Thursday, June 30, 2016

Daily Pump Trap: 6/30/16

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

RTP, NC: AgBiome is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. formulation scientist. 

Non-profit process development?: About once or twice a year, there's a position like this one from the International Partnership for Microbicides; they're looking for an associate director of process chemistry to oversee CMO work on their commercial projects. Seems like that would be an interesting place for someone who had lots of pharma experience, and wanted to apply it to a different sector. 

Kennesaw, GA: Deerland Enzymes, Inc. is a leading specialty formulator and contract manufacturer of enzyme-based dietary supplements. They're looking for a M.S./Ph.D. research and development manager. 

(There are enzyme-based dietary supplements? How does that work?) 

New York City, NY: Not every day that you see two criminalist positions for the New York Medical Examiner's office. ($49k to $59k in New York City must not be easy; I wonder what that means, in terms of where you live and such.) 

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) "1000+", 415, 9004 and 25 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 2,174 positions for the job title "chemist", with 197 for "analytical chemist", 43 for "organic chemist", 31 for "research chemist", 33 for "medicinal chemist" and 7 for "synthetic chemist."

Beautiful Edmonton: Fair number of positions at Gilead in Edmonton in process development.

Pearl River, NY: I see Pfizer is hiring a Ph.D. analytical chemist to do nanoparticle/ADC research.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Dow Announces Actions To Pee On Your Leg, Tell You It's Raining"

Dow Announces Actions to Drive Economic Growth in Great Lakes Bay Region 
MIDLAND, Mich. – June 28, 2016 – The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE: DOW) announced today a series of actions it will take in collaboration with several state and local economic development and community organizations to spur local employment and bring additional economic development to the Great Lakes Bay Region (GLBR). These actions are intended to help offset the impacts from restructuring measures Dow will implement to enable faster and more efficient growth of Dow Corning’s Silicones business....
It's only down below that you get the gist of what they are saying (emphasis mine):
As a result of the Company’s global workforce reduction targets announced today, approximately 700 roles in the GLBR will be eliminated from the combined companies. These reductions will come from both Dow and Dow Corning, and are part of Dow’s overall cost reduction efforts related to the transaction. 
Notifications to affected employees in the Great Lakes Bay Region will start in the coming weeks, and will continue through the end of the third quarter of 2016. Roles will be eliminated on various timetables throughout the two-year integration period.
Here's press coverage from the Wall Street Journal and also C&EN's Alex Tullo. Here's a few other ways I could imagine rewording the headline for this press release:
  1. Dow Announces Actions For Employees To Spend More Time With Their Children
  2. Dow Announces Actions To Enrich Shareholders At All Costs
  3. Dow Announces Actions For Scientists To Consider Bold New Alternative Careers
  4. Dow Announces Actions To Help Employees Work For Themselves, Yay! 
  5. Dow Announces Actions To Create Hundreds More Independent Chemicals Consultants
  6. Dow Announces Actions To Reinvigorate Bored Michigan Area Unemployment Offices
Your turn! 

Can we just say for a moment how offensive it is that the press release can't even say "we're laying off 700 employees" or "we're firing 700 people", but "700 roles"? Corporate America has refined the euphemism to a Michelangelo-like artform. 

Warning Letter of the Week: "not adding some starting material is a deviation" edition

You know, I was going to go with Chongqing Lummy Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.'s analysts and their propensity to turn the clock back, but instead, I thought this warning letter to Shanghai Desano Chemical Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. was pretty unique: 
...Our investigator randomly selected folder 01/2014 from your electronic log, compared it to your firm’s official deviation logbook for 2014, and found that the deviations in the “GMP Anomalies” folder were not investigated or reported in the official deviation logbook.

Production deviations included, but were not limited to:
  • out-of-limit temperature readings for critical process parameters
  • incomplete batch records
  • batch records pre-filled before manufacturing
  • failure to record temperature, humidity, and pressure
  • failure to add portions of raw materials during manufacturing 
In your response, you attribute the root cause of these failures to deficient procedures and operators’ errors. 
Pre-filled batch records! That's a new one.  

Job posting: chemistry team lead, Syngenta, Switzerland

From the inbox, a position at Syngenta: 
Accountabilities include: 
  • Design, prioritization, synthesis and route optimization of new target compounds
  • Conceive, plan, prioritize and execute efficiently synthesis programs
Essential Knowledge & Experience:
  • PhD in chemistry, with strong focus on organic synthesis
  • Post-doc is highly valued
  • 2-5 years of experience in the field of organic chemistry 
  • Experience in project/team management would be an asset
Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

"A postdoc is highly valued." I find that so interesting. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ask CJ: what does "ABD" mean?

From the inbox, a good question:
Your latest Ivory Filter Flask post made me wonder: when "ABDs are encouraged to apply", does that imply that ABDs are in the process of finishing up...or, like in humanities, it's an alternate way out?  
I suspect that "ABDs are encouraged to apply" means "Just because you're still technically a graduate student and you haven't defended, you can still apply" and not "we don't mind if you don't finish your Ph.D. thesis and defend." 

That said, I've never sat on a small college faculty search committee, so I have no idea. Readers, what say you? 

Daily Pump Trap: 6/28/16

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

Vancouver, BC: Xenon Pharmaceuticals is a startup looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. medicinal chemist.

Albany, NY: The New York state Department of Health is looking for a Ph.D. atmospheric/physical chemist for a postdoctoral position: to study optical and reactive properties of water vapor of relevance to atmospheric radiation and cloud physics & chemistry."

Urbana, IL: AOCS (mission: "to advance the science and technology of oils, fats, surfactants and related materials") is looking for a technical services specialist; looks to be an entry-level position?

(I presume the farmer's market at Lincoln Square is in full swing these days.)

Los Alamos, NM: Two theoretical/computational postdocs at LANL; "annual starting salaries typically range from ~$73,600 to ~$87,700." Nice! 

Ivory Filter Flask: 6/28/16 edition

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

Irvine, CA: The Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Irvine is looking for a mass spectrometry facility director.

Austin, TX: UT-Austin is looking for a Ph.D. analytical chemist to be their undergraduate analytical laboratory coordinator.

Tempe, Arizona: I don't think I'm going to do anything, other than quote directly from this ad:
"The Biodesign Center for Single Molecular Biophysics is seeking a Research Technician. The candidate must have extensive experience in organic synthesis and be proficient in running multi-step reactions, purifying the products with chromatograph, as well as characterizing organic compounds with NMR and Mass spectroscopy (HR, MALDI, ESI mass)." 
Desired Qualifications:
Evidence of a Bachelor degree in organic chemistry.
Evidence of a Master's degree in organic chemistry is preferred.
Experience in bioconjugation and HPLC is a plus. 
Salary Range: $12.69 - $18.00 per hour; DOE
Good God.

Rochester, NY: Rochester Institute of Technology is looking for an assistant professor of chemical engineering. "Priority will be given to candidates with post-doctoral experience."

Thuwal, Saudi Arabia: KAUST is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. QA/QC chemist to work in their new environmental analytical chemistry laboratory? "We are seeking a highly motivated individual for our new high-throughput analytical facility who specializes in the quality assurance/quality control of analytical data according to internationally accepted standards. He/she will preferably also engage in the analysis of trace organic contaminants (Example, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Pesticides, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB), Dioxins) in environmental samples using chromatographic and mass spectroscopic techniques."

Little Lost Lamb: NYU Abu Dhabi is looking for a postdoc in "Traffic Flow Theory, Division of Engineering."

Monday, June 27, 2016

This week's C&EN

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

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Weekend mediumreads: Caltech's glassblower is retiring

Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
Interesting article in the Los Angeles Times (by Rosanna Xia) about Rick Gerhart, who is retiring at 71 after years of working as Caltech's chemistry department glassblower.

(There's a lot of shortage talk in the article, re: scientific glassblowers. In this sense, I am skeptical that there is strong demand for departmental glassblowers.) 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Topic of the day: Brexit

I don't think I have anything intelligent to add to the discussion, not being a subject of the UK, nor a citizen of the EU. Thanks to C&EN's Alex Scott and his article on potential Brexit impacts (written before the referendum), I learned that the European Medicines Agency is in London 
For the U.K. pharmaceutical industry, a Brexit risks causing uncertainty and creating barriers to investment. “It’s vital the U.K. remains engaged in the EU to influence legislative and regulatory policy developments affecting the life sciences ecosystem,” says the BioIndustry Association, a U.K. industry organization. Ninety life sciences firms have stated publicly that the U.K. should stay in the EU. 
Additionally, if the U.K. votes to Brexit, two European pharmaceutical institutions currently based in London—the European Medicines Agency and a part of the EU’s planned unitary patent system—would have to relocate to an EU country.
I believe the EMA is basically the EU's version of the FDA. The German pharma sector calling for them to leave (and relocate to Berlin?) already.

I was also surprised to learn that good ol' Paul Hodges (Captain of the DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM team) was actually voting Remain. Huh.

I presume there are a raft of people who have Marie Curie Fellowships and the like, who may face some trouble? Readers, your thoughts? 

Charest v. Harvard settled

From the inbox, a press release from Dr. Mark Charest, a former graduate student with Professor Andy Myers at Harvard:
"Harvard University and I have settled our ongoing litigation regarding the allocation of royalties related to the license with Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals on mutually agreeable terms.  In light of my claims and goals in bringing this litigation, I am very pleased to accept terms I view as equitable.”
Full link to press release here and here. Background to the story here and here. 

Job posting: C4 Therapeutics, Cambridge, MA

Scientists/Senior Scientists:  Medicinal Chemistry 
C4 Therapeutics is seeking highly motivated and innovative medicinal chemists to contribute to the development of small molecule targeted therapeutics.  Ideal candidates will have in depth knowledge of chemical synthesis and a proven track record of advancing small molecules across stage gates from Hit ID through clinical candidate selection. 
Computational Chemists  
C4 Therapeutics is seeking highly motivated and innovative computational chemists to contribute to the conception and execution of innovative research projects that leverage chemistry, biology, structural biology, and computational science. 
Best wishes to those interested.  

Daily Pump Trap: 6/24/16 edition

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

Devens, MA: Johnson Matthey Fine Chemicals is looking for a manager for continuous processing; interesting (and heartening) that they're willing to look at all educational levels (even as I presume this is really about experience with the relevant technology.)

West Point, PA: Merck, looking for an experienced Ph.D. analytical chemist for a principal scientist to do small molecule formulation development.

Attleboro, MA: Sensata Technologies is looking for an experienced Ph.D. chemist to run their chemistry laboratory.

Charleston, TN: Wacker is looking for a senior quality manager for its polysilicon plant; seems important.

"Washington, D.C. or Chicago, IL": The American Institutes for Research are looking for scientists to write test questions, it appears.

Huh: This program officer position at the National Academies seems really interesting; I could imagine doing some good here.

Rolla, MO: Good ol' Brewer Science (are there any readers who have actually taken a position there?); looking for M.S./Ph.D. polymer chemists, it appears.

Another old friend: Clorox, doing its annual hiring push for research chemists. Pleasanton seems like a nice place. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Ivory Filter Flask: 6/23/16 edition

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

San Francisco, CA: UCSF is looking for a tenure-track nuclear chemistry (PET-related) position.

Auburn, AL: Auburn, looking for a research assistant professor in quantum chemistry.

Philadelphia, PA: Temple University is looking for a non-tenure track organic chemistry laboratory coordinator.

Madison, WI: A biomedical engineering group is looking for two physical chemists to be postdoctoral fellows. Looks like it's going to be paying overtime, since the position is offering 43-45k.

Last Minute Lecturer: Whitworth University (Spokane, WA) is looking for a lecturer in chemistry. Start date: August 1, 2016. M.S./ABD acceptable. I hear Spokane is nice; arid climate?

Last Minute Lecturer #2: Wofford College (Spartanburg, SC) is searching for a one-year contract faculty position to teach general chemistry, to begin September 2016.

Never too early for next year: The Claremont Colleges (the "Keck Science Department") is looking for a tenure-track professor of bioanalytical chemistry to begin in June 2017. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A fellow fan of Paula Stephan, I see UPDATED BELOW


From the inbox, this paper ("De novo design of protein homo-oligomers with modular hydrogen-bond network–mediated specificity") has a very interesting set of references (scroll to the end) in its SI (which has been corrected a number of times, I see.)

UPDATE 22JUN16 4:38 PM: Science deputy editor Jake Yeston tweets it was a careless swapping of references by the production team at Science, not the authors. 

Wanted: scientists who risked their lives

In this week's C&EN, an article from ACS President Donna Nelson asking ACS members about the improving of the public perception of scientists. Here's her request:
...New ideas are needed for improving the public perception of scientists. What new solutions to this problem are possible? Past successes in engaging and influencing the public suggest employing television or movies to spotlight courageous acts of scientists working in their profession. 
A series of profiles of particularly courageous chemists, past or present, could constitute a 2017 ACS national meeting symposium. ACS members can contribute by sending nominations of scientists who risked their lives and careers in the course of their work to me at
I don't know if this is what President Nelson is looking for, but a favorite story of a chemist being clever in the face of danger is what George De Hevesy did in Copenhagen in 1940. From Wikipedia:
When Nazi Germany occupied Denmark from April 1940, during World War II, de Hevesy dissolved the gold Nobel Prizes of Max von Laue and James Franck with aqua regia; it was illegal at the time to send gold out of the country, and had it been discovered that Laue and Franck had done so to prevent them from being stolen, they could have faced prosecution in Germany. He placed the resulting solution on a shelf in his laboratory at the Niels Bohr Institute. After the war, he returned to find the solution undisturbed and precipitated the gold out of the acid. The Nobel Society then recast the Nobel Prizes using the original gold. 
Would that I could be as quick with my mind as De Hevesy was - seems to me this little episode would make for a great caper film.

Faster, scientists, do it, do it!

Also in this week's C&EN, an article by Alex Scott on the latest moves from BASF:
“The company needs to adapt its established approaches to changing conditions,” Martin Brudermüller, BASF’s board member responsible for technology, told journalists at a briefing in Ludwigshafen, Germany. “Our research commitment will not increase at the same rate as before, but our commitment to R&D will not go down.” 
One of the ways BASF intends to generate more without increasing spending is by conducting R&D faster. The firm plans to achieve this by, among other things, working more closely with academia and doing away with some lab experiments by first predicting outcomes with the use of computational chemistry. 
“In the future, we will need more computational chemists than lab technicians,” Brudermüller said. 
But BASF is also putting systems in place to ensure that creativity is not sacrificed in the drive for efficiency. For example, the firm recently started encouraging scientists within its central R&D organization to spend 20% of their time working on their own ideas, rather than solving problems for BASF’s businesses. 
“We call these ‘just do it’ projects,” said Bernhard von Vacano, senior research manager for material physics. Such projects might run for just a few weeks. But they are taken seriously, said von Vacano, who heads a team of materials scientists in a new R&D building in Ludwigshafen. 
In line with previously announced plans, BASF will maintain R&D personnel at its Ludwigshafen headquarters at the current level of about 4,900. Any increase in BASF’s worldwide R&D staff—which numbers about 10,000—will be in Asia.
If you clear away all the corporate speak, it is appears that BASF is doing the following:
  • Not hiring any more R&D staff anywhere other than Asia. 
  • Working with academia more 
  • Performing more computational chemistry
  • Allowing current R&D scientists time for blue-sky projects
An interesting set of moves - will be interesting to see how this reflects on R&D chemist hiring by BASF in the US. 

This week's C&EN

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The weirdest thing you will see today

1. I'm not dead.
2. I don't know whether to laugh or to cry about this advanced flask scraper from ChemGlass. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Weekend mediumreads: the chemistry of recording

Also in this week's C&EN, I have been remiss in not mentioning a really great article by Matt Davenport about the chemistry of recording, starting with Thomas Edison (a boyhood hero of mine) and wax cylinders, going forward to modern vinyl records:
Using these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his colleagues developed waxes and gaining a better understanding of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. For instance, in an early experiment, Aylsworth made a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. At the time, industrial-grade stearic acid was a roughly 1:1 mixture of stearic acid and palmitic acid, two fatty acids that differ by two carbon atoms. 
That early soap was “almost perfection,” Aylsworth remarked in his notebook. But after a few days, the surface showed signs of crystallization and records made with it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum to the mix and found the right combination of “the good, the bad, and the necessary” features of all the ingredients, Monroe explains. 
The mix of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but too much of it makes for a weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also responsible for the crystallization problem. The aluminum stearate prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing while also adding some extra toughness. 
It would be interesting to take a look at the notes of early chemical formulators like Aylsworth to see how much chemical intuition/understanding they had, and how much was sheer trial-and-error. 

Burning magnesium = bright white

Tough day at the office for those LA firefighters. 

All median Ph.D. scientist salaries are trending lower from 2010 to 2013?

Credit: Wall Street Journal
In a Wall Street Journal article about Ph.D. job prospects*, an interesting graphic, courtesy of NSF data and a Boston University professor:
Shulamit Kahn, a labor economist at Boston University, said that among foreigners who earn Ph.D.s at U.S. institutions—about one-third of total recipients—about 60% remain in America. A jump in the number of American women earning doctorates has also been a game-changer, she said. 
“Women were encouraged to become scientists, which is great, but the jobs haven’t kept up,” said Ms. Kahn. 
Ph.D.s still earn a significant premium over others in the labor market and their overall rate of unemployment remains low, though a growing number are taking jobs that don’t use their education. At the same time, their median incomes have been falling. Computer scientists earned $121,300 in 2013, down from $129,839 in 2008; engineers saw a drop to $120,000 from $125,511 and social scientists fell to $85,000 from $90,887.
I presume this is data from the Survey of Doctoral Recipients, but I am not sure. I am surprised that Professor Kahn was able to get breakouts for math/physics data (I guess the chemists got lost?) Still, it doesn't seem to be good news that median salaries for Ph.D. scientists have been trending lower against inflation.

*Can't get past the paywall? Google search "Job-Seeking Ph.D. Holders Look to Life Outside School."

Friday, June 17, 2016

Back tomorrow, I hope

A tough week for posting on the blog, for which I am sad. Better luck tomorrow, or next week. 

Job posting: senior analytical chemist, Denver, CO

From the inbox: 
Senior Scientist: Functional Foods Chemist 
Location: Denver, CO 
We are seeking a hands-on analytical chemist experienced in quantitative and qualitative analysis of botanical extracts, dietary supplement ingredients, and foods. This position will play a key role in the production and analysis of functional foods infused with cannabis and other botanicals and nutraceuticals. 
This scientist shall add value by continually evaluating our manufacturing operations with the goal of implementing new and improved processes and bringing new products to the market. The ideal candidate will have at least three years of applicable cannabis, food, or pharmaceutical experience with a focus on ensuring product quality, safety, and satisfaction. Must possess high attention to detail, strong organization skills, and excellent communication.  Will operate in a safe, detailed, and accurate manner. He/she will need to operate in a startup environment and be flexible to take on new and added responsibilities per the business’ growth needs.
LC/MS experience, B.S. in chemistry desired. Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested.   

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Call me naive...

The news of insider trading always stumps me. From STAT's Ed Silverman:
Last Aug. 17, Jason Chan started his job as a director of biostatistics at a small biotech called Akebia Therapeutics. Just two days later, he began buying Akebia stock based on information he learned about study results for a key drug while attending meetings. 
Within days, his wife and a friend to whom he owed money also began buying shares. 
The US Department of Justice charged Chan on Tuesday with securities fraud. And the US Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit against Chan alleging insider trading and wants him to return $68,000 in illegal profits as part of a scheme that netted his wife $115,000 and the friend another $105,000, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in federal court in Boston.
Maybe I am completely naive and fooled and the SEC can barely catch all the people who are insider trading, but it sure seems like a whole lot of people get caught doing that. What are they thinking?!?! 

Daily Pump Trap: 6/16/2016 edition

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

Riddle me this: Why has Cyalume Technologies (West Springfield, MA) been looking for a research chemist for ~3-4 years now? As I have thought this entire time, the job looks interesting for somebody? 

Wenatchee, WA: AgroFresh (late of Dow, yes?) is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist.

North Charleston, SC: Ingevity (used to be MeadWestvaco, looks like) is looking for an experienced analytical chemist. 

Cary, NC (?): The National Council for Air and Stream Improvement is a forest products trade organization; they're looking for a principal scientist to track "emerging health effects, epidemiology, and exposure assessment studies for substances relevant to the forest products industry, including fine particulate matter, ozone, metals, and other substances regulated in air, water, and soils." Bet you'll be popular.

Tarrytown, NY: ARMGO Pharma is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist.

Laurel, MD: FDA is searching for a research chemist; you'll be "experience[d] conducting research in analytical chemistry method development and validation for use in pharmacokinetic/toxicokinetic studies and developing analytical methods utilizing mass spectrometry, high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC), and gas chromatography." Looks like a 2-year position, with possible extensions? Pay is decent-ish? at 92,145.00 - 119,794.00.

And the waitress is practicing politics: I don't know why I think of "Piano Man" when I see a PharmAgra Labs ad at C&EN Jobs, but I do. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ivory Filter Flask: 6/14/16 edition

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

Gainesville, FL: The University of Florida is searching for a laboratory lecturer for classes in physical, biophysical and analytical chemistry.

Pensacola, FL: Pensacola State College is looking for a M.S. chemist to be a chemistry/biology instructor. Offered salary: 34,828.00 - 40,828.00. Starts in August 2016.

Imagination wanted: The International Institute of Nano and Molecular Medicine at the University of Missouri (Columbia, MO) is looking for postdoctoral fellows. 40-50k offered, looking for "A PhD in Chemistry, with laboratory experience in chemical synthesis and imagination." Huh.

Northampton, MA: Smith College's David J. Gorin is looking for a postdoctoral fellow.

Maastricht, NL: Maastricht University is looking for a lecturer in chemistry; it's a two year contract.

Providence, RI: Providence College is searching for a visiting assistant professor of organic chemistry.

Hillsboro, KS: Tabor College is looking for a 1-year visiting assistant professor of chemistry, starting August 2016. Seems to me this is Last Minute Lecturer territory! 

This week's C&EN

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

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Weekend longreads: bosses have no power over phase changes

I have expressed my horror and fascination with the Takata airbag recall, and how it is really deeply about the chemistry of phases of ammonium nitrate (and water content, apparently.) A compelling long article at Bloomberg Businessweek by Susan Berfield, Craig Trudell, Margaret Cronin Fisk and Jeff Plungis is worth your time: 
Ammonium nitrate was about one-tenth the price of tetrazole, according to Upham, who also reviewed industry patents. But ammonium nitrate had a critical flaw that he says led other air bag makers to give up on it: Ammonium nitrate has five phases of varying density that make it hard to keep stable over time. A propellant made with ammonium nitrate would swell and shrink with temperature changes, and eventually the tablet would break down into powder. Water and humidity would speed the process. Powder burns more quickly than a tablet, so an air bag whose propellant had crumbled would be likely to deploy too aggressively. The controlled explosion would be just an explosion. “Everybody went down a certain road, and only Takata went down another road,” says Jochen Siebert, who’s followed the air bag industry since the 1990s and is now managing director of JSC Automotive Consulting. “If you read the conference papers from back then, you can actually see that people said, ‘No, you shouldn’t. It’s dangerous.’ ” 
When Lillie and other Moses Lake engineers met with their ASL colleagues in December 1998 to review a new design using ammonium nitrate, Lillie says they were told the phase stability problem had been solved. He rejected the design nonetheless. ASL wasn’t able to provide documented evidence of the safety of its product, he said in a January 2016 deposition, taken as part of a personal injury suit against Takata and Honda. “Never any evidence, never any test results, never any test reports, nothing to substantiate they had overcome the phase stability problem,” Lillie testified.
Sadly, the bosses at Takata ignored the bad news, and pushed forward. I hope to never be in the situation at the Takata engineers found themselves in, and if I do, I hope I have the courage to speak out.  

Friday, June 10, 2016

Busy morning, but...

Just for fun, you should check out this paper, and its Supporting Information. It seems... not quite right.

(ht @stuartcantrill, @notHF, etc. on Twitter. Looks like it was the Beeler Group at Boston University that originally tweeted it.) 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

"If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it exactly the same way."

Also in this week's C&EN, a brief profile of patent attorney Paul Dietze by Linda Wang. He got to his position by a not-entirely-conventional means, starting first as an assistant professor at UMBC:
Charting a new path: Dietze was not offered tenure at UMBC (CJ's note: this happened in 1993) so he applied to law school, an idea he had toyed with early on. Dietze worked as a review chemist for the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and attended the University of Maryland School of Law in the evenings. He earned his law degree in 1998. 
Blending chemistry and law as a patent attorney: As a special counsel for Haynes & Boone, LLP, Dietze advises clients in the generic pharmaceutical industry on patenting issues. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I get to use my chemistry, and I get to use my law degree. It’s really a perfect blend of everything. If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it exactly the same way.”
It seems to me that so many people who go through a difficult time and ultimately succeed seem to say similar things to "I'd do it exactly the same way." I don't understand it, but it reminds me of a passage from a favorite novel (Stephen King's "The Stand"), describing this process via an anecdote about a rhythm guitar player:
Then, somehow, over a period of eighteen months, he had gotten clean, and stayed clean. A lot of him was gone. He was no longer the driving wheel of any group, Most Likely to Succeed or otherwise, but he was always on time, never missed a practice session, or f---ed up an audition. He didn't talk much, but the needle highway on his left arm had disappeared. And Barry Grieg had said: He's come out the other side. 
That was all. No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just... come out the other side.  
Or you don't. 
I can't imagine what it is like to be an assistant professor and not be offered tenure, but I imagine that it is a devastating blow. I'm glad that Dr. Dietze came out the other side. 

"Everyone knows someone"

During a NPR story about Congress sending TSCA reform to the White House, a statement by an Environmental Defense Fund scientist, Richard Denison, is probably tendentious:
And I think that's because these issues touch everyone because they deal with our health. Everyone knows someone who got cancer at an early age or who wasn't able to conceive a child. And chemical exposures are increasingly linked to those problems, so I think what everybody felt it was time to upgrade this law.
In an irritable moment, I'll usually make an unfair generalization that 'the environmentalist is the natural enemy of the chemist.'* To suggest that childhood cancers and modern infertility issues are caused by "increasingly linked to" chemical exposure in the environment is a statement that 1) I suspect doesn't have much causal backing in the literature and 2) a strong accusation that will stick in the hearts and minds of the public. As long as folks like Dr. Denison keep making these statements, I'll keep thinking I'm mostly right.

[I would really like to know how Dr. Denison got invited onto NPR in the role of someone who was more or less an explanatory expert, as opposed to a subject matter expert who practices advocacy. If I ever go on a media program to talk about the STEM shortage myth, I will make my priors known immediately. ("Chemjobber is an industrial chemist, a blogger, and a skeptic of the position that America needs more scientists and engineers.") (I guess that announcing that he works for the Environmental Defense Fund is good enough for NPR.)]

*Update: I should probably narrow that to "synthetic** chemist."
**Defined broadly, as in "those who make new molecules/formulations"

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Playing defense

Also in this week's C&EN, a great interview by Bethany Halford with science writer Deborah Blum (now the Director of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT). I really enjoyed this comment from her on the difficulties with science communication between biology, chemistry and physics: 
That invisibility, Blum thinks, might also be what makes it so difficult for chemistry to capture the general public’s imagination in the same way that biology and cosmology do. “It’s so much easier with some of the other sciences to create a picture in people’s minds,” Blum says. “I think we are a species that responds to image really well, and it’s hard with chemistry.” 
Also, Blum says, chemistry is tied to environmental risk in a way that most other sciences are not. “I do think you have to be honest about that.” Nevertheless, she says, we can’t ignore chemistry just because it has inherent risks. It’s not so much that we have to admire every aspect of chemistry, Blum explains, but it’s important to recognize that chemistry is fundamental to the way we navigate the world. 
“I’m not trying to sell chemistry,” Blum continues. As a journalist, she says, that’s not her job. Rather, she sees it as her responsibility to share her fascination with chemistry. Sometimes that means highlighting when and how the science has gone wrong.
Deborah Blum points to something that is really true about chemistry; industrial chemistry has a legacy that is often less than positive, and it's difficult to give a sense of optimism about chemistry when the likeliest question that you get from folks is "is this stuff gonna kill me?" or "isn't there a natural way to fertilize our crops/cure our diseases/power our society?"

I agree with her that chemistry is fundamental to modern life - and maybe that's part of the problem? So many people are ambivalent about the trade-offs that are inherent to our modern, chemistry-powered life. Perhaps there is an aspect of escapism to physics (and maybe biology?) - that's just something that most chemical research just doesn't have.

Job postings: research scientist and contract research scientist, Living Proof, Cambridge, MA

From the inbox, a link to a Ph.D. research scientist position at Bob Langer's company Living Proof (scroll down):
Living Proof is seeking a Research Scientist to support Discovery activities for new product development in hair care. The Research Scientist will contribute to the innovation pipeline and be responsible for designing and developing new materials for hair care applications from concept through product launch. The Research Scientist will play a key role in a multidisciplinary team of scientist, and identify materials performance design targets through collaborations with Discovery team scientists, and industry experts to address unmet consumer needs. This position will report to the Director of Research. This is a paid, full time, position based in Cambridge MA. 
Key areas of responsibility include:
  • Materials design based on target in vivo performance criteria
  • Hands-on chemical synthesis, modification and scale-up
  • Development and validation of materials synthesis, characterization, and performance evaluation protocols
Full link for this Ph.D.-level position here (scroll down). Also, a temporary M.S./Ph.D. research position, also with Living Proof (link here).

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

"I’d settle for a “THX BUT NO THX HAVE A NICE LIFE” text"

Good short little essay from Devon Maloney: 
I’M STILL IN THE RUNNING for a job I interviewed for in 2014. At least, I think I am? I never heard one way or another. After an initial phone interview, I hopped on a train, taking an eight-hour, round trip journey to meet my potential employer. I was even asked to write an essay—about as long as this piece—as a test run. But in the weeks that followed, despite promises of “wanting to move quickly on this” from management, I heard nothing. Every check-in email—my teeth grinding with each attempt to play the role of an exceptionally competent, but also totally laidback candidate—went unanswered. After a while, even the crickets should’ve started to feel guilty. I’d been ghosted. It wasn’t the first time—and it certainly wouldn’t be the last...
Solving the problem of non-rejection rejections would be a good start to civility in job applications. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

I'm not crazy, am I?

Credit: Doug Taber, Organic Chemistry Highlights
I like reading Doug Taber's "Organic Chemistry Highlights" every week. Weird question - is there anything weird about today's 2nd synthetic scheme?*

*there isn't some sort of notation that I'm not familiar with, is there?

Whiskey made in steel tanks?

Having lived in the Kentucky area for more than 20 years, I have tasted many types of bourbon whiskey, from the low-cost Jim Beam to the middle-level Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve. On a recent visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, I was served Cleveland Whiskey, which was covered in a recent Newscripts (C&EN, May 2, page 40). 
The flavor imparted was harsh and biting, with none of the smoky smoothness that comes from aging. Perhaps chemicals used during the bourbon whiskey’s aging process are getting into the spirit, because its makers have missed something during their analysis. When chemists evaluate alternate sources of raw materials, it is not usually the major components that provide the issue, but it is frequently a difference in a small residual material that is there or not there. 
Cleveland Whiskey still has a long way to go to achieve a drinkable basic bourbon whiskey. Maybe it will be better off competing with specialty niche products that cannot be compared to the smooth amber flavor of a well-aged bourbon. 
Michael Recchio
Presumably Cleveland Whiskey is competing on price, and not on flavor, but I dunno. (I'm not a whiskey drinker, mostly.)  

This week's C&EN

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

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sterilite clear plastic totes

Small useful things (links): 

Friday, June 3, 2016

The View from Your Hood: nice rainbow!

Credit: Anonymous
An anonymous submission from the Princeton chemistry department.

(got a View from Your Hood submission? Send it in (with a caption, please) at; will run every other Friday.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Eleven ways to say "accidentally" without saying "accidentally"

I suspect most experiments in the Brainerd Group happened serendipitously.
Credit: DVDizzy
From the inbox, a short article by Belle Dumé that leads to a funny sentence in a recent article in Science Advances (emphasis mine):
During our studies on conjugated D-A polymers with positively charged moieties in the side chains, we accidently discovered that incorporation of ammonium salts into certain conjugated D-A polymers can improve the interchain packing order and enhance their charge carrier mobilities. 
I suggest that, next time, they use the following adverbs rather than "accidentally":
  1. fortuitously 
  2. serendipitiously 
  3. by circumstance
  4. not by design
  5. happily
  6. as part of a Design of Experiments matrix (I kid, I kid!) 
  7. inadvertent
  8. by chance
  9. by coincidence
  10. as an unintended experiment
  11. in the style of Professor Brainerd
Congratulations to Luo et al.; sounds like an interesting project. 

Process Wednesday: huh, that's a lot of "NEVER"s

Via a random Googling, I happened upon Dow's "Dow Answer Center" with a few helpful suggestions for handling acrylic acid:
While some of these are certainly understandable (gee, thawing acrylic acid with steam seems like a terrible idea), some of them (don't deadhead a pump with acrylic acid in it) is obvious only with some hindsight (if you're not used to dealing with pumps in the plant, anyway.) 

It's funny to me how safety literature is mostly of the "polite suggestions" variety, with strong words ("always", "never") reserved for material that has some pretty remarkable consequences. Considering that a random Googling of acrylate accidents reveals quite a few of them (including a plant explosion in Georgia that injured 6 and killed 1), following the 10 "NEVER"s seems like a good idea.