Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Letters to a Pre-Scientist: An Individualized, Pen-Pal Outreach Program

As someone who was aided by K-12 programs in my path to becoming a scientist, I'm extraordinarily pleased to be able to share a post from Alexandra Brumberg of Letters to a Pre-Scientist. - Chemjobber

For over six years, I have volunteered with Letters to a Pre-Scientist (LPS) because of what a unique outreach experience it offers: rather than working with a large group of students for a single occasion, with LPS I get to be a part of a highly individualized and long-term outreach experience that is offered to each student through its pen-pal program. To this day, I have yet to come across another program that tailors its outreach to each student based on their own interests and, moreover, does not employ the standard model of getting students engaged in STEM via flashy science demos that, for me, have never felt truly representative of the realities of everyday science (even if they do capture some of the more exciting moments).

Letters to a Pre-Scientist is a non-profit pen-pal program facilitated by science teachers that pairs 5th - 10th grade students with STEM professional volunteers from around the world. We work specifically in low-income communities (where >60% of the students qualify for free or reduced price lunch). Middle school students in these communities often lack access to high-quality science educations; moreover, oftentimes the only scientist they have come across in “real life” is their science teacher. Of course, media portrayals of scientists are riddled with stereotypes and are far from representative of the diverse careers and individuals found in STEM. The Draw-a-Scientist Test, a measure of stereotypes in science, shows that 79% of US students draw white, male scientists when asked to draw a picture of what they think a scientist looks like; most students draw chemists wearing lab coats. 

Without intervention, many students from low-income communities are excluded from the economic opportunities and career prospects STEM careers offer. At LPS, we’re working to break down harmful stereotypes about what scientists look like and do at work because we believe every student — no matter where they were born or live, what they look like, or how much money their family has — deserves to feel like they are valued and belong in STEM

Each December, we seek donations to support our pen pal program, which we operate free of charge. This year, we have matched nearly 2,000 students with STEM pen pals, which is more students than we have ever matched before! It costs $60 per student to run our program, or just $5/mo. Join our worldwide network of educators, STEM professionals, and activists dedicated to empowering all students to see themselves as future scientists by making a donation today.

More ways to get involved: 

Learn more: 

For questions or comments, feel free to reach out to Alexandra Brumberg (brumberg@ucsb.edu) or Lucy Madden, CEO (lucy.madden@prescientist.org). 

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas

Wishing you and your family a healthy andvery Merry Christmas. Back on Tuesday.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Have a good weekend

I plan to spend as much time as I can with family. I hope you have a good weekend - see you on Monday (maybe). 

This ACS press release is an embarrassment

Via the ACS newsroom: 
In a joint statement from ACS Chair of the Board of Directors Paul W. Jagodzinski and ACS CEO Thomas Connelly Jr., the American Chemical Society (ACS) reaffirms its support of its independent news outlet, Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN):

“We want to assure you that the American Chemical Society remains fully committed to the success of Chemical & Engineering News. The recent reorganization of C&EN as described in Monday’s editorial positions C&EN to better provide our membership with information about ACS activities and efforts. The change does not impact C&EN’s ability to continue to produce the independent, world-class science journalism that it is known for.

“With the full support of ACS, C&EN remains committed to its mission of gathering and delivering news and stories for professionals in the chemistry enterprise from academia, industry and beyond that they cannot find anywhere else. As a top member benefit, we will continue to do all we can to provide direction and resources for C&EN that position it for the future.”

Pardon my language, but are you f------g kidding me? You fire the editor in chief and the most senior editor, and you tell me that this change "better provides our membership with information about ACS activities and efforts"? In what way? 

This is an appalling empty statement from Board Chair Jagodzinski and the outgoing CEO. This statement has no plans, no vision, no ideas as to how the removal of Drs. Campos-Seijo and Kemsley will "better provide [the Society] with information about ACS activities and efforts." The ACS would be better off coming up with trumped-up charges that (I dunno) Jyllian Kemsley was personally stuffing Professor Molenium into a locker on 16th Street than this baloney. 

I would rather that the ACS leadership simply did not make any statement at all than to bring this baloney out and pretend that it will mollify myself or anyone who cares about Chemical and Engineering News.  What a complete embarrassment, and utter disrespect of the membership. I am so disappointed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

A Chemjobber Christmas tradition

A Chemjobber Christmas tradition, updated for 2022. Send a PDF to your family - try it, it works! 

December 21, 2022

Dear family member:

This holiday season, your relative is in his or her fifth/sixth/seventh/_______ year of graduate school in chemistry. This is a delicate time in your students’ lives -- please make interactions smooth for all by following these simple suggestions:

  1. Please supply lots of fresh fruit and vegetables -- they are in short supply. 

  2. Do not offer pizza, which is an all-too-common part of their diets. 

  3. Sleep is a rare commodity in graduate school; please turn down sheets and fluff pillows. Be prepared to see them about 24 hours after they get home.

In attempting to communicate with your graduate student, please avoid asking the following questions: 

  1. When are you going to finish? 

  2. What can you do with your degree? 

  3. Will you be the kind of doctor that helps people? 

  4. Can you connect my phone to our WiFi? 

  5. How about a startup? I hear the Metaverse is hot. 

  6. There's a clinical chemistry department at my hospital -- can you get a job there? 

  7. Why do you need a postdoc? Haven't you gone to enough school? 

  8. Do you know Elizabeth Holmes?

  9. MEGABIOGENE has opened a facility nearby -- can you get a job there?  

  10. Have you thought about artificial intelligence? 

  11. I see [insert high school rival here] has finished medical school -- how much will they be

  12. Can ChatGPT write your thesis?  

  13. Have you thought about teaching? I heard professors have a stable job. 

  14. When are you going to finish? 

In following these simple suggestions, I trust that you, your graduate student and your family will have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Very sincerely,


Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 564 research/teaching positions and 48 teaching positions

The 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 564 research/teaching positions and 48 teaching positions. 

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

To see trending, go to Andrew Spaeth's visualization of previous years' list.

On December 21, 2021, the 2022 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 517 research/teaching positions and 61 teaching faculty positions. On December 22, 2020, the 2021 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 238 research/teaching positions and 23 teaching faculty positions. 

Want to talk anonymously? Have an update on the status of a job search? This will be the third thread when the second one reaches 200 comments. Here's a link to the second thread. Here's a link to the first open thread. 

Don't forget to click on "load more" below the comment box for the full thread. 

The Chemical Engineering Faculty Jobs List: 143 positions

The Chemical Engineering Faculty Jobs List has 143 positions. It is curated by Lilian Josephson (@lljosephson) and Andrew S. Rosen (@Andrew_S_Rosen).

Go to the open thread for this year's search.

Monday, December 19, 2022

An unforced error

Last Monday, the editor in chief of Chemical and Engineering News, Bibiana Campos-Seijo and the most senior editor, Jyllian Kemsley, were both removed from their positions at the magazine. Here is the explanation from the publisher of the magazine, Dr. Susan Morrissey. 

I consider Jyllian Kemsley a friend and a mentor. She is smart, principled and a dedicated science journalist. Her work at C&EN about the Sheri Sangji case was foundational, and a model of how to cover a sweeping story with impacts across American chemical academia. Her influence on how we view and understand academic chemical safety over the last 10+ years is extraordinary. It will take another ten years to develop another reporter to cover these issues with the skill and tenacity Jyllian brought, I estimate, and it remains to be seen if that will ever be in the works. 

There will be lots of opportunities to decry the planned changes at C&EN (and I plan to take them!) but for now, in the words of Matt Hartings, eliminating her position was an unforced error and it does not bode well for the direction of Chemical and Engineering News at all. I hope I am wrong. My continued best wishes for the staff of this incredibly important magazine to our community.

If you'd like to contact ACS leadership to register your disappointment with these moves, I suggest the following folks to be contacted. 

  • Tom Connelly (current CEO): t_connelly@acs.org
  • Al Horvath (incoming CEO): a_horvath@acs.org

Be polite, forthright and succinct. 

Best wishes to Bibi and Jyllian, the remaining staff of C&EN, and to all of us. 

Friday, December 16, 2022

An open letter to the members of the American Chemical Society

Friend of the blog Matt Hartings has published an open letter, signed by current and former members of the C&EN Advisory Board. Here's the most newsworthy portion of the letter: 
...Over the last few days, the Advisory Board’s concern for the magazine’s editorial independence has deepened. It appears that ACS News (awards, governance, happenings, etc.) will take priority over news from the chemical enterprise. Dr. Campos Seijo and senior editor Dr. Jyllian Kemsley were fired on Monday, December 12th. In a message to the Advisory Board, C&EN’s publisher stated, “This reorganization will better position C&EN for the future, allowing it to strengthen its focus on its role as the official organ for the American Chemical Society (emphasis ours).” These changes are made despite years of focus group studies showing that, among the different types of stories C&EN reports, readers prefer science coverage, followed by business, policy, and education content. ACS News has always been the lowest priority in these focus groups.

For many, C&EN is the primary benefit to ACS membership. We rely on their journalists for their deep insight into chemistry and chemical engineering and their exemplary journalistic standards. There is no other magazine that covers the chemical enterprise quite like C&EN. It is required reading for anyone whose career interfaces with chemistry, the central science. Losing C&EN to a change in editorial focus will be a tremendous blow for all of us. This wholesale mission change is one that we cannot stand behind.

Read the whole thing. 

Have a good weekend

I'm not going to lie, this has been a hard week for a number of different reasons. Here is hoping that this week was okay for you, and I hope that you have a great weekend. See you on Monday. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Lawrence Livermore reports "net energy gain" in fusion experiments

Via the New York Times: 
Scientists studying fusion energy at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California announced on Tuesday that they had crossed a long-awaited milestone in reproducing the power of the sun in a laboratory.

That sparked public excitement as scientists have for decades talked about how fusion, the nuclear reaction that makes stars shine, could provide a future source of bountiful energy...

...That changed at 1:03 a.m. on Dec. 5 when 192 giant lasers at the laboratory’s National Ignition Facility blasted a small cylinder about the size of a pencil eraser that contained a frozen nubbin of hydrogen encased in diamond.

The laser beams entered at the top and bottom of the cylinder, vaporizing it. That generated an inward onslaught of X-rays that compresses a BB-size fuel pellet of deuterium and tritium, the heavier forms of hydrogen.

In a brief moment lasting less than 100 trillionths of a second, 2.05 megajoules of energy — roughly the equivalent of a pound of TNT — bombarded the hydrogen pellet. Out flowed a flood of neutron particles — the product of fusion — which carried about 3 megajoules of energy, a factor of 1.5 in energy gain.

This crossed the threshold that laser fusion scientists call ignition, the dividing line where the energy generated by fusion equals the energy of the incoming lasers that start the reaction.

“You see one diagnostic and you think maybe that’s not real and then you start to see more and more diagnostics rolling in, pointing to the same thing,” said Annie Kritcher, a physicist at Livermore who described reviewing the data after the experiment. “It’s a great feeling.”

...Although the latest experiment produced a net energy gain compared to the energy of the 2.05 megajoules in the incoming laser beams, NIF needed to pull 300 megajoules of energy from the electrical grid in order to generate the brief laser pulse. 

Well. It sure seems to be real, but probably not particularly impactful. Congratulations to the NIF team on this scientific breakthrough, and here's hoping that this might offer insight into practical fusion in our lifetimes. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Monday, December 12, 2022

Financial Times: Lawrence Livermore, Secretary of Energy to report on fusion "breakthrough" on Tuesday

Via the Financial Times, this news on an apparent planned press conference: 

...The fusion reaction at the US government facility produced about 2.5 megajoules of energy, which was about 120 per cent of the 2.1 megajoules of energy in the lasers, the people with knowledge of the results said, adding that the data was still being analysed.

The US department of energy has said energy secretary Jennifer Granholm and under-secretary for nuclear security Jill Hruby will announce “a major scientific breakthrough” at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on Tuesday. The department declined to comment further.

The laboratory confirmed that a successful experiment had recently taken place at its National Ignition Facility but said analysis of the results was ongoing.

“Initial diagnostic data suggests another successful experiment at the National Ignition Facility. However, the exact yield is still being determined and we can’t confirm that it is over the threshold at this time,” it said. “That analysis is in process, so publishing the information . . . before that process is complete would be inaccurate.”

Two of the people with knowledge of the results said the energy output had been greater than expected, which had damaged some diagnostic equipment, complicating the analysis. The breakthrough was already being widely discussed by scientists, the people added....

This post is basically to record my personal thoughts prior to whatever press releases are going to come out between now and Tuesday. I think it would be better for there to be some kind of article/pre-print published, and who knows, maybe there will be between now and then. 

It seems to me that the damage to diagnostic equipment would be important to address, and I guess I will believe the results when they've repeated the results enough. It seems to me that having an independent group confirm the data would be important as well, but I am sure that the relevant project leaders know that they are going out on a limb by having Secretary Granholm announce this on Tuesday. 

I guess I would call myself simply "skeptical" and not even "skeptical but hopeful." We shall see - I hope to be pleasantly surprised.  

The best article about antivenom you will read today

Via Marginal Revolution, this fascinating article: 

The difficulties of antivenom production

Why has supplying Africa and other poor regions with working antivenom proven so difficult?

Since its invention, the way we produce antivenom has not fundamentally changed. Around the world snake handlers are manually milking snakes for their venom, injecting it into large animals, typically horses, and tapping their blood to extract the antiserum. This is an expensive procedure that involves keeping horses in stables, keeping snakes in cages, employing animal handlers to milk the snakes, and investing in numerous pieces of technical equipment to tap the blood, extract the antivenom, and purify it.

Moreover, developing countries face a unique set of challenges that make profitable production and distribution of antivenom especially difficult. The lack of cold chains to clinics and pharmacies means manufacturers have to freeze-dry the antivenom so it can be stored at room temperature, which adds an extra step to the manufacturing process and drives up the price.

It's a bit depressing that this (antivenom production) is both difficult and not particularly profitable. Here's hoping that the relevant governments and companies come to a mutually-agreeable long-term solution. 

Friday, December 9, 2022

Have a good weekend

A pretty good week, all things considering. Here is hoping that you had a good week, and that you're looking forward to a good weekend, as am I. See you on Monday. 

ACC: US to have a "shallow recession"

Via C&EN, this news from the chief economist of the American Chemistry Council, Martha Gilchrist Moore (article by Alex Tullo): 
The US economy will experience a “shallow recession” early next year, contributing to a slump for the nation’s chemical sector, according to a forecast from the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry trade group.

US chemical production rebounded strongly in 2022 from the depths of the pandemic, expanding by 3.9%. “Following several years of really weak growth, we’ve actually had one of the better years of the past decade,” Martha Gilchrist Moore, the ACC’s chief economist, told reporters on a Dec. 7 conference call.

Consumer spending, Moore said, was strong as people spent some of the savings they had squirreled away during the pandemic. And supply chain disruptions eased after weighing on the industry in 2021.

Chemical trade was also strong. US exports are on track to rise 20.4% to $184 billion this year. Because of relatively inexpensive natural gas, the US remains a globally competitive venue for making chemicals. And, Moore noted, exports got a lift from shipments of natural gas-intensive chemicals, such as fertilizers, to Europe in particular. That region is facing an energy crisis stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and many European chemical makers had to cut production.

But the ACC says the US chemical boom will subside in 2023, when it expects production to decrease by 1.2%.

“We’re seeing recessionary conditions start to take hold,” Moore said. “Decades-high inflation is really underlying all of this.” It has eroded household purchasing power and has prompted interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve that will dampen economic growth.

I don't think this will impact industry hiring too much, but it strikes me that it will have some kind of impact (i.e. Dow/DuPont/the other chemical industry majors hiring a touch fewer chemists in 2023/24 than in 21/22, but we shall see.) This will be important to watch, especially if the other sectors of the chemistry employment world start contracting their workforces as wel... 

Thursday, December 8, 2022

9 new positions at Organic Chemistry Jobs

 Over at Common Organic Chemistry, curated by Brian Struss, there are 9 new positions for December 7. The jobs can be viewed on the website or spreadsheet.

Don't forget to check out the Common Organic Chemistry company map, a very helpful resource for organic chemists looking for potential employers. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

November 29 explosion at Murray State sends 3 to hospital

Via WPSD, a short news item: 

MURRAY, KY — Three people were treated at a hospital and released following a chemical leak at Murray State University on Tuesday afternoon, university officials say. 

According to a Facebook update from MSU, all buildings on the Gene W. Ray science campus will be open on Nov. 30, including the chemistry building — though there will not be any laboratory activities. 

School officials say students with questions should contact a faculty member. 

This was followed up by a piece from the Murray State News (article by Dionte Berry): 

Emergency responders were on the scene of a chemical explosion in the Jesse D. Jones Chemistry Building resulting in the evacuation and temporary shut down of the Gene W. Ray science campus.

The campus body was alerted of a chemical leak in the chemistry building around noon on Tuesday, Nov. 29 and was told to avoid the area. 

Three people were sent to Murray Calloway County Hospital because of the explosion, with one being injured by the explosion said Murray Fire Chief Eric Pologruto. All three have now been treated and released. The extent of their injuries is unknown.

Although the Admin News updates labeled the incident as a chemical leak, Pologruto said the incident was more of a small chemical explosion, which triggered an alarm throughout the entire science campus. 

Pologruto said the explosion was caused by a reaction during an experiment that was conducted. 

There's no other news as to what happened; seems to me that it is unusual for explosions in academic chemistry labs to require medical attention. Sure would be nice to have some details, but it doesn't look like any will be forthcoming from the local media. 

Layoffs hit entry-level workers in the tech sector

 Via the New York Times, this article on layoffs and rescinded offers from software firms: 

...Over the last decade, the prospect of six-figure starting salaries, perks like free food and the chance to work on apps used by billions led young people to stampede toward computer science — the study of computer programming and processes like algorithms — on college campuses across the United States. The number of undergraduates majoring in the subject more than tripled from 2011 to 2021, to nearly 136,000 students, according to the Computing Research Association, which tracks computing degrees at about 200 universities.

Tech giants like Facebook, Google and Microsoft encouraged the computing education boom, promoting software jobs to students as a route to lucrative careers and the power to change the world.

But now, layoffs, hiring freezes and planned recruiting slowdowns at Meta, Twitter, Alphabet, Amazon, DoorDash, Lyft, Snap and Stripe are sending shock waves through a generation of computer and data science students who spent years honing themselves for careers at the largest tech companies. Tech executives have blamed a faltering global economy for the jobs slowdown.

The cutbacks have not only sent recent graduates scrambling to find new jobs but also created uncertainty for college students seeking high-paying summer internships at large consumer tech companies...

I'm not really sure what to say, other than "best wishes to those affected." 

(There is a fair bit of chatter in the news about a recession, with some commentators saying "I don't see a recession" with reference to the GDP numbers. Outside of straight GDP measurement, it seems to me that falling employment in the tech sector (and in the tech majors in particular) would certainly drive lowered expectations of revenue elsewhere in the economy, and slowing growth...) 

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Job posting: open rank/open field search, Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA

From the inbox: 
The UCSB Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is seeking an open rank position, with an intention to hire a highly creative and productive individual with research and teaching interests in any area of chemistry or biochemistry. Applications at any rank will be considered, including tenure-track and tenured faculty positions at the level of Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor. Successful applicants at the Assistant level will be expected to develop strong and creative research programs and to contribute to teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The successful applicants at the Associate and Full levels are expected to have demonstrated excellence in research, teaching, service, and leadership.

This position is a part of an ongoing effort by the department to strengthen its research and educational mission. We seek an individual with a demonstrated success in developing a rigorous, well-funded research program that can span any area of chemistry and biochemistry, and a commitment to excellence in teaching and who supports diversity, equity and inclusion. Responsibilities of faculty members include teaching at undergraduate and graduate levels, recruitment, supervision, and mentoring of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, participation in university service and professional activities. Successful candidates may have a record of collaborative research, and will be able to leverage synergies within and between the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and collaborative departments, and research units, such as Chemical Engineering, Materials, Mechanical Engineering, the Marine Science Institute, and Biological Engineering. The University is especially interested in candidates who can contribute to the diversity and excellence of the academic community through research, teaching and service as appropriate to the position.

The University of California is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested.  

The 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 530 research/teaching positions and 35 teaching positions

The 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 546 research/teaching positions and 38 teaching positions. 

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

To see trending, go to Andrew Spaeth's visualization of previous years' list.

On December 7, 2021, the 2022 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 499 research/teaching positions and 50 teaching faculty positions. On December 8, 2020, the 2021 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 219 research/teaching positions and 21 teaching faculty positions. 

Want to talk anonymously? Have an update on the status of a job search? The second thread is the current open thread. Here's a link to the first open thread. 

Don't forget to click on "load more" below the comment box for the full thread. 

The Chemical Engineering Faculty Jobs List: 139 positions

The Chemical Engineering Faculty Jobs List has 139 positions. It is curated by Lilian Josephson (@lljosephson) and Andrew S. Rosen (@Andrew_S_Rosen).

Go to the open thread for this year's search.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Seattle Times on a medical mystery

Via the Seattle Times, this look at a pretty horrific recall from this summer: 

Kirsten Paulsen began 2022 wanting to eat healthier and incorporate more vegetables into her diet. She found Daily Harvest, a food delivery company that touts easy to prep, plant-based meals, and signed up for regular shipments of smoothies, vegetable bowls and vegan ingredients to add to other dishes.

In one shipment, the Bellevue resident received a bag of French lentil and leek crumbles, for customers to add protein to a lasagna or an empanada. She prepared them according to the company’s instructions and added them to a meal. Within a day, she recalled, she was sweating profusely, dry heaving on the floor, in pain she equated to worse than giving birth to her son.

Her husband took her to an emergency room, where she was told she had heightened levels of bilirubin that could indicate potential issues with her liver or bile duct, and she was severely dehydrated. The doctors weren’t sure what caused the symptoms...

...In July, Daily Harvest posted on its website that it had identified tara flour, a plant-based ingredient that’s high in protein, as the cause. The company launched an investigation, founder and CEO Rachel Drori wrote, and worked closely with the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “as well as top doctors, microbiologists, toxicologists and three independent labs” to determine what caused the adverse effects. The crumbles were the first and only time tara flour was used by Daily Harvest, which has more than 140 items, Drori wrote.

Tara flour comes from the tara tree (which comes from South America). Seems to me that there's probably some kind of hepatotoxin that wasn't well-known that will ultimately be found, but we shall see...

C&EN: "Cannabis research bill clears US Congress"

In this week's Chemical and Engineering News, this update (article by Britt Erickson): 

A bill that would make it easier for scientists in the US to study the potential benefits and harms of medical cannabis cleared the Senate on Nov. 16. The House of Representatives had passed the legislation (H.R. 8454) in July, and President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law.

The bill directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to identify policies that inhibit cannabis research and to recommend how to overcome those barriers. It also paves the way for research institutions to grow their own cannabis or import cannabis for medical research purposes, but it does not allow scientists to purchase cannabis from state-run dispensaries.

Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it has no accepted medical benefits and has a high likelihood of addiction. Because of that classification, researchers need approval from several government agencies to conduct clinical studies using cannabis.

H.R. 8454 aims to streamline and speed up that approval process. It gives the US attorney general a 60-day deadline to approve cannabis research applications or request additional information from the applicant.

I used to say "it is guaranteed there will be more cannabis chemists in (next year) than there are (this year)" simply because we were growing from a time where there were zero regularly-employed full time chemists working in this field, and then people were moving into the field regularly. It will be interesting to see when this will plateau, but it doesn't seem to be stopping yet. The seemingly-inexorable move towards descheduling/full legalization seems like that would only accelerate the move of more people into the industry...

Friday, December 2, 2022

Have a great weekend

This has been a delightfully quiet week, so that was great. I imagine I'll enter the full fury of the end of the year/holiday stuff soon. I hope that you had a good week, and a relaxing weekend. See you on Monday. 

Wood *ethanol* from Japan

Distilled spirits from... wood?
Credit: Japan Times, Alex K.T. Martin
Via the Japan Times, this fascinating story: 

To begin with, harvested wood is crushed into 2-by-2-centimeter pieces using a chipper, and then processed using a hammer mill with a 0.7-millimeter screen. This powdered wood is then slowly inserted into a rapidly rotating mill with circulating spring water and heavy beads made of zirconia-reinforced alumina to create wood slurry. The resulting gooey, pinkish substance is then sterilized and put in a fermenter. An enzyme solution that breaks down the cellulose into glucose is added and enzymatic saccharification and alcohol fermentation is performed to brew doburoku, the Japanese term for an unrefined alcoholic liquid. This unfiltered solution then undergoes solid-liquid separation and, voila, the base product is made.

“Here it is,” Otsuka says, as he pulls out labeled glass bottles filled with liquids of varying colors produced from a range of trees: cedar, birch, the Somei-Yoshino and yamazakura varieties of cherry trees, mizunara oak and kuromoji, a deciduous tree endemic to Japan. “But at this stage, the alcohol content is very low, at around 2.5% or even 1% when we’re using hardwood,” he says.

“To raise the strength to around 30% to 40% alcohol by volume while retaining the aroma, we double-distill these,” Otsuka continues, proceeding to fish out smaller bottles filled with clear liquids. “All in all, it takes around two weeks to make wood alcohol. Now, take a whiff.”

The alcohol made from cedar lets off that familiar, refreshing woody aroma, while the mizunara oak is mellower, reminiscent of whisky, perhaps because the tree is often made into barrels that are used to age the liquor in. From the birch spirit wafts a fruity smell, akin to brandy, while the cherry trees have a softer but bright, sweet presence, similar to white wine. The scents, in any case, are surprisingly strong, clear and distinct from tree to tree.

How do they taste? Besides the pleasant fragrance, Otsuka says the spirits are quite smooth, without any of the burning sensation associated with downing high-proof liquor.

“I’ve finished one of these smaller bottles on my own one night and didn’t have the slightest hangover,” he says.

I would definitely be interested to try this, but I'm guessing that those who don't like peaty/smoky Scotches won't like this... 

Endpoints: "Catalent to cut about 600 jobs in Indiana, Maryland and Texas"

Via Endpoints News, this sad news: 

Contract manufacturing company Catalent is cutting around 600 jobs in Maryland, Texas, and a major manufacturing facility in Bloomington, IN.

According to a report from a local news site, The Bloomingtonian, the manufacturer announced in an email sent out to employees that it will be cutting 400 positions at the Indiana facility. The company will also cut 77 jobs by Jan. 15 of next year at a cell therapy facility in Webster, TX, just outside of Houston. In Maryland, the company is reducing staff at two locations, with 82 jobs being eliminated at Catalent’s facility in Gaithersburg, and 53 in Rockville. The layoffs go into effect at those locations on Jan. 14.

In a statement, Catalent said it had increased its capacities during the Covid-19 pandemic and was now rolling back some of that expansion.

It is surprising to me that Catalent is dialing back its headcount in manufacturing; they must have had a product portfolio that was weighted towards pandemic-related productions and didn't successfully make the transition.

There is a fair bit of talk that there will be a recession in 2023, and I'm genuinely not sure what I think (i.e. how many quarters of negative US GDP growth will there be in 2023? More than 2? Less than 2? Zero? Not sure yet. "More than zero, less than 3" is my safe bet.) I think the market for younger chemists will be fine (not as hot as 2021, but less hot than 2022) and it will not be as good for experienced chemists (less hot than 2021). How to falsify these calculations?") 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

31 new positions at Organic Chemistry Jobs

Over at Common Organic Chemistry, curated by Brian Struss, there are 31 new positions for November 24. The jobs can be viewed on the website or spreadsheet.

Don't forget to check out the Common Organic Chemistry company map, a very helpful resource for organic chemists looking for potential employers. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Carolyn Bertozzi on Kara Swisher's podcast

I don't really listen much to the tech media podcasts, but I often listen to Kara Swisher's podcast (especially when she was with the New York Times), as she asks pretty blunt questions and sometimes gets good answers. I was surprised to learn that Carolyn Bertozzi was on her latest podcast. Here's a link to the transcript (soft paywall):
Tech journalist Kara Swisher admits she is not a science person, but she believes it’s essential to have conversations with scientists in order to better understand the complex and critical work they do. In the latest episode of On With Kara Swisher, Kara talks to Stanford chemist Carolyn Bertozzi, who just won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for inventing the promising new field of bioorthogonal chemistry, which consists of chemical reactions that scientists can use to study molecules in a living biological environment without interfering with the natural processes of that environment. As Stanford noted in its celebration of her award, these methods have since been used by Bertozzi and other researchers “to answer fundamental questions about the role of sugars in biology, to solve practical problems, such as developing better tests for infectious diseases, and to create a new biological pharmaceutical that can better target tumors, which is now being tested in clinical trials.”

Al Horvath named new CEO of the American Chemical Society

Via C&EN, this news (article by Alexandra A. Taylor): 

ACS treasurer and chief financial officer Albert G. Horvath will succeed Thomas Connelly as head of the American Chemical Society, effective Jan. 1, 2023. Connelly will retire at the end of 2022 after nearly 8 years with ACS. (ACS publishes C&EN.)

“I am pleased that a person with Al Horvath’s skill will be the next CEO of ACS,” Paul W. Jagodzinski, chair of the ACS Board of Directors, says in a statement. “His dedication to the mission and core values of ACS, coupled with his experience in member and public-serving organizations, position him well to lead the Society as we move forward.”

“I'm incredibly honored and humbled by this opportunity,” Horvath tells C&EN. “We're in a very good spot. We have our issues. But I think the challenge for me will be to continue that momentum and keep us moving forward as we have.” 

As CEO, Horvath plans to focus on growing the information services businesses that make up a significant portion of ACS’s revenue. He hopes to facilitate a successful transition to hybrid work and bolster staff engagement after the tumultuous years of the pandemic. “That's obviously something that I want to work closely with the executive leadership team on,” Horvath says. “How do we continue to help people around the society feel positive about their place here?”   

I don't really know very much about Mr. Horvath, so I guess I will reserve judgment. I do think it is interesting that we've gone from folks with a chemistry/chemical engineering background (Madeleine Jacobs and Thomas Connelly) to a non-chemist/scientific organization administrator. Developing...

Monday, November 28, 2022

UC campus graduate students are on strike

In this week's Chemical and Engineering News, this update from Andrea Widener: 

Graduate students and postdoctoral researchers at all 10 University of California (UC) campuses are on strike, a move that is impacting many chemists and chemistry departments.

The strike, which began Nov. 14, is over alleged unfair labor practices by UC, which the union representing the students and postdocs says is not negotiating new contracts in good faith. The larger issues underlying the contract negotiations center on wages and benefits for UC’s graduate students, teaching assistants, postdocs, and academic researchers, who fuel much of the UC system’s research and teaching. The union, the United Auto Workers, represents 48,000 academic workers on the campuses, making the strike the largest in higher education in US history.

“Clearly, 48,000 people across the state are really fired up about this,” says Khalid Mahmood, a chemistry graduate student at UC Berkeley.

Mahmood, who lives with six roommates, says that 40% of his income goes toward rent. In addition, there is little consistency in salary between departments or even from semester to semester. “We really care about our research, but we want the contributions that we make to the university to be reflected in our compensation,” he says...

Six roommates! That sounds awful. 

C&EN: "Chemical warehouse fire kills 38 in China"

Also in this week's C&EN, this news (article by Alex Scott): 
Some 38 people have died in a fire at a facility in Anyang city, Henan Province, China, according to Xinhua, China’s official state news agency. The fire occurred Nov. 21 at a site operated by Kaixinda Trading Company, a chemical wholesaler, media reports state. Chinese president Xi Jinping ordered all-out efforts to rescue and treat the injured, Xinhua reports. The incident is reminiscent of a 2015 warehouse fire in Tianjin, China, that killed 165 people.

Here's a Reuters report saying that it might have been sparks from welding: 

BEIJING, Nov 22 (Reuters) - A fire at a factory in China that killed 38 people, many of them women, was caused by electric welding that flouted regulations, media said on Tuesday.

The fire broke out at Kaixinda Trading Co Ltd in Anyang, in the central province of Henan, on Monday afternoon and fire teams sent 63 vehicles to the scene, state broadcaster CCTV said.

The fire was brought under control by 8 p.m. (1200 GMT) and put out by midnight. Two people were taken to hospital for minor injuries, CCTV added. 


Friday, November 25, 2022

Have a good weekend

Mostly a restful week, so this was really nice. Here's hoping you have a great weekend, and we'll see you on Monday. 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving!

Every year, I am incredibly thankful for my family, my friends, my community (physical and online) and my job. 

I am also thankful for you, my readers and commenters. Thank you for your reading, your advice, your e-mails and your brilliant, insightful comments. I am grateful for your continued reading over these many years. 

[An additional note: if you would ever like to meet for a cup of coffee or a beer, please reach out to my e-mail address. I don't know what my travel schedule for 2023 looks like, but I will still be traveling, and I love to meet readers of the blog. 

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Nature: "First active chemistry on an exoplanet revealed by Webb telescope"

Via Nature, this astrochemistry news: 
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has produced the most detailed information ever on an exoplanet, making it the world we know most about after the eight major planets of our Solar System. Observations of the planet, called WASP-39b, reveal patchy clouds, an intriguing chemical reaction in its atmosphere, and provide hints about its formation.

“We’ve studied lots of planets before,” says Laura Kreidberg, director of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Heidelberg, Germany, and part of the observation team, which posted five papers on their observations on the arXiv preprint server on 22 November. “But we’ve never seen a data set like this.”

...Using three of its instruments, JWST was able to observe light from the planet’s star as it filtered through WASP-39b’s atmosphere, a process known as transmission spectroscopy. This allowed a team of more than 300 astronomers to detect water, carbon monoxide, sodium, potassium and more in the planet’s atmosphere, in addition to the carbon dioxide. The gives the planet a similar composition to Saturn, although it has no detectable rings.

The team were also surprised to detect sulfur dioxide, which had appeared as a mysterious bump in early observation data. Its presence suggests a photochemical reaction is taking place in the atmosphere as light from the star hits it, similar to how our Sun produces ozone in Earth’s atmosphere. In WASP-39b’s case, light from its star, slightly smaller than the Sun, splits water in its atmosphere into hydrogen and hydroxide, which reacts with hydrogen sulfide to produce sulfur dioxide.

“Photochemistry, because it is such an important process here on Earth, is probably an important process on other potentially habitable planets,” says Jacob Bean, an astronomer at the University of Chicago in Illinois and the observation team’s co-leader. Until now, “we’ve only been able to test our understanding of photochemistry in our Solar System. But planets around other stars give us access to completely different physical conditions”.

Pretty cool!  

C&EN: Snapdragon to be acquired by Cambrex

Via C&EN's Rick Mullin, this interesting news: 
Two months after US Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) derailed the acquisition of Snapdragon Chemistry, a flow chemistry specialist, by the Chinese pharmaceutical services firm Asymchem, Snapdragon has a new buyer.

Cambrex, a leading US pharmaceutical services firm, says it has agreed to acquire Massachusetts-based Snapdragon for an undisclosed sum. Cambrex specializes in the contract manufacture of small-molecule active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and operates several plants in the US and Europe.

Snapdragon will complement Cambrex’s own continuous flow chemistry team, based in High Point, North Carolina, says Brandon Fincher, chief strategy officer at Cambrex. “It’s a technology and technique that has come in handy on a few projects with important customers of ours, and it is a part of the market growing faster than batch processing,” he says. Cambrex views Snapdragon as an ideal strategic fit, Fincher says: “best in class” at flow process development and “ideally positioned right outside of Boston.”

Snapdragon CEO Matthew Bio says his firm will continue to operate with current staff and leadership. “It is still evolving, but their intent is to maintain the brand and maintain our group intact,” Bio says of Cambrex. Snapdragon has 74 employees, including 31 PhD scientists. It recently commissioned a 4,700 m2 research and manufacturing facility in Waltham, Massachusetts.

What I think is notable about the Snapdragon story is that the US government stepped in to stop the sale to Asymchem. That Cambrex (owned by a UK private equity firm) bought them is actually not very surprising, i.e. Cambrex has bought a lot of companies, why not Snapdragon? 

Will there ever be further Chinese interest in acquistion of American pharma manufacturers? Hard to say, but (hindsight being 20/20) Snapdragon was the obvious choice (i.e. a leader in a technology that is expected to play a very important role in the future of pharma manufacturing.) Can't think of any others, so I predict there will be no further American governmental intervention in Chinese acquistions in this sector either... 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 522 research/teaching positions and 34 teaching positions

The 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 522 research/teaching positions and 34 teaching positions. 

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

To see trending, go to Andrew Spaeth's visualization of previous years' list.

On November 23, 2021, the 2022 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 470 research/teaching positions and 44 teaching faculty positions. On November 24, 2020, the 2021 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 195 research/teaching positions and 17 teaching faculty positions. 

Want to talk anonymously? Have an update on the status of a job search? The second thread is the current open thread. Here's a link to the first open thread. 

Don't forget to click on "load more" below the comment box for the full thread. 

Postdoctoral position: SRI, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

From the inbox: 
The College of Science at the University of Utah invites applications for postdoc-level positions to support undergraduate research as part of its Science Research Initiative ( SRI ) while also carrying out their own independent research program and other professional development. The SRI is a unique program that focuses on providing students with authentic research experiences during their first and second years of undergraduate education ( https://science.utah.edu/sri/ ). The SRI Fellow position offers three years of training in mentorship and teaching, as well as the opportunity to develop high-impact undergraduate research experiences at an institution with a world-class research infrastructure and community. The SRI Fellows divide their time between teaching research courses, mentoring undergraduate students through research projects developed by the fellow, and working on their own research and professional development.

SRI Fellows are scientists and mathematicians with Ph.Ds in astronomy, biology, chemistry, environmental science, mathematics, physics, and related fields. This year there is a particular emphasis on hiring fellows carrying out astronomy, environmental science, and biochemistry research applied broadly. The position is for three years, subject to review after one year, and can begin as early as July 1, 2023. It provides a starting salary of $57,000 per year, an annual research fund, and benefits including retirement, along with discipline- and pedagogy-specific mentorship. Researchers interested in pursuing academic positions at primarily undergraduate institutions may be especially interested in this position, as SRI fellows will have the opportunity to develop a robust plan for, and gain a large amount of hands-on experience in, undergraduate teaching and research, and can transfer their research program into their next position.

Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested.  

The Chemical Engineering Faculty Jobs List: 126 positions

The Chemical Engineering Faculty Jobs List has 126 positions. It is curated by Lilian Josephson (@lljosephson) and Andrew S. Rosen (@Andrew_S_Rosen).

Go to the open thread for this year's search.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Ian Fleming's James Bond in "Rontogram of Solace"

Via Marginal Revolution, this important news from Nature: 
By the 2030s, the world will generate around a yottabyte of data per year — that’s 1024 bytes, or the amount that would fit on DVDs stacked all the way to Mars. Now, the booming growth of the data sphere has prompted the governors of the metric system to agree on new prefixes beyond that magnitude, to describe the outrageously big and small.

Representatives from governments worldwide, meeting at the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) outside Paris on 18 November, voted to introduce four new prefixes to the International System of Units (SI) with immediate effect. The prefixes ronna and quetta represent 1027 and 1030, and ronto and quecto signify 10-27 and 10-30. Earth weighs around one ronnagram, and an electron’s mass is about one quectogram.

This is the first update to the prefix system since 1991, when the organization added zetta (1021), zepto (10-21), yotta (1024) and yocto (10-24). In that case, metrologists were adapting to fit the needs of chemists, who wanted a way to express SI units on the scale of Avogadro’s number — the 6 × 1023 units in a mole, a measure of the quantity of substances. The more familiar prefixes peta and exa were added in 1975 (see ‘Extreme figures’).

Clever college kids will joke about having a quectogram of sympathy...  

C&EN: "Another bad quarter for Germany’s chemical sector"

In this week's Chemical and Engineering News, this update from Alex Scott: 
The tough market conditions experienced by the German chemical industry carried into the third quarter, the result of high energy prices and weakening demand for chemicals across most markets, according to VCI, Germany’s largest chemical industry association.

German chemical sales in the quarter fell 1.6% to $62.3 billion from the year-ago period, while production was down 4.2%. At 79.3%, average plant capacity utilization in the third quarter was well below normal, VCI states.

“The chemical industry faces more dark months,” VCI President Markus Steilemann warned in a recent report on the state of the German industry. “Many companies are already in an extremely dramatic situation with their production in Germany, mainly because of the massive increase in energy costs.”

VCI expects chemical production in Germany for the whole of 2022 to be down 5.5%. Medium-size chemical companies have been struggling the most, it says.

It really doesn't sound like things are getting better in Germany, but I suspect we are in for a difficult winter. Here's hoping we all make it through.  

Friday, November 18, 2022

Have a good weekend

Well, this was a strange week, but overall a good one. (One of these weeks where you look around and think to yourself "why am I in this room?") Here is hoping that you had a great week, and a good weekend. See you on Monday! 

Job posting: Sr. Principal Scientist - Analytical Chemistry Separations Scientist, Amgen, Thousand Oaks, CA

From the inbox:

The Synthetic Separations Group at Amgen in Thousand Oaks, CA is seeking a talented separations scientist to manage staff and the day-to-day analytical/purification support for the analysis and purification of small and hybrid (mRNA, LNP, siRNA, oligonucleotides) molecules to support pharmaceutical discovery efforts.  Responsibilities of the position include:

  • Support drug discovery teams by developing chromatographic methods and processes for the analysis and purification of small and hybrid (mRNA, LNP, siRNA, oligonucleotides) molecules.
  • Develop custom separation, detection, and quantitation methods to solve analytical problems encountered in various areas of small, hybrid, and large molecule discovery.
  • Utilize a diverse set of instruments and technologies, such as (but not limited to) HPLC, SFC-MS, HPLC-MS, CE, mass-directed purification, and preparative SFC.
  • Actively participate in research efforts directed at improving process efficiencies, expanding the range of assays and applications, and improving technologies and infrastructure, from conceptualizing to experimental design through implementation.
  • Supervise junior-level staff, participate in national and international scientific meetings, and provide scientific reports that support the generation of publications, patents, or regulatory submissions.

Basic Qualifications:

  • PhD degree with 3 years of scientific experience OR
  • Master’s degree and 6 years of relevant experience OR
  • Bachelor’s degree and 8 years of proven experience

Preferred Qualifications:

  • 10 years of chromatographic experience in the pharmaceutical industry
  • Record of publication in high-impact journals and oral presentations at scientific conferences.
  • Experience managing and/or mentoring junior scientists.
  • Demonstrated expertise in multiple chromatographic techniques across multiple modalities.
Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

The US government has a plutonium problem

Via the New York Times, the disassembly of nuclear weapons creates some unintended issues: 
...What now for the B83? How many still exist is a federal secret, but not the weapon’s likely fate, which may surprise anyone who assumes that getting rid of a nuclear weapon means that it vanishes from the face of the earth.

Typically, nuclear arms retired from the U.S. arsenal are not melted down, pulverized, crushed, buried or otherwise destroyed. Instead, they are painstakingly disassembled, and their parts, including their deadly plutonium cores, are kept in a maze of bunkers and warehouses across the United States. 

...The plutonium cores of retired hydrogen bombs are of particular concern, Mr. Alvarez and others say. Roughly the size of a grapefruit, these cores are usually referred to as pits. The United States now has at least 20,000 pits in storage. They’re kept at a sprawling plant in the Texas panhandle known as Pantex. 

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (unsurprisingly) has some concerns:  

Safely ridding the nation of one of the world’s largest excess stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium will be no minor feat. At issue is the US Energy Department’s 2016 decision to dilute and dispose of, all told, about 48.2 metric tons of plutonium, including 26.2 tons of components, known as “pits,” from several thousand dismantled thermonuclear warheads and 22 metric tons in other forms. These massive quantities of plutonium are destined for the Energy Department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the nation’s only geologic burial site for radiological waste, dug into a deep-underground salt formation near Carlsbad New Mexico.

48.2 metric tons! That's a lot of plutonium. 

(The government seems like it takes old plutonium for new nuclear warheads. I imagine there are a great deal of treaties and precedents stopping us from doing something useful with this plutonium, like, I dunno, getting energy from it by turning it into reactor fuel...) 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

19 new positions at Organic Chemistry Jobs

Over at Common Organic Chemistry, curated by Brian Struss, there are 19 new positions for November 13. The jobs can be viewed on the website or spreadsheet.

Don't forget to check out the Common Organic Chemistry company map, a very helpful resource for organic chemists looking for potential employers. 

Job posting: Sr. Scientist I or II - Principal Scientist I, Cambrex, Longmont, CO

From the inbox: 

Cambrex is seeking an experienced and motivated synthetic organic chemist (Sr. Scientist I/II or Principal Scientist I) for the Process Chemistry department. This position performs routine and complex organic synthesis, purification, and analytical evaluation of materials as part of a process chemistry research and development team. The chemist will optimize synthetic routes to drug substance for purity, reproducibility, scalability, and yield. The chemist will also design and proposes new synthetic routes to drug substances. May be asked to lead the process chemistry portion of customer projects and potentially a group of process chemists. Will present work internally and externally to clients. Experience in process chemistry research and development is desirable. Expertise in synthetic organic chemistry is essential.

Full ad here. 

Interested? Send resume to linda.santiago@cambrex.com or to apply directly at the link. Best wishes to those interested.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Stealth car smuggling boats?

Via Marginal Revolution, this very odd story: 
The smuggling of cars into china has been a widespread problem since at least the 1980s, and slowly evolved into an arms race between the authorities and the smugglers. The ultimate smuggling boat is known as the Armored Stealth Boat (ASB). You read that correctly; this may sound too James Bond to be real, but it is.

The rate of smuggling has been so high that it a major driver in China’s investment in car technology for domestic production, buying some Western manufacturers wholesale: the idea is to offset smuggled cars with more attractive local types. This strategy may have diminished the attractiveness of imported luxury cars but the demand is still high.

The car smuggling trade is estimated to be worth over 1 billion dollars annually. One network of linked ‘car smuggling gangs’ broken up by authorities in 2013 was accused of importing about 1,000 cars per year. Smuggled cars come in all flavors but are often high-end and luxury types including BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Bentley and even Rolls Royce. The smugglers find many ways of getting the cars in, from stacking them within standard shipping containers, to breaking them down into parts. Many of the cars arrive by boat, often in ways which disguise their presence. Some are turned upside down to alter their silhouette, some are hidden amongst legitimate imports or scrap.

 Click through for some bonkers pictures. The demand for illegal cars must be pretty strong in China! 

C&EN on airbag propellants

Via Chemical and Engineering News' Beth Halford, this fascinating look at airbag chemistry: 
Imagine that you’re driving on a two-lane road. It’s dark and rainy. Maybe you’re driving faster than you should be. Perhaps some animal darts into the road. Or maybe another driver loses control of their vehicle. You swerve and slam on the brakes, but the collision has already been set into motion. Your seat belt tightens as your car crashes, and the only object between you and a serious injury or even death is a thin nylon bag full of nitrogen gas—an airbag.

The chemistry used to inflate airbags has evolved. Over the years, automakers have sought to use more efficient, less expensive chemical transformations and to reduce use of any potentially hazardous compounds. But those changes haven’t always been for the better. In the late 1990s, the automotive parts manufacturer Takata launched an airbag formulation that led to recalls that the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) describes as “the largest and most complicated automotive recalls in United States history.” Today, a combination of chemical reactions and compressed gas canisters helps save lives.
I gotta say, I did not expect to read about Ostwald ripening in this article: 
But why did the ammonium nitrate break down? Blomquist, who studied Takata airbags for NHTSA’s investigation, says moisture from humid air penetrated the seals around the ammonium nitrate’s housing. Over time, moisture transformed the ammonium nitrate from a uniform solid to one riddled with channels via a process known as Ostwald ripening. The problem was exacerbated by high temperatures, so it was worse in parts of the US with warm, humid weather. When the airbag deployed, hot gas from combustion flowed through the channels quickly and burned through the material in just 3–5 ms, rather than the 30 ms it was designed to.

Cool article - read the whole thing!