Wednesday, May 31, 2023

UNH grad student charged with felonies for attempting to manufacture dimethylmercury at home

From (article by Damien Fisher): 

The man who made himself sick mixing unstable chemicals in his Durham apartment seems to be a victim of his own recreational interests, according to Assistant Strafford County Attorney Joachim Barth.

“He appears to be a hobbyist,” Barth said. 

Emad Mustafa, 29, is now facing felony charges of reckless conduct and improper disposal of hazardous waste after investigators searched his Oyster River Road apartment this week.

Via WMUR, it sounds like he was following a YouTube video: 

A Ph.D candidate at UNH who is facing criminal charges after an apparent hazmat situation near campus over the weekend was trying to follow a YouTube video that specifically warned viewers not to repeat the experiment, according to Durham police.

Police said the suspect, Emad Mustafa, 29, called authorities himself on Saturday, saying he may have been exposed to a toxic chemical.

According to new court documents, Mustafa told officers he believed he had made a chemical called dimethyl mercury inside his Oyster River home.

He told officers that mixing the chemical caused a flash-burn, creating smoke and toxic vapor.

It is grimly ironic that a graduate student was attempting to create dimethylmercury 100 miles away from Dartmouth, where Karen Wetterhahn died of exposure to the compound. It's cold comfort that he is studying physics and not chemistry. 

I can't get very excited about this, i.e. there is no viable policy response to people who order chemicals online to perform unwise chemical experiments at home. (I suppose it wouldn't hurt my feelings much if Amazon and other online retailers made it more difficult to access mercury, and I am genuinely surprised that this person managed to access dimethylsulfate as well.) 

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 628 research/teaching positions and 83 teaching positions

The 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 628 research/teaching positions and 83 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 May 24, 2022, the 2022 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 591 research/teaching positions and 110 teaching faculty positions. On May 25, 2021, the 2021 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 338 research/teaching positions and 67 teaching faculty positions. 

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

Job posting: assistant professor of practice, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA

From the inbox: 
The Department of Chemistry at Tulane University invites applications for a Professor of Practice position beginning in the Fall 2023. The successful applicant will have a Ph.D. in Chemistry with expertise in Organic Chemistry. Duties will include supervising Organic and General Chemistry Laboratories, which, in total, involve about 30 teaching assistants. Depending on the needs of the department, alternative duties may involve supervising only Organic or only General Chemistry Laboratories and teaching a large section of the corresponding Organic or General Chemistry lecture (~ 150 students). The Department of Chemistry recognizes and rewards innovative and quality teaching. Candidates interested in creating and adopting pedagogical innovations will find many opportunities and support to pursue their interests. The successful candidate will have a record of excellent teaching and mentoring at the undergraduate level, and commitment to student-centered teaching and to increasing diversity in chemistry. 

The Professor of Practice appointment is renewable every three years (initially) and every five years after promotion to Senior Professor of Practice.

Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested.  

Monday, May 29, 2023

Memorial Day; back tomorrow

Fort Custer National Cemetery, Augusta, MI.
credit: memphisjs
Today is Memorial Day in the United  States; it's a national holiday.

Back tomorrow.  

Friday, May 26, 2023

Have a good week

All things considered, I think I had a good week. Here's hoping that I make my flights home, and I hope that you had a great week too. I am looking forward to a long weekend, and I hope that you have a great one. See you on Tuesday. 

Good luck, New York City AI regulators

Via the New York Times, this news: 
European lawmakers are finishing work on an A.I. act. The Biden administration and leaders in Congress have their plans for reining in artificial intelligence. Sam Altman, the chief executive of OpenAI, maker of the A.I. sensation ChatGPT, recommended the creation of a federal agency with oversight and licensing authority in Senate testimony last week. And the topic came up at the Group of 7 summit in Japan.

Amid the sweeping plans and pledges, New York City has emerged as a modest pioneer in A.I. regulation.

The city government passed a law in 2021 and adopted specific rules last month for one high-stakes application of the technology: hiring and promotion decisions. Enforcement begins in July.

The city’s law requires companies using A.I. software in hiring to notify candidates that an automated system is being used. It also requires companies to have independent auditors check the technology annually for bias. Candidates can request and be told what data is being collected and analyzed. Companies will be fined for violations.

I have no doubt that New York City government means well, and that I have no doubt that companies will attempt to apply AI to the task of searching through job applications and screening the candidates. I also have little doubt that this rule will be easily bypassed by both technology and clever lawyers (probably more the latter than the former, but we shall see.) 

I have little doubt if the Workdays of the world were informed by Silicon Valley that chicken entrails were the best means of screening job candidates, that soon Jimmy John's and (I dunno) Salesforce would be out there, slaughtering chickens by the thousands in order to find fresh meat for the grinder get the best entry-level candidates. Soon, academics would be calling for chicken entrail regulation, law firms would be out there racking up billable hours in the slaughterhouses of Enterprise Rent-a-Car performing audits, and New York City would be moving towards banning chicken entrails in the screening of hiring candidates. Then Silicon Valley would show that goat entrails actually have a better R-squared (of a whole 0.15) and the cycle would start again...


Wednesday, May 24, 2023

A bit of praise for Timbuk2

Many years ago, I bought a Timbuk2 messenger bag after asking the readership what their favorite laptop bag was. 

It's been to China and Europe, and suffered a fair bit of abuse and daily use. I've sent it back for repairs twice, and not been charged anything for these repairs. If there's a Timbuk2 store in your area, you can drop the bag off to be shipped for repair, and that worked out all right as well. All in all, I've been quite pleased with them. Strong recommend. 

ACS demographics

Via Chemical and Engineering News, news that ACS has released a demographics report (article by Krystal Vasquez): 
The American Chemical Society has released its first report exploring the demographics of its membership. According to the report, tracking this data will help the society achieve the fifth goal of its strategic plan: to “embrace and advance inclusion in chemistry.” The data can also help ACS better tailor programs and services to its members, the report says.

The report was produced by the ACS Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Respect, with help from ACS Society Business Solutions, using a number of internal data sources for 2022, such as the annual ACS salary survey. It examines demographic data across multiple axes, including gender, race and ethnicity, and age. 
  • Men and women are also more evenly distributed in the overall US workforce at 52% and 48%, respectively, according to the US Census Bureau.
  • In terms of race and ethnicity, 70.3% of ACS members identify as white. That value falls to 64% in the overall US STEM workforce and drops another two percentage points in the US workforce more generally.
  • Asian and Pacific Islander ACS members make up the next-largest racial and ethnic group at 19%, followed by Hispanic members at 4.5%, and Black and African American members at 2.9%.
  • ACS members lean older than the general workforce. Over half list their age as 51 years or more, compared to 35% for the overall US workforce, according to the Census Bureau.
  • The report says 63% of members have a doctorate or equivalent, and nearly half work in academia
It is amusing to see in the numbers that the ACS leans older, more PhD-heavy and academic. That's about right, and it's fascinating to see it. 

Monday, May 22, 2023

60,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate went missing; leaky train car is current explanation

Via KQED: 

Some 60,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used as both fertilizer and a component in explosives, went missing as it was shipped by rail from Wyoming to California last month, prompting four separate investigations.

A railcar loaded with 30 tons of the chemical left Cheyenne, Wyoming, on April 12. The car was found to be empty after it arrived two weeks later at a rail stop in the Mojave Desert, according to a short incident report from the explosives firm that made the shipment.

The company, Dyno Nobel, made the report May 10 to the federal National Response Center, or NRC. The report also appeared last week in an NRC database of California incidents managed by the state Office of Emergency Services last Wednesday.

There appears to be an innocent explanation: 

Dyno Nobel says it believes the material — transported in pellet form in a covered hopper car similar to those used to ship coal — fell from the car on the way to a rail siding (a short track connecting with the main track) called Saltdale about 30 miles from the town of Mojave in eastern Kern County.

“The railcar was sealed when it left the Cheyenne facility, and the seals were still intact when it arrived in Saltdale. The initial assessment is that a leak through the bottom gate on the railcar may have developed in transit,” the company said through a spokesperson.

A Federal Railroad Administration representative, though, says the investigation points to one of the hopper car gates not being properly closed.

Here's hoping this simple explanation is the correct one, and that this material is not actively being mixed with fuel oil. 

C&EN: "Earnings for Japanese chemical makers slumped in fiscal 2022"

In this week's C&EN, news from Japan's economy (article by Alexander H. Tullo):

Japanese chemical companies ground through a tough fiscal year 2022. For the period, which ended on March 31, sales rose for nearly every major firm, but earnings were down almost across-the-board as companies grappled with sluggish economic conditions and rising energy and raw material costs.

Looks like things are tough all over - curious as to when it hits the US economy in force, and what impact it will have on hiring...

Friday, May 19, 2023

Have a good weekend

Been a busy, but quiet week. Some small successes, so I guess that will have to do for the week. Hope that you had a good week, and that you have a fantastic weekend. See you on Monday. 

The stealing/borrowing of credit

Via Derek Lowe, this remarkable article about the modern ibuprofen process, and the chemistry behind it, and the people behind it. This description of the politics was rather revealing and unfortunate: 

Did learning about and employing a “Quality” approach solve all my problems, or bring a big personal reward at Celanese? The answer was clearly no, at least in my individual case. Some of the unfortunate facets of human behavior intervened.

The Exploratory Group Leader and his Research Manager from the Celanese exploratory fine chemicals group began to internally tell and very often repeat a narrative to upper Celanese management, to the effect that the ibuprofen success was “really” just an outgrowth of their own prior “discoveries” related to HF chemistry. Celanese upper management (based at other sites), and later many other people inside and outside Celanese didn’t know any better (up to and including the Presidential Green Chemistry evaluators, and most of the people who have subsequently read about the Presidential Green Chemistry Award for the BHC process). 

Most of them accepted local Celanese management’s narrative version of the ibuprofen story without question, and have often repeated it later, in print and elsewhere. . .Our names were listed on the ibuprofen patent because legally they had to be listed, but were almost never mentioned again with respect to the BHC Ibuprofen Process, inside or outside Celanese. Meanwhile, the Exploratory Group Leader and the Research Manager reaped great personal/career rewards, and multiple promotions, by telling and re-telling their ibuprofen narrative.

It is weird to me how people steal credit (or perhaps take more credit than they deserve); I don't get it.  Nevertheless, people do it, and it makes me wonder if organizations should do their part to squelch such behavior. It's a hard problem. 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Job posting: Patent Agent (Organic Chemistry), Hamilton Brook Smith Reynolds

Via C&EN Jobs, this posting: 

Hamilton Brook Smith Reynolds, an intellectual property boutique with offices in Boston and Concord, Massachusetts, seeks a Patent Agent for its Life Sciences team. 

Candidates should be capable of working on all matters involving small molecules, and have experience drafting and prosecuting patent applications, conducting patent validity, non-infringement and freedom-to-operate analyses and supporting due diligences related to small molecule pharmaceuticals. 

Successful candidates will also have outstanding writing and interpersonal skills, as well as strong academic credentials. A Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry or related discipline and registration with the USPTO are required.

Best wishes to those interested.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Who is making "generic" semaglutide, part 2

I know I've covered this before, but it continues to bother me - who is making "generic" semaglutide? (via the New York Times): 
...Because the F.D.A.’s drug shortage website lists as Ozempic as “currently in shortage,” compounding pharmacies are allowed to buy semaglutide from pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturers and compound it into an injectable medication they dispense. They also often mix it with B vitamins or a metabolic compound called L-carnitine, which limited research has shown may contribute to weight loss. Some compounding pharmacies are distributing a different active ingredient altogether: semaglutide sodium, the salt form of semaglutide.

In recent weeks, regulators have raised concerns about semaglutide sodium, which is sometimes sold as a research chemical. Semaglutide sodium does not appear to meet standards for compounding in federal law, in part because the substance is not part of any F.D.A.-approved medication — and officials have expressed alarm at how widespread it is.

I don't wish to cover the questions that I've already asked, but I'll note some other questions that I have about this situation: 

  • Are we basically in a world where US consumers are ordering API from Chinese manufacturers directly?  
  • Why isn't the FDA stopping these shipments from coming in? 
  • Semaglutide doesn't appear to be a particularly easy peptide to make, but I suppose that these sorts of efforts are run by solid-phase synthesizers? Is it the fact that the dosages are relatively low that allow Chinese peptide manufacturers to participate in this? 
I'm genuinely surprised that people are willing to entrust their lives to a supply chain that is completely opaque and untraceable, but it is around weight loss, and so folks are pretty motivated to get themselves access to Ozempic, whether it's through their physicians or not. 

Monday, May 15, 2023

Who does well at Zoom

Via Marginal Revolution, this Insider article about why Zoom is weird, and how people can get better at it: 

In a study last year, people who were face-to-face responded to yes/no questions in 297 milliseconds, on average, while those on Zoom chats took 976 milliseconds. Conversational turns — handing the mic back and forth between speakers, as it were — exhibited similar delays. The researchers hypothesized that something about the scant 30- to 70-millisecond delay in Zoom audio disrupts whatever neural mechanisms we meatbags use to get in sync with one another, that magic that creates true dialogue.

...Cooney and Reece's first pass at the data suggests that "good conversationalists" on Zoom are those who talk faster, louder, and more intensely. They're the Tom Cruises, as it were, of the interactive back-and-forth. People rated by their partners as better conversationalists spoke 3% faster than bad conversationalists — uttering about six more words a minute. And while the average loudness of speakers didn't change across bad or good conversations, the "good" talkers varied their decibel levels more than the "bad" talkers did. Cooney and Reece's team speculate that the good ones were better at reading the Zoom room, calibrating their volume to the curves of the conversation.

I genuinely do not enjoy video conversations, but they seem to be important, so it's worthwhile thinking about how to get better at them. 

(I do not enjoy talking fast, nor loud nor intensely, so that's probably something to work on... I guess.) 

First Oregon company to be licensed to test mushrooms for potency

Via a Google News search for "chemist", this article from Oregon Public Broadcasting: 

Just a few weeks after naming the first licensed psilocybin manufacturer in the state, Oregon has granted a license to a Portland company to test the mushrooms for potency.

In naming Rose City Laboratories the first company to be allowed to do the testing, the Oregon Health Authority said: “Accurate labeling of psilocybin potency allows clients to participate in administration sessions with products that meet their needs.”

Björn Fritzsche is a chemist with Rose City Labs. He says the company’s years of experience in testing cannabis products will translate easily to this new work.

“The process for the potency testing is surprisingly similar,” Fritzsche says. “The solvents that we use for extraction are a little bit different, but the actual technology that we use — high pressure liquid chromatography — is very similar.”

Still, this is a new frontier in medicine, and Fritzsche is excited about the possibilities.

“I get to do something new, something that hasn’t really been done at scale before,” Fritzsche says. “I was actually able to develop new methodologies, do something that hadn’t been done before. And that’s really interesting.”

This isn't really my thing (psilocybin, that is), but it seems to me that it is important for these things to be regulated and standardized for the general public. Glad to see it's happening. 

Friday, May 12, 2023

Have a good weekend!

Well, this was an interesting week, and it's ending early for me. Soooo much Mother's Day stuff to do. Hope you have a great weekend, and happy Mother's Day to those who celebrate/are to be celebrated. See you on Monday. 

Update on PCI Synthesis: acetone and IPA in reactors

From the Daily News of Newburyport, MA (article by Jim Sullivan): 

NEWBURYPORT — Demolition of the Seqens/PCI Synthesis pharmaceutical factory’s damaged addition won’t begin until next week, the city’s Building Department announced Thursday.

A 62-year-old Methuen man was killed and four others were injured May 4 in a chemical explosion at the Opportunity Way site that sent a massive vat through the addition’s roof and roughly 30 feet into a parking lot.

Firefighters and contractors have been at the site ever since but city Chief of Staff Andrew Levine said the Fire Department on Wednesday finished its “hero’s work” of overseeing the removal of two other vats containing potentially hazardous chemicals such as acetone and isopropyl alcohol.

Acting Fire Chief Stephen Bradbury III said a few drums still remain in the building and his department is on call on an as-needed basis.

Building Commissioner Greg Earls now has control over the building and said demolition of the addition will begin soon.

“I haven’t seen any plans for dismantling, so the clock hasn’t started at all,” he said. “No dismantling is going to happen until the plans are approved by the Building Department and that may be well into next week.”

Seqens issued a press release Thursday, stating the demolition should affect roughly 20% of the building’s capacity.

The company also stated that potential environmental impacts have been monitored ever since the accident and it will continue to monitor and communicate all relevant data to authorities, including the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

It is genuinely weird to me that the chemicals involved in the explosion don't seem to be particularly, well, explosive. I guess it would be important to understand what process was going on. Strange.  

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Job posting: physical scientist, Department of Energy Environmental Management

From C&EN Jobs: 
Decades of nuclear weapons production and energy research generated millions of gallons of liquid radioactive waste, millions of cubic meters of solid radioactive waste, thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel and special nuclear material, and large quantities of contaminated soil and water. Established in 1989, the Environmental Management (EM) program works to achieve the successful cleanup of this Cold War legacy. In a commitment to the safety and protection of workers and communities, EM pursues a safety culture built on trust, mutual respect, worker engagement and communication, fostering an atmosphere that advocates continuous learning, promotes a questioning attitude and employs effective resolution to reported problems. Our talent is vital to the success of our organization’s ability to grow, learn, develop, and contribute to our mission. We are looking for talented candidates like YOU!

This appears to be a direct hire (i.e. faster/more direct than the typical federal government hiring processes.) Here's the main website, and here is what I think is the listing. 

Best wishes to those interested.  

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

The scale-up of Paxlovid

Also in this week's Chemical and Engineering News, a really interesting article by Beth Halford: 

On July 22, 2020, medicinal chemists at the drugmaker Pfizer made a molecule that they called PF-07321332, 1 of about 20 compounds they prepared that day. The scientists were searching for a way to shut down SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19—a disease that was responsible for more than 25,000 deaths in the US alone that same month.

The researchers didn’t know it at the time, but their discovery of PF-07321332 started a clock ticking. Over the next few months, scientists at the company discovered that PF-07321332 was a powerful inhibitor of SARS-CoV-2’s main protease (also known as the 3CL protease) and had the right mix of properties to be taken as a pill. They eventually renamed the molecule nirmatrelvir, and the race was on to make enough of it to treat millions of people with COVID-19.

Just 17 months after nirmatrelvir’s discovery, the compound was heading to patients. In December 2021, the US Food and Drug Administration gave an emergency use authorization for the antiviral Paxlovid to treat COVID-19.

Don't miss the discussion of the lithium and sodium salt!

I think it would be really interesting to see the ripple effects of the manufacture of Paxlovid, especially in China. Next article!

Mayor of Newburyport continues to cast doubt on PCI Synthesis/Seqens reopening

From the Daily News of Newburyport (Masssachusetts), written by Jim Sullivan:

NEWBURYPORT — Local firefighters and environmental crews returned to the crippled Seqens pharmaceutical site off Opportunity Way to continue the cleanup after a chemical explosion Thursday morning killed a Methuen man and injured four other workers.

Meanwhile, Mayor Sean Reardon told the City Council on Monday he would be surprised if Seqens ever resumed operations in Newburyport.

“I don’t envision them ever opening their doors here again,” he said.

Hours before speaking to the council, Reardon announced that Seqens must begin demolishing an addition to the building where the massive explosion took place. Demolition was expected to begin Tuesday afternoon but acting Fire Chief Stephen Bradbury III said that timeline would be pushed back at least a day.

Jack O’Keefe’s body was recovered roughly 18 hours after the 12:45 a.m. blast near where first responders expected to find him. He was 62.

In preparation for demolition, hazardous materials crews were busy Monday removing eight 55-gallon drums of chemicals, while roughly 2,000 gallons of chemicals were being drained from two vats.

The explosion sent a third vat through the roof and into the parking lot at least 30 feet away. Work was halted late Monday afternoon before the job was completed due to high winds. The cleanup resumed Tuesday morning....

It's pretty hard to imagine the people of that town agreeing to let PCI Synthesis start processing chemicals again. I would really like to know what the heck they were making. There was a brief reference to making something for burn patients, but I don't think we have further evidence of that. While I think it is possible that there was simply a fire, this report of the deceased operator finding a room that was too hot indicates there might have been a runaway. 

Continued condolences to the O'Keefe family and the entire PCI team. 

Monday, May 8, 2023

Mass spec on Mars

From friend of the blog Carmen Drahl, a really interesting article on the analytical instruments heading to Mars: 

...When the rover finally does, hopefully, blast off in 2028, it will carry a suite of advanced instruments — but one in particular could make a huge scientific impact. Designed to analyze any carbon-containing material found underneath Mars’s surface, the rover’s next-generation mass spectrometer is the linchpin of a strategy to finally answer the most burning question about the Red Planet: Is there evidence of past or present life?

“There are a lot of different ways that you can search for life,” says analytical chemist Marshall Seaton, a NASA postdoctoral program fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and coauthor of a paper on planetary analysis in the Annual Review of Analytical Chemistry. Perhaps the most obvious and direct route is simply looking for fossilized microbes. But nonliving chemistry can create deceptively lifelike structures. Instead, the mass spectrometer will help scientists look for molecular patterns that are unlikely to be formed in the absence of living biology.

It will be really cool to find out what these instruments find on Mars! (Gotta get to Mars first!) 

Boston Globe: PCI Synthesis shut down by city of Newburyport, MA until investigation is complete

Via the Boston Globe, this update: 

Authorities continued their investigation Sunday into the cause of an explosion at a pharmaceutical plant in Newburyport last week which killed one worker, sent four other employees to the hospital, and triggered a massive response by state and federal agencies.

The early morning blast Thursday at the PCI Synthesis facility was powerful enough to shake nearby homes, and blow a large industrial vat through the building’s roof and land about 30 feet away in a parking lot, officials have said.

Newburyport Mayor Sean Reardon said in an e-mail Sunday night that officials hope to demolish the part of the building damaged by the blast by the end of Monday.

Reardon will order the plant shut down until investigators determine a cause for the blast.

Also, from WCVB, this comment: 

On Saturday, a man who previously worked at the Seqens chemical plant but asked not to be publicly identified said he could no longer tolerate the unsafe working conditions.

"So many times, there was stupid negligence on the management side of things," the man said. "It was an unsafe place to be and I left."

"I hope they have an interview to find out what went wrong, that it never happens again and that site never opens again," the worker said. 

It's hard to imagine how this plant reopens without a significant management change. Best wishes to the families of the victims. 

C&EN: "First-quarter chemical results fall"

In this week's C&EN (article by Alex Tullo): 
Major chemical makers are happy about their first-quarter results, even though sales and earnings were generally down from the prior year. Executives had thought the period would be rougher than it turned out to be and are taking solace in a few bright spots in the economy.

The German chemical maker Covestro saw sales decline by 20% and earnings run at a modest loss for the quarter. In a video posted on the company’s website, CEO Markus Steilemann blamed “the general economic condition and the weak demand that we were facing.”

However, Steilemann noted that earnings before taxes were $316 million, about twice as high as Covestro expected.In remarks to analysts, BASF CEO Martin Brudermüller said that chemical production had stagnated compared with the year-earlier quarter, and the weakness was most pronounced in Europe.

Sales at the firm, the world’s largest chemical maker, declined by 13%, and earnings fell 29%.

Broadly not great news for the economy - will be important to see if this trend continues... 

Friday, May 5, 2023

Have a good weekend

This wasn't a bad week overall, I think? There's work to be done yet, but I'm hopeful. Hope you had a great week, and that you have a good weekend. See you on Monday. 

Explosion kills one worker at PCI Synthesis in Newburyport, MA

The scene at PCI Synthesis (Newburyport, MA) 
credit: Jesse Costa/WBUR
A powerful explosion Thursday at a troubled pharmaceutical chemical plant in Massachusetts left one dead in a building the local fire chief said was too dangerous to search for hours.

Crews were finally able to enter damaged portion of the building on Thursday afternoon. They were removing barrels of chemicals and searching for a worker who had been missing since the explosion was reported in the early morning hours.

Acting Newburyport Fire Chief Stephen Bradbury III indicated that the body discovered was likely the missing worker.

"It's in a hazardous situation, located on the ground level, where we thought he would be located," Bradbury said Thursday evening, adding that crews got to that part of the facility "as quick as we could."
Click here to see what the explosion looked like. This is the third incident in three years - there was an explosion in 2020, and a chemical fire in 2021. The plant was shut down by the local fire chief before it was allowed to restart. It seems very likely that they will face local regulatory pressure, and I imagine that Seqens will have to think hard about what is required to make sure the plant is safe before it reopens. 

Best wishes to all involved, and to the families of those affected. 

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Job posting: experienced computational chemist, AstraZeneca, Sweden/UK

Via Nessa Carson: 

Do you have expertise in, and passion for computational modelling and deriving insights and knowledge from multidimensional data? Would you like to apply your expertise to implement transformative Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning based methods to drive the digital transformation in a company that follows the science and turns ideas into life changing medicines? Then join us in this exciting opportunity!

We now have an exciting opportunity for an experienced Computational Chemist in our Data Science and Modelling – Substance team based in Gothenburg, Sweden and Macclesfield, United Kingdom. The role could be placed either in Gothenburg or Macclesfield.

In this role you will get the opportunity to engage with key internal and external partners to identify and validate impactful solutions to provide scientific leadership and drive innovation. You will work at the forefront of the digital transformation within AstraZeneca, turning ideas into life changing medicines for patients!

Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested.  

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

ASMR chemistry - who knew?

ASMR really isn't my thing, but here's a chemistry professor (Karen McFarlane Holman, Willamette University) teaching chemistry with it. 


Job posting: Laboratory Program Director, Department of Chemistry, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS

From the inbox: 

The Department of Chemistry at the University of Kansas invites applications for the Laboratory Program Director position beginning June 1, 2023.  We seek outstanding candidates with a Ph.D. in chemistry to coordinate organic chemistry laboratory courses for approximately 500 students per semester, train and supervise teaching assistants and collaborate with faculty on developing and implementing curriculum. Successful applicants will have a minimum of two years of relevant teaching experience, including student supervision, and a strong commitment to excellence in undergraduate education in the laboratory setting. Exceptional candidates will possess hands-on experience with modern synthetic chemistry and compound characterization techniques. 

For a complete announcement and to apply online, go to:  

A complete online application includes a cover letter, CV, statement of laboratory teaching practices, and three letters of reference.  Review of completed applications will begin May 1, 2023 and will continue until the position is filled.  EO/AA Employer.  All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), age, national origin, disability, genetic information or protected Veteran status.

Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Monday, May 1, 2023

New College of Florida board of trustees denies tenure to assistant professors, including two chemists

Via Chemical and Engineering News' Krystal Vasquez: 
The New College of Florida’s board of trustees has denied tenure to five faculty members in a 6–4 vote. Among them were organic chemistry professors Rebecca Black and Lin Jiang.

All five faculty were recommended for tenure on Feb. 24, after completing their tenure packages a year ahead of schedule. Their last hurdle was approval by the board.

But in a memo to the trustees sent out 12 days prior to the April 26 board of trustees meeting, New College’s interim president, Richard Corcoran, recommended that the board either defer or deny the professors’ tenure, citing “extraordinary circumstances,” a point he reiterated during the meeting. The circumstances include changes to the administration and “a renewed focus on ensuring the College is moving towards a more traditional liberal arts institution,” the memo said.

...All five faculty have a second chance to be considered for tenure next year.

It's hard not to see this move as both a breach of the general understanding of tenure as well as the most significant of a number of moves by the board of trustees that have been appointed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. 

In other news, it is worth noting that Texas has a similar bill that has passed the Texas Senate (article from April 20); it is unknown what the bill's status is in the Texas House: 

AUSTIN, Texas — A bill passed by the Texas Senate on Thursday would ban public universities and colleges from granting tenure to professors, a Republican priority from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.

Senate Bill 18, authored by Conroe Republican Brandon Creighton, would ban the practice of tenure, which grants academics assurance of employment regardless of their personal beliefs or discussions.

Sen. Creighton called the tenure practice "outdated and costly," saying it limits academic integrity by ensuring employment regardless of performance. Republican legislatures across the country have scrutinized tenure in recent years, with many working on "tenure reviews" every few years. Texas, though, is largely leading the way to an outright ban on tenure altogether.

It will be interesting to see if this will actually happen, and what would happen to chemistry departments in prominent public research universities in Texas. 

Analytical paper diagnostics to find fake and substandard drugs

In this week's C&EN, a really cool interview (article by Dalmeet Singh Chawla): 
An estimated 10% of medical products in low- and middle-​income countries are either falsified or substandard, according to the World Health Organization. It’s particularly difficult in low-income regions to quickly and easily spot subpar medicines and identify their flaws.

For years, chemist Marya Lieberman of the University of Notre Dame and her team have been developing analytical paper diagnostics that are a cheap, effective, and easy-to-use way of determining whether drug tablets contain the correct medicines. They now want to use the tools they’ve developed to aid harm reduction programs locally and to inform regulators internationally.

Lieberman and her colleagues sell multilane test cards called paper analytical devices (PADs) on their online store. After placing a drug sample on the PAD, users can read the card’s color-based results using an Android application also made by Lieberman’s team.Lieberman and her colleagues sell multilane test cards called paper analytical devices (PADs) on their online store. After placing a drug sample on the PAD, users can read the card’s color-based results using an Android application also made by Lieberman’s team.

I think this is so cool, and I'm so pleased that someone is tackling this problem with simple chemistry. Read the whole thing!