Friday, May 29, 2015

CD: "My advice is to find the right advisor..."

Our fourth story of staying in graduate school in chemistry comes from "CD." It has been redacted for privacy.
I was an undergrad at [large public university] and [a famous chemist] was scheduled to give a seminar. I managed to get myself on his schedule so that I could try to set myself up to join his group after I graduated. He was great and agreed that he would take me.  
When I joined his group, he assigned me to a project I wasn't so excited about. It was a weird time when he had no postdocs. My first assignment was to synthesize a class of compounds that a senior person on the project had failed to make. As [they were] the only person I could go to for advice, needless to say, my syntheses all failed and I was pretty depressed. In order to talk to my PI, I literally had to make an appointment with [a number of layers of admins] to see him. After finally talking to him, he encouraged me to stay in and even found me opportunities to do more teaching (my passion), but I knew I didn't have the background to figure out the synthesis on my own.  
I left (after successfully passing my 2nd year written and oral exams) and struggled to find a job in industry as a BS chemist. I finally did and was making [consumer product coatings] for a small company when I painfully discovered my allergy to isocyanates.  
I had already begun the process to finish a MS at [another, smaller public university] and switched to their PhD program. My new PI was AWESOME even though he made me take the ACS organic exam before he would accept me. He gave me to a postdoc to work under at first and an easy project to get my feet wet. I graduated in 4 years with 5 pubs, 2 first author, and 3 more in progress. 
I am now an assistant professor at a PUI and didn't do a postdoc. My advice is to find the right advisor and to realize that the right timing is everything.
Thanks to CD for their story. Readers, if you're interested in sharing your story of staying or leaving graduate school in chemistry, please e-mail me at

WN: "I earnestly want to do research..."

Our third story of staying in graduate school in chemistry comes from "WN." It has been redacted for privacy.
Leading up to graduate school, I was experiencing signs of clinical depression but decided to continue to pursue the degree regardless.  In my second year, my health was heavily impacting my work. At this time, I had sought help from many healthcare providers so that I could manage the depression and succeed in school. I would receive emails about meetings from my laboratory and for a while I had conflicts due to appointments, which started the questions: "Why do you go to the doctor so often?" I was afraid to share my experience because my adviser had mentioned several times of a previous student, also a female, that was pressured into taking a "medical leave" in hopes that she would not return to the laboratory and finish her degree. 
My symptoms worsened drastically. Knowing that depression was covered within the university as an illness that could qualify for special accommodations, I confronted the chair of our department, who was an understanding and approachable person. I explained that I felt that my adviser had a history of not being understanding towards persons with health issues. The chair was overwhelmingly understanding, commending me for taking action for health purposes, but when the matter was handed to my adviser the results weren't optimal. 
Over the course of the next few months, I had support from my adviser, but slowly I was seeing signs that my decision to shed light on mental health issues backfired. I found that I was being closely scrutinized, my work was put into question with the argument that my "mind wasn't working right" and therefore my results often deemed erroneous. It even went so far that my medications and doctors were topics of conversation in any hopes that I could convince my adviser that I was doing all that I could and I needed some accommodation for trying to deal with major depression. 
Soon, it was time for qualifying exams. When I initially spoke with the chair, I was offered the option to postpone my exam if necessary.  My adviser felt differently gave me two options: take the exam as scheduled or leave the university. We settled on taking a medical leave for a semester. It was also around this time that I was awarded a large fellowship to cover the rest of my degree and I was advised to return the money and leave academia. During this time, I researched all possibilities for switching labs and even switching universities but for some reason I decided to stick it out in my former lab. 
When I returned, it was evident that my adviser's mind was made and regardless of my progress I was still viewed as not competent to work, even though I felt as though I was. I continued to work and was surprised to find that even though I have a full external fellowship for the duration of my doctoral studies, he would not support me in his lab. 
I've teetered for months on taking a master's. I'd be arguably more employable and would probably be much happier. However, I have full funding and I earnestly want to do research. I am unwilling to work excessive hours that sacrifice my ability to see friends and visit with my family. I value having a balanced life. 
Eventually, I found a research area that interested me and a new adviser who is overwhelmingly supportive. I know my degree will take longer, but I think I'll be much happier in the end.
 Thanks to WN for their story. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Pope Francis Does Not Have a Master's Degree in Chemistry

Last night on Twitter, a classic conversation was started again: "Who is the most famous living chemist?" Very quickly, it was determined that both Pope Francis and Chancellor Angela Merkel should be considered for the "most famous person to have a chemistry degree" position.

This brought Forbes editor Alex Knapp into the conversation when he said that Pope Francis has a master's degree in chemistry. There was a discussion of the variety of news sources, including a pre-papacy Catholic News Service story from 2005 that likely originated the claim:
  • that as a young man, Jorge Bergoglio earned a master's degree in chemistry
  • from the University of Buenos Aires 
I remember being skeptical of this claim in 2013, but yesterday's conversation had me looking up Pope Francis' current Vatican biography, where the claim is not present (it does note what everyone agrees about - that he has a diploma in chemical technology.) Interestingly, there's a blog about the Shroud of Turin (there's a blog about everything!) with a 2013 post where the author and commenters roundly debate the likelihood that Pope Francis has a M.S. in chemistry. The post also contains quotes from the Pope's Wikipedia talk page showing others with skepticism about these claims. 

I also found it notable that searching through the University of Buenos Aires' English and Spanish language websites is not fruitful. Nor does UBA's English language Wikipedia page list him as a famous alumnus. 

While Googling, I came across a mostly positive New York Times review of a biography of Pope Francis by journalist Austen Ivereigh. This being 2015, I was able to tweet to Dr. Ivereigh the following question: 
Much US media believes Pope Francis to have a master's degree in chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires - is that accurate?
This was Dr. Ivereigh's response (1, 2, 3): 
[H]e completed what would be a kind of diploma in food chemistry, a technical qualification but not a degree. 
and certainly not a Masters.
Between the opinion of a biographer of Pope Francis, that his Vatican biography does not list that degree and that the claimed university does not seem to claim him as an alumnus, it is clear that Pope Francis does not have a master's degree in chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires.

What is the likelihood chemists will be replaced by robots?

TIL about the Petroleum Research Fund

Trolling through the 2014 ACS financial statement, I see that there's a short history of the Petroleum Research Fund, something that I don't quite understand, but seems to be an occasional source of funds for academic work: 
The American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund is an endowment fund established on October 25, 2000 as a result of The Agreement of Transfer of Trust (Agreement) between the Society and Morgan Guaranty Trust Company of New York, approved by the Attorney General for the State of New York, and ordered by the Supreme Court of New York. The Agreement dissolved the Petroleum Research Fund Trust (the Trust) and transferred the assets to the Society to create the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund (the Fund), the purpose of which is the same as the Trust. The Agreement made the Society responsible for the management and administration of the Fund in an account separate and apart from any other accounts of the Society. As a result of the transfer, the historic dollar value for the Fund was established at $72,500,000, the value of the securities originally donated in 1944 to create the Trust. This amount must be held inviolate as permanently restricted assets. 
The assets of the Fund consist primarily of domestic equities, foreign equities, fixed-income securities, and hedge funds. Under the terms of the Agreement, annual payouts from the Fund are capped at a maximum spending rate of 5% of the net asset value of the Fund over a rolling three-year average. The Society uses distributions from the Fund to make grants for advanced scientific education and fundamental research in the petroleum field. Grants are expensed when awarded by the Society’s board of directors and accepted by the recipient. All grants awarded by the Fund in 2014 and 2013 were accepted by the grant recipients.
Here's a little more history about the fund, via the ACS. Looks like the fund has somewhere in the $478 million dollar range in "temporarily restricted net assets" and it made somewhere around $19 million dollars in grants in 2014. Curious to know how much that compares to NSF or NIH funds available to chemists. 

Daily Pump Trap: 5/28/15 edition

Good morning! A look through a few of the positions posted at C&EN Jobs:

North Chicago, IL: AbbVie continues its hiring spree with a M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemistry position. (6-12 years of experience.)

Natick, MA: Sigma-Aldrich looking to hire two M.S./Ph.D. organic chemists.

Sparks, GA: BASF is looking for a site chemist. (Never heard of such a position!)

East Bay Area, CA:  Hexcel Corporation desires a B.S. chemist to work on polymers for the aerospace industry.

"Central New Jersey": Orthobond Corporation is looking for a director of chemistry; M.S./Ph.D. in chemistry or material science desired, "fluency in English" a must.

Ahhh, you again: Organix is looking for folks, but this time, they're not calling it a postdoc. 6 month contract position - interesting.

Dubuque, IA: Packers Chemical appears to be a cleaning products formulating company - they're looking for a chemist.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) "1000+", 1293, 10,074 and 24 positions for the search term "chemist." Interestingly, Indeed's number of chemistry jobs has jumped significantly from ~6000. I don't think that's a sign of market change as much as it is a sign of better search algorithms. LinkedIn shows 683 positions for the job title "chemist", "98" for "analytical chemist", 35 for "research chemist", 7 for "organic chemist", 6 for "polymer chemist", 5 for "medicinal chemist" and 3 for "synthetic chemist." 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The most enjoyable hour you will spend today

This oral history interview between Cornell professors Dave Collum and Bruce Ganem is thoroughly enjoyable, if only to hear Professor Collum's litany of metaphors and exclamations.

This reminds me that the ACS newsletter was advertising a similar effort from NIH to record the stories of the people of that organization. 

Rainbow flame incident injures 3 students in Florida

The Tallahassee Democrat's Amanda Curcio reports:
A chemistry experiment gone wrong injured three Lincoln High School students Friday morning. 
Leon County Emergency Medical Services responded to the call, along with the Tallahassee Fire Department and the Sheriff's Office. Two students were admitted to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital with burns suffered during the incident, and another student was released to parental care. Both hospitalized students are in stable condition, confirmed Chris Petley, spokesman for Leon County Schools. 
A flame test being demonstrated by an experienced teacher during an AP chemistry class resulted in the accident. 
"The teacher is devastated," Principal Allen Burch said. "But she handled everything correctly." 
Burch said that students were wearing protective gear and that the teacher had successfully carried out flame tests in the past. His first concern is the students' recovery.
"As far as next steps – we'll sit down and look at how the flame test was conducted," he added. "We'll see how or if we missed anything." 
A flame test is designed to analyze mineral salts. Flames produced from burning a substance in question emit certain colors, allowing observers to determine the presence of specific elements. Several elements in a type of a common flame test called the rainbow experiment release vivid colors and can be fascinating to watch, especially for students. 
However, a string of disastrous accidents in high school chemistry labs in the U.S. indicates that the experiment – despite education or entertainment value – may not be worth conducting at all, according to national media reports....
Just a little reminder that the American Chemical Society's Committee on Chemical Safety specifically asks teachers to "Stop Using the Rainbow Demonstration."  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Update on my questions about recent Bruker pricing

I have received a number of responses on my post about Bruker pricing. Sadly, these were all off-the-record, so I cannot provide you with exact numbers. With the exception of one correspondent*, the rest of the comments were about significant (above 10% to well above 10%) price increases for Bruker products during the last year or two.

I don't really have a problem with Bruker using its now-dominant position in the NMR space to extract what it sees as a fair-market price for its products; in the formulation of "The Godfather", after all, I'm not a Communist.

But if they plan on using all means available to increase prices for new NMR products and services, they will prove themselves to be a less-than-friendly member of the chemistry community. It will be interesting to see if other organizations (JEOL? a revived Agilent-as-academic-consortium? (my useful bad idea)) try to compete. I suspect such a competitor would be welcomed.

P.S. Say, what's happening to old Agilent/Varian instruments these days? Bet you anything some NMR guy somewhere is buying them up...

*I did receive a comment about lowered prices from Bruker, but not from an academic.

A status change for analytical chemists?

Also from this week's C&EN, an interesting letter to the editor: 
A Worthwhile Career 
“Seeking Analytical Chemists” is a welcome exposé of how analytical chemistry “used to be known as a service discipline” (C&EN, March 30, page 42). It is heartening to read that at least some companies now consider it to be “an integral part of the development organization.” 
In the past, analytical chemists were treated as servants not only by biased and misinformed R&D managers but also by their colleagues in other disciplines. Analytical chemists often received lower salaries and bonuses; were slower to be promoted; and were not given proper credit for contributions to solving research, product development, commercialization, and patent issues. 
I recall an analytical group supervisor in the 1980s who proudly stated that he would never hire analytical chemists. Some managers in the 1990s even suggested changing the title analytical “research fellow” to “service fellow.” Even today, the title “technical fellow” is sometimes substituted for research fellow to distinguish an analytical chemist from peers in other disciplines. 
During my own long career at DuPont, my emphasis was always on helping to solve my colleagues’ problems; we were all most successful when we worked in a fully cooperative environment. Despite occasional setbacks and disappointments, I thoroughly enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of my career. It was never just a job. A few enlightened managers and cooperative peers made it all worthwhile. 
Anthony Foris
Wilmington, Del.
I had no idea that analytical chemists were treated in a less-than-equal manner long ago; fascinating stuff. Well, good to know that things have changed at least a little.  

This week's C&EN

Inside this week's C&EN:

Last week's C&EN

A bit behind:

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day; back tomorrow

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetary (credit: KSWB, San Diego)
Today is Memorial Day in the United States; it's a national holiday.

Back tomorrow.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The best idea I've had in a while: instrument user manuals in graphic novel form.

Credit: @badphysics
Surely someone could come up with a great primer on running an Agilent 1100 in comic form. Until then, Peanuts comic strips will do. (comics annotation by @badphysics.)

XA: "I made it through only because I got help...."

Our second story of staying in graduate school in chemistry comes from "XA." It has been redacted for privacy.
The comment about “STEM Propaganda” caught my attention immediately, as I definitely feel I was fed a lot of propaganda in undergrad. For me, graduate school was an almost automatic step because I knew I wanted to teach chemistry at the college level. I felt well prepared because I had done well in undergraduate coursework, although in retrospect my undergraduate research should’ve thrown up red flags (turning an RBF of bromosilane into a literal pyrophoric firebomb was probably the low point). Earning a poor grade—and yes, I earned every bit of that poor grade—in Advanced Organic Chemistry Lab was another red flag. 
I started in graduate school with blinders on, pointed directly at the post labeled “organic synthesis.” I worked my ass off to do well in classes—one story that stands out in my mind is the day I forced myself to memorize something like twenty different aldol methods. “This sucks,” I thought, “but I guess this is just what graduate school is.” I joined the research group of [Very Prominent Professor] who was well known to be extremely demanding. Upon starting research I realized that no, coursework is nothing like what you’re expected to do in the lab. The chasm between coursework and research both seduced and misled me, and I would encourage any young students to look very carefully at the nature of coursework and how (if?!) it promotes research skills. Places like Scripps do this really well; my sense is that most places do it horribly. 
I chugged along in research for a few months at an embarrassingly slow pace, sliding incrementally deeper into depression. Pardon the metaphor, but it felt like the activation energy associated with graduate school was climbing ever higher, and that I was not going to be able to get over the hump. Though I was very passionate about teaching, teaching at the college level just felt out of reach. Resigned to my fate, I walked into [VPP]’s office fully intent on leaving graduate school. Miraculously, in a move that instantly restored my faith in humanity, he compelled me not to leave, but to look for other options within the department. He was literally the catalyst that threw my ass over the hump. 
Ultimately I ended up switching research groups and working on research projects that were much better aligned with my long-term goals than organic synthesis. In my new group, my advisor was upfront about his lack of knowledge about my work, but didn’t aggressively question or put down the work. Some might say I got lucky; however, in retrospect many of the same things that were true in my first research group were also true in my second. I was still basically on my own. 
It took a great deal of maturation for me to come to grips with what graduate school entailed. I tell students regularly that I wish I’d waited a few years to start graduate school. That said, there’s a certain “delusions of grandeur” mindset that comes with being a graduate student in chemistry, and my sense is that most survive, rather than thrive. The system is broken at many universities, and in my experience it boils down to too little focus on developing research skills in coursework. I spent too many years aping my professors and not enough getting comfortable with doing science. I made it through only because (a) I got help from [VPP] and (b) I matured enough to set my own expectations.
Thanks to XA for their story. Readers, if you're interested in sharing your story of staying or leaving graduate school in chemistry, please e-mail me at

PF: "I'm glad I stuck it out."

Our first story of staying in chemistry graduate school comes from "PF"; it has been edited for privacy: 
I did my first degree at [Very Prominent UK University], and in those days ([the early 1980s]) [VPUU] was one of the few Universities that did a 4-year Bachelor's course, of which the last year was a research year, culminating in a thesis, which was regarded by other universities as equivalent to a Master's. I had done very badly in my final exams, and was on the borderline between a second and a third class degree on the basis of my exam results (my P-Chem let me down, but I had done well in my Organic and Inorganic exams. Ironic, because I really enjoyed spectroscopy, thermodynamics and quantum chem. Oh well!).  
I realized that I needed to work really hard in my fourth year if I was to have any chance of coming out with a second and going on to do a Ph.D. I was very fortunate in my Research Instructor. He was a new recruit, and keen to make a name for himself at [VPUU]. I got an interesting synthesis project to work on, trying to make the carbon skeleton of [well-known natural product class], and I put as much time in at the lab as I could. I got on well with my supervisor, and he advised me to apply to various universities to do a Ph.D. in Organic synthesis.  
I applied to many universities, and was rejected by all but one ([another UK university],my supervisor's alma mater). I got in there, to work on a project sponsored by [Famous Pharma Company]. I did a summer internship at [FPC], and started work at [UK university] in September [redacted], working on the [project P] until [late 1987.]
Sadly, I became very disillusioned with my Ph.D project, and almost quit. I managed to piss my [FPC] supervisors off so much they withheld my grant money for my last term. My supervisor, a really nice guy who had been very tolerant, told me that in all honesty he couldn't recommend me for a post-doc as I was too unreliable (ie I spent too much time in the pub and not enough in the lab). 
My parents persuaded me to come home and write up my thesis, which took me a year, spending about 4 hrs a day (I was so fed up with the whole thing that was as much as I could manage). At that stage I never wanted to do any research work again, so I decided to do a PGCE (a bit like an education diploma) and tried teaching High School chemistry for a year. I hated that too, so in 1991 I got an entry-level job (for a Ph.D chemist) in the chemical industry at [UK fine chemical company]. 
And the rest is history. I'm glad I stuck it out. But I had certain advantages that many of the people who posted their stories did not. My project was well-defined, if dull. The data I collected on the various substituent and protecting group effects was all valid data, so it went into my (rather short) thesis. My supervisor was very tolerant, and did everything he could to make sure I got my Ph.D. And I worked with a friendly group of people (which was part of the reason I spent so much time in the pub). 
So I guess you could file this under "why I almost quit Grad School but didn't". I'm glad I didn't. My Ph.D. eventually allowed me to get a pretty well-paid job in the US, and allowed my wife and me to enjoy a much higher standard of living than we would have had in the UK.
Thanks to PF for their story. 

Request: "I Stayed in Graduate School in Chemistry"

A while back, Tehshik Yoon complimented the "I Quit Graduate School in Chemistry" pieces, but asked for stories where people indeed stayed in graduate school, they overcame a challenge and it worked out for them.

I am not done posting "I Quit" stories -- I still have four or five to edit and post. But now that @chemtips has gone and written about the series (for which I thank him), I feel duty-bound to invite success stories as Professor Yoon asked for them:
...So I’d really like to hear some success stories as well.  Tell me about times that the system worked: folks who had a hard time in grad school but ended up in good places; mentors who did the right thing by their students; stories of women, minorities, and LGBT students being supported by the field.
So, with that, I am asking for those stories, or any of them that you choose to post. E-mail them to - confidentiality guaranteed. Also, I am posting the first two in that series today. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Daily Pump Trap: 5/21/15 edition

Been a while. Let's look at a few of the positions on C&EN Jobs in the last two weeks or so. 

Newark, DE: I've never heard of Taghleef Industries, but they're looking for an analytical chemist with experience in the polymer industry.

Foster City, CA: A couple of EH&S positions posted by Gilead, too.

Process positions!: One in Seattle (B.S./M.S./Ph.D., looks like), and two at DuPont Crop Protection in Newark, DE.

Rockville, MD: Someday, I'd like to understand what USP does better - anyway, they're looking for some reference standards scientists.

Cambridge, MA: I see that Warp Drive Bio is hiring Ph.D.-level medicinal chemists.

IP land: Steinfl and Bruno (Pasadena, CA) posting their usual position; a couple from the mellifluously-named Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C.

Milton, DE: Dogfish Head looking for a quality manager.

I don't get it: Why would an energetic materials chemist (Virginia Beach, VA) need a biology background?:
Point One USA, LLC is seeking an entry level chemist (Bachelors Degree) or senior level chemistry student (Internship). The ideal candidate will have completed organic chemistry I and II with relevant lab experience. Candidates with a strong biology background will have preference. Candidates must be willing to work with hazardous materials (including energetic materials) under the guidance of an experienced chemist. Job duties will include maintaining chemical and consumable stock, setting up mock laboratories, and assisting Point One employees with chemistry and biology related tasks in addition to any other general tasks. 
- Must have completed at least 3 yrs of college in a relevant field.
- Must be willing to relocate to Virginia Beach.

Job posting: fluorine chemist, Synquest, Gainesville, FL

As my eyes were going to and fro on the Internet, a job posting from one of my long-ago favorite suppliers. Synquest is looking for a fluorine research chemist:
SynQuest Laboratories, Inc. (SQL) has an opening for an entry level fluorine chemist in our research group. The successful candidate will have an advanced degree in fluorine chemistry. The ideal candidate will have experience in the safe handling of toxic and corrosive fluorinating agents (such as F2, HF and SF4) and familiarity with autoclaves and high pressure equipment. A passion for organofluorine chemistry is a must, as is the ability to independently plan, troubleshoot and successfully execute efficient synthetic routes to target compounds in a timely manner.
Best wishes to those interested.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

pl pll pirn bpa pscale: How much is Bruker charging these days?

A while back, I noted the news that Agilent was going to stop manufacturing Varian NMRs. Marc Reisch and Jyllian Kemsley's article in C&EN suggested that there would be some pricing repercussions from the sole NMR manufacturer left in the business, Bruker:
In response to an analyst’s question about whether Bruker would take the opportunity to raise NMR prices with Agilent gone, Laukien indicated that prices would indeed rise. “Historically, there had been, in some cases, just very aggressive discounting. I think that may abate quite a bit,” he said.
This morning on Twitter, Cornell professor Dave Collum suggested that I write about Bruker pricing and how it has changed since Agilent has announced its departure. So, I am asking you, dear readers, if you've heard any rumblings about how Bruker's pricing has changed in the last year or two...

A useful bad idea from me: isn't there some consortium of universities, government research centers and the like that could band together and purchase the Varian NMR division from Agilent and run it as basically a non-profit, just so Bruker would have a competitor (other than JEOL, that is?) Surely, this would be a boondoggle, but there might be some good from it.

So, anyone want to go into the NMR manufacturing business? 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Job postings: GSK positions, King of Prussia, PA; Pfizer, Groton, CT

From the inbox, a few positions. First, two from GSK (their King of Prussia site)
Second, from the inbox via a respected reader, Pfizer is looking for Ph.D. synthetic chemists at their Groton site (job code 1013706). (Click on this link, click on "Advanced Search", enter "1013706", click on search. Yeah, I know.)

(You know how I know that we're not there yet with synthetic chemistry positions in the United States? "Postdoctoral experience strongly recommended" for that Pfizer position. Of course, Pfizer can pretty much name its price.)

What happens when a PI leaves for industry?

An interesting question from the Chemistry Reddit:
So, I was wondering if any of you can give me some solid advice as to how I should proceed with my current situation. 
Basically, my research advisor is leaving this July for a full time job in industry leaving his entire lab to fend for themselves. 
I am currently working on a project that I was going to use for my undergrad thesis defense this Fall, but I'm not sure if I can finish my project before this July. 
So, should I go to another lab this Fall and finish this s--t show of a project or just start completely new and defend in the Spring, new project and all? Thanks!
This is an interesting and rather unusual question. Most of the time, advisors leave research institutions, and the choice that graduate students face is: do I stay or do I go?

In this case, the advisor is taking no one with them -- now, then, what should happen? One hopes (just as in the case of more tragic circumstances), the department usually steps in and takes care of the students. Undergraduates are probably less looked after than graduate students, but I don't know.

Readers, any experience with these situations? 

Monday, May 18, 2015

With apologies to the author of Ecclesiastes

1 Do much research on your purifications and recrystallizations;
    after many days you may see some crystals.
2 Experiment with seven solvents, yes, in eight;
    you do not know what impurities may come upon the process.

reference here. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Joke of the weekend: "what, and leave chemistry?"

A favorite joke of mine:
A guy works in the circus, following the elephants with a pail and shovel. He absolutely hates his job, and is always complaining about the lack of career prospects, the lousy pay, etc etc etc. One day, his brother comes to see him. He says, “Sam, I’ve got great news. I’ve got you a job in my office. You’ll wear a suit and tie, work regular hours, and start at a nice salary. How about it? Sam says, “What? And give up show business?"

Friday, May 15, 2015

There Are Not Too Many Astronauts

A few weeks ago, a Future of Research symposium was held in Boston - this is a gathering of graduate students and postdocs who are concerned about scientific workforce issues. They had Boston University's Greg Petsko as a speaker; a good choice, I think, because Professor Petsko has been very prominent talking about postdoc issues.

A good summary of his current position is that graduate school in the sciences is great job training for other fields, but that the number of postdocs should be sharply limited. Here's how he presented it at the recent conference:
There Are Not Too Many Graduate Students
  • We are not training too many graduate students in STEM subjects. A Ph.D. in the sciences is superb training for dozens of different fields, including journalism, public policy, law, business and consulting, many (perhaps most) of which do not require postdoctoral research training. 
Suffice it to say that I found this statement rather surprising. @kmcld99 on Twitter pointed out:
Ridiculous. Astronauts have tons of transferable skills; doesn't mean we need to train more astronauts.
So, thanks to @kmcld99, I now present my version of Professor Petsko's slide. I plan to apply for astronaut selection myself - I hear it's a growth field.

University of Minnesota organizing a graduate student symposium at ACS Boston

From the inbox:
The American Chemical Society (ACS) and the University of Minnesota are pleased to host the fall 2015 Graduate Student Symposium, "Academic Innovations for Tomorrow's Industries," at the 250th ACS National Meeting and Exposition in Boston, Massachusetts. This symposium will highlight how academia can use commercialization as a mechanism for bringing the rewards of research to the world. The invited speakers will discuss the research that lead to the establishment of their successful companies and the exciting recent advancements coming from their groups.
More details here. There's an opportunity for a travel grant, as well as an opportunity to organize the fall 2016 graduate student symposium.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Job posting: laboratory technician, Wever, IA

From the inbox, this position in Wever, IA
IFCO is looking for a Lab Technician to join our Engineering team in Wever, Iowa. 
This position supports laboratory staff by maintaining logs and record books, troubleshooting and resolving problems; helping with special projects. The incumbent will conduct 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. 
Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry or closely related field is highly desired... 
Experience and Qualifications 
Minimum of 2 years, experience supporting environmental compliance in the chemical industry or other industrial manufacturing, or analytical laboratory or environmental consulting.  Fertilizer manufacturing experience is a plus.
Principles and processes of chemical, biochemical and treatment of wastewater.
Standard analytical procedures for the analysis of water and wastewater....
Do check out the "duties and responsibilities", which are impressively broad and include the needed ability to climb straight ladders. Best wishes to those interested!  

Starting a small chemistry-related business, by Luke

Credit: Alameda Labs
Today, I'm letting Luke tell his story of starting a small chemistry-based business. I think you'll enjoy it:
Hi Chemjobber readers! Several months ago I quit my bench chemistry position without a new role lined up (a bit of free career advice: probably don’t do this) and decided I wanted apply my chemistry skills outside of the lab. So, in January, I started a small business designing and manufacturing custom, stainless steel-based Schlenk lines as Alameda Labs. I haven’t quite replaced my income from working full time, but I’ve done managed to sell a couple of lines. Total revenue: a not shabby $20k. 
I’ve learned a lot in the short time I’ve been doing this and CJ has graciously given me the space to talk about my experience and give advice to people interested in going down a similar route. 
My Story 
Being unemployed sucks. I quit a bachelor’s level research position at a material science startup and instead of looking for a similar position, I decided to start interviewing for data science roles based on the software and math skills I’d developed at work. After a couple of months of interviews but no offers, I started to worry that I had made a horrible mistake by quitting and trying to change industries. 
Apart from anxiety, being unemployed also gives you a lot of downtime. After doing my daily due diligence on the job search, I still had 4 - 6 hours of free time. I obviously had the time to try new things, so on New Years I pulled the trigger on an idea I’d been noodling on for a couple of months. 
At the material science startup, I’d partnered with a chemical engineer colleague to develop a couple of stainless Schlenk lines to develop some pilot scale process chemistries. I realized that the stainless concept could be valuable to others when we noticed one of the staff research scientists had shifted all of his synthesis over to the stainless lines from a traditional glass line. The chemistry our scientist was doing required an hour-long dissociation/distillation step and he realized that on the stainless line he was able to cut that step down to minutes because of the more reliable and stronger vacuum it could achieve. 
I made a single page website describing what I intended to sell and started emailing people that I knew. Two weeks later, no nobody’s greater surprise than mine, I got a call from a postdoc at a R1 University who wanted to a quote for a line. 
All in all, I think the skills that make me good at entrepreneurship are the same things that made me successful at chemistry. Chiefly, I like to try new things and I’m resourceful. Starting out, I didn’t know how to make landing pages or set up Adwords campaigns, nor create Purchase Orders or engineering drawings. But between asking people in my network for help (to whom I am indebted and incredibly grateful for) and Google, I’ve managed to make it work. I’ve also found that if you can manage the highs and lows of doing research, you’ll find sales is really similar (I celebrated my first sale with an f-bomb and a couple of Tiger Woods fist pumps).  
Thanks again to CJ for allowing me the space to write about my project. If you have any questions about what I’m doing or want feedback on any ideas of yours, feel free to email me directly at luke at I’ll also try to show up in the comments.
Thanks to Luke for his great story! Readers, any questions?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Signs you may be working for someone more passionate than you

As you all know, my beloved father is a retired engineer.

Once, when I was a teenager, I recall a conversation with him and my beloved mother about the classic saw "Nobody on their deathbed has ever said "I wish I had spent more time at the office.""

My father was silent for a moment and then said, "I wish I had studied more [technical field P] in graduate school."* 

My Mom then pointed out that that wasn't really the point of the proverb. I don't think my Dad ever got it.**

I'm reminded of that conversation thanks to a recent set of quotes in the Washington Post from a recent biography of PayPal investor, SpaceX and Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk: 
15. “I would tell those people they will get to see their families a lot when we go bankrupt.” — Ryan Popple recalling Musk’s retort when an employee complained in Tesla’s early days that they were working too hard. 
16. “One night he told me, ‘If there was a way that I could not eat, so I could work more, I would not eat. I wish there was a way to get nutrients without sitting down for a meal.’ ” — Nicholson 
22. “We’ve grown [expletive] soft.” — Elon Musk, after Vance noted that hundreds of people were working at Tesla’s headquarters on a Saturday.
I have heard thoughts similar to number 16 from my father once (slow-release food tablets was his idea - his more biologically-oriented son knows that's not very practical.) It's funny how those who are successful and truly driven think differently than us - they just do.

*Technical field P is what my father spent the bulk of his career doing, as opposed to his graduate training in related technical field C. My Dad loves to say "I didn't want to learn [technical field P], but I forced myself to like it!" 

**It's okay now; I'm amused/bemused to note that my beloved father doesn't spend very much time thinking about work during his retirement (so far, anyway), which I think is pretty great. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Guest post: whither the AP exam?, by NeHeNTh

[Hello there, it's CJ. This is a guest post on the AP exam by a respected reader of the blog, NeHeNTh.]

The 2015 Advanced Placement Chemistry exam was administered on Monday of last week to approximately 130,000 U.S. students, and on Wednesday afternoon, as is traditional, the free response section* of the exam was made public on the College Board AP Chemistry exam website.

The released portion of the exam reflects the refurbishment of the AP Chemistry curriculum that was introduced for the 2013-2014 school year. The changes are subtle and reflective of a number of controversial tweaks and cuts from the curriculum.  I am curious to read any comments you are willing to make on your perceptions of exam question types that have been obviously overhauled. For instance:
  1. Compare and contrast question 1 (p. 5-6) on the 2015 exam with question 6 (p. 12) on the 2010 exam (the reduction potential table was on p. 3.) Both questions touch on the same learning objectives. Do you detect the shift? Does one type of question demand higher-order comprehension of the material over the other? Have the changes improved or eroded utility of the items for assessment of students’ understanding?
  2. Same questions as above, but this time compare question 3 (p. 9-10; note parts e) and f) on the second page) on the 2015 exam with question 1 (p. 6) on the 2003 exam. 
  3. Want more? All of the free response questions from 1999 to the present are available. In addition, bits and stylistic pieces of questions from the 1980s and 1990s are lingering online if you know where to look.
Did you take a version of this exam in high school? How do you remember it? Do you think (if, as a chemist, you could “unlearn what you have learned”) that the 2015 exam would seem easier, more difficult, or approximately the same compared with previous tests? What about the new omission of reaction prediction questions?  You know, the old “predict the product(s) and write the balanced equation for the reduction of solid iron(III) oxide with solid carbon.” (2009 p. 9)

How would an undergraduate fare on this test after a year of chemistry and, for that matter, can anyone comment on how some of our advanced high school chemistry students would compare to students on a similar level internationally? (Has anyone seen an A Level test from the U.K., for instance?) What repercussions for AP Chemistry would you anticipate as a result of the changes?
By the way, here are the score distributions for 2013 (the last “old” exam) and 2014 (the first “new” exam).

*Sixty multiple choice items make up roughly half of a student’s score, but multiple choice questions are released only rarely. Perhaps quality distractors are just too difficult to write; three wrong answers have to anticipate misconceptions and look “reasonable.”

CJ here again - thanks to NeHeNTh for their interesting post! 

Ask CJ: Good job search engines?

A longtime reader writes in with a request: 
Right now I'm set up with a bunch of job sites sending me updates with "new" jobs. Many of them seem terrible, and there's a ton of redundancy. Also many of them give me the same jobs over and over, not just new ones.  
It's more time consuming than I'd like to go through all of them, so I was hoping to reduce the number. (And add any if you have any better suggestions...) 
My list is currently:
C&EN Jobs
The reader is not looking at academia, but looking broadly otherwise. Recommendations?

I would drop ResearchGate and I don't know ZipRecruiter. I am quite fond of Indeed, but I don't know, others may have different opinions. Readers, your thoughts?  

Monday, May 11, 2015

Who benefits when Singaporean students do industrial placements?

Also in this week's C&EN, an interesting article by Grace Chua on Singaporean industrial internships that last longer than the typical 2-3 months that U.S. students tend to get:
...Since the 1980s, Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has mandated industrial internship, or industrial attachment, for certain degree offerings. These schemes require a 22-week industry internship for fourth-year chemistry and biological chemistry students and a 20-week stint for third- or fourth-year chemical engineering students. An internship is required for graduation, but students can opt for a research internship instead. 
Compared with the usual two- to three-month summer internships in the U.S. (see page 41), an extended attachment gives students sufficient time to pick up skills and make meaningful contributions to a company’s work, explains NTU founding president Tao Soon Cham....
I was interested to see that the students were paid during these internships:
...Each institution, whether a university or a polytechnic, makes its own arrangements with employers for placing students. Industrial placements can be done at firms such as Shell Eastern Petroleum, ExxonMobil, GSK, and Novartis, which pay students about $350 to $950 a month to cover basic living and transportation costs. Students gain practical industry experience, and some return to the same firms as employees after they graduate...
As someone who had an industrial postdoctoral fellowship, I had a great experience where I had quite a bit of freedom to explore what I wanted to explore. In other words, it was an academic experience aimed at industrial application.

But in the case of extended stays in industrial placement, I would be interested to know what these multinational companies are doing with these students. Are they acting as regular staff members ("Sport, today you're working on Project X."), or is there actually a systematic curriculum? Are their pay rates comparable with regular staff? If not, cui bono? 

Interesting complaint about C&EN's academic bias

Also from this week's C&EN and its letters to the editor, an interesting take on a frequent complaint:
Industrial Chemists Are Industrious 
I have written before about bias against industrial chemists, such as in awards stories and reports on promotions. Now there is the monthly feature “Patent Picks” in which most inventors spotlighted are from academia. Consider some statistics: In 2013, of institutions with the greatest number of patents, IBM led the list with 7,534. Eighty-ninth on the list was California Institute of Technology, and 121st was Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All the others were industrial patent grantees. 
Can C&EN not find a single interesting or worthy patent from industry? I note that we industrial chemists do, however, make it into the obituaries. 
Larry LewisScotia, N.Y.
I have noted (to myself) that the Patent Picks section seems to be about promoting SciFinder/CAS, but I didn't notice a particular academic bent to the patents. Guess others see it differently.

Something that I have noticed and I wonder about is that universities seem to have a PR machine available for new science, i.e. PIs and university press offices. Industrial scientists don't tend to be interested in trumpeting their new patents (and understandably so, sometimes) - maybe that's the issue? I dunno. 

Recruiter recommendations for the Cincinnati area?

I have a reader who is looking for a recruiter who places people in the Cincinnati area. Any thoughts?

E-mail me if desired at 

This week's C&EN

Lots of interesting articles in this week's C&EN:

Friday, May 8, 2015

Job posting: field application scientist, PerkinElmer

From friend of the blog Philip Skinner, an available position: 
We, at PerkinElmer, are looking for an energetic chemist to join our Americas Field Application Scientist team. This role involves providing software demonstrations and technical (domain and product) expertise for potential and existing customers, supporting the account manager in a presales capacity. 
This role would suit someone who is keen to leave the bench and apply their chemistry knowledge in a commercial business setting. A willingness to travel is essential. Familiarity with our software products, specifically Tibco Spotfire, E-Notebook, Elements, Registration and ChemDraw would be beneficial, although familiarity with similar products from other vendors is also valued. An ability to understand the needs of customers and articulate solutions is more important though than actual product knowledge. 
We need someone with a reasonable knowledge of synthetic chemistry and preferably some industrial experience in life sciences (medchem, process chem) or beyond (consumer products, oil and gas, specialty chemicals, materials, etc.) 
As someone who has made the transition from chemist to this kind of role, I can attest that it is a lot of fun and very intellectually rewarding for the right person. If you are committed to a change from pure science, are an advocate for software within your organization, are the kind of person who takes on responsibilities within your lab and are comfortable meeting and establishing trust with lots of new people this could be a fun opportunity. If so, please email me at philip.skinner(at)
Best wishes to those interested!  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The most beautiful sentences I read today about water

..."Putting some over the hill" is what they say around the Project Operations Control Center when they want to indicate that they are pumping Aqueduct water from the floor of the San Joaquin Valley up and over the Tehechapi Mountains. "Pulling it down" is what they say when they want to indicate that they are lowering a water level somewhere in the system. They can put some over the hill by remote control from this room in Sacramento with its Univac and its big board and its flashing lights. They can pull down a pool in the San Joaquin by remote control from this room in Sacramento with its locked doors and its ringing alarms and its constant print-outs of data from sensors out there in the water itself. From this room in Sacramento the whole system takes on the aspect of a perfect three-billion-dollar hydraulic toy, and in certain ways it is. "LET'S START DRAINING QUAL AT 12:00" was the 10:51 AM entry on the electronically recorded communications long the day I visited the Operations Control Center. "Quail" is a reservoir in Los Angeles County with a gross capacity of 1,636,018,000 gallons. "OK" was the response recorded in the log. I knew at that moment that I had missed the only vocation for which I had any instinctive affinity: I wanted to drain Quail myself. 
Not many people I know carry their end of the conversation when I want to talk about water deliveries, even when I stress that these deliveries affect their lives, indirectly, every day. "Indirectly" is not quite enough for most people I know. This morning, however, several people I know were affected not "indirectly" but "directly" by the way water moves. They had been in New Mexico shooting a picture, one sequence of which required a river deep enough to sink a truck, the kind with a cab and a trailer and fifty or sixty wheels. It so happened that no river near the New Mexico location was running that deep this year. The production was therefore moved today to Needles, California, where the Colorado River normally runs, depending upon releases from Davis Dam, eighteen to twenty-five feet deep. Now. Follow this closely: Yesterday we had a freak tropical storm in Southern California, two inches of rain in a normally dry month, and because this rain flooded the fields and provided more irrigation than any grower could possibly want for several days, no water was ordered from Davis Dam. 
No orders, no releases. 
Supply and demand.
 I wish I could write as well. Read the whole thing. 

Job posting: chemistry tech/trainee

Job Description:  
To obtain samples, prepare the samples, and analyze the samples for chemical and radioanalytical analysis from plant systems.  To record and trend data from the chemical analysis.  To notify chemistry management for out of specification conditions and adverse trends.  To respond to operation¿s chemistry needs.  To perform the on shift chemistry technician emergency plan duties.  To perform inventories of chemicals, equipment and supplies.  To maintain the laboratory and instruments in top material condition with good housekeeping.  To perform self-monitoring of radiation dose equivalent and perform associated radiological surveys for chemistry related tasks.  As required, to changeout gas bottles for chemical and counting room instrument; to change resin columns for laboratory demineralized water systems; to replace chart paper on recorders; and to refill liquid nitrogen dewars.   
Position Requirements:   
High School diploma or educational equivalent, including chemistry and mathematics course
Ability to pass pre-employment testing
Ability to work different shifts
Ability to receive unescorted Nuclear access
Excellent communication, teamwork and organizational skills  
Bachelor's Or Master's Degree in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering, or equivalent degree
Two years professional work experience in chemistry
Navy Nuclear experience as an Engineering Lab Technician (ELT) 
Best wishes to those interested.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Job posting: B.S./M.S. synthetic organic chemist positions, EMD Serono, Billerica, MA

From the inbox, two B.S./M.S. associate positions, one at 0-2 years experience and the other, 2-6 years experience.

Send CV/cover letter to me at - best wishes to those interested! 

Say, what's the job market for industrial chemical biologists like, anyway?

From the inbox, a good question:
Would you be willing to submit a post for feedback on the outcome of the future job prospects for a chemical biologist verses an organic chemist? Chemical biology is a relatively new graduate path and the difference between this path and biochemistry is vague. 
I asked this question almost 3 years ago and was pretty skeptical about it. I presume that there are more jobs now than there were in 2012 for chemical biologists in industry, but I have no date. 

A brief check of Indeed shows 1 (one) position for a "chemical biologist" and lo-and-behold, it's at Pfizer (or was, anyway.) So maybe there's room for hope?

Readers, what do you think? 

The broken eggs speak

After a very-very-cheery article about the former Ann Arbor site in the Ann Arbor Observer, someone writes in: 
To the Observer: 
We were a Pfizer family, and it stung a little to read the joyous message of good fortune described in the article about the U of M takeover of the old Pfizer site ("From Crisis to Opportunity," April). It is good that something productive came from something painful. And I know the story was not about what happened to the employees, families and contractors who were fired, relocated, and in some cases devastated by the sudden closure and aftermath. 
Yet it was hard to embrace the happiness and enthusiasm of the U of M representatives quoted in the article, and not think of the pain many people went through. It just would've been nice to balance, temper, the joy with a little consideration for readers like our family who were brought to our knees by the whole event, and found a way to get back up again. It took a long time, and we did not profit. 
Suzanne Bayer 
Too true. 

Interview: Ezra Pryor, chair, Cannabis Chemistry Committee

I contacted Ezra Pryor and conducted a brief e-mail interview. It has been formatted for clarity, but is otherwise unedited:
CJ: What led you to get interested in starting a ACS committee? 
The committee was formed for the purpose of creating a cannabis chemistry Division of the ACS.  it gives us access to resources, demonstrates progress and makes official the work we had already been doing.  another advantage is that we get a chance to learn more about the three technical divisions that are interested in hosting us as a sub-division before moving forward. 
Divisions are almost exclusively formed in this way, giving the group a chance to grow under the wing of an existing technical division and then striking it out on our own when the time is right. 
CJ: How difficult has it been to do so? Have you faced opposition from within ACS? 
It would have been practically impossible except for the fact that this project has been a magnet for some amazing people.  We have all become great friends and worked hard together to move this forward. 
Everyone knows Ezra Pryor, the Chair and founding member and there have been some unsung heroes championing the cause as well. 
Joseph Payack was the first to join the effort and has taken on the role of Secretary, Melissa Wilcox was next and has since become our Treasurer, lastly Dr. Jahan Marcu who has risen to the position of Vice-Chair. 
We did not receive serious opposition from anyone at the ACS.  Those who can see the landscape understand that this is not a flash in the pan but a trend that will carry on into the future.  We did have some people snicker as they walked past the booth, but far fewer than those that enthusiastically signed out petition of volunteered to help. 
Most characteristic of our experience at the national meeting in Denver, in fact, would be the show of enthusiastic support and heartfelt glee for the opportunities that lay ahead. 
CJ: Which cannabis businesses have you found to be most in need of guidance from chemists?  
The entirety of the cannabis industry seems to be in need of qualified chemists.  There are of course the dozens of analytical labs dotted across the country that need technicians and there are also countless extraction laboratories that need full-time staff or just a little help overcoming challenges.  This will come with time as people learn that there are zero legal risk job opportunities for chemists that pay well and present a delightfully low key work environment.  It was easy to see the transition in progress when you see the enthusiasm of college students who see these jobs that didn't exist quite recently. 
What was most surprising to me was the great interest showed by several large companies to access and serve the cannabis industry.  Many companies that offer very useful tools for cannabis purification and analysis are hungry to show how their equipment can be useful and are unsure how to go about exploring this taboo application.  The CCC has already been facilitating these kinds of method development projects.
Thanks to Ezra Pryor for the interview! It will be interesting to see how things develop. Interesting to note that Joseph Payack has quite a few publications during his tenure as a process chemist in industry.

The Cannabis Chemistry committee of the American Chemical Society does not yet have a website, but it does have a Twitter account and a Facebook page. A LinkedIn page is in the works. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ask CJ: Should you hide your PhD? Recruiters say "yes", CJ sez no.

From the inbox, a question that's been asked around here a number of times:
I've actually been told to take the PhD off of my resume by one recruiter. How do I do this? How do I account for the work that I've been doing for the last 8 years after my bachelors? It seems like any company with half a brain in HR would type my name into Google and find out that I'm lying about my background. Not a good way to start when most of these job posting stress that they need someone who will provide reliable data. An addendum to this is the fact that I've applied at a couple of places that are minimum wage jobs (or close to it) and both of the interviews that I got, they knew I had a PhD even when I left it off of the applications.
Seems to me that this is a bad idea, and Derek Lowe agrees and tells a story about this (back in 2014):
I've seen a variant of this situation, one that I most certainly do not recommend. At a company I know of, a person was hired into a Master's level position, and did fine. They eventually revealed, though, that they had had a PhD all along, and applied for a vacant position at that level. This strategy got them fired, though, for having lied on their original application (the company's position, which I can understand, was that if they didn't fire someone for this, how could they fire the next person who lied about something else?) In the end, people found this person a job at another smaller company in the area, so the exit wasn't as hard as it could have been, but it was still a mess.
Personally, I think this is a terrible idea, but I have little experience looking for work while hiding my Ph.D. Readers? 

Job posting: cheminformatics scientist, Schrodinger, New York City

From the inbox:
We are looking for a cheminformatics specialist to join our drug discovery team to help us achieve our mission. 
Play a key role in our drug discovery projects
Provide cheminformatics support to help meet project goals
Work closely with collaborators, other member of the drug discovery group and the company to drive our projects and our technology forward

Essential Qualifications and Experience:
Proven track record of applying informatics-based techniques to solve problems in real world drug discovery projects
Knowledge of key technologies and software within the field of cheminformatics (for example chemical fingerprint methods, SMARTS, chemical toolkits and machine-learning methods)
Development of Python and SQL scripts
Exceptional communication skills
BS Chemistry, Biochemistry or related discipline

Desired Skills:
Structure- and ligand-based design techniques
Advanced training in Computer Science
Link here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Dow planning to lay off 1,500 to 1,750 employees

Unhappy news, via the Wall Street Journal
Dow Chemical Co. expects to reduce its global workforce by roughly 3%, part of an effort to streamline the company ahead of the pending spinoff of a significant portion of its chlorine business. 
In a news release Monday, Dow said “minor footprint adjustments” will be made to certain manufacturing operations, which are expected to represent less than 1% of the company’s net property value. The changes include “minor consolidation and shut downs” in response to a changing market. 
Dow said the streamlining plan, set to be completed over two years, is expected to result in a workforce reduction of 1,500 to 1,750 positions. The company expects to post related charges and write-downs of $330 million to $380 million during the second quarter. With the latest moves, Dow is aiming to save roughly $300 million a year in operating costs....
"Minor footprint adjustments."  

Cannabis Chemistry Committee was established as an official committee

An effort to establish a cannabis chemistry division at the American Chemical Society has been under way since September 2014 (C&EN, Nov. 10, 2014, page 4). Great strides were made at the ACS national meeting in Denver. The Cannabis Chemistry Committee was established as an official committee of the Small Chemical Businesses Division (SCHB). I was elected chair; additional members will be found among many of the individuals who expressed strong interest in active membership. 
The greatest student interest (undergraduate and graduate) comes from schools in the Northwest and Southeast. These will likely be the first locations for networking events that will bring students face-to-face with industry leaders, academic researchers, and like-minded peers. The petition for division formation received more than 300 signatures—50 signatures are needed.
The committee will plan programming at upcoming meetings and will hold networking events. At the 2016 spring ACS national meeting in San Diego, a full-day symposium cohosted by SCHB and the Agricultural & Food Chemistry Division will be organized. The first networking events will take place in June. 
For those who were not able to meet us in Denver but would like to participate, please contact us at Member activities could include mentoring, participating in regional events, or contributing to educational programs. If you would like to see the petition and support us with a signature, please go to 
Ezra M. Pryor
Chair, Cannabis Chemistry Committee
Ontario, Calif.
I will continue to track these developments...  

This week's C&EN

From this week's C&EN, interesting tidbits:

Friday, May 1, 2015

Weird: deaths from hydrocarbons?

What is that plume showing, anyway?
Credit: Wall Street Journal
Busy day today (obviously), but I wanted to note this chemical mystery from the Wall Street Journal from a while back in an article entitled "Why Did These Oil Workers Die?" by Alexandra Berzon:
The deaths of Trent Vigus and at least nine other oil-field workers over the past five years had haunting similarities. Each worker was doing a job that involved climbing on top of a catwalk strung between rows of storage tanks and opening a hatch. 
There were no known witnesses to any of the men’s deaths. Their bodies were all found lying on top of or near the tanks. Medical examiners generally attributed the workers’ deaths primarily or entirely to natural causes, often heart failure. 
But in the past few months, there has been a shift. Though still unsure of the exact cause of the deaths, government agencies and some industry-safety executives are now acknowledging a pattern and are focusing on the possible role played in the deaths by hydrocarbon chemicals, which can lead to quick asphyxiation or heart failure when inhaled in large quantities. 
In the meantime, federal agencies and industry-safety groups are planning to send out a joint alert to the oil industry as early as this week, warning of the potential for imminent danger from inhaling hydrocarbons, according to several people involved in the effort. Much of the industry remains ignorant of the possible risks, they say...
I would think this is about a lack of oxygen, but hey, I could be wrong. Any ideas?

*Can't get to the article? Google the title.