Friday, March 29, 2024

Have a great weekend

This was kind of a rough week for me, but we made it through. I hope you had a good week, and I hope that you have a wonderful and restful Easter weekend. See you on Monday. 

Hydrogen-fueled rockets are amazing

Credit: The New York Times
Via the New York Times: 

The Delta IV Heavy burns ultracold liquid hydrogen, which is a high-performance fuel. In the final part of the countdown, to cool down the engines and prevent a sudden temperature shock that could cause cracks, liquid hydrogen starts flowing through the engine into the flame trench.

But when the hydrogen warms above its boiling temperature of minus 423.2 degrees Fahrenheit, it turns into a gas. Hydrogen is lighter than air and rises upward. When the engines ignite, so does that cloud of hydrogen — like a space-age Hindenburg.

“A very dramatic effect,” Mr. Bruno said.

I'm not much of a space nerd, so I didn't know that the Delta Heavy runs on liquid hydrogen. The pictures are dramatic, sure, but the video is really dramatic. Click over there to see. 

*Makes you wonder if there is some hydrogen provider that's bummed out 'cause they're losing a big account. 

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Job posting: Laboratory Analyst I, Central Marin Sanitation Agency, San Rafael, CA

Via C&EN Jobs:

Central Marin Sanitation Agency (CMSA) is recruiting for a Laboratory Analyst I position. This entry level position is responsible for the day‐to‐day activities of the CMSA Laboratory sampling and analysis requirements. This position does require rotational weekend and holiday coverage during CMSA’s wet weather season. The Laboratory Analyst will collect samples and perform standard physical, chemical, biological, and bacteriological tests for process control, permit compliance and CMSA clients. They shall have a working knowledge of various aspects of analytical and environmental laboratory techniques. The CMSA Laboratory is a State certified laboratory which has implemented the Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ELAP) TNI-2 Standard and is certified for over 30 different analyses.

KEY RESPONSIBILITIES: Under general supervision of the Regulatory Compliance Manager, the Laboratory Analyst assists in implementation of the Agency’s Environmental Laboratory Program by conducting:

  • Collection of environmental samples such as water, wastewater, sludge, and biogas samples.
  • Chemical and biological analysis of samples by standard procedures such as bacteriological, solids, pH, alkalinity, COD, cBOD, BOD, turbidity, and volatile acids.
  • Operation and maintenance of basic and sophisticated laboratory equipment such as Ion Chromatography System, Flow Injection Analysis System, Turbidity Meters, Analytical Balances, and UV-VIS spectrophotometer.
  • Data entry, and review in a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) data, and quality control/assurance documents.
  • Regular communication quality assurance concerns and exceedances, and documents.

EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE: Possession of a four-year college degree with major emphasis in chemistry, biology, microbiology, environmental studies, or a related field of study. Possession of a Grade I certificate as a Laboratory Analyst issued by the CWEA is preferred at the time of hire or must obtain a Grade I certificate within 12 months of employment. A minimum of one (1) year of experience in any combination of the following: a laboratory technician/analyst in a wastewater or water treatment facility or analytical laboratory, or other related experience applicable to this position.

To apply for this opportunity, please submit a cover letter and resume at: Laboratory Analyst I - Koff & Associates ( If you have any questions regarding this opportunity, please contact recruiter Amanda Kreller at or 707.687.2194.
Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 545 research/teaching positions and 82 teaching positions

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 545 research/teaching positions and 82 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 March 28, 2023, the 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 618 research/teaching positions and 73 teaching-focused position.

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

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

Job postings: temporary positions, North Carolina Division of Public Health Fellowship Program

From the inbox, three temporary positions with the North Carolina Division of Public Health Fellowship Program. Here's one of them: 

Chemist I

There are two possible project areas available (only one will be hired):

  1. This Chemist I position will assist with a project that will bring on PFAS testing in drinking water using solid phase extraction and Liquid Chromatography/Tandem Mass Spectrometry (LC/MS/MS). This validation procedure will conform with EPA certification requirements from the implementation of a new method, including the Initial Demonstration of Capability (IDoC). This position is expected to independently perform extractions and analysis of samples. Considering the complexity of this instrumentation and testing protocol, the individual should have one year of related experience. See the full position description. Hourly pay $21.00 p/hr.
  2. This Chemist I position will assist in a project to implement microwave digestion of food products following FDA methods for the detection of lead and other heavy metals. This individual will perform complex ICP-MS analysis and will assist in the design and optimization of an effective digestion procedure that conforms with accepted methods. Considering the complexity of this testing and the expected independent sample digestion and analysis, the individual should have one year of related experience.  See the full position description. Hourly pay $21.00 p/hr.

There are two more at the link. Best wishes to those interested. 

Monday, March 25, 2024

AP: Acrylic acid tanker capsizes

Via the Associated Press: 

TOKYO (AP) — A South Korean chemical tanker capsized off an island in southwestern Japan on Wednesday, authorities said, killing eight people on board. One crew member survived, and the fate of two others was unknown.

Officials said the tanker was carrying 980 tons of acrylic acid, a corrosive organic compound that is used in adhesives, paints and polishes. No leak has been detected, and officials are studying what environmental protection measures may be needed in case there is a leak.

The Japan Coast Guard said it received a distress call from the chemical tanker Keoyoung Sun, saying that it was tilting while seeking refuge from the weather near Japan’s Mutsure Island, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from Tokyo in southwestern Japan.

The ship was completely capsized by the time rescuers arrived at the scene. Footage on Japan’s NHK television showed the ship lying upside down, a rough sea washing over its red underside.

Best wishes to the families of the victims. 

NYT: Man dies of Gila monster bite in Colorado

Via the New York Times, this grim news: 

An autopsy report revealed that a pet Gila monster’s venomous bite contributed to a Colorado man’s death in February in what an expert described as “an incredibly rare” fatality caused by one of the desert lizards.

The man, Christopher Ward, 34, died on Feb. 16 “due to complications of Gila monster envenomization,” said the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office autopsy report, which also cited heart and liver problems as contributing factors.

Mr. Ward endured a four-minute-long bite by the lizard to his right hand on the night of Feb. 12, the report said. He lapsed in and out of consciousness for about two hours before seeking medical attention, the report said.

Paramedics found Mr. Ward in a bed, minimally responsive and “in apparent severe distress,” the report said. He was taken to a hospital, where he was put on life support and “continued to decline throughout his hospitalization.”

It would be interesting to know how many Gila monsters are in private homes in America. I'm guessing there are quite a few, but either they (or their bites!) are rare. 

Friday, March 22, 2024

Have a great weekend

Well, this was a very busy week, but it turned out all right. Didn't get as much work for next week done as I would like, but there you are. Here's hoping I can grab some time with my family this weekend, and plunge into next week. See you on Monday. 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Job posting: chemist, FDA, College Park, MD

Via C&EN Jobs: 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) in College Park, Maryland seeks to hire support scientists to participate in our food safety research program. The Office of Regulatory Science (ORS) within CFSAN conducts laboratory investigations in a variety of research areas which include, but are not limited to, food additives, food packaging, contaminants, toxins, allergens, elemental analysis, and nutrients in foods, food packaging, dietary supplements, and cosmetics.  Candidates with a background in method validation and a wide-range of sample preparation techniques including, but not limited to, solid phase extraction (SPE), elemental analysis, liquid-liquid extraction, QuEChERS, dissolution, proteomics, etc. are encouraged to apply.  Expertise in any of the following areas is also desirable: mass spectrometry (LC-MS, GC-MS, ICP-OES, ICP-MS), vibrational spectroscopy (IR, NIR, Raman), antibody-based analyses, elemental analysis, and/or chromatographic separations (LC, GC).

Candidates should have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in chemistry or a related field.  Job responsibilities can include, but are not limited to, (1) providing support to principal investigators by conducting and/or assisting in scientific investigations or testing activities for the determination of a variety of compounds in foods, packaging, dietary supplements, and cosmetics, (2) assisting in the operation and maintenance of highly complex and specialized scientific instrumentation, (3) contributing to the writing of reports, scientific papers, and scientific publications, (4) participation at scientific conferences and meetings, and (5) conducting tasks such as maintaining laboratory safety standards and cleanliness, QA activities, ordering of laboratory supplies, and/or other ancillary duties.

U.S. citizenship is required, and the start date is negotiable. Starting salary is dependent upon experience.  If interested, please email your CV to

Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The coolest interview you will read with a former spy today

Via Marginal Revolution, this really cool interview with a former CIA chief of base: 

Cultivating human intelligence, that tradecraft: how does that set of skills get passed down?

There are training courses specifically for people handling sources and tradecraft training and methodologies. Some are tried and true and meant to withstand the test of time. So to speak with whatever technology advances occur at the same time. 

CIA is facing a real reckoning. It's called “ubiquitous technical surveillance.” It's essentially that there's some digital record of everything you do nowadays. 

CIA is facing a huge challenge in how it operates because of technology. But there are ways to double down and use technology to advance operations as well. And obviously I'm not going to be able to get into that. This is a big ongoing test of the agency. 

The aspect of CIA that is most important (and most relevant to this blog) is the importance of the human element. CIA is in the business of cultivating the human element, getting people from other countries to tell the United States government information that their government would rather that the US government not know. 

This kind of influencing is a skill for job seekers as well. It is an important aspect of your job search to actually find a decision maker, and then get that hiring manager to choose you as a candidate.* That is an extraordinarily difficult task, and one that takes a lifetime to learn.  

*When I started this blog in December 2008, I might have said "get the hiring manager to recognize that you're the most qualified candidate." Now, I'm not so sure. 

Monday, March 18, 2024

What is the rate of benzene formation from benzoyl peroxide decomposition?

In this week's C&EN, this bit of news about recent Valisure findings (article by Craig Bettenhausen):  

Concerns about benzene in personal care products are back, this time in acne medications based on benzoyl peroxide. Benzene is known to cause cancer in humans.

The independent analytical lab Valisure filed a petition last week asking the US Food and Drug Administration to recall and suspend sales of all benzoyl peroxide products. David Light, the firm’s cofounder and president, says his team found that the ingredient decomposes to benzene in consumer product formulas.

Valisure has found benzene in multiple consumer products in recent years, including hand sanitizer, sunscreen, dry shampoo, and aerosol antifungal medication. But in those cases, the benzene seems to have been a contaminant in the raw materials, and the findings were limited to certain batches and brands.

In acne products, Light says, the primary active ingredient breaks down into benzene under conditions that products might encounter in transport and in the home. The firm also found that the benzene diffused out of many of the bottles over time. “The evidence strongly shows us that this is a broad benzoyl peroxide problem,” he says. “We don’t have confidence on any product being immune at this point.”

Consumer product makers insist their acne medications are safe. Estée Lauder, which uses benzoyl peroxide in one Clinique-brand product, says it is “an FDA-approved and commonly used ingredient for acne treatment. . . . This product, like all of our products, is safe for use as intended.”

The industry’s criticism emphasizes storage conditions. Much of Valisure’s data documents the emergence of benzene over time in products held at 50 °C and 70 °C—temperatures that consumers are told to avoid. The label on the acne product Clearasil, for example, instructs consumers to store the product at room temperature away from bright light. And some prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide formulas are meant to be stored in the fridge.

I'm not an analytical chemist, so I have no idea whether or not their findings are correct. I am a (former) organic chemist, though, and I have a gut level skepticism that solid-ish benzoic acid radicals will undergo decarboxylation as opposed to (I dunno) abstracting a hydride from some other molecule in the formulation. 

What is the literature around this? A brief Google search doesn't offer a lot of answers. If there is a raft of evidence of radical-initiated decarboxylation of benzoyl peroxide, maybe I might believe it, but I guess I'm still quite skeptical. (Don't forget that Light has patented a technology around this, so let's remember that (as always) there are conflict of interest concerns.) 

Methylene chloride spill at Pfizer plant causes no-contact warning for the Kalamazoo, MI

Via MLive, this news from Kalamazoo, MI: 

KALAMAZOO, MI — A no-contact advisory along a stretch of the Kalamazoo River was issued Wednesday afternoon after Pfizer notified the city of Kalamazoo of a chemical spill.

Pfizer notified the Kalamazoo Department of Public Services around 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 12, that an estimated 1,057 gallons of methylene chloride had been released within the process area of the manufacturing facility located at 7000 Portage Road.

It is not known how much of the colorless liquid was discharged into a dedicated sanitary sewer serving Pfizer, which then flows to the Kalamazoo Water Reclamation Plant for treatment, according to a joint news release from the city of Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department.

All persons are being asked to avoid contact with the Kalamazoo River from Paterson Street Bridge in the city of Kalamazoo to the D Avenue Bridge in Cooper Township.

It's funny to me that no one has asked what the density of methylene chloride is, and where it is a river (this would be a really interesting environmental engineering question.) 

Friday, March 15, 2024

Have a great weekend

This was a more relaxed week than I was imagining, and I've gotten some of the things done that I need to get done. I hope that you had a good week, and that you're looking forward to the weekend. See you on Monday! 

Will the BIOSECURE Act sink WuXi AppTec?

Derek has a longer and pretty thorough post about the Congressional goings on with the BIOSECURE ACT that is being pushed through Congress in both the House and the Senate. I feel this summary from Bloomberg from a week or so ago is good: 

The Biosecure Act states that any pharmaceutical company that works with a “biotechnology company of concern” would be ineligible for US government contracts with agencies like the Department of Health & Human Services and the Department of Defense, potentially limiting drug sales for veterans, the national stockpile and perhaps even Medicare and Medicaid.

There are a lot of concerns, but I think the basic concerns are that these specific companies are associated with the Chinese military, and second, that the Chinese government itself is attempting to collect genomic data from the US. I'm not really sure I have enough information on either of these points, but I'm rather skeptical.*

The most important company to talk about in all of this is WuXi Apptec. It's hard to explain how central? important? essential? they are to the US and global industrial biopharma industry is. I guess I mentally think of them as like Sysco, the restaurant services company that brings your favorite local restaurant its sour cream, meat and napkins. Your Pfizers and Mercks do the work, but a lot of basic R&D and essential production is done by WuXi, and done well. 

It also depends on the impact of the paragraph above. If the intent is to say that WuXi can't sell to the US government, well, I don't think that's a very big deal. How much work does WuXi do for DOD, for example? Probably not much. If the intent of the law is to bar federal contracts (including Medicare and Medicaid) for anyone who does business with WuXi (i.e. you have 10 mgs of peptide made by WuXi in Shanghai, and so we're gonna ban you from the Medicare formulary?) that's a very very very big deal. 

What is bad is that no one seems to know exactly what Congress is trying to do, and how this might impact the US. In this case, I think this guidance post from the DC law firm Arnold and Porter from late January is instructive: 

There are two paths for a version of the BIOSECURE Act to progress through Congress: (1) as part of the FY25 NDAA or (2) attached to a larger legislative package this year. Notably, this legislative effort follows the same model that was used to target Chinese telecommunications companies in the late 2010s. Given the pace of movement, for stakeholders wishing to influence or amend the legislation, we recommend initiating outreach as soon as possible.

H.R. 7085 has been referred to the House Oversight and Accountability Committee and further action has not yet been announced. Although the China Select Committee does not have the ability to advance legislation, the Select Committee can build momentum for the bill. In addition, Rep. Gallagher also serves on the House Armed Services Committee, which allows him to include provisions in defense-related bills. We expect Rep. Gallagher to push for the inclusion of a potentially expanded version of the BIOSECURE Act in the FY25 National Defense Authorization Act as early as mid-April. Congressman Gallagher is not seeking reelection and may view this legislative effort as a legacy item.

In the Senate, Sens. Peters, the Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC), and Hagerty introduced (S.3558), which is substantially similar to the BIOSECURE Act, on December 20, 2023. Sen. Peters listed the bill to be considered during a January 31 HSGAC business meeting, but the bill was held over to the next business meeting. We expect the bill to be considered by the committee in the coming months.

From the Senate perspective, HSGAC has advanced a version of the bill. From the House perspective, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) accused BIO of acting as a foreign agent, and so BIO then removed WuXi as a member and is supporting a version of the bill. I'm kind of shocked by this level of hardball being played by Gallagher, and further shocked at the quick capitulation by BIO. That is a pretty solid sign on which direction the wind is blowing in DC. 

I am a very boring predictor of events. I tend to say "the trend that is happening will continue" and therefore, I expect Congressional gridlock to slow the passage of any version of the BIOSECURE Act. I guess I will also say that I will be watching the FY25 NDAA very carefully to understand if Rep. Gallagher is successful in appending a version of the act to it. Finally, it will be important to understand what the Biden Administration's position on this bill is. As Derek says, if the result is to sever all ties to WuXi, that will make things very expensive for pharma in the short run. 

*This is the point where I strongly associate myself with Derek's position: against the Chinese government, and in favor of all the Chinese scientists I've worked with over the years. I think I've been fairly transparent that I view the Chinese government with suspicion and as a national security threat to the United States. At the same time, I think the United States is often (including this instance) extraordinarily ham-handed when attempting to address potential and actual threats from China. 

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Job posting: bioconjugation chemist. IDEXX, Westbrook, ME

Via C&EN Jobs: 

The IDEXX New Product Development Team is hiring a Scientist to support Immunoassay Reagent Design and Development. ​A successful candidate will synthesize and characterize reagents to define the design space and critical quality attributes needed to optimize assay performance and establish developability. You will perform small molecule-protein and protein-protein conjugations that will be utilized across multiple assay platforms. You will apply statistical design of experiments to drive experimentation and provide insight into conjugate behavior and performance

What will you do?

  • Plan, prepare and characterize small molecule-protein and protein-protein bioconjugates to support our research platform.
  • Prepare materials, perform experiments, purify, analyze, gather data, and reach conclusions. May also design experiments.
  • Plan and apply DOE methodology to design experiments to cover design space.

 ...What do you need to succeed?

  • Bachelor’s degree with 5+ years of experience, or Master’s degree with 0-3 years of experience in Chemistry, Biochemistry, or related fields
  • Hands-on experience with bioconjugation, purification, and characterization of conjugates.
Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Bad actor PI + young grad students = non va bene

I really haven't covered the Ranga Dias superconductivity story, but Nature's news section has really got the goods on it (article by Dan Garisto): 

...But the measurements were plagued by systematic errors, which students say they shared with Dias. “I was very, very concerned that one of the probes touching the sample was broken,” one student says. “We could be measuring something that looks like a superconducting drop, but be fooling ourselves.” Although students did see resistance drops in a few other samples, there was no consistency across samples, or even for repeated measurements of a single sample, they told Nature’s news team.

Students were also worried about the accuracy of other measurements. During elemental analysis of a sample, they detected trace amounts of nitrogen. Dias concluded that the samples included the element — and the resulting paper refers to nitrogen-doped lutetium hydride. But further analysis, performed after the paper was submitted, indicated that nitrogen was not incorporated into the LuH. “Ranga ignored what I was saying,” one student says.

Because they were not consulted on the CSH paper, the students say they wanted to make sure they were included in the process of writing the LuH paper. According to the students, Dias initially agreed to involve them. “Then, one day, he sends us an e-mail and says, ‘Here’s the paper. I’m gonna submit it,’” one student says.

E-mails seen by Nature’s news team corroborate the timeline. Dias sent out the first draft of the LuH paper in an e-mail at 2.09 a.m. on 25 April 2022. “Please send me your comments by 10.30 AM,” Dias wrote. “I am submitting it today.” The manuscript they received did not contain any figures, making it difficult to assess. The students convinced Dias to hold off on submitting until the next day, when they could discuss it in person.

One student was upset enough by the meeting that they wrote a memorandum of the events four days afterwards. The memo gives details of how students raised concerns and Dias dismissed them. Students worried that the draft was misleading, because it included a description of how to synthesize LuH; in reality, all the measurements were taken on commercially bought samples of LuH. “Ranga responded by pointing out that it was never explicitly mentioned that we synthesized the sample so technically he was not lying,” the student wrote.

The students say they also raised concerns about the pressure data reported in the draft. “None of those pressure points correspond to anything that we actually measured,” one student says. According to the memo, Dias dismissed their concerns by saying: “Pressure is a joke.”

Students say that Dias gave them an ultimatum: remove their names, or let him send the draft. Despite their worries, the students say they had no choice but to acquiesce. “I just remember being very intimidated,” one student says. The student says they regret not speaking up more to Dias. “But it’s scary at the time. What if I do and he makes the rest of my life miserable?”

Dias made some changes that the students requested, but ignored others; the submitted manuscript contained a description of a synthesis procedure that had not been used. He sent the LuH manuscript to Nature that evening.

This is an unusually thorough article about a situation where it is pretty clear the PI is a bad actor, intent on lying to the scientific community.* I cannot imagine graduate students (all probably younger than 25) being forced into this situation, especially since they don't know that a PI making claims on a paper that cannot be backed up by data is WEIRD and a solid sign that they should leave their adviser immediately. 

Derek Lowe wisely pointed out the difficulty in leaving a graduate adviser. He likened it to leaving a wedding at the altar. I am not quite sure that is quite the right analogy, but I gotta say, it's in the ballpark (i.e. joining a graduate research group is more like joining a small family than it is like joining a workplace, leaving a graduate adviser is more like openly leaving a team because of a coach more than it is like quitting your job at McDonald's because of a bad shift supervisor.) 

It makes me wonder if incoming graduate students need a small booklet that tells students that they have rights, and that going to the department chair because a new assistant professor is intimidating them over data integrity concerns is an okay thing to do. Until that day, this real but rare thing will just keep happening. 

*what is weirder is that if you're going to publish this in Nature, gee, it's going to attract some attention. So what's the ROI on lying? 

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 534 research/teaching positions and 82 teaching positions

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 534 research/teaching positions and 82 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 February 28, 2023, the 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 611 research/teaching positions and 72 teaching-focused position.

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

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

Monday, March 11, 2024

C&EN: "Lawmakers slash US science funding"

In C&EN, this news (article by Britt E. Erickson): 

More than 5 months into fiscal 2024, US lawmakers have reached an agreement that would fund about half the federal government through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. Under the spending bills, released March 3, several science-related agencies face steep budget cuts.

Hardest hit are the US Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Under the agreement, the EPA’s budget for the fiscal year would shrink to $9.2 billion, a roughly 10% decrease from fiscal 2023.

Lawmakers softened the blow slightly for the EPA’s science and technology programs by transferring $30 million to those areas from the Superfund hazardous waste account. The legislation also orders the EPA to brief Congress in the next few months on a spending plan for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) remediation, a court order to allow the organophosphate pesticide chlorpyrifos, and ethylene oxide air emissions.

The NSF is slated to get $9.1 billion, and NIST, $1.2 billion, a decrease of about 8% each. Funding for agricultural research supported by the US Department of Agriculture would remain essentially flat at $3.8 billion.

It's really hard not to get irritated at Congress' routine fluctuations in the budget for federal R&D. I wish they would avoid this, and just keep to steady increases, year after year. 

C&EN: More cuts in the European chemical industry

In C&EN, this news (article by Alex Scott): 

Economic turmoil led to sales and profit declines at several major European chemical industry firms in the fourth quarter or all of 2023. Two big challenges for the sector are soft demand for its products and high energy prices. A number of companies, including Germany’s Evonik Industries, see no near-term uplift in market conditions.

Evonik says in its earnings announcement that it will respond to the “continuously challenging” market conditions with a program to cut annual costs by about around 400 million euros ($435 million). As part of the initiative, the firm will eliminate 2,000 jobs, 1,500 of which are in Germany. Many of the jobs will be management positions.

The company recorded a net loss of $159 million in the fourth quarter and a 17% decrease in sales to $4.0 billion. Evonik recorded an even bigger loss for the whole of 2023. “The general conditions will not get any easier, which is why we will continue our fundamental revamp of the group,” CEO Christian Kullmann told journalists at a briefing. “What we are currently experiencing are not cyclical fluctuations but massive, consequential changes of our economic environment.”

...Evonik’s announcement of job cuts follows a similarly downbeat briefing by BASF, which disclosed plans to cut expenditures by about $1.1 billion at its headquarters site in Germany by the end of 2026 because of high costs and slow demand. BASF already has a cost reduction program in place that will affect 700 workers.

Grim news out of Europe just continues week after week. Here's hoping it ends soon. 

Friday, March 8, 2024

Have a good week

Well, this week was a little bit more chill than I expected, which is fine, but I should probably step it up a bit tomorrow. Here is hoping that you had a quiet week, and that you have a great weekend. See you on Monday! 

"FDA Alert Concerning Certain Cinnamon Products Due to Presence of Elevated Levels of Lead"

 Via FDA, this news: 

Through product testing, the FDA has determined that the ground cinnamon products listed in the table below contain elevated levels of lead and that prolonged exposure to these products may be unsafe.

The FDA is advising consumers to throw away and not to buy these ground cinnamon products.  The FDA has recommended that the firms voluntarily recall these products, with the exception of the MTCI cinnamon. The FDA has been unable to reach MTCI to share our findings and request that the company initiate a recall. The FDA will update this notice with the communications from firms that voluntarily agree to recall as we receive them.

...Based on results from the survey, the FDA is recommending recalls of ground cinnamon from six distributors whose products had elevated lead levels ranging from 2.03 to 3.4 parts per million (ppm) (see table above for a full list of lead levels in these products). These levels are significantly lower than the levels of lead associated with the ongoing investigation into ground cinnamon from Ecuador supplied by Negasmart to Austrofoods, the manufacturer of the apple puree and applesauce products, which were between 2,270 ppm to 5,110 ppm in the cinnamon.  

In addition to the FDA’s sampling and analysis, some states also analyzed samples of cinnamon through the Laboratory Flexible Funding Model. This is a cooperative agreement with states to help investigate, monitor and remove adulterated foods from commerce and aid regulatory programs. The Maryland and Missouri Departments of Health collected cinnamon samples included in this safety alert. 

I broadly think this is pretty alarming, i.e. there is an indeterminate amount of lead in low-cost spices (you'll see that some of these spices are sold in dollar stores.) I am a lead level extremist, and I would like to see the amount of lead in food (especially imported food) driven down to as close to zero as possible. 

Another reminder of the possibilities of working in pharma

Via The Atlantic Monthly, this wonderful article on Vertex's CF drug Trikafta: 

...Imagine, though, that you had never been able to simply breathe. Imagine that mucus—thick, copious, dark—had been accumulating since the moment you were born, thwarting air and trapping microbes to fester inside your lungs. That you spent an hour each day physically pounding the mucus out of your airways, but even then, your lung function would spiral only downward, in what amounted to a long, slow asphyxiation. This was what it once meant to be born with cystic fibrosis.

Then, in the fall of 2019, a new triple combination of drugs began making its way into the hands of people with the genetic disease. Trikafta corrects the misshapen protein that causes cystic fibrosis; this molecular tweak thins mucus in the lungs so it can be coughed up easily. In a matter of hours, patients who took it began to cough—and cough and cough and cough in what they later started calling the Purge. They hacked up at work, at home, in their car, in bed at night. It’s not that they were sick; if anything, it was the opposite: They were becoming well. In the days that followed, their lungs were cleansed of a tarlike mucus, and the small tasks of daily life that had been so difficult became unthinkingly easy. They ran up the stairs. They ran after their kids. They ran 10Ks. They ran marathons.

Read the whole thing. 

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Job posting: DARPA Innovation Fellow

Via C&EN Jobs:

What is the DARPA Innovation Fellowship? 

The DARPA Innovation Fellowship is a two-year position at DARPA for early career scientists and engineers. The fellows will develop and manage a portfolio of high-impact, exploratory efforts to identify breakthrough technologies for national security. 

Why become a DARPA Innovation Fellow? 

Fellows will push the limits of existing technology through the rapid exploration of a high volume of promising new ideas focused on answering high risk/high reward “what if?” questions and assessing the impact of further investment. 

Fellows will also have the opportunity to work with DARPA program managers as well as the university, industry, and non-profit performers who work on DARPA-funded research. Being a DARPA Innovation Fellow is a great way to begin a career in the sciences. DARPA Innovation Fellows will have the opportunity to make extensive connections across an extraordinarily rich, technologically-focused network. The fellowship is an in-person salaried position at DARPA in Arlington, Virginia. Fellows will be part of the Defense Sciences Office; however, the fellows will work across disciplines represented in all DARPA technical offices. 

Who may apply to become a DARPA Innovation Fellow? 

Recent Ph.D. graduates (within five years of receiving a doctorate) and active-duty military with STEM degrees may apply to become a DARPA Innovation Fellow. In exceptional cases, DARPA may consider bachelor- or master’s-level candidates with STEM degrees. As DARPA is part of the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. citizenship is required for the fellowship, and selected candidates must be eligible to obtain and maintain a security clearance as well as pass a pre-employment drug test and random testing during the two-year employment period. 

 Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

NYT obit on Frank Popoff

Via the New York Times, an obituary for a former Dow CEO: 

Frank Popoff, a chief executive and chairman who tried to make Dow Chemical more conciliatory toward regulators and environmentalists in the late 1980s and ’90s, and who prodded the chemical industry to adopt safer practices, died on Feb. 25 at his home in Midland, Mich., where Dow is based. He was 88.

...Inspired by a high school teacher who had been gassed while fighting in World War I, Mr. Popoff studied chemistry at Indiana University, where he earned both a bachelor’s degree and master of business administration degree in the same year, 1959.

He did not want to be a chemist, however.

“Perhaps I lacked the creativity and the vision that successful chemists have,” he said in an interview in 2012 with the Chemical Heritage Foundation (now the Science History Institute, in Philadelphia). “I was really interested in the commercialization and application of chemistry.”

He joined Dow in 1959 and stayed with the company for 41 years. He worked in its urethane laboratory, then in technical services and chemical sales in the early 1960s. Over the next quarter century, he moved into increasingly influential positions: president of Dow Europe in 1981, executive vice president of Dow Chemical in 1985 and, two years later, president and chief executive. He was named chairman in 1992....

I am surprised that no one (that I am aware of) has done a study of Dow and DuPont CEOs and where they got their start. It'd be interesting to know the most probable trajectories to senior leadership, and what were the most important waystations. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 534 research/teaching positions and 80 teaching positions

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 534 research/teaching positions and 80 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 February 28, 2023, the 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 611 research/teaching positions and 72 teaching-focused position.

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

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

Monday, March 4, 2024

Chemours CEO and CFO placed on leave due to earnings report problem

Via Delaware Online: 

Wilmington-based chemical giant The Chemours Co., a spinoff of the DuPont chemical empire, is in apparent tumult at the uppermost levels of management.

Three senior executive officers, including the CEO and chief financial officer, have been placed on leave, the company announced to investors Thursday morning.

Shares plunged after the announcement by nearly half at the start of trading Thursday morning, before recovering to $19 by noon — remaining approximately 33% lower than at the beginning of trading that morning.

Two weeks ago, Chemours failed to release its quarterly earnings report as scheduled. A director on the board, Sandra Phillips Rogers, also announced in February she would step down and that a new director would join the board on Friday, March 1.

Thursday's announcement hit the top levels of executive and financial leadership of the company and also signaled a full audit that includes outside counsel after apparent reports received to the company's ethics hotline.

"What we think many perceived as likely a relatively minor accounting hangup two weeks ago now appears wider, longer, and with more ramifications than the market initially believed," Barclays analyst Michael Leithead told Reuter's news service on Thursday.

I don't know much about large company finances, but I'm guessing it would take quite a number of people working together to cook the books. I wonder how long the problem has gone on? Best wishes to all those at Chemours. 

Meet Mona Minkara

In this week's C&EN, this profile of Northeastern University professor Mona Minkara: 

At age 7, Mona Minkara was diagnosed with macular degeneration and cone-rod dystrophy, which eventually led to blindness. A doctor “point-blank told my mom that it wasn’t worth spending a penny on my education,” she recalled years later as she delivered a speech at her commencement from Wellesley College.

Minkara completed her PhD in chemistry at the University of Florida, and in 2019, she joined the faculty at Northeastern University in Boston. Her lab uses computational simulation techniques to investigate chemical interactions at the air-water interface in the lungs. The lab aims to simulate pulmonary surfactants—naturally occurring mixtures of proteins and lipids that coat the inside of the lungs’ winding passageways and keep them from collapsing. Drug developers could one day use the simulation data to possibly develop better therapeutics.

I know it's a cliche, but her profile is genuinely inspiring. Read the whole thing. 

Friday, March 1, 2024

Have a great weekend

Long week, but no complaints. Here's hoping for a restful weekend. Here's hoping you had a good week, and that you have a great weekend. See you on Monday! 

Bloomberg: Leaking concrete accelerants caused chemical burns

Via Bloomberg, this news: 
The muck pooling in the tunnel at the north end of the Las Vegas Strip had the consistency of a milkshake and, in some places, sat at least two feet deep. The tunnel-to-be, which would eventually stretch about half a mile, was part of a system intended to connect two hotels, the Encore Las Vegas and the Westgate, with the enormous Las Vegas Convention Center. Workers doing the digging later said they had to wade through the mud every day. It splashed up over their boots, hit their arms and faces and soaked through their clothes. At first, it merely felt damp. But in addition to the water, sand and silt—the natural byproducts of any dig—the workers understood that it was full of chemicals known as accelerants.

The accelerants cure the grout that seals the tunnel’s concrete supports, helping the grout set properly and protecting the work against cracks and other deterioration. They also seriously burn exposed human skin. At the Encore dig site, such burns became almost routine, workers there told Nevada’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. An investigation by the state OSHA, which Bloomberg Businessweek has obtained via a freedom of information request, describes workers being scarred permanently on their arms and legs. According to the investigation, at least one employee took a direct hit to the face. In an interview with Businessweek, one of the tunnel workers recalls the feeling of exposure to the chemicals: “You’d be like, ‘Why am I on fire?’”

I'd love to know why calcium nitrate (or other potential curing accelerants) might cause burns, but I'm not particularly surprised exposure would cause some unpleasant symptoms.