if it would be OK to inquire about the state of my candidacy, I never hear anything back... Radio silence. 
Is this normal? Honestly? I have checked with my references, my Facebook pictures are tame, various internet information is up-to-date and accurate. Is there something I am doing wrong? Am I violating some great taboo of HR by asking if I am still being considered after 6 or 8 weeks of not hearing anything (even after 3 interviews)? I understand how deep the talent pool can be in this economy and how important it is to hire the right person to complement skills and personalities. But this is occurring with companies large and small, with HR departments or with front office secretaries. I thought by asking questions (such as, "do you offer [further] training?") after an interview I was showing the company that I was actively interested, engaged, and prepared to begin working. Is this not true anymore? 
Finally, and this is my own wellspring of self-pity here, where is the respect for human dignity in ignoring a candidate when a 60 second email would suffice? I have received above-and-beyond service from people and companies when I take the time to keep them informed and respond to their questions and concerns.  
Kind Regards
Frustrated Job Seeker, PhD - Chemistry
Thanks to FJS for the great e-mail. I can't say any more than they have.

I am beginning to think that one of the missed opportunities of the past 5 years has been failing to pressure chemistry employers to adopt a series of best practices, one of the first should be a process that tells people as soon as possible about a negative hire decision. In fact, I wonder if there should be a "ACS hiring best practices" pledge? I'd like that.

NYC teen burned in rainbow demonstration suing for $27M

Paraphrasing Captain Spock, the rainbow demonstration is beginning to reside in the hands of the attorneys. From the New York Post: 
The family of a 16-year-old boy who was severely burned when a high school ​chemistry experiment went horribly haywire is suing the city for $27 million over his injuries. 
Parents Yvonne and Claudio Yanes say Beacon High School on W. 61st Street had received a video from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board warning that a procedure called the “Rainbow Experiment” posed “risk of severe injuries if performed.” 
But the school allegedly failed to distribute the video and when teacher Anna Poole performed the experiment on the morning of Jan. 2 she didn’t provide students with protective gear, the suit says. 
The Yanes’ son Alonzo got second and third-degree burns on his body, head, face, neck, torso and hands, according to court papers. 
He has permanent scarring and disfigurement, the suit says.
Between this and the Denver prosecution, I think the lawyers are moving faster than the chemists. You can only imagine the popularity of a "Calais' Law", not that I'm suggesting one (and nor is she, so far as I can tell.)

Job posting: process chemist, San Diego, CA

From the inbox, a process chemist position:
Process Development Chemist (Scientist level $60-$80K) 
  • BS/MS Chemistry (maybe Biochem) 
  • 5-10 years experience 
  • Experimental design, Analytical methods 
  • “Recipe development” i.e. solvent ratios for extractions 
  • Knowledge of reaction systems 
  • Chromatography 
  • Tech transfer from lab bench to pilot scale 
  • Knowledge of bioprocess beneficial 
Interested? Contact Nathan Radosevich (recruiter for RemX Scientific) at nradosevich -at- gmail/dot/com 

University of Minnesota chemistry has limited the scale of azide reactions?

Also in this week's C&EN, a really worthwhile article from Jyllian Kemsley talking to William Tolman, the chair of the chemistry department, on their recent TMS-azide explosion. While the whole article is worth reading, I think this section detailing Professor Tolman's decisions was very interesting (emphasis mine):
“Overall, there was clearly a lack of proper hazard assessment,” Tolman continues. “They didn’t stop and say, ‘This is a really dangerous procedure. Should we be doing this at all, or should we be taking extra precautions?’ ” The lab became complacent after doing the reaction several times without incident, he believes. And warnings included with literature protocols were “pretty lame,” he says. 
Tolman notes that no lab in his department has the proper equipment to allow the reaction to be performed safely at the 200-g scale. He has now set a limit of 5 g for any procedure involving azide. 
Tolman announced that limit and other follow-up actions in a department-wide meeting in July at which he discussed the incident investigation findings. What he calls a “lively” 45-minute discussion ensued. Such meetings are important for leaders to publicly acknowledge the importance of significant incidents and show support for discussing safety concerns, Tolman says. “The emphasis was not on assessing blame,” he adds, “but rather on what we should all do to improve risk assessment.” 
In addition to limiting the scale of azide reactions, Tolman ordered lab groups in his department to assess their standard operating procedures and update them if necessary. The goal was to get everyone to stop and think about whether they’re doing anything that is potentially hazardous, whether they have a procedure for that activity, and whether that procedure is correct, he says. That lab self-assessment was completed in August, and the department’s safety committee is now working out how to do a peer review of the methods.
The remainder of the article discusses the "safe operation cards" that label what reaction is being run in a hood and what the potential hazards might be. There's also a renewed focus on safety meetings, hazard assessment and getting students to think about what potential risks might lie behind their experiments. As with all procedural changes, an accurate assessment of whether or not this will do any good will come 5 to 10 years from now.

I would like to know a little more about the reasoning behind the 5-gram azide limit. (UPDATE: Prof. Tolman explains more.) Also, what are general limits around the academic chemistry community? (The Sharpless laboratory at Scripps is probably the most concentrated collection of organic azides in academic chemistry -- what are their internal procedures?) I tend to think hard limits on reaction scale are less than useful, but hey, maybe they have some DSC data to back this up.

I cannot help but contrast the University of Minnesota's response to this event to what happened almost 6 years ago at UCLA with the Sheri Sangji case. Between now and June (5 months?), they've published a safety letter to the chemistry community on what happened and how to avoid it. You'd think that the millions of dollars coughed up by UCLA would have produced a similar document, but I don't think that's happened. (There's an argument to be made that the main difference between that incident and this one has been the presence/absence of lawyers, too.) 

This week's C&EN

Plenty to chew on:

Friday, November 7, 2014

Rotovaps are like heroin for Hollywood

Of course, it's not being used as an actual rotary evaporator. (Still from "Big Hero 6")

They can't help but abuse them. (Off the top of my head, there's Rotovap Abuse in the very forgettable Formula 51 and in an early episode of "Fringe", as I recall?)

In all honesty, I love the enthusiasm of the chemist in this clip (starts at 1:25), if not the adherence to PPE. And it is quite clear that the animators were given access to an actual, physical laboratory. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I don't think Impostor Syndrome ever goes away

This past week, Beth Haas posted on Impostor Syndrome and how she felt a little odd about being at her new workplace:
I realized I was asking everyone around me for permission to be there, and that was undermining my confidence. I don't need anyone's permission to do my job. I'm the real deal, not an impostor. 
Like the spy movie cliché, people tend to assume you belong and you know where you're going. You just have to act like it. Do it long enough, and you might just fool yourself. 
So when I feel uncertain now, I just act. I pretend confidence, and the confidence becomes real.
I didn't know about Impostor Syndrome until late after I left graduate school; by that point, I had passed through huge swaths of it, to the point where I spent days at my hood at my new institution, wondering when my supervisor would come to escort me out of the building and when my badge would stop working.

Of course, in the 5+ years since, I've realized that impostor syndrome is incredibly common and even happens for people who have been well-established in their careers for years and years. To an extent, I actually wonder if lack of it is a sign that you've gotten into a rut. I dunno, but I still feel like one now and again. (I've managed to fool all of you. No you haven't. - ed.)

How do you disrecommend someone?

I have been extraordinarily remiss in not linking to C&EN's Employment Outlook section, but as readers may have sensed, it has been busy here this week. So, to rectify that, 3 links: 
Linda interviewed Bob Gadwood at Kalexsyn -- here's what he had to say about interpersonal relationships during an interview: 
At Kalexsyn, a small contract research organization in Kalamazoo, Mich., the entire staff participates in interviewing a candidate, from attending the seminar, to asking questions, to meeting with the prospective hire one-on-one. “Everybody has the ability to influence the decision-making process on who’s going to be brought in,” says Robert Gadwood, president and chief scientific officer of Kalexsyn. “If somebody says, ‘No, I absolutely will not work with that person,’ that’s pretty much it.” 
Gadwood acknowledges that interviewing is not an exact science. “That’s why you have a process in place that gets the opinion of multiple skilled interviewers on a particular candidate,” he says. “You can feel more confident that you’ve made the right choice.” 
In situations where the staff is split on a candidate, “we haven’t hired those people,” Gadwood says. “We have to have pretty much a unanimous decision that this person will fit in well here.” The company typically hires two to three scientists a year, he notes. “We’ve gotten pretty good at identifying the people that we think would fit in well at Kalexsyn.”
Do all companies go this way? I suspect that, at most companies, if enough trusted people express negative/something-less-than-enthusiastic opinions, a hire decision is not made. That said, I am sure there are as many stories of hires being made over-people's-dead-bodies.

Finally, let's say that you're working at a large organization and you hear about someone being interviewed who should not be hired. How should you go about making your opinion known? Personally, I would find 1) the hiring manager or 2) the person that knows the hiring manager the best and express my opinion in person (i.e. not on paper). Readers, what are your thoughts? 

Daily Pump Trap: 11/6/14 edition

Good morning! A few of the industrial positions posted at C&EN Jobs this week:

Fort Washington, PA: Vitae Pharmaceuticals is hiring a senior director of process chemistry. Pretty cool.

Lionville, PA: West Pharmaceutical Services is looking for a principal analytical chemist with an LC/MS bent.

North Chicago, IL: AbbVie with more process chemistry positions; also, a medicinal chemistry position in Shanghai. (heh)

Austin, TX: This "chemometrician" position is obviously with a defense contractor (US citizenship a requirement), but it sounds interesting nonetheless:
At least five years of professional experience is desired for those with a B.S. degree or 0-4 years for those with a M.S. or Ph.D. Degrees in physical sciences are strongly preferred, although candidates with degrees in statistics or data science with physical science experience will be considered. Proficiency in performing data analytics, specifically chemometrics, multivariate data analysis, predictive analytics, and/or data mining, as it related to chemical, biological, biochemical, or other scientific data is required. Experience in R or MATLAB, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Word is required. Experience analytical chemistry including chromatography, mass spectrometry, spectroscopy, or other chemical analysis methods is desired. 
60-80k offered.

Davis, CA: Marrone Bio Innovations back again with a B.S. chemist formulator position.

Rolla, MO: Brewer Science is back once again with more research associate positions (Ph.D. desired), among others.  

Ivory Filter Flask: 11/4/14 edition

Good morning! A few of the academically-related positions posted at C&EN Jobs this week: 

Columbus, OH: This Data Analytics position at the Ohio State University's quite striking:
The College of Arts and Sciences at The Ohio State University seeks applications to fill a tenure-track faculty position in Data Analytics at the Assistant Professor level within the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.  
The successful applicant will develop and apply novel computational methods to guide discovery of new functional materials or molecules, and/or understand the properties of complex systems. The search will consider outstanding candidates in all areas of computational chemistry, but the greatest need exists in either (i) electronic structure theory and dynamics, or (ii) computational structural biology.  
Ideal candidates in area (i) would address fundamental questions to enable rational design of new materials, with possible applications in energy harvesting and storage, novel electronic devices, catalysis, or sensing. Ideal candidates in area (ii) would complement and extend existing and emerging experimental methods in biomolecular structure and function, with possible applications in de novo structure prediction, molecular design, or macromolecule-ligand interactions. 
I don't understand why this isn't called "computational chemistry", but the word "data" seems hawt right now.

Shanghai, China: NYU Shanghai is looking for 2 assistant professors of chemistry, one in computational chemistry, the other in experimental chemistry (all areas.) Does NYU Shanghai have research laboratory facilities?

Boston, MA: UMass - Boston is looking for an assistant professor of chemistry.

Louisville, KY: The University of Louisville is hiring an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry, with an eye towards materials and electrolytes.

Orlando, FL: The University of Central Florida is looking for an assistant professor of environmental chemistry.