Friday, July 25, 2014

Here we go again: biologicals are chemicals, too

I should probably quit beating this drum, but I cannot resist this one. From the Washington Post's Health Reform Watch, Jason Millman writes about the new FDA biosimilars news:
The Food and Drug and Administration for the first time has accepted an application for a copycat version of what's known as a biologic, which is a complex drug made from proteins of living organisms. These biologics are cutting-edge therapies that can be more effective than regular drugs made from chemicals — and, not surprisingly, they also can be expensive.
What's the right way to talk about this? Do you go back to "everything is chemicals", or do you say "small molecules"? I dunno.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Anyone ever had grad student/postdoc pay stop because of the university changing its policies?

I'm hearing about grad students at a research university having their pay periods change, and therefore basically missing a paycheck. There is blame on the Affordable Care Act, which is a little odd.

What happens in these sort of situations? Has anyone ever heard of such a thing? What is the most effective way for a group of graduate students or postdocs to mount a response? 

Job posting: FDA postdoc in surface analytical chemistry, Winchester, MA

From the inbox:
I am looking for post-doctoral fellow to work with me on a project developing Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS) methods.  Raman experience is not required, analytical chemistry skills are needed.  I can provide more information to interested individuals.  Please follow up if I can provide more information or if you know someone looking for a position.  The monthly stipend is $6,239 (no benefits/insurance is provided).  The position is for one year, if mutually agreed can be renewed an additional year.
Interested? Contact Abdur-Rafay Shareef at 

Daily Pump Trap: 7/24/14 edition

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

我的工作去了哪里?: Abbvie is looking for medicinal chemists... in Shanghai:
We currently have openings for medicinal chemists at our new, state-of-the-art facility in Shanghai, China.  
...Must have fluency in both Mandarin and English, and be willing to relocate to China.
Ahhhhh: It's time for CJ to grind this ax again -- IRIX is looking for a QC senior scientist:
Analyst will utilize analytical instrumentation and wet chemistry techniques for analysis of raw materials, in-process samples, and finished products.  
Minimum BS, prefer MS with 5 - 10 years  laboratory experience in a cGMP enviornment . 
Additional Salary Information: Great benefit package + bonus program
 They're offering 50-75k. Does that seem low to anyone? It's probably just me.

Irving, TX: ITW Polymers is looking for a polymers chemist. Rather wide educational credentials:
Minimum Bachelor’s Degree in chemistry, chemical engineering, polymer science, polymer engineering or equivalent discipline with 5 to 7 years of related industry experience or 3 to 5 years related industry experience with a Master’s Degree in any of the above disciplines.
Wide-ish pay as well, with listing between 70-100k.

Pleasanton, CA: The Clorox Company posts its usual slate of openings, this time including a postdoc position in microbiology.

ACS SF Career Fair Watch: 27 openings for the Career Fair, 4 for the Virtual Career Fair. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer senryu

Busy today, but I thought I would write a few senryu:

Summer undergrad
Can't work the rotovap yet
Hope they will learn soon 

Project reports suck
I hate doing them so much
Maybe beer will help

Management cites lit
Pretty sure it doesn't mean
What you think it does

Another meeting
Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah
Please let's have one more

Monday, July 21, 2014

Well, since you asked

I got randomly selected for an online survey about the ACS. I found this one to be a good question. 

What is a project house?

In an article by Alex Scott about Clariant and its R&D structure, an interesting paragraph (emphasis mine):
The company now has eight R&D centers and 50 technical application labs worldwide. “We now have a very good infrastructure for trying to develop innovations,” Kottmann said. 
Clariant is also testing models for accelerating innovation. One such model, in trials for the past couple of years, is the so-called project house, which draws together chemists and commercial executives from Clariant and beyond to identify and execute intensive product development. The firm’s first project house, which is in Italy, is for its masterbatches business, which supplies color and performance additive concentrates to plastics makers. The project house is still at the trial phase but is proving extremely beneficial, the company said. 
Even in businesses without the project house structure, Clariant is seeking to closely link research with commercial activities, said Christian Kohlpaintner, Clariant’s board member responsible for R&D. This has been the case with the firm’s Synergen OS adjuvant, a blend of methylated seed oil and a polymeric surfactant. The product encourages sprayed-on pesticide to stick to plant leaves, leading to enhanced exposure to the active ingredients.
I don't quite understand -- is the "house" an actual physical building or is it a structure? 

C&EN tackles chronic traumatic encephalopathy

Lauren Wolf looks at scientists trying to track the accumulation of tau (and other signs of CTE) in vivo: 
...One question they’d like to answer is how much brain injury a person can handle before CTE sets in. With support from the Nevada Athletic Commission and local fight promoters, the group is gathering data by periodically testing its fighters and comparing them with a control group of age- and education-matched people who have never had head trauma. When the test subjects visit the Lou Ruvo Center, they update their fight records, take cognitive tests, and lie down inside a magnetic resonance imaging machine. 
“We’re looking at a variety of MRI modalities,” Bernick explains. He isn’t yet sure which combination of MRI scan types will be most useful for detecting CTE-related brain damage and tracking it over time, so his group is running a full battery of them. 
A few have shown promise so far. Volumetric MRI, which constructs a three-dimensional view of the brain, has indicated that subjects who fought more bouts during the study’s first year had greater tissue loss in regions of the brain called the corpus callosum and putamen. The corpus callosum is a bundle of nerve fibers that connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and the putamen is a structure deeper within the brain that helps regulate movement and learning.
The results of diffusion tensor imaging, another type of MRI, also suggested that some of the study’s fighters have a thinning corpus callosum. This type of imaging maps the 3-D movement of water throughout the brain. Water typically flows parallel to nerve fibers, so when that flow pattern changes in a particular brain region, scientists take it as a sign of neuronal damage in that spot.
...Four years ago, when Robert A. Stern was writing grants for a large-scale CTE study, he says it was far-fetched that scientists would be able to see phosphorylated tau in the living brain anytime soon. “Much to my delight, there are a couple groups who have now done it,” says Stern, a neuropsychologist at Boston University who collaborates with McKee. 
Stern is working with one of the groups, now at Eli Lilly & Co. subsidiary Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, to test a tau radiotracer in retired NFL players. The trial has been tacked onto Stern’s larger study, called DETECT (Diagnosing & Evaluating Traumatic Encephalopathy using Clinical Tests), which is comparing participants with a control group of age-matched athletes, such as baseball players, who never played contact sports... 
I am really disturbed at the mounting scientific evidence that some contact sports are actively harmful to players' brains. Here's hoping that, over the years, we can understand if all or just some individuals tend to get CTE and why. Is there a correlation between sport/position played and likelihood of CTE diagnosis? How long does it take before CTE sets in? (The article says that it has been detected in high school athletes.) Yikes.

Am I crazy, or did most folks know Chris Benoit as just "Chris Benoit"? I never heard the "Canadian Crippler" nickname until now. 

This week's C&EN

From this week's issue: 

Wonderful quotes on committees: This letter on open workspaces takes a funny turn towards the end:
...Teamwork and collaboration are important, but so is individual thought. The late science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein defined a committee as “a creature with three or more legs and no brain.” The National Aeronautics & Space Administration put it similarly: “None of us is as dumb as all of us.” 
James M. Castro
Helena, Mont.
Um, what's going on in Atlanta?: Andrea Widener covers the CDC anthrax debacle. I'd love to know what's going on and what internal employees think of it. It certainly seems dangerous, anyway.

The ACS Presidential race: An interesting slate of candidates (article by Sophie Rovner):
Candidates for president-elect are Peter K. Dorhout, dean of arts and sciences and a professor of chemistry at Kansas State University, Manhattan; William A. Lester Jr., a professor of the graduate school in the chemistry department at the University of California, Berkeley, and faculty senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and Donna J. Nelson, an organic chemistry professor at the University of Oklahoma.
I wonder if Professor Nelson's association with "Breaking Bad" (she was the show's technical adviser) will help or hurt her candidacy? I'll bet it will help.

Friday, July 18, 2014


Media preview
From @metabolome. The truth, it hurts.

CEO apparently cannot afford to train his workers

Via my new weekly dose of pain (a Google news alert for the term "skills gap"), a CEO has a good one (emphasis mine): 
...Yet in manufacturing alone, a half-million jobs are going unfilled because firms have been unable to find qualified workers. The feds can't address our nation's shortage of skilled labor on their own. Private firms — especially those in manufacturing — must also invest in training. Indeed, without workers fluent in the high technology that runs today's factories, manufacturers will not be able to survive. 
Modern manufacturing is more than pulling levers and navigating forklifts throughout a plant. Consider the work flow of, say, an engineer at a facility making chairs. 
In response to a new order, he'll first use advanced math to calculate the amount of steel that needs to be fed into the presser. He'll have to choose the right combination of half a dozen sheet types, each with a different weight, length and thickness. Then he'll operate, monitor and perhaps fix the quarter-million-dollar machine that assembles the chairs. Even a minor mistake can yield major damage — and massive repair expenses.... 
...But as manufacturing has become more technologically sophisticated, the training needed to master a trade has grown too expensive and time-consuming for private industry to provide. Manufacturers already operate on thin profit margins. They can't afford to develop every worker from scratch. 
Fortunately, they don't need to. Throughout the country, many manufacturers, technical schools, and local and state governments have teamed up to help narrow the skills gap. Throughout Illinois, employers are teaming up with municipalities to expand vocational training... 
There is a common perception that American manufacturing is in decline. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, a shortage of qualified workers is holding American manufacturing back. Our nation's leaders must invest in closing that skills gap. If they do, an American industrial renaissance will follow. 
Dick Resch is CEO of KI Furniture.
I think there might be some contradictions there. Also, I'm amused to see this tidbit from the Wall Street Journal:
The government hasn't tracked spending on corporate training since the mid-1990s, but one rough measure, the percentage of staffers at U.S. manufacturers dedicated to training and development, has fallen by about half from 2006 to 2013, according to research group Bersin by Deloitte.
That seems about right to me -- must be those incredibly thin margins. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

"Home" or something like it

...Which brings us to Ohio: I have not lived in Ohio since 2006. I do not plan to live in Ohio any time in the near or distant future, nor do I particularly want to raise my child there. But Ohio is still important to me because I am from there, and I very much want for Ohio to thrive. I think that’s where a lot of my initial excitement about LeBron’s return comes from: the idea that Ohio will thrive. That there will be tens of thousands of people in Downtown Cleveland for 40-plus Cavaliers home games every season for the foreseeable future. Sure, most of those people will immediately flee the city back to the suburbs, but maybe a few people will decide they like it in Cleveland Proper and will move inside the city limits and make Cleveland great again. 
I want Ohio to thrive, but I do not want to live there. More accurately, maybe I’m not willing to give up the life I enjoy in the District of Columbia to ensure that Ohio does thrive. This feels somewhat hypocritical and more than a little cowardly at times, but it is the bare and honest truth.* I like where and how I live and do not see any opportunities to live similarly in Ohio. So it is rather heartening and exciting to see Ohio immediately improved by the presence of one LeBron James. It’s nice that he decided to fill in for me in my absence. 
*The underlying assumption here—namely that my mere presence would improve Ohio’s prospects—may not be structurally sound.
Part of the journey of the modern working chemist seems to be a path away from where we call "home" (which can be anywhere) and, these days, seems to end up somewhere on either the East or West Coasts (or Houston). The trajectory of economic growth in these United States doesn't seem to be broad-based anymore, so deciding to move one from a large mega/metropolis to a smaller one doesn't seem like a great move for oneself and one's progeny. Of course, that isn't a particularly rational or considered opinion (it's not like I've looked up GDP growth forecasts for D.C. and Cleveland*), but at the very least, I understand where he's coming from. LeBron James might be recession-and-outsourcing-proof, but we're not.

There's also something specific about Ohio, which seems to be the childhood home of many of this blog's readers. I am probably over-romanticizing the state's economic history, but when Ohio was healthier and more pre-eminent among the states, it seems that chemistry (and manufacturing in general) was a lot healthier and stronger. I hope that will be the case for Ohio's future (and for American chemical manufacturing's), but I don't really see a path in that direction.

Best wishes to Ohio, and to all of us.

*...but I'll bet you I could draw them pretty well

Using the telephone for job-searching

I really like this guide to the use of the telephone for job searching over at Science Careers, if only for this advice: 
If you’re like most people, you’ve got at least two phones, a home phone and a cell phone. You may have your own business phone, too, and for reasons I haven’t yet plumbed, some people seem to have more than one cell phone. 
Some people use a cell phone as their sole telephony instrument. That’s OK, but it’s not ideal. Business calls are so important (especially in a job search) that you don’t want to drop them—and cell phones do drop calls. Another concern is call quality; as your voice fades out on the other end of the (virtual) line when you’re chatting with that director of research, your chances of getting hired might be fading in much the same way. So it might be worthwhile to spring for a landline or maybe a phone from your cable company. The former is better—landlines are rock solid—but a cable phone is cheaper and usually includes unlimited long distance.
I really believe in the power of landlines. I am officially an old fogey.  

Job posting: senior medicinal chemist, San Francisco, CA

From the inbox, a position at Achaogen:
This position will be responsible for the design and synthesis of small-molecule drug candidates. The Sr. Scientist will analyze data from multiple assays to design compounds that meet project goals. This person in this role will be expected to initiate projects and/or function as a chemistry team leader. He or she must be adaptable to a fast-paced and dynamic environment, and will be willing to take on responsibilities outside of his/her main area of expertise.
Sounds challenging. Ph.D. desired, 4+ years experience.  

Daily Pump Trap: 7/17/14

Good morning! A few recent positions posted on C&EN Jobs:

San Francisco, CA: Nanosys is a newer company that's looking for an experienced M.S./Ph.D. organometallic chemist:
Nanosys is seeking a versatile synthetic chemist with experience in organometallics to develop new compositions for the Nanosys optical materials effort. Based on our proprietary quantum dot technology we are developing new nano-crystals and composites for integration into optical devices in partnerships with leading optical component manufacturers. Among the development goals will be novel nano-crystal synthesis optimization and integration of nano-crystals into polymer systems.
Don't know what that is, exactly, but it sounds interesting.

Hamilton, NJ: CombiPhos is looking for 2 Ph.D. synthetic chemists; I wonder what it's like to work there?

Washington, DC: Technology Sciences Group desires a B.S./M.S. chemist for TSCA consultations.

Lehigh Valley, PA: Smooth-On desires a senior polymer chemist:
You may never have heard of us, but you've seen our products at work. If you've ever been to the movies, admired a piece of sculpture, marveled at detailed architectural ornamentation or used a telephone; then you've encountered the handiwork of people who use Smooth-On rubbers, plastics, foams and other products to turn their ideas into 3-dimensional reality. The Senior Chemist will be responsible for the formulation development for Smooth-On’s Polyurethane, Silicone, Epoxy, Polysulfide and Release agent product lines.  
B.S. desired, plus 7 years formulating experience. (I still don't quite know what they do, but it's an interesting intro.)

Houston, TX: Merichem desires a research technician; A.A. with 2+ years experience or B.S. with internship experience desired.

(This is really how you know the Houston market is doing pretty well by chemists, I think -- any market on either coasts would have this position pegged at B.S./M.S.-level (he asserts boldly), but in Houston, the experience level is about what an employer would really hope for/be willing to pay for.)

ACS SF Career Fair watch: 17 positions for the Career Fair, 4 for the Virtual Career Fair. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

CSB: No preventative maintenance at Freedom Industries

In March, I said this about the leaking tanks that caused the huge MCHM mess outside Charleston, WV:
Freedom Industries is likely responsible for the apparent poor state of their tanks -- I wonder if those tanks have ever been pressure checked or what the preventative maintenance logs look like. 
And now, thanks to the Chemical Safety Board, we have some answers (emphasis mine): 
...the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) reported today it has thus far found no record of a formal, industry approved inspection performed on any of the chemical storage tanks at Freedom Industries prior to the massive leak which occurred on January 9, 2014.  Informal inspections may have occurred, preliminary findings indicate, but investigators have found a lack of appropriate engineering inspections with prescribed frequency and rigor of inspections. 
The CSB commissioned an inspection of tank 396 and similar tanks at Freedom Industries, scanning the tank interior and the surrounding topography of the river bank. Investigators oversaw the recent extraction of metal for metallurgical analysis. 
The investigation found that two small holes ranging in size from about 0.4-inch to 0.75-inch in the bottom of the 48,000-gallon tank 396 were caused by corrosion, likely resulting from water leaking through holes in the roof and settling on the tank floor. Furthermore, the CSB inspection found a similar hole penetrating the bottom of nearby tank 397, containing the same chemical at the facility, located in Charleston. Other tanks also showed multiple signs of pitting and metallurgical damage, investigators said. The growing corrosion in these tanks went unnoticed until the bottom of 396 was breached and up to an estimated 10,000 gallons of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), mixed with propylene glycol phenyl ethers, or PPH, made their way through the underlying mixture of soil and gravel under the facility and into the Elk River on January 9, 2014. 
It sounds like Freedom was a relative mess, managerially speaking, and their lack of a rigorous inspection system doesn't shock me a bit. A disappointment. 

Too funny, too true

I'm enjoying the new chemistry blog C&EN Onion -- they're a lot funnier than I am these days. I hope they keep it up:
Congress: NIH Funding To Be Distributed Via Cage Fighting
(Washington, D.C.) In a rare showing of strong bi-partisan support, landmark bill S. 2651 entitled the "Investigational Combatant Funding Reappropriation Act" has passed through the United States Senate and been signed into law by President Obama.  "My fellow Americans, today marks an important milestone in our collective history," President Obama began, "with the enacting of this bill, federal funding for health-related research will be distributed in the fairest way possible -- by physical combat." 
Under the provisions of the bill, principal investigators at academic institutions are permitted to select a champion from their respective research groups to do battle in tournament-style cage fights.  Funding will be distributed according to placement in regional tournaments, with winners receiving coveted R01 grants. 
At press time, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon "Bones" Jones had assembled a team of sought-after post-docs and graduate students.
I'd think physical combat (classic UFC 1-5 rules) would be fair, although if I were a PI, I'd be quibbling about the size of the relevant ring (heptagon? nonagon?)

Warning Letter of the Week: files schmiles backup schmackup

From the FDA, a missive to the management of Trifarma S.p.A.:
Your firm did not retain complete raw data from testing performed to ensure the quality of your APIs. Specifically, your firm deleted all electronic raw data supporting your high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) testing of all API products released to the U.S. market. In addition, your firm failed to retain basic chromatographic information such as injection sequence, instrument method or integration method for the tests. Your firm’s lack of data control causes us to question the reliability of your data.

In addition, your laboratory management was unaware of, and therefore did not follow, the written procedure detailing the review of analytical data. Furthermore, your management confirmed that the review of analytical data did not include evaluating the system suitability parameters to ensure proper column performance. 
Oh, those old files? We don't need them! (You really wonder what happened to them -- freak backup accident?)