Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday conversation: STS winner != Nobel Prize winner

From the New York Times and its book advertisements thinkpieces, a really dumb conclusion from Wharton professor Adam Evans:
THEY learn to read at age 2, play Bach at 4, breeze through calculus at 6, and speak foreign languages fluently by 8. Their classmates shudder with envy; their parents rejoice at winning the lottery. But to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, their careers tend to end not with a bang, but with a whimper. 
Consider the nation’s most prestigious award for scientifically gifted high school students, the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, called the Super Bowl of science by one American president. From its inception in 1942 until 1994, the search recognized more than 2000 precocious teenagers as finalists. But just 1 percent ended up making the National Academy of Sciences, and just eight have won Nobel Prizes. For every Lisa Randall who revolutionizes theoretical physics, there are many dozens who fall far short of their potential...
Wait a minute, is this guy actually arguing that all STS winners have the potential to be Nobel Prize winners? That is a wildly wrong statement; what if a STS winner chooses to be an undergraduate biology professor? No chance of a Nobel there - are they falling short of their potential? This is also evidence to me that Professor Evans has no idea about what it takes to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences.

Here's his concluding paragraphs:
Evidence shows that creative contributions depend on the breadth, not just depth, of our knowledge and experience. In fashion, the most original collections come from directors who spend the most time working abroad. In science, winning a Nobel Prize is less about being a single-minded genius and more about being interested in many things. Relative to typical scientists, Nobel Prize winners are 22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers or magicians; 12 times more likely to write poetry, plays or novels; seven times more likely to dabble in arts and crafts; and twice as likely to play an instrument or compose music. 
No one is forcing these luminary scientists to get involved in artistic hobbies. It’s a reflection of their curiosity. And sometimes, that curiosity leads them to flashes of insight. “The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition,” Albert Einstein reflected. His mother enrolled him in violin lessons starting at age 5, but he wasn’t intrigued. His love of music only blossomed as a teenager, after he stopped taking lessons and stumbled upon Mozart’s sonatas. “Love is a better teacher than a sense of duty,” he said. 
Hear that, Tiger Moms and Lombardi Dads? You can’t program a child to become creative. Try to engineer a certain kind of success, and the best you’ll get is an ambitious robot. If you want your children to bring original ideas into the world, you need to let them pursue their passions, not yours.
I'm sympathetic to the idea that art helps people become creative or think differently, but I think this is a lot of post hoc reasoning meant to sell the author's book. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Defluorination seems like a worthy goal

Via ACS Central Science, an interview with ETH Zurich's Kristopher McNeill and his plans to tear C-F bonds asunder (article by Mark Peplow):
Why do you choose to focus on remediating fluorocarbons? 
There has already been a huge boom in perfluorinated compounds, like Scotchgard. Now fluorine is increasingly showing up in drugs and pesticides. The C–F bond is strong, and this stability can be a curse because it allows molecules to persist in the environment for a long time. 
It’s not like they’re a scourge, but there are some data on environmental toxicity for certain fluorocarbons. So we’ve worked on ways to remediate them under mild conditions, and discovered a rhodium-based catalytic system to dehalogenate fluorobenzene rings. We designed it to work in water at room temperature, because fluorocarbon contamination is largely a groundwater problem. 
The next step would be to try it out on a contaminated site. We don’t know of any that are accessible to us so far—I only know of one reported site—so we could also look at a model of a contaminated site.
Considering this week's hot topic, this seems like a worthy goal and something that's reasonably ambitious. I like it.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

This seems... not good: "Chemical Activity Barometer Notches Slight Gain as Signs of Slowing Growth Mount"

The American Chemistry Council has a "Chemical Activity Barometer", which measures industrial activity around the production of basic chemicals and the like. It debuted around 2011, and the metrics led the Great Recession by ~8 months. With that in mind, the January readings are not so encouraging:
WASHINGTON (January 26, 2016) – The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), ticked up slightly in January, rising 0.1 percent following a downward adjustment of 0.1 percent in December. All data is measured on a three-month moving average (3MMA). Accounting for adjustments, the CAB remains up 1.6 percent over this time last year, a marked deceleration of activity from one year ago when the barometer logged a 3.2 percent year-over-year gain from 2014. On an unadjusted basis the CAB fell 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent in December and January, respectively, raising concerns about the pace of future business activity through the second quarter of 2016. 
The Chemical Activity Barometer has four primary components, each consisting of a variety of indicators: 1) production; 2) equity prices; 3) product prices; and 4) inventories and other indicators. 
In January, as reflected by markets around the world, equity prices were hard hit. Flat inventories and production also added drag to the barometer....
I have to ask myself: from an economic perspective, is the November 2016 presidential election one that I would want to win? Will there be a bagel in 2017?

(My guess: No.) 

Daily Pump Trap: 1/28/16 edition

The (very, very few) positions posted at C&EN Jobs this week:

Thousand Oaks, CA: Amgen is looking for solid-state scientists: 
The Solid State Sciences group at Amgen is seeking a Scientist in the areas of drug substance and drug product material properties characterization and techniques, data management, predictive modeling, and crystal form assessment.
B.S./M.S./Ph.D. with varying levels of experience.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) "1000+", 466, 9.632 and 23 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 1,947 positions for the job title "chemist", with 187 for "analytical chemist", 42 for "medicinal chemist", 25 for "organic chemist", 21 for "research chemist" and 5 for "synthetic chemist."

Alabaster, AL: There's what looks vaguely like an entry-level process chemist position at a company called "Avanti Polar Lipids." "Actively involved in the manufacturing of lipids APIs in a GMP environment" - sounds interesting.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What is the price of HPLC acetonitrile?: an experiment in price transparency

Something that bothers me about spending on lab supplies is that it is very difficult to track the price of certain supplies. The amount of transparency is quite low; with that in mind, I plan to track the price of a 4X4L case of HPLC-grade acetonitrile weekly indefinitely as a public service.

I initially plan to look three places: the Sigma-Aldrich website, EMD-Millipore's site and also P212121, a site of Sean Seaver, a chemblogosphere stalwart.

Sigma-Aldrich (4X4L, HPLC grade, ≥99.9%, 34851-4X4L): $1,150
EMD-Millipore (1X4L, HPLC grade, 99.8% min (GC assay), AX0145-1): $288.00*
P212121 (4X4L, HPLC grade, Purity >99.9%, PA-30000HPLCCS4L): $135.00**

Of course, the issue here is that there are special VWR/Fisher/whatever deals, special shipping fees, fuel surcharges (quite amusing in a world of $1.99/gallon gas). I am curious to see how this goes. Readers, your thoughts on how this recurring feature could be improved?

*I know that EMD-Millpore offers 4X4L cases, but I can't find them on their public websites.
**There's a minimum of 5 cases. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Recent RSC careers resources

From the inbox, a few #chemjobs-related resources from the RSC, including some YouTube videos and also a recent Reddit AMA on transitioning into science journalism with some Chemistry World editors. Here's a good exchange: 
Q: What is your advice on getting started for a scientist (PhD, postdoc experience) who is looking to make the transition from academic research to science journalism? 
A: My advice is: turn up. You can start writing now – you need some combination of: An idea; an editor; a word processor; the internet. 
There are lots of guides out there on how to structure a story but chances are you’ll make a pretty good fist of it if you approach it with your research skills. Pick a news outlet, read some articles, learn the style and content, see what sort of things they are doing and then try to replicate it. 
Experience is obviously the best way to learn and a good editor will give you feedback on your work (asking for it helps). Any editor will want to see an example of your writing, and if someone else has published it, that’s a good endorsement.
Hope you enjoy.

(Full disclosure: I am a Chemistry World freelancer.)

Daily Pump Trap: 1/26/16 edition

A few of this week's posting from C&EN Jobs:

Blue Steel!: BASF (Iselin, NJ) looking for a "Global Modeling Manager." You probably won't meet Derek Zoolander, though. (PhD, experience required.)

Cambrige, MA: Moderna Therapeutics looking for a Ph.D. synthetic chemist with 3-5 years experience; lipid or oligonucleotide synthesis preferred.

Chevy Chase, MD: HHMI is looking for a "science education fellow." This looks like a fun job for the right person - I wonder how much it pays?

Bangalore, India: "BBRC (Biocon BMS R&D Center), a major R&D site of Bristol-Myers Squibb is a unique collaboration with Syngene International." They're looking for all sorts of folks.

Shanghai, China: Firmenich searching for a chemical engineer to lead a R&D team.

Postdoc: green chemistry, New Haven, CT

In the last Green Chemistry newsletter from ACS, this analytical/purification postdoc at Yale: 
A postdoctoral position is immediately available within the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering at Yale University. The Center is seeking an analytical/purification scientist to support the research efforts of a multi-disciplinary team. The primary responsibilities of the successful candidate will be analytical testing, compound purification, and compound characterization.
Salary range:  $42,000-$51,000 plus benefits. Best wishes to those interested. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 1/26/16 edition

A few of the academic positions from C&EN Jobs:

River Falls, WI: The University of Wisconsin-River Falls is looking for a tenure-track assistant professor of inorganic chemistry.

Shantou, Guangdong Province, China: "Technion Israel Institute of Technology is establishing a new university in Shantou, Guangdong Province, China." They're looking for faculty. You'd have good stories for Christmas dinner, for sure.

Baltimore, MD: A "junior faculty" position in radiosynthesis at Johns Hopkins; something tells me it is not tenure-track. Looks like they're also looking for a postdoc.

Evanston, IL: Drug delivery postdoc at Northwestern.

DeLand, FL: Stetson University looking for a visiting assistant professor.

Lewiston, ME: Bates College, also looking for a visiting assistant professor of analytical chemistry.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A chemist speaks out on the DuPont PFOA story

On the other hand, this is probably the wrong
approach. Credit: NYTM
There have been two stunning articles about the history of PFOA pollution in Parkersburg, West Virginia, one from the Huffington Post, another from the New York Times Magazine. Here's a response to the NYTM story from a chemist:
As a chemist and a native Delawarean, I am inspired by the discoveries of the DuPont Experimental Station — birthplace of nylon, neoprene, Kevlar and Tyvek, all a 15-minute walk from my high school. 
Chemistry has revolutionized our lives through drugs to cure our illnesses, batteries to power our smartphones, fertilizers to grow our food and plastics to be formed by our imaginations. Yet with discovery can come unforeseen consequences: thalidomide, algal blooms, DDT, endocrine disruption and ozone depletion. 
Timely safety testing, proper handling and transparency must accompany chemical innovation. Only then can we live up to DuPont’s old slogan: ‘‘Better things for better living through chemistry.’’ Andrew L. Chang, Palo Alto, Calif.
I have more thoughts on the PFOA story, but I haven't quite put them together yet. That said, I find it difficult to disagree with Dr. Chang. Personally speaking, it's very difficult for me to be a chemist and not feel at least partially affected? responsible? tainted? by DuPont's actions. Readers, have you read the articles? Your thoughts? 

C&EN readers respond to DowDuPont

In the letters to the editor, many comments about Dow/DuPont. Here are a few of them: 
...The third critical decision that, in my opinion, cost us dearly was the decision to sell our key polymers and fibers businesses, enormous cash generators (as the purchaser Koch Industries is now experiencing), before we had developed the cash generation strength elsewhere. 
Perhaps, I am just an old man bemoaning a changing world, but there is no doubt that DuPont and its research organizations will no longer have the power and influence within the broader chemistry community that they once did. I believe this will significantly reduce opportunities for chemistry and chemical engineering professionals, reduce the science and technology capability of our nation, and diminish the world in general. 
I had a wonderful career with DuPont and will be forever grateful for the experience of working with many wonderful chemists, engineers, and mentors. Despite my misgivings on the company’s current course, I, with all my heart, wish DowDuPont well and hope for the best for my many friends and associates as the merger proceeds. 
Lou Glasgow
West Chester, Pa. 
I am a retired industrial analytical chemist. I am old enough to know that “savings and synergies” are code words meaning baloney. Any savings in the Dow Chemical-DuPont merger (C&EN, Dec. 21, 2015, page 7) will come by reduction in older employees in the form of some type of retirement incentives. The executives, from both companies, who retire will get massive golden parachutes. The wise guys who came up with the whole scheme will get massive bonuses to pay for their yachts as they sail off into the sunset laughing all the way. 
Frank C. DiLego,
via C&EN’s website 
As a former Dow Chemical employee, I watched and experienced the lack of understanding of scientific management slowly erode the infrastructure that had built Dow into a wonderful and strong company. Penny-wise, pound-foolish, short-term strategies to bolster stock prices and company margins resulted in poorly equipped laboratories and depleted ranks of scientific staff that didn’t have the critical mass to achieve innovation. 
The glorious, storied companies of Dow and DuPont have been plundered mercilessly and will now wither and die, resulting in a trio of companies no better fit to survive in the long run than the current shells. Shame on C&EN for celebrating one of the saddest events in industrial chemical history. 
Jeffrey M. Marra,
via C&EN’s website 
DuPont’s chief science and technology officer, Doug Muzyka, uses meaningless jargon to cover the demise of R&D at his company (C&EN, Jan. 11, page 5). But we need to recognize that the days of corporate research laboratories are over. 
When I was in graduate school, most large corporations had substantial R&D labs that did high-quality science, but shuttering DuPont Central Research & Development puts one more nail in the coffin of corporate R&D. Now even the Department of Energy’s national laboratories merely have the patina of science rather than real, in-depth science. What good is science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education if there are no decent jobs at the end? 
Jeffrey Hylden,
via C&EN’s website
I like the cut of Jeffrey Hylden's jib. Best wishes to the current and former employees of Dow, DuPont and DowDuPont, and to all of us.

P.S. Does anyone know what the fate of Dow/DuPont pensions will be? Are those moneys held separately? What is the health of the pension fund?

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles from this week's C&EN:
  • Cover story: Ann Thayer covers the various CMOs that are purchasing API/formulation/biologics plant sites
  • Sarah Everts covers the BIAL clinical trial disaster.
    • Does anyone have a guess as to what the actual bad actor may have been? 
  • Andrea Widener covers the latest Science and Engineering Indicators from NSF.
    • "In China, 49% of all bachelor’s degrees are awarded in science and engineering, far outpacing the number awarded elsewhere." Will be fascinating to see the effects of this in the future. 
  • K.C. Nicolaou and Stuart Schreiber are splitting the Wolf Prize. (article by Bethany Halford)
    • "He tells C&EN that he received the call from the Wolf Foundation just moments after his assistant had stepped out of the office to buy Powerball lottery tickets for his lab. He received the news, he says, “with more joy than any winning lottery ticket could ever bring.”" 
      • A great quote, but I think I'd like the most recent Powerball jackpot over a prize. 
  • In case you missed it, Alex Tullo's long article about the ending shrinking of DuPont's Central R&D structure.  
  • Interesting ACS Board tidbits from Linda Wang, including safety requirements for national awards and the ACS Fellows program (sound familiar?) and bylaw amendments for member expulsion. (That sounds interesting.) 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday conversation: when is it time for the dumpster?

When I was hired for my first industrial position, I threw all the papers from my postdoc in a box labeled "examine in one year" and that box got thrown on the moving truck. About two years later, I said to myself, "I oughta open this box up and throw out that stuff."

That box still resides in my garage. I'll probably throw it out this summer.

I was talking with a friend this weekend and he (of middle age) said, "I just threw out the notes from my graduate work."

So, how long do you keep this stuff? And how long should you keep this stuff? 

Friday, January 22, 2016

6 cm melting point tubes

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

Alex Tullo's long article about the DuPont layoffs

It's a longer article, but pretty devastating: 
Less than a week after DuPont announced its merger with Dow Chemical on Dec. 11, DuPont managers told scientists at DuPont Central Research & Development in Wilmington, Del., to halt all laboratory work. The researchers were to label unmarked samples and leave everything else in place. Severe and unprecedented cuts, the researchers were warned, were coming. 
Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, employees received Microsoft Outlook invitations for 10-minute meetings with their supervisors. On Jan. 4, they took their turns learning if they would be let go. Cardboard file boxes were left in the lobbies at DuPont’s Experimental Station for workers to carry out their personal effects. Delaware state troopers were on-site in case of incident. 
“It was one by one all day long,” a former researcher who asked not to be named tells C&EN. “And it was one of the most miserable days I ever had.” 
There's more; it doesn't get much better.

(I've never quite understood the corporate American need for security during layoffs - I don't think there's been a track record of violence...)

(Also, don't miss this simple cartoon of how one person sees the DuPont layoffs. A generalization, but only a little.) 

Daily Pump Trap: 1/21/16 edition

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

Not too many industry positions, but...: I feel like this is the second or third time the Air Force Technical Applications Center has gone looking for a radiochemistry branch chief here. Honestly, I sure hope these folks don't have much to do, but ol' Kim Jong-Un probably has other ideas. Also, a project scientist position at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) "1000+", 423, 9183 and 21 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 1806 positions for the job title "chemist", with 179 for "analytical chemist", 20 for "research chemist", 43 for "medicinal chemist", 23 for "organic chemist" and "synthetic chemist."

Nice title, but...: Cannabis lab in Colorado wants to pay $40,000 for a "managing chemist" position. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Job posting: scientist/research associate, Seattle, WA

From the inbox, a position in Seattle with Stratos Genomics: 
Scientist/Research Associate—Molecular Engineering 
Stratos Genomics is seeking energetic and motivated Scientists and Research Associates to join our team. Candidates will be involved in developing and optimizing synthesis protocols for our novel DNA sequencing technology, Sequencing by Expansion. The position primarily involves hands-on laboratory work as individual contributors and as a part of a development team. The Scientist or Research Associate will work directly with founding Technical and Scientific Officers, Scientists, and Research Associates in a dynamic start-up biotech environment. This position requires an availability to work between the hours of 8 am to 7pm with extended work hours. 
Education/experience: PhD, MS, BS or BA in chemistry, chemical engineering, organic chemistry or related field. Minimum of 1-5 years laboratory experience including complex DNA/RNA oligo-synthesis, nucleic acid chemistry and process development/management
There's more at the link. Best wishes to those interested.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Quote of the day: business development, by Mario Puzo

Sollozzo came to the point immediately. The business was narcotics. Everything was set up. Certain poppy fields in Turkey had pledged him certain amounts every year. He had a protected plant in France to convert into morphine. He had an absolutely secure plant in Sicily to process into heroin. Smuggling into both countries was as positively safe as such matters could be. Entry into the United States would entail about five percent losses since the FBI itself was incorruptible, as they both knew. But the profits would be enormous, the risk nonexistent.  
"Then why do you come to me?" the Don asked politely. "How have I deserved your generosity?" 
Sollozzi's dark face remained impassive, "I need two million dollars cash," he said. "Equally important, I need a man who has powerful friends in the important places. Some of my couriers will be caught over the years. That is inevitable. They will all have clean records, that I promise. So it will be logical for judges to give light sentences. I need a friend who can guarantee that when my people get in trouble they won't spend more than a year or two in jail. Then they won't talk. But if they get ten and twenty years, who knows? In this world there are many weak individuals. They may talk, they may jeopardize more important people. Legal protection is a must. I hear, Don Corleone, that you have as many judges in your pocket as a bootblack has pieces of silver."  
Don Corleone didn't bother to acknowledge the compliment. "What percentage for my Family?" he asked.  
Sollozzo's eyes gleamed. "Fifty percent." He paused and then said in a voice that was almost a caress, "In the first year your share would be three or four million dollars. Then it would go up." 
I would have asked for Sollozzo's market projections.  

Warning Letter of the Week: culture plates edition

One of the things that surprises me about API manufacture (even though it shouldn't) are all the little specifications that you didn't know about. Before this FDA warning letter to Zhejiang Hisun Pharmaceutical, I didn't know there was microbial testing of API (although that certainly seems desirable and reasonable): 
2.    Failure to conduct appropriate microbiological testing on API batches where microbial quality is specified.
 On March 2, 2015, we observed that all 14 culture media plates in incubator #6 were dried out and cracked, which compromised microbial growth promotion and accurate enumeration. These plates were used to test multiple API batches of [redacted] and [redacted] and [redacted].

Your investigation concluded that deformed glass plates caused the media to crack. In your response, you claimed that the issue was isolated to the 14 culture media plates and that you retested these [redacted] batches.

Your response is inadequate because your investigation did not evaluate the [redacted] other associated batches tested with culture media plates from the same lot containing deformed glass plates. In addition, we disagree with your claim that these dried culture media plates were isolated to the 14 plates we observed on March 2, 2015. On March 5, 2015, we observed two additional culture media plates in incubator SPX-150, Series No. 061103-811-0003, which also showed signs of drying out.

From 2012 to 2014, several of your customers complained that microbial results were OOS when they tested your API upon receipt. In your response, you concluded that the percentage of customer complaints reporting OOS microbial test results was insignificant. You attributed the customers’ OOS microbial results to test methods that differ from your own.

Your response lacks your findings and corrective actions from your recent investigation of dried out and cracked culture media plates. For example, you did not retest the batches that received OOS microbial complaints, even after we pointed out this deficiency. You lack scientific justification to conclude that your customers’ OOS findings are inaccurate or insignificant.
In another life, I'd like to get to write angry warning letters for FDA. "You lack scientific justification" - ouch! 

All in all, I'd rather be in Genetown

Some of these names are goofier than the others. 

Daily Pump Trap: 1/19/16 edition

A few positions posted recently in C&EN Jobs:

Seattle, WA: Interesting to see a postdoctoral position at a non-profit (the  Infectious Disease Research Institute). I don't know how to feel about this position - what, exactly, makes this a postdoc? No references to training, publishing and the like. Why not just call it "a very junior senior scientist"?

Sunnyvale, CA: Same goes for this position at AAT Bioquest. Why is this called a postdoc position?

Durham, NC: Novozymes hiring a number of folks, mostly engineering/microbiology-related.

Two old stalwarts: Kalexyn (Kalamazoo, MI) and PharmAgra (Brevard, NC), both looking for synthetic chemists.

Ivory Filter Flask: 1/19/16 edition

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

Brevard, NC: Brevard College is looking for an assistant professor of chemistry.

Ashland, OR: Southern Oregon University desires an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry.

Bern, Switzerland: The University of Bern is conducting an open-rank search for a professor of physical chemistry.

Hanover, NH: Someone wants a chemist with analytical experience, I think. 

Oberlin, OH: Oberlin College, looking for a visiting assistant professor of bioorganic chemistry.

Gettysburg, PA: Gettysburg College is searching for a visiting assistant professor of organic chemistry.

Monday, January 18, 2016

NSF is the 5th largest federal R&D funder?

Credit C&EN
While reading this week's US science policy outlook cover story in C&EN, I was gobsmacked to see that the National Science Foundation was the 5th ranked federal R&D funder - I would have guessed it was the 3rd.

Personally, I think it should be the 2nd, but I guess it really depends on what the applied research/basic research breakout is...

ACS policy statements up for review/up for writing

From this week's C&EN, Linda Wang covers the 3 new policy statements from the American Chemical Society on "the rights of persons with disabilities, to water treatment and conservation, and to the science and technology of hydraulic fracturing." Also, an interesting little sidebar in the article: 
ACS Committees Seek Member Input On Policy Statements 
Six ACS position statements are set to expire at the end of 2016. Society members are encouraged to review the expiring statements and to offer their thoughts and comments to the ACS committees considering revisions, as well as to provide input on other statements that should be developed or changed. The following are links to the statements up for review:
In addition, a new policy statement is currently being explored for the following:
Chemical Safety 
Comments and suggestions on any of these topics should be submitted to
Seems to me that some members might have something to say about that chemical safety statement... 

This week's C&EN

A few of this week's articles in C&EN:
Also, some notes from editor-in-chief Bibiana Campos Seijo, including a request for nominations of companies with good work-life balance and that C&EN is hiring an intern. 

Job posting: chemistry analyst, Henderson, CO

From the inbox, a B.S. chemist position with Xcel Energy in water chemistry (at a nuclear power plant?). Best wishes to those interested. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Rest in peace, Sheri Sangji

Seven years ago today, Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji died of her injuries sustained while running a reaction with tert-butyl lithium in the laboratory of Professor Patrick Harran at UCLA. My thoughts and prayers are with her friends and her family.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Sleepy Lab Worker urban legend (needs debunking)

This Reddit thread about old synthesis stories (one being the classic "the dust in the lab was the actual catalyst for the reaction" tale) brought to mind a story I once heard. I doubt if it is actually true. This was told to me over a decade ago, and so the story is quite hazy and I may have added some details:
There was a new graduate student or postdoc who was new to a total synthesis lab that was working on some sort of marine natural product. The student seemed like a reasonable sort and dove into their new project (which may have been a project they inherited from someone else?) with gusto. After a few weeks, though, they started not showing up to work for a week at a time, and acting as if nothing had happened.  
After a few episodes of absenteeism, the lab got together and figured out that the new lab worker had accidentally ingested some of the compound they were working on, and it was having the effect of making them sleep for a week at a time at home, and then waking up as if nothing had happened. 
So a couple of caveats:
  1. Obviously, 99+% of this story is probably false, either through retelling, or CJ's mind adding details.
  2. This could have been one of CJ's coworkers telling chemistry urban legends.
  3. or, this story has a tiny seed of truth in it somewhere, from the many years of stories from chemical academia
So which one is it, readers? Have a great weekend. 

The Life of a New Process Chemist, by Alex Goldberg

Credit: Alex Goldberg
Friend of the blog Alex Goldberg writes on his life as a new process chemist in industry. - Chemjobber

“So I was making a drug the other day. Well, not a drug, but a drug intermediate. Okay, so I wasn’t making it, I was watching other people make it.”

This sums up a conversation I recently had with some friends. Even though my position does not allow me to actually touch anything in the manufacturing plant, there’s still something rather awe-inspiring about watching barrels-on-barrels being charged into a reactor that is orders of magnitude larger than anything I’ve used previously. Then I say “yep, looks like a mobile slurry,” and I get back to the lab bench.

I started my first “real job” in July. I also have a Costco membership. These and many other reminders that I’m on the cusp of completing the delayed transition to adulthood that my generation is known and loved for.

And while there remains a great deal left for me to learn, several differences between practicing chemistry in academia and industry became quickly apparent. Broadly speaking, in industry, there’s more structure, and there are more resources.

This is clear in the culture of safety at my company: safety for the employees and for our customers. There is a lot of training for new-hires: including hands-on training, and reading of SOPS, and seminars about Good Manufacturing Practices, and seminars on harassment, and e-signatures and lots of them on everything that light touches.

And we have regular meetings about safety: we discuss near-misses and incidents and accidents (and we learn about the differences between them in safety training) that occurred in the previous month. And absolutely everyone wears his or her labcoat and safety glasses.

Reflecting back on my academic training, I think about what universities can do to make safety an ongoing conversation, not just an onboarding exercise or an annual seminar. If we take long-hours and limited resources as a given in academic Chemistry departments — a topic which merits another discussion entirely — what can be done to build a culture of safety around those constraints? What does your lab and department do to accomplish this goal?

Thanks to Alex for a great post. Follow Alex on Twitter. - CJ

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Daily Pump Trap: 1/14/16 edition

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

Mead, CO: Boulder Scientific looking for an experienced analytical chemist.

Livermore, CA: Sandia is looking for a Ph.D. physical chemist "to establish and grow a capability in applying ultrafast laser spectroscopic methods to the diagnostics of fundamental chemical reactions." Sounds fancy.

South San Francisco, CA: Genentech looking for a B.S./M.S. chemist to do SFC chiral separations.

Basking Ridge, NJ: Lexicon looking for a Ph.D. chemist to work on API development/manufacture.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) "1000+", 412 (that's down), 2911 and 17 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 1,642 positions for the job title "chemist", with 169 for "analytical chemist", 25 for "research chemist", 22 for "organic chemist", 9 for "synthetic chemist" and 40 for "medicinal chemist." (whoa.) 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Great Synthesizer has an announcement

The Great Synthesizer, in his laboratory.
Pyongyang, January 13 (KCNA)—The DPRK government issued the following statement Wednesday:

There took place a world-startling event to be specially recorded in the national history in the exciting period when all students, postdoctoral fellows in chemistry of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are making a giant strides, performing eye-catching metholodogy papers and total syntheses day by day after turning out as one in the all-out charge to bring earlier the final victory of the revolutionary cause of Juche Chemistry, true to the feats in the highest field of scientific achievement, the total synthesis of marine natural products, to which The Great Synthesizer is the foremost practitioner.

The first manuscript was successfully submitted to Tetrahedron Letters at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Juche 105 (2016), pursuant to the strategic determination of the Workers' Party of Korea.

NB Satire (based on this KCNA press release)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Daily Pump Trap: 1/12/16 edition

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

Camarillo, CA: YTC America has 3 positions open, including a "nano-carbon R&D" position. (What's that?)

Paris, France: Looks like Novasep is looking for a process chemist to work on antibody-drug development.

Birmingham, AL: BioCryst Pharmaceuticals looking for a Ph.D. chemist with experience in scale-up.

"Greater Los Angeles Area": Frances Arnold's company, Provivi, is looking for an associate process chemist. B.S./M.S.-level?

Florence, SC: Patheon looking for process chemists (75-85k) and analytical chemists (40-50k.)

Kalamazoo, MI: Not every day you see a position for working on hops; good for beer drinkers, I think.

Columbus, OH: Hexion looking for an epoxy R&D manager; Ph.D., 5-10 years experience desired.

Torrance, CA: Another "production chemist" position from Medical Chemical Corporation.

Job posting: Assistant Professor of Organic Chemistry (tenure-track), Orono, ME

The Department of Chemistry at the University of Maine (Orono, ME) invites applications for an Assistant Professor of Organic Chemistry (tenure-track) to begin September 1, 2016 (candidates who would not be available until 1 January 2017 also will be considered).   The successful candidate is expected to teach organic chemistry at both graduate and undergraduate levels, and introductory chemistry. Establishment of a strong, extramurally funded research program is essential. Collaboration with the University’s Signature and Emerging Areas and research centers is encouraged. Other duties include student advising and appropriate department or university service. Consideration of applications will begin 25 January 2016 and continue until the position is filled. 
For full requirements, description and application instructions, see: UMaine Chemistry Organic Position
Best wishes to those interested.  

Ivory Filter Flask: 1/12/16

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

New York City, NY: Columbia University (and a new Zuckerman Institute?) is looking for an assistant professor of chemistry.

Bemidji, MN: Bemidji State University looking for an assistant/associate professor of physical chemistry.

Glendale, CA: Glendale Community College has an opening for a M.S./Ph.D. chemistry instructor; salary $56,518.00 - $78,246.00.

Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Energy Frontier Research Center (UNC EFRC) for Solar Fuels is looking for a Ph.D. chemist to be a senior scientist; experience in thin film fabrication is desired.

Spokane, WA: Whitworth University is looking for a visiting assistant professor (general/organic), to begin in July 2016. 

"The human component"

Also in this week's C&EN, Bethany Halford talks with Jeff Seeman about his long article in the Journal of Organic Chemistry about the Woodward-Hoffmann rules, and how they came to be. I thought the ending comment was quite interesting: 
What do you hope readers will take away from the piece? 
The takeaway is how very dependent science is on the human component and how wonderfully interesting that is. The drive for uniformity in scientific publications tends to minimize understanding of the humanism of science. That drive is misplaced. Maybe scientific articles should be broader to include the human component as appropriate.
It would be really interesting to see what history would have been like, if we could run the counterfactuals. What would history have been like, if Woodward or Hoffmann had not had this flash of insight, and it had been someone else? What would it have been like if Woodward had taken ill that summer?

The "human component" is something that I don't think folks think about very often, and I think it is an important factor in how we prioritize problems to solve with science, and how they are solved.

This week's C&EN

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

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Here's hoping one of you wins the Powerball, because it won't be me

I don't play the lottery, but the fellas at the barber shop decided to buy tickets, I think. The jackpot is $900 million, and according to NBC News, the lump sum payment is $558 million. I hope one of you folks who bought a ticket today (did you buy a ticket?) wins it.

Here's my list of wishes for what you should do with the money: 
  • Found an institute to employ medicinal chemists to look at antibiotics in perpetuity. 
  • Found an institute to study the production, employment and unemployment of scientists and engineers in the United States
Best wishes! 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Man, today was a busy day / back tomorrow

credit: Nick Uhlig
In the meantime, check out these super fun chemistry-themed Valentine's Day cards by Nick Uhlig. They're pretty creative, I think. 

Nominations for Technical Achievements in Organic Chemistry open now, 1/31/16 deadline

From the inbox:
The TAOC awards recognize outstanding contributions to the field of organic chemistry from accomplished, professional chemists holding a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree or the equivalent who are pursuing careers in industrial or government sectors.  Awardees give a 30 minute presentation on their research at the ACS Fall National Meeting and receive their awards at a luncheon on the day of the TAOC symposium.  Nominations are due January 31, 2016.  Nominators must be Members or Affiliate Members of the DOC.  For more information, and to access the online nomination form, see:
Best wishes to those interested.  

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Unofficial RUMINT from Alex Tullo on DuPont

Alex Tullo is C&EN's reporter for the Dow/DuPont merger. From his Twitter account, a comment on the DuPont Central R&D layoffs: 
UNOFFICIAL: of the 270 in DuPont CR&D, 173 laid off, 63 transferred to other business units, and 34 will remain in "Science and Innovation"
Assuming 1) these numbers are accurate, and 2) that I understand this correctly, this is a 64% reduction in Central R&D headcount? That sounds terrible and essentially a capitulation of DuPont's long-term R&D model. Yeesh. 

How do you forget old workplace hurts?

My father, whom I love, is now retired from his job as an engineer and happily traveling and learning new things. One thing that surprises me is how he can remember bureaucratic fights from 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, as if it were yesterday. What concerns me more than the bad memories is that the bad emotions (anger, jealousy, bitterness) are still there.

Does anyone have any advice about how to get people to move on from old hurts? That's difficult and it's fairly apparent that hurts that take place in the workplace can be quite personal and strike deeply at the core of the person. What is the right approach? To never talk about the issue again? To deal with "it" (a layoff, an insult at a meeting, stolen credit) and then never talk about it again?

Readers, your thoughts?

Repost: AZ Innovative Medicines and Early Development Graduate Programme

A repost of something from late last month, an invitation to apply for the AstraZeneca Innovative Medicines and Early Development Graduate Programme:
...the IMED Graduate programme is a global initiative designed to provide high-calibre science graduates with a two-year placement in the company, with the potential for long-term career development. The programme was launched in 2013 and we have now successfully recruited and on boarded 75 graduates on the programme across IMED and who are directly contributing to our science and projects across our core R&D Sites in the UK/US and Sweden.    
The programme is very much focused on breath of experience and our graduates are encouraged to undertake broad scientific placements that will provide them with the solid foundations to be great scientists for the future.  Each graduate will be required to complete 3 eight months rotations as part of the programme. Graduates are also provided with a mentor for the duration of the programme whose aim is to provide the career support and guidance to ensure that they are being developed to their full potential.
The US deadline is January 29, and the UK deadline is March 4. Best wishes to those interested.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Weird nuclear thought of the morning

US Air Force "Constant Phoenix" nuclear surveillance plane
credit: USAF
If you haven't heard the news, the North Korean government claims to have set off a hydrogen bomb. The US government will be attempting to determine the details of the bomb by flying one of their surveillance aircraft to collect those isotopes; it's a WC-135 outfitted with a collection suite for particles. (Is there an analytical suite on-board as well?) The science is run by the Air Force Technical Applications Center - they've hired at C&EN Jobs before.

Anyway, here's my weird thought: that the US government uses aerial surveillance to acquire chemical intelligence about nuclear weapons tests is well known. Does this means that there are North Korean scientists or engineers who attempt to hide/trap those isotopic emissions?

Those of you who understand the business of nuclear weapons, please correct me if I'm nuts. 

DelawareOnline: "DuPont lays off 200 Experimental Station researchers"

From an article by Jeff Mordock and Scott Goss, the same DelawareOnline reporters from yesterday, more details on the first day of layoffs at DuPont: 
DuPont Co. laid off about 200 scientists in its Central Research and Development division at the Experimental Station on Monday, according to sources familiar with the facility's operations. 
Those job losses, said to include doctorate holders and technicians, account for nearly half of the Experimental Station's central research staff. DuPont's two core research and development functions – material sciences and molecular sciences – were said to be gutted, reportedly leaving only 16 doctorate holders among the two business units... 
...All Delaware workers laid off by DuPont will receive a separation package, career placement services and training allowances based on years of service, company officials said. 
According to DuPont workers, that package that includes a minimum of two months' worth of full pay with an additional month's pay for every two years of service, up to a maximum of a 12 months. The workers also reportedly are eligible to receive a pre-approved $5,000 training allowance, along with a year of so-called COBRA medical and dental coverage at employee rates... 
...Bob Strong, deputy principal assistant at the state Labor Department, said the agency is hoping to send rapid-response teams to meet with DuPont workers by the end of January.
Those teams will provide workers with detailed information about collecting unemployment when their severance packages expire, along with job training and certification assistance, he said. 
"We're expecting to provide general information to employees in advance and then hold multiple events, each with about 200 to 300 staff members, where we can provide more specific details and really drill down on their questions and concerns," he said. 
"In the meantime, we've developed a survey that will help us match each worker's job title and skills to available positions throughout the state and get a better idea of what assistance these folks think they'll need."
I am so sorry for those affected. Some questions I wish I knew the answers to:
  • What percentage of laid-off DuPont workers will be able to find work in chemistry in the area? (broadly speaking) I feel like the Philadelphia area (GSK, Rohm and Haas/Dow, Merck) have already been very hard hit over the last ten years, with no palpable resurgence. 
  • What percentages of these laid-off scientists will be able to find work in chemistry at all? Are other markets (Boston, say?) booming enough to absorb these folks?  
  • When you have a highly technical workforce like this one, do the surveys and such from state unemployment offices actually help? 
  • What does this mean for layoffs for Dow? 
A failure on the part of the American Chemical Society over the past five to ten years has been its apparent unwillingness to study the simple social science around layoffs of its members, especially in mass layoffs (like this one) or site closures (like the Ann Arbor Pfizer site, or the Roche Nutley site.) We can do better, and we should. 

Once again, best wishes to those affected, and to all of us. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Job posting: associate editor, Nature Chemistry

Nature Chemistry is seeking an Associate Editor to join its editorial team. The journal publishes high-quality papers in all areas of chemistry and also features commentary and analysis from and for the wider chemistry community. For more information about the journal, see our website ( 
The ideal candidate will have a PhD in a chemistry-related discipline and we are particularly interested in applicants with expertise in organic chemistry, but would welcome applications from outstanding candidates in any area of chemistry. Postdoctoral experience may be an advantage but is not required; emphasis will be placed on broadly trained applicants with a good knowledge of the chemistry community. 
Key elements of the job include the selection of manuscripts for publication, management of the peer-review process, as well as commissioning and editing content for the journal (review articles, News & Views, features and commentaries). Editors are also expected to write editorials, research highlights and blog posts. 
This is a demanding and intellectually stimulating role that calls for a highly motivated individual with excellent literary skills and a keen interest in the practice and communication of science. A key aspect of the job is liaising with the scientific community through laboratory visits and international conferences — the successful candidate must be dynamic, outgoing and have excellent interpersonal skills. 
The position may be based in our editorial office in London, Boston or New York (candidates for any of these locations should already have the right to live and work there), or in Shanghai. 
Applicants should send a CV, a research highlight in Nature Chemistry style (approximately 300 words) on a recent relevant paper in the literature; and a cover letter explaining their interest in the post and indicating their salary expectations. 
Please include the job reference NPG/090/15 in your application.
Closing date is January 11, 2016. Best wishes to those interested. 

Job posting: locum associate editor, Nature Chemistry, UK

Nature Chemistry is seeking a Locum Associate Editor to join its editorial team for an initial period of six months (with the possibility of extension), beginning in May 2016.
This is a demanding and intellectually stimulating role that calls for a highly motivated individual with a broad interest in science and publishing. 
The ideal candidate will have a PhD in a chemistry-related discipline. Postdoctoral experience may be an advantage but is not required; emphasis will be placed on broadly trained applicants with a good knowledge of the chemistry community. 
Key elements of the job include the selection of manuscripts for publication, management of the peer-review process, as well as commissioning and editing content for the journal (review articles, News & Views, features and commentaries). Associate Editors are also expected to write editorials, research highlights and blog posts. For more information about the journal, see our website ( 
The position will be based in our London office and is offered on a full-time basis. Applicants should send a CV, a research highlight in Nature Chemistry style (approximately 300 words) on a recent relevant paper in the literature; and a cover letter explaining their interest in the post and indicating their salary expectation. Please also quote the job reference number: NPG/075/15 in your header. 
All applicants must be able to demonstrate the right to live and work in the UK in order to be considered for the vacancy.
Closing date is January 11, 2016. Best wishes to those interested. 

DelawareOnline: 1 in 4 DuPont jobs in Delaware to be cut; DuPont management responds in C&EN

From the inbox, a story from DelawareOnline's coverage of the DuPont layoffs today (warning, annoying autoplay) (article by Jeff Mordock and Scott Goss):
...Ron Ozer, an engineer at the DuPont Experimental Station near Alapocas, lost his job Monday after nearly 25 years with the company. He described the atmosphere among DuPont workers as "depressing." 
All employees at the Experimental Station had a one-on-one meeting with their supervisor to learn whether or not they will remain with the company, according to Ozer, an Arden resident. The meetings were said to have begun in the morning and continued through late afternoon. 
The people who are staying aren't exactly happy, either," Ozer said. "It's not like people came out of those meetings and said, 'Yeah, I've got a job.' They are coming back to a very different organization." 
Ozer said workers were not informed how many jobs were cut Monday. Despite the company's recently announced plans to cut more than 1 out of every 4 jobs in Delaware, Ozer said he was still caught off-guard. 
"I can't help but say I was a bit surprised," the investigative researcher said. "I guess I thought I was safer than I was." 
Some DuPont workers who received layoff notices are expected to remain with the company through the end of next month....
Man, that is terrible. Best wishes to them, and here's hoping that all of them find employment soon.

Also, a not-very-believable non-denial denial explanation of DuPont R&D massive layoffs reorganization from its chief science & technology officer, Doug Muzyka (article in C&EN by Alex Tullo):
...Muzyka claims recent media reports have “mischaracterized” the changes at DuPont by maintaining that “corporately funded R&D is being completely eliminated, or that the cost reduction effort at DuPont is targeting R&D.” 
As part of the R&D restructuring, he says, “we are redesigning the existing Central Research & Development operating model to assess and seed new, transformational science-based ventures as the next step in the evolution of corporately funded R&D for DuPont.” He adds that some staff from Central R&D and engineering will transfer to DuPont’s business units. 
Muzyka also says the R&D budget impact associated with the cost reduction program is in line with the overall program, which aims to cut the firm’s global workforce by 10%. “DuPont will continue to be a leading investor in industrial research and development,” he says. 
The changes, Muzyka adds, will position the company for its merger with Dow and the subsequent breakup of the new DowDuPont into three separate companies. 
“DuPont remains fundamentally, deeply committed to scientific innovation,” Muzyka says. The cuts are the result of “careful analysis of how we can improve the overall productivity of our R&D functional company-wide.”
I wish these executives showed a hint of humanity in their corporate-speak. I wonder when it leaves them? Or did they ever have it? 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year!

Thanks for sticking with the blog for another year.

Happily, I managed to write a few more posts this year than last year. If you have any desires for my writing in 2016, please do make suggestions in this post.

Also, a few links to tide you over for the weekend:
Have a great weekend! See you on Monday, in the new year.