Monday, November 30, 2015

Aldrich = Amazon?

Also in this week's C&EN, Marc Reisch writes about Sigma-Aldrich's completed purchase by Merck KGAa with this interesting little paragraph: 
Among the Sigma services that Merck coveted was a Web-based laboratory supply store that, according to Batra, is not unlike the consumer goods operation run by the Web retailer Amazon. 
A scientist who arrives on Sigma’s website looking for an obscure intermediate will also be offered related intermediates and access to relevant research papers, Batra says. Before long, that scientist might have three or four items in the checkout cart, making for a more substantial order for Sigma. Twenty-four-hour delivery service allows the scientist to advance her research project more rapidly, he explains.
So the CEO of Millipore thinks that people go to Sigma and click on their suggested links, while they're ordering some Trifluoromethylator (the Burninator!). So maybe he knows his site much better than I do, but let me assure you this - the number of times I've been convinced to buy something on Aldrich's site while shopping for something else is on the order of zero.

Readers, your experiences? Maybe I'm weird. 

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles in this week's issue of C&EN:

Friday, November 27, 2015

Late Night with Chemjobber, Friday, November 27, 11 PM Eastern

Final plug for Late Night with Chemjobber; it'll be two hours* of guests and call-in fun, starting at 11 PM Eastern on Friday night, November 27.

Booked guests: @pinkyprincess (11 PM slot), @seearroh and @drrubidium (11:30 PM slot), Alex Goldberg (11:45 PM), St. Andrews' Lynx (12:00 AM) and Chad Jones (12:15 AM). 

Click here to hear the show at 11 PM Eastern today, and if you'd like to call in, lines open at 11:10 pm or so. The number to call in is (267) 521-0195.

Be aware that technical difficulties may happen, so apologies in advance if they happen.

UPDATE: The show has been extended.

*If we have lots of callers, I'll try to figure out how to extend the show. New software, not quite sure how to proceed. 

Little ornament hooks

Small, useful things (links):
As always, if you have a chemistry blog to promote, send me a link to a post! 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Refrigerator art, old refrigerator magnets
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 today.

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 and critiques. 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! 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Late Night with Chemjobber, Friday, November 27, 11 PM Eastern

Another plug for Late Night with Chemjobber; it'll be two hours* of guests and call-in fun, starting at 11 PM Eastern on Friday night, November 27.

Booked guests: @pinkyprincess (11 PM slot), @seearroh and @drrubidium (11:30 PM slot)

Final details will be posted by noon Eastern time on Friday.

*If I have a bunch of folks still interested in calling in at the end of the show, I'll start another show**, maybe.
**The Blog Talk Radio software only allows 2 hours at a time at my level of usage. 

"Lower your shields and surrender your ships."

"We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness
to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us."
Credit: Brent Saunders
Much like Derek, I don't have high hopes for scientists for the Pfizer-Allergan merger. I hope I'm wrong.

Readers, your best caption? 

Process Wednesday: gotta wait until the dryers are done

From Francis X. McConville's "The Pilot Plant Real Book" and its short section on dryers, a comment about dryer characteristics:
The properties of product from pilot drying equipment may be significantly different from that of product dried in laboratory vacuum tray dryers. This is particularly true of units that agitate the cake mechanically such as orbiting screw conical dryers. Particle attrition or agglomeration can result in major differences in particle size distribution, bulk density, compaction and flowability. These things in turn affect solubility, bioavailability, formulation, processing, packing and shipping. Therefore, it is not valid to base projected product properties on the results of tray-dried samples when different equipment will be used on scale-up. 
The behavior of a given product in different dryer types cannot be easily predicted. Bench or small pilot-sized test units are available for tumble or paddle dryers, but the dynamic similarity to large-scale equipment is poor. 
The best way to determine what the product will look like is by performing pilot studies in representative drying equipment. Sometimes the actual product characteristics will not be known until the first production batch comes out in the dryer. 
Just in case you thought you could predict the future in this sense, you cannot. Gosh, it is remarkable to me how much is not known in this business. 

Daily Pump Trap: 11/24/15 edition

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

Seattle, WA: Seattle Genetics has a manufacturing scientist opening.

Tampa, FL: Moffitt Cancer Center has an opening for a M.S./Ph.D. medicinal chemist.

One more time: PharmAgra Labs, back again.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Job posting: associate professor, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA

Advanced Assistant Professor or Associate Professor, Applied Science 
The candidate is expected to establish and maintain an externally funded, world-class research program that inspires a highly motivated graduate student body as well as undergraduate students. Collaborations with existing departmental activities in the fields of photon-based/ultrafast characterization, carbon nanostructures, protein-based high-performance materials, electronic and magnetic materials, medical imaging, and surface and thin film characterization are expected. Other significant collaboration opportunities are available with the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, Eastern Virginia Medical School and NASA Langley Research Center. William & Mary also has a strong tradition of excellent teaching at the graduate and undergraduate levels, and the successful candidate will play an important role in the educational mission of the Department of Applied Science. 
The successful applicant will have full access to a state-of-the-art solid-state NMR facility, which currently has only one other user. The position comes with five years of support at the 100% level for a technician to maintain the NMR equipment who will report to the successful candidate. The NMR facility houses two Bruker wide bore superconducting magnets operating at field strengths of 17.6 T and 7.05 T, each controlled by Bruker AVANCE I high power consoles optimized for solid state experiments, along with several probes capable of temperature controlled (−100 °C to +100 °C) magic angle spinning experiments. Additional shared instrumentation include a PHI Trift-II ToF/SIMS, and a Hitachi S-4700 SEM, as well as a vast array of other characterization instruments. The startup for the position will be competitive.
Best wishes to those interested.  

Ivory Filter Flask: 11/24/15 edition

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

Newark, NJ: New Jersey Institute of Technology wishes to hire two assistant professors (inorganic chemistry/biomaterials.)

Baldwin City, KS: Baker University wishes to hire a tenure-track assistant professor of chemistry; looks to be a physical chemistry position.

Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Edwardsville is seeking an assistant professor of analytical chemistry.

Saint Paul, MN: Hamline University desires to hire an assistant professor of organic chemistry.

Winnipeg, MB: The University of Manitoba is looking for a "Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Surface Chemistry." (what is that? ahhh.)

Edmonton, AB: The University of Alberta desires an assistant/associate professor of medicinal chemistry/drug discovery.

Flint, MI: The University of Michigan - Flint is searching for an assistant professor of organic chemistry.

Farmville, VA: Hampton-Sydney College wishes to hire a visiting assistant professor of bioorganic chemistry. 

Got a minute (or 120?) on Friday night? Time for Chemjobber Late Night

Friends, I have long had the dream of doing a late night talk radio show, and here's my chance.

On Friday night at 11 PM Eastern, I'll be going live with Blog Talk Radio. Come here on Friday morning, and I'll have the details laid out. 

You'll be able to click on a link and listen live, you'll be able to call in and yell at me about my lack of Monday posts and generally have a good time. I hope you'll join me. I'm hoping to have guests lined up for each half-hour slot.

Wanna be a special guest? E-mail me at

The link and number will be posted on Friday by noon Eastern time. Talk to you then. 

This week's C&EN

A very late post on this week's issue of C&EN:

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Weekend longreads: red mercury

An incredibly interesting long article in The New York Times Magazine by C.J. Chivers about a legendary, mythological material called "red mercury", which I had never heard of. Here's a demonstration of the stuff: 
...Two years before in Ras al-Ain, another Syrian border town, Abu Omar said, he was with a group of Islamic fighters that organized a test with 3.5 grams of liquid red mercury and a container of chlorine. The experiment was led by Abu Suleiman al-Kurdi, who commanded a small fighting group that has since joined the Islamic State. Al-Kurdi gathered the jihadists around his materials as the test began. ‘‘I will count to 10, and whoever stays in the room after that suffocates and dies,’’ he warned. 
The chlorine was held in a foil-lined container, Abu Omar said. As the group watched, al-Kurdi dipped a needle into the red mercury and then touched the needle to the chlorine, transferring a drop. ‘‘Everything interacted with everything,’’ Abu Omar said, and a foul vapor rose. All of the fighters were driven away, first from the room, then from the house. 
The powers of red mercury, Abu Omar said, were real. 
Almost every aspect of this story, like so many other breathless accounts of red mercury, was unverifiable. And even if something did happen in that room, the noxious vapors could have a simple explanation: Chlorine alone damages the respiratory tract and can be deadly if inhaled. 
But Abu Omar had answered the question. He stood firmly in the red-mercury camp. He was hardly alone...
Gonna hafta start blaming deviations in the plant on unknown red mercury leaks. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Weekend Ask CJ: ADD/#chemjobs in Philly

From the inbox, a request from someone who: 
  • has a B.S. in chemistry, 
  • and has anxiety/ADD issues,
  • does not want to work in the lab
Two questions: 
  • Does anyone have any experience working in the lab with ADD? 
  • Does anyone have a good position outside of the lab for people with ADD?
Seems to me that a sales position might work? I dunno. 

Also, anyone have suggestions for someone who is a synthetic chemist in the Philadelphia area? 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Bleg: old chemistry texts?

It must be Chemistry Book Day in the chemblogosphere, with Derek asking about ideas for new drug discovery/development texts.

Here's my question: what is your favorite pre-1980s chemistry text/reference book?, i.e. a book that chemists use (not a popular chemistry text). Bonus points if it is an organic chemistry text. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Those that management likes are eccentric, those they don't are fired for their goat

Credit: Navy Times (MC3 Diana Quinlan/Navy)
From Navy Times's David Larter, the story of an an odd U.S. Navy captain: 
On the cruiser Lake Erie, investigators found a grueling schedule with arbitrary weekend workdays; a supply officer so offensive that he was ordered not to speak to any E-6 or below; a crew that spent hours repeatedly cleaning the same places just to look busy; work done and redone because of miscommunication with the shipyard. 
And the pièce de résistance: a seafaring pygmy goat named Master Chief Charlie. 
Under commanding officer Capt. John Banigan, Master Chief Charlie was more than a mascot — he was a shipmate. Charlie sailed on the ship's homeport shift from Hawaii to San Diego in 2014, tied up on the aft missile deck where crewmembers fed him and policed his droppings. 
And he was a fixture at command events. He hobnobbed with distinguished visitors, including the Navy's top officer and, allegedly, the strike group boss, and served as the ring bearer at a junior officer's wedding aboard the ship. 
But the Navy's most adorable master chief would also end up costing Banigan his command....
The story isn't just about the goat, it's mostly about the poor treatment of the sailors and the poor morale. That said, the story would not be nearly as eye-catching without the goat. (It's a funny thing, the goat. If Captain Banigan were a great motivator and well-loved, I sense that even the legal troubles with the goat could not possibly interfere with his career.)

I've worked for some pretty odd ducks in my time, but I've yet to meet a pet goat. Readers, got any good stories? 

Medchem, commodified

In a recent Reddit AMA, Michael Gilman, the CEO of Padlock Therapeutics in Cambridge, opines on the future of medicinal chemistry in the United States:
I would add that, unfortunately, medicinal chemistry is increasingly regarded as a commodity in the life sciences field. And, worse, it's subject to substantial price competition from CROs in Asia. That -- and the ongoing hemmorhaging of jobs from large pharma companies -- is making jobs for bench-level chemists a bit more scarce. I worry, though, because it's the bench-level chemists who grow up and gather the experience to become effective managers of out-sourced chemistry, and I'm concerned that we may be losing that next general of great drug discovery chemists.
I wish I could disagree with any of this, but I really can't.  

Think it's time for a special visa?

The Indian Business Standard notes a problem in Indian drug industry regulation, as summarized by FiercePharma:
The reputation of India's massive $15 billion drug industry is being threatened at the federal and state level by a lack of properly trained personnel and a shortage of funding that points out possible changes may be needed in how the country finances inspections and quality control work, according to a report in the Business Standard. 
The newspaper said almost half of all regulatory positions in the country's central and state drug offices remain unfilled and that "existing staff (are) not trained to meet the regulatory requirements of the growing sector." 
These worries come despite the country setting aside $273 million to beef up the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) and $132 million to beef up state regulators, the report said....
Sure sounds like a STEM shortage to me!

(All joking aside, it sounds like red tape and low pay is to blame?)

Daily Pump Trap: 11/19/15 edition

A few of the positions posted on C&EN Jobs this week:

Greensboro, NC: Syngenta is looking for a M.S. chemist to be a formulator. Can't quite tell if the position is entry-level or not? Probably 1-2 years industrial experience desired.

Shanghai, China: Eli Lilly is looking for a process chemistry group leader.

Hyderabad, India: I see Novartis is looking for folks in Hyderabad.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) "1000+", 610, 10,189 and 13 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 975 positions for the job title "chemist", with 119 position for "analytical chemist", 39 for "research chemist", 18 for "organic chemist", 8 for "polymer chemist", 6 for "synthetic chemist" and 0 for "medicinal chemist." 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Parable of the Experiments

14 For it will be like the advisor before a journey, who called his charges and entrusted to them his laboratory. 15 To one he gave five experiments, to another two, to another one, to each according to their ability. Then he went away.

16 The postdoc who had received the five experiments went at once and performed them, and she published two papers more.

17 So also he who had the two experiments performed them and published one paper.

18 But he who had received the one experiment searched the literature and found his advisor’s experiment already published.

19 Now after a long time the advisor returned and held group meeting once more.

20 And she who had received the five experiments came forward, bringing two publications more, saying, ‘Professor, you delivered to me five experiments; here I have made two publications more.’ 21 Her professor said to her, ‘Well done, good and faithful postdoc. You have been faithful over a little; I will call on my acquaintances to employ you. Enter into the favor of your professor.’

22 And he also who had the two experiments came forward, saying, ‘Professor, you delivered to me two experiments; here I have made one publication more.’ 23 His advisor said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful graduate student. You have been faithful over a little; I will bestow additional projects of promise. Enter into the favor of your professor.’

24 He also who had received the one experiment came forward, saying, ‘Professor, I knew you to be a hard advisor, being cited where you had no publications, and speculating where you had no data, 25 so I was cautious, and I further searched and found precedent in the literature showing your experiment would not bear fruit.’

26 But his advisor answered him, ‘You wicked and willful graduate student! You knew that I speculated where I had no data? 27 Then you ought to have read the literature and developed your own project. 28 So take the experiment from him and give it to him who has the two experiments. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and they will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’

30 And he cast the woeful student out of the laboratory with no recommendation. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

with apologies to Matthew

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Daily Pump Trap: 11/17/15 edition

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

Charlotte, NC: BASF looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist to work on "Architectural & Decorative Coatings – Resins." Huh, who knew?

Research Triangle Park, NC: AgBiome looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. chemist to be a production manager; fermentation process development experience desired.

Chico, CA: I shouldn't be surprised that Sierra Nevada Brewing has scientists working for it; the qualifications shouldn't be surprising, either:
  • Originating, planning, organizing, prioritizing, executing, coordinating and leading research projects and experiments from bench scale to plant scale in support of continuous product and process improvement and internal customer service
  • Proposing, establishing, and justifying new or improved procedures or product and process materials based on sound experimental results
  • Chemical analysis, methods development, and the operation and upkeep of delicate and sophisticated instruments
  • Application of statistical principles such as ANOVA, MANOVA, and DOE
  • Documenting, organizing, analyzing, summarizing, and presenting research data and results, conclusions and recommendations

Madison, WI: Ag Precision Formulators looking for a B.S. chemist to be a laboratory technician.

Berkeley, CA: LBNL looking for a postdoc in coherent X-Ray scattering.

Ivory Filter Flask: 11/17/15 edition

A few of the academic positions posted on C&EN Jobs:

Las Cruces, NM: New Mexico State University is looking for an assistant professor of physical chemistry.

Peoria, IL: Bradley University searching for two assistant professors, one organic, the other "any sub-discipline except theoretical/computational chemistry." 

San Luis Obispo, CA: Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo has an opening for an inorganic chemist; might be two openings? 

Miami Gardens, FL:  St. Thomas University desires an assistant professor of biochemistry. 

"Major thrust": Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) is conducting an open search for faculty related to explosives: 
The Schools of Chemical, Materials, and Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University have identified Energetic Materials (propellants, explosives, and pyrotechnics) as a major thrust for interdisciplinary research and education ( 
To this end, Purdue is accepting applications for all levels (Assistant, Associate, or Full Professor). 
The ability to synthesize, handle, formulate, deploy, detect, track, and defeat new and emerging energetic materials is critical to public safety and quality of life...
Huh, had not thought of it that way.

Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University is searching for an associate (?) professor of materials chemistry.

Los Altos Hills, CA: Foothill College of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District is looking for a chemistry instructor;  "$55,073.00 - $90,449.00" annually offered.

The rumor mill a-churning: There are lots of status updates at ChemBark about how faculty searches are progressing (or not.) (Just keep scrolling.) 

Monday, November 16, 2015

The latest ACS form 990 from 2014

The latest ACS form 990 from 2014. N.B. Madeleine Jacobs has retired and Tom Connelly is now the current CEO of the American Chemical Society.

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles from this week's C&EN:

Friday, November 13, 2015

12.5 cm recrystallization dishes

Small useful things (links):
Again, an open invitation to all interested in writing a blog, a hobby that will bring you millions thousands hundreds joy and happiness. Send me a link to your post, and I'd be happy to put it up. 

All unhappy companies?

Here's a long article in the Lebanon, NH Valley News about a small company called Seldon Technologies with a hilarious and horrifically sad middle section when the scientists talk about Seldon's core technology, carbon nanotubes for water filtration: 
During an internal compliance review of the company’s technology, Seldon scientists discovered that its signature innovation — super-small cylinder-shaped carbon nanotubes, or CNTs — “had little or no effect on performance” of the filtration “media” to remove contaminants, according to the company’s confidential 85-page 2013 business plan, a copy of which was provided to the Valley News. 
As a result, the authors of the plan wrote, the tests “have called into question both the validity and value of (Seldon’s) patents.” 
The finding turned out to be both bad news and good news for the company. 
The good news: When reformulated to exclude carbon nanotubes, the filtration media was just as effective and no longer needed approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, meaning it could finally be sold into the U.S. consumer market. 
The bad news: The discovery undermined the company’s selling point as a cutting-edge nanotechnology innovator, the key to Seldon’s industry positioning and marketing. 
Seldon employees, many of whom asked not to be identified because they didn’t want to jeopardize their chances of finding new jobs by talking publicly about their former employer, said the discovery forced Seldon to focus efforts on developing filter technology that did not employ nanotechnology. 
“It looked as though carbon nanotubes were the cat’s [behind]*, but they were not,” said one employee. The reformulated filtration media works nearly as well, the employee said, but “is not that much of a secret sauce.”
The article quotes a lot of Seldon scientists who detail the various financial and management gyrations; they're pretty brutal. I often feel that there are way too many whiz-bang stories about startups and not enough skepticism, or postmortems. There are successes in startups, but there are many more failures.

*CJ's bowdlerization for corporate firewalls

Organometallics tutorial

I wanted to draw attention to this tutorial by Jay Labinger at Caltech on oxidative addition published recently in Organometallics. I liked it; hope they do more. 

Hong Kong residents flush their toilets with sea water?

From the annals of "I did not know that" comes an article at C&EN by Deirdre Lockwood about chlorination of seawater-based wastewater:
In Hong Kong, about 80% of residents flush their toilets with seawater, thanks to a separate water distribution system set up in the 1950s. The approach conserves the city’s scarce freshwater resources, and has also been adopted by smaller communities like the Marshall Islands. As coastal populations and water demand rise, this idea may become more attractive elsewhere, though some researchers have worried about the release of potentially toxic by-products to coastal areas from treating seawater with chlorination. To the contrary, a new study suggests that the practice not only helps conserve freshwater but also may protect wildlife in marine ecosystems (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2015, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b03796)....
I had no idea that Hong Kong residents flushed their toilets with seawater; makes a lot of sense.

Something like this would require massive infrastructure investment on the part of a municipality; I presume that inland cities could not bear the cost. It would be fascinating to know which cities on the east, west or southern coasts of the United States are actually close enough to a source of seawater to where this is a viable option. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Some good words about wages and inflation

Megan McArdle is a business writer for Bloomberg View; I liked her comments here about inflation and the "sticky wage" problem (with the recent Republican presidential primary debate as a backdrop):
...Inflation eases the sticky wage problem: You hold wages constant, and let inflation eat away the real value of the compensation until it’s in line with the company’s newly reduced expectations. It’s better for morale than an outright pay cut, and kinder than firing your least-productive workers. 
With inflation so low, this takes a long time, but over the last seven years, workers who got no raises will have seen an average 10 percent decrease in the buying power of their salaries. Many workers have gotten raises to keep up with inflation, of course, which is why real compensation is roughly flat. But some people, possibly many people, have seen a real and substantial decline. And since we had so much inflation in sectors that you really don’t have much choice about consuming, like food and gas, that hurts....
I think she hits on one of the reasons for general discontent about the economy. It's also relevant to the ChemCensus and how folks are feeling about their wages. 

The preliminary numbers from the ACS ChemCensus are out: unemployment of members is at 3.1%, slightly up from 2014

Credit: C&EN
Also in this week's C&EN, the preliminary data from the 2015 ChemCensus, which is a longer
version of the annual ACS salary survey. There were a number of articles: 
The relevant numbers from the overview: 
  • As you can see from the graph on the right, it's pretty clear that salaries for chemists and chemical engineers haven't risen much against inflation (graph in 1984 constant dollars.) 
  • There were 23,843 respondents to the 2015 ChemCensus; I think that's a ~25-30% response rate, but I can't tell until the full report is released. 
  • The unemployment rate for ACS members in 2015 was 3.1%, which is up from 2014's 2.9%. 
  • "11% of members in 2015 accepted a job that paid less than their previous position to maintain employment." 
  • The coastal regions have the highest median salaries, with $118,000 being the median salaries for both the Pacific (WA, OR, CA) region and the New England (MA, CT, NH, VT, ME) region. 
  • "21% of members in 2015 said they do not have access to continuing education or technical training from their employer." 
I have to say that I am frankly a little surprised to see an overall increase in the unemployment numbers; I would have expected this year to be a little bit better, but we'll have to wait until the full report is released before we have a good sense.* 

The article by Andrea Widener that talked about the different perspectives of a current tenured professor (Prof. Shahriar Mobashery of the University of Notre Dame) and Jenny Zhang (recent Ph.D. grad from the University of Washington). There are some not so hopeful quotes in there: 
When Shahriar Mobashery got his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1985, chemistry seemed like a great career choice. “I thought the future was open,” the University of Notre Dame chemistry professor remembers. “In retrospect, that optimistic perspective was wonderful.” 
Back then, graduate schools had a hard time keeping students from dropping out for high-powered jobs in industry. Even foreign students in need of visas were in high demand. “Everybody got jobs in the 1980s,” he remembers. But the optimism that pervaded chemistry departments when Mobashery was in grad school has since dissipated. “Our outstanding students and postdocs still do just fine,” Mobashery says. But average students don’t fare nearly as well.
I agree with Professor Mobashery, in that we should be tracking how well the median student's income/unemployment is doing. Speaking of which, the quote from Dr. Zhang was eye-opening:
Not all of her fellow graduates have been able to find the job they’ve been searching for, Zhang says. They might be teaching part-time at the test-prep service Princeton Review or at a community college, doing computer programming, or carrying out a postdoc.  
That picture fits with what the ACS ChemCensus data suggest about employment opportunities in 1985 and 2015. “It’s a lot harder to get hired with a Ph.D. in chemistry today,” she says.
I wish I could disagree with her.

*Gotta say, I miss the graph-based format from the older coverage of the ACS Salary Survey; while the infographic approach is nice, I think the median reader of C&EN is used to tables of facts and figures. Maybe I'm wrong.

Fracking and the economy

I continue to remain interested in the effects of shale oil on the U.S. economy, even as the price of gas is reasonably low and the price of West Texas Intermediate is 42 bucks. A recent report by Dartmouth/NBER on the effects of fracking (via Reuters):
...Researchers conducting the National Bureau of Economic Research study analyzed data from over 3,000 U.S. counties and determined that within 100 miles of new production, $1 million of extracted oil and gas generated $243,000 in wages, $117,000 in royalties and 2.49 jobs. 
"Aggregating to the national level we conclude that aggregate employment rose by 725,000 jobs due to fracking, causing a reduction in the U.S. unemployment rate of 0.5 percent during the Great Recession," according to the study...
Gotta say, 725,000 jobs is a lot of jobs, even if a kajillion of them were in Williston, ND. I wonder how long this will last...

Daily Pump Trap: 11/12/15 edition

A few of this week's postings on C&EN Jobs: 

Chicago, IL: AbbVie looking for a senior analytical chemist to work on antibody-drug conjugates. 

Dayton, NJ: Fascinating little position from Accutest in New Jersey; they're looking for someone who has experience in GC to be an instructor for their company: 
We are currently seeking an experienced college or university level Instructor to join our team to teach analysts and trainees (often, recent graduates) GC and GC/MS techniques for quantitative analysis.  You will work closely with individual employees to ensure that analysts learn and can demonstrate proper laboratory procedures in GC and GC/MS, complying with our Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).  We work in a highly regulated environment, and only those analysts who can demonstrate both ability and willingness to follow SOPs can be successful here.  
Don't these people know that's the wrong way to go about things? You're supposed to whine in the news media that your people are untrained by your local schools, and then you're supposed to ask the taxpayer to pick up the bill. (They don't even ask for a Ph.D.!?!??) /sarcasm 

Don't do it: I sense this is a small company in Princeton, NJ is looking for cheap labor, not a synthetic postdoc. 

Aiken, SC: Savannah River National Laboratory looking for a postdoc for work on nanotechnology, with respect to "the Tritium & Hydrogen Processing Programs." 

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) "1000+", 618, 10,328 and zero positions. LinkedIn shows 1,615 positions for the job title "chemist", with 120 for "analytical chemist", 39 for "research chemist", 15 for "organic chemist", 4 for "synthetic chemist" and 1 for "medicinal chemist." 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Process Wednesday: the number of Suzukis done on process scale is less than I thought

From Organic Process Research and Development, a review by Elder and Teasdale [1]  on the difficultly in avoiding potentially genotoxic/reactive intermediates in later-stage syntheses. The authors reviewed the last decade of OPRD papers and found the following:
...The review covered 302 publications from this journal covering a 10-year period (2001−2010). The review data are provided in Tables S-1 to S-10 in the Supporting Information. (CJ's note: PDF) There was only one synthetic route (i.e., for netilmicin, published in 2002) that avoided the need to employ reactive intermediates during the entire synthesis....  
On the basis of this survey, we can conclude that the average number of steps required to synthesize each API was 5.9 and that the average number of reactive intermediates per synthetic route was 4.1. 
...In the second half of the decade (2006−2010; Figure 4), whilst these two classes of reactive intermediate (acid halide and alkyl halide) remained prevalent, they were joined by aromatic amines and Michael acceptors as the predominant classes. Aromatic amines (along with the related aromatic nitro precursors) have attained popularity because of the desire to introduce late-stage coupling reactions (e.g., Suzuki, Heck, etc.) into chemical schemes as part of green chemistry initiatives. Similarly, activated alkenes (or Michael acceptors) can readily undergo addition reactions with nucleophiles, one of the most attractive methods for the formation of C−C bonds, using mild reaction conditions. These findings are somewhat at odds with an earlier survey of good manufacturing practise (GMP) bulk reactions run in a research facility between 1985 and 2002, which showed that Michael addition reactions remained constant at about 7% of the total over that time period. However, this may be a vagary of the chemistries studied....
I am somewhat surprised at the relatively small number of boronic acids - I wonder if that number will either rise or fall for the 2010-2015 period? I wonder what future reactive intermediates will be seen?

1. Elder, D.P.; Teasdale, A. "Is Avoidance of Genotoxic Intermediates/Impurities Tenable for Complex, Multistep Syntheses?" Org. Process Res. Dev., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/op500346q

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Whither teaching postdocs?

Over the years, people have asked me about the various programs that bring in new Ph.D.s for "teaching" postdoctoral positions. I've had another such conversation recently, so I'm bringing the issue up again.

I'll be completely up front and say that I'm quite skeptical of them, but I don't have any strong data to back up my skepticism. Here are my qualms:
  • Why is the institution hiring postdocs as opposed to full-time lecturers? Isn't this just a money play? 
  • What kind of career development program is available to the selected postdocs outside of "here, teach these classes"? 
  • If there's a research component, how much support does the PI offer the postdoc? No one likes dual mandates, and I can't imagine PIs are enthusiastic about postdocs that come with outside commitments. 
  • What is the track record of the program? 
One of the oldest such programs is Boston University chemistry Postdoctoral Faculty Fellowship program. They note the track record of their alumni; it seems to me that most of those graduates have been hired as assistant professors, so there's that. But a real analysis of their value would ask this: 
  • Do the BU PFF alumni get hired as PUI faculty at a higher rate than research postdocs? 
  • Do the BU PFF alumni get promoted to tenure at a higher rate than other assistant professors? 
  • Do they show better track records in teaching or gaining outside funding? 
  • Does the BU program demonstrate "added value"?, i.e. do their alumni outcomes show that they have actually improved participants' chances of getting assistant professor positions? 
We don't actually have any of the background statistics, so I am not sure an analysis of BU's alumni would actually be demonstrative of anything.* 

Now for the other side: I mentioned my skepticism about these programs to a friend of mine who is a retired PUI chemistry professor; to my surprise, he was actually quite positive about such programs. He felt these programs actually offered some level of predictive power to hiring committees, i.e. they demonstrate to hiring committees that they can, at the very least, teach college students something about chemistry. He felt that traditional research postdoctoral fellows could not offer that same data point. He did agree more prestigious PUIs would probably still select research postdocs as assistant professors over teaching postdocs. So to counter my skepticism, I have one data point that was in favor of such programs. 

Readers, as you know, I'm not an academic, so I am undoubtedly wrong somewhere here. I invite you to correct me. 

*What percentage of newly-hired assistant professors in chemistry are actually promoted to tenure? I don't think anyone actually knows. 

Job posting: chemical engineering positions, Woburn, MA

From the inbox, two positions at CONTINUUS Pharmaceuticals (a MIT/Novartis collaboration/startup):
Best wishes to those interested. 

Daily Pump Trap: 11/10/15 edition

A few of the industrial positions posted on C&EN Jobs this past week:

Louisville, KY: Hexion is looking for a product development chemist for its phenolic resins; M.S./Ph.D. with 0-4 years of industrial experience desired.

Kalamazoo, MI: Kalexsyn is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. synthetic organic chemist.

Wyandotte, MI: BASF looking for a senior manager for its Structural Materials & Systems Research division; Ph.D., 7 years experience desired.

Washington, D.C.: Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo looking for a chemistry patent agent. M.S.(?)/Ph.D. desired. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 11/10/15 edition

A few of this week's academically-related positions on C&EN Jobs:

Kingston, RI: The University of Rhode Island desires a physical/analytical chemist at the assistant professor level.

Québec City, Québec: Université Laval wishes to hire a computational chemist. " The successful candidate is expected to teach, in French, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels."

The Grandest Title I Ever Did See: The University of Minnesota desires "an Assistant Professor, General Mills Endowed Land Grant Professorship in Cereal Chemistry and Technology." I would hope the professorship comes with an unrestricted grant paid in Lucky Charms.

Dalton, GA: Dalton State College is looking for an assistant/associate professor of chemistry.

Oklahoma City, OK: The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation is looking for faculty members in functional and chemical genomics.

Chapel Hill, NC: Postdoc in microfluidics is available. (What do we think, is this a growth field?)

Huntsville, AL: The University of Alabama at Huntsville is looking for a chair of the department of chemistry.

Greenville, SC: Furman University has a visiting assistant professor position for a biochemist.

Monday, November 9, 2015

This week's C&EN

From this week's C&EN:

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Weekend discussion: Should an interview candidate cover their tattoos?

A recent correspondent asks about body art (tattoos, specifically) during interviews in industry. 

I frankly don't have any experience with this, other than that, in my opinion, the median age in the R&D portions of the pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing subsectors is still north of 40, and so folks are probably more-conservative-than-not in their dress. 

It seems to me that traditional business attire for men and women will cover up sleeve and chest piece tattoos, so that's the way to go there. I am not quite sure what to do about tattoos other places, such as calves (e.g. for women who wear skirts) or hands. 

I note here that I do not have any body art or modification, so I'm speaking ex recto here. (What's new? -ed.

Also, I think company culture matters. If you're working at a startup in San Francisco where the boss plays his vintage Johnny Rotten in the lab, it's probably less of a big deal there than, say, the halls of Pfizer and the like. 

Readers, do you have any helpful suggestions? 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Where your ACS dues go

Also in this week's C&EN,  Kristin Omberg, the chair of ACS's Committee On Budget & Finance talks about ACS dues. She makes a number of points worthy of comment:
  • ACS dues for 2016 will be $162.
  • "Bylaw XIII also sets allocations for dues revenue."
    • 40% of dues goes to "printing and distribution costs of the editorial portion of Chemical & Engineering News." ($6.30M)
    • 20% of dues goes to support of local sections (55%) and divisions (45%). ($3.15 million in 2015)
    • all of the dues revenue from the Student Member category ($400,000 in 2015) is allocated to the Education Division for support of student programs.
And then there's this paragraph: 
...Of the remaining dues revenue, $3.34 million supports the Member Services unit that sends you the reminders to pay your dues, processes new membership applications, and maintains basic member benefits; $1.26 million covers information technology (IT) systems support; and $500,000 goes to other charges associated with membership, such as credit card fees and bad debt. That leaves about $1 million, which is used, in part, to help fund all other society programs, including advocacy, career services, awards, national meetings, National Chemistry Week, governance activities, and too many other benefits to list here. At one-sixteenth of total dues revenue, my contribution in exchange for these benefits was about $10 last year.
We are fortunate that ACS Publications and Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) provide robust annual contributions to the society. It is these net contributions that allow ACS to so effectively pursue its mission “to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people.”...  
It is truly surprising to me how little is left for what I would consider societal activities, i.e. national meetings; I guess what matters is what the ACS Pubs and CAS contribution to society activities actually is.

Wanna be famous? Send me your blog posts

Like ChemBark said, many moons ago, blogrolls are pretty useless things. I have one on the blog, mostly as tribute to Kyle Finchsigmate and the like.

That said, I am committing today to running regular (every two weeks) links posts. So, if you've written a blog post somewhere that you'd like me to link to, send it along (via e-mail) and more likely than not*, I'll post it. 

Consider this an open and indefinite invitation. 

*Obviously, I will be exercising editorial control over who and what I'll post.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The worst post-hoc reasoning you will read today: Mythbusters increased the number of students in STEM

From the august pages of the New York Times, an op-ed in support of an admittedly great show, Mythbusters, and some really bad reasoning:
...When the show started, the image of science and engineering in mainstream culture was at a low ebb. [snip] 
...Academic interest in science was in similar decline: Barely 20 percent of college freshmen were signing up for majors in science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM fields — continuing a long downward trend. 
“MythBusters” helped reverse that trend not by gussying science up, but by taking it seriously. “... 
...Best of all, a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that the number of college freshmen enrolling in STEM majors has climbed nearly 50 percent since 2005. If a few more kids today want to grow up to be Elon Musk or settle on Mars or cure cancer, we have Jamie and Adam partly to thank....
 From the Inside Higher Ed article by Scott Jaschik that the op-ed links to (emphasis mine):
Using data collected by UCLA, Jacobs and Sax write that from 1997 through 2005, the proportion of freshmen planning to enroll in STEM fields declined, hitting a low in 2005 of 20.7 percent. After modest gains in 2006 and 2007, real increases started to show up in 2008. The percentage of freshmen planning to major in STEM increased from 21.1 percent in 2007 to 28.2 percent in 2011, just as the recession was prompting many students and families to focus on the job potential of various fields of study. That represents a 48 percent increase in just a few years.
What was happening in 2008? Could it be the Great Recession? Gee, I dunno.... 

Glassdoor review of the week: Cambridge Major Labs, Germantown, WI

A recent Glassdoor review* of Cambridge Major Laboratories in Germantown, Wisconsin has this funny little comment: 
The opportunities for growth and development are very good, the people who work there are friendly and amazingly helpful. 
Work-life balance needs to be better. People get frustrated when there is no balance. 
Advice to Management 
Slow down - the company is growing and doing well. Focus on giving your employees a work-life balance. Show some appreciation other than pizza or ice cream and people will be more willing to stay.
I have this theory that there are two kinds of gifting languages in the United States.

There's the giving of food, which is typically the gifting language amongst friends and peers (you bring your coworkers a plate of cookies, you buy a friend their favorite distilled spirit, etc., etc.)

There's also the giving of money, which is quite often the language of appreciation between employer and employee. An employee will receive a check for a small sum along with their Lucite plaque or whatever. While most of the time, the appreciation matters more than the check, I think people would react differently if the small sum was delivered in, say, fresh-baked cookies.

I don't want to sound entitled or unappreciative, but I have noted that employees tend to react poorly when employers co-opt the gifting language of friends (i.e. "let's have a pizza party!") in place of money.

Readers, I'm sure I'm wrong here. Your thoughts? 

Daily Pump Trap: 11/5/15 edition

A few of the industrial positions posted on C&EN Jobs this past week:

Frederick, MD: Not every day you see a natural products extraction position come up. Leidos Biomedical Research is looking for a senior scientist; Ph.D., 5 years experience desired.

Pinellas Park, FL: Transitions Optical looking for a project chemist for lens coatings.

East Millstone, NJ: Envigo is looking for a LC/MS-MS analyst.

Annandale, NJ: It is always interesting to me how older organizations have some really sweet, super-official-sounding titles:
ExxonMobil Research and Engineering has an immediate opening for a Member of the Technical Staff in the Hydrocarbon Science Section of its Corporate Strategic Research Laboratory in Annandale, NJ.
Who wouldn't want to work on Corporate Strategic Research, given the opportunity? Needs a PhD in chemistry, experience with (among other things) "models of complex petroleum or hydrocarbon mixtures is favored."

Wilmington, DE: Solenis LLC wishes to hire a senior B.S./M.S. analytical chemist.

Newton, MA: The Silent Spring Institute wishes to hire a data scientist. (fixed - thanks, Anon!) Also, a chemist.

Cambridge, MA: Always interesting to me to see what Moderna is working on. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 11/5/15 edition

A few of the academic positions recently posted on C&EN Jobs:

Fresno, CA: California State University, Fresno is hiring an assistant professor of chemical biology.

Troy, NY: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute wishes to hire an associate or full professor of chemistry for the D’Ambra Endowed Chair in Organic Chemistry; unknown whether the professor will be strongly suggested to work on Saturdays.

Bothell, WA: University of Washington Bothell is hiring an assistant professor of organic chemistry.

Orem, UT: Utah Valley University desires an assistant professor of biochemistry; unknown whether or not it is tenure-track.

Miami, FL: Florida International University is searching for an open-rank position in chemical education.

Taipei, Taiwan: Academia Sinica is looking for a research fellow (tenure track) to work on chemical dynamics and spectroscopy.

Shanghai, China: NYU Shanghai is looking for a faculty position in computational/theoretical chemistry.

The List: The joint ChemBark/Chemjobber 2016 Faculty Jobs List is at 397 positions total. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

New PhD chemists in industry are "the greatest hazard"?

Also from this week's C&EN, a column by Professor Jean’ne M. Shreeve on academic chemical safety with this intriguing passage (emphasis mine): 
...Engaging in best safety practices must be an ongoing process, integrated into the daily activities of laboratory personnel. Unhappily, chemistry faculty members today are not often aware of what constitutes good safety practices. It is a skill that is being lost as many knowledgeable chemists leave research labs for other opportunities or retire. And new faculty members under today’s pressures vary widely in their degree of commitment to maintaining their safety skills and helping improve departmental safety. 
It has been said that the greatest hazard in an industrial laboratory is a fresh chemistry Ph.D. graduate. But our up-and-coming chemists are not our only concern. It is similarly argued that the greatest hazard in a university laboratory is a tenured faculty member who has never been involved in a serious accident. Some of the recent high-profile accidents attest to both of those maxims. 
The lack of a shared enthusiasm can limit the effectiveness of our safety programs. The concept of a “culture” of safety must survive and must be adopted by all who are involved in ensuring the safety of chemistry laboratories and in guiding our coworkers to safer and more fulfilling lives.
The concept that new Ph.D. grads are especially hazardous that's an interesting idea (i.e. credentialed enough not to get supervision, not experienced enough to be completely safe), but I'd like to see some statistical evidence before I agree completely. (I am sure the Dow/DuPont EH&S departments have those numbers.) 

Warning Letter of the Week: Doesn't everyone have two sets of batch records for the same process?

Someone at Bloomberg has gotten their hands on some pretty interesting FDA 483s: (emphasis mine)
A Pfizer Inc. plant in China that was being inspected by Food and Drug Administration regulators in order to ship drugs to the U.S. kept a second set of quality and manufacturing records that didn’t match official ones, according to an FDA review of the facility. 
During an April inspection of Pfizer’s plant in the northern Chinese city of Dalian, FDA inspectors said in their report that employees hid quality failures, used expired manufacturing materials or ones that hadn’t been recently checked, and retested failing products until they passed. 
Details of the inspection were described in an FDA report called a Form 483 that was obtained by Bloomberg News. Mackay Jimeson, a Pfizer spokesman, confirmed Pfizer’s ownership of the plant.... 
...At Pfizer’s Dalian plant, the agency observed that when tests of drug products failed to meet standards, the same products were re-tested until passing results were achieved, and that the original failures were never reported or investigated. 
The FDA inspectors also noticed that one manufacturing unit had only one stand-alone toilet in significant disrepair 50 yards from the aseptic manufacturing unit. Inside the facility inspectors saw no hand washing station and an open pit appeared to be used as a urinal.
The open pit is a nice touch; I'd like to see the change control for the installation of that.  

Process Wednesday: Synergistic effects from a combination of thiol/thiourea Silicycle products

Credit: Scheme and table taken from Wells et al.
I thought this OPRD ASAP [1] from a group at Janssen was pretty interesting, especially the notes about the effective combining of Silicycle-Thiol/Si-Thiolurea at removing 1400 ppm-1600 ppm palladium down to sub-10 ppm levels. The previous step was a tricky Suzuki with a cyclic boronic acid that seemingly required a reasonably high amount of palladium (see Scheme 9 above):
The results presented in Table 2 showed that Si-Thiourea was, in general, most effective at reducing the amount of Pd from product 1a; Si-Thiol was about 5 times less effective, whereas all others were ineffective at changing the residual palladium.  
It was interesting to find that Si-Thiourea was effective even at room temperature, reducing the residual Pd to 34 ppm, which was within specification for the initial scale-up campaign. However, an unexpected result was found by the synergistic effect of a combination of two Silicycle products, Si-Thiol and Si-Thiourea, when used in concert in EtOAc/MeOH at about 55 °C for 1−2 h, which was not apparent from the screening array. (emphasis CJ's) Their use in combination at 1:1 w/w (total 35−40% by weight relative to compound 1a) proved to be effective at removing residual Pd and decolorizing the product and consistently provided white to off-white solid product with less than 10 ppm of Pd.
 The authors don't discuss why there was synergy. Anyone have an idea?

1. Wells, K.M.*; Mehrman, S.J.; Abdel-Magid, A.F; Ferraro, C.; Scott, L.; Zhong, H.M.; Teleha, C.A.; Ballentine, S.; Li, X.; Russell, R.K.; Spink, J.M.; Diamond, C.; Youells, S.; Zhang, Y.; Tsay, F.-R.; Cesco-Cancia, S.; Manzo, S.M.; Beauchamp, D.A. "Synthesis of Mavatrep: A Potent Antagonist of Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid-1." Org. Process Res. Dev., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acs.oprd.5b00271

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

C&EN: Provivi is hiring chemists

Also in this week's C&EN cover story on chemistry startups, Provivi is hiring chemists! From the article by Melody Baumgardner: 
...Coelho’s entry into the entrepreneurial waters is Provivi, which he started in 2013 before he even defended his Ph.D. thesis. Provivi seeks to cost-effectively make pheromones that farmers can use to draw insects away from crops and prevent them from finding each other to mate. 
At its core is Coelho’s skill in manipulating biocatalysts to produce useful chemicals that are otherwise difficult to make. He earned his molecular assembly chops working with mutated versions of the enzyme cytochrome P450.... 
...Provivi is now hiring—its website shows multiple job listings—as it gears up its new technology. “We decided we are a very small company, and our bandwidth is accordingly limited,” Coelho says. “So we’ll do one thing and start with a project we are passionate about: sustainable insect control. It will be economical but also environmentally sound.”
From Provivi's website, there are 11 positions for scientists; 5 of them have "chemist" in their title. (I would link here, but it goes to PDFs.) 

We now have a Cannabis Chemistry Subdivision within the Division of Chemical Health and Safety

From the inbox, a press release:
The Cannabis Chemistry Committee and the Division of Chemical Health and Safety (CHAS) of the American Chemical Society (ACS) are pleased to announce the creation of the Cannabis Chemistry Subdivision (CANN) within CHAS. The Division and CANN are excited about this new relationship and are looking forward to expanded collaboration and education efforts. Growing faster than ever, CANN is eager to offer membership and showcase the benefits of getting involved...
There are subdivisions within divisions in ACS? I did not know that.

Here's the accompanying video and here's the full press release. 

This week's C&EN

(Whoa, busy, apparently. Sorry, folks.)

A few of this week's articles in C&EN:
Also announced in C&EN's online news yesterday: Allison Campbell won the position of ACS president-elect over Bryan Balazs with 53% of the vote. (article by Linda Wang)