Friday, November 21, 2014

Daily Pump Trap: 11/20/14 edition

A few of the jobs posted on C&EN Jobs in the last week:

Princeton, NJ: This "senior research scientist" position at BMS is interesting, in that it seems aimed at a B.S./M.S. chemist that's spent 10-15 years at the bench. Anyone know what it is about?

Shanghai, China: This position with the USP is pretty interesting:
The person in this role will be responsible for the management, leadership and execution of the strategy for USP's operations in China including all laboratory activities supporting USP's monograph and reference standard needs, monograph modernization, and other allied compendial programs.  
250-325k. Wow. Ph.D., 10-15 years experience in pharmaceutical analytical chemistry, etc., needed.

Augusta, GA: KaMin is a kaolin clay manufacturer -- they're looking for a lab tech. They're offering $19.90 - 25.76, which is pretty good, I'm guessing. (Are they really going to pay that?)

East Syracuse, NY: This "product marketing chemist" for a GC instrumentation company is interesting; claiming 25-30% travel time. Considering your clients are in petrochemicals, I'm guessing it's more like 50% or higher.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and USAjobs.gov show (respectively) 187, 1033, 2742 and 18 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 546 positions for the job title "chemist", with 27 for "research chemist", 78 for "analytical chemist", 2 for "medicinal chemist", 5 for "synthetic chemist" and 5 for "organic chemist." 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Can't leave on a depressing note quite yet

The author who got a paper accepted in a spam journal titled "Get me off your [expletive deleted] mailing list" should be given an award of some kind. 

Busy day, but more coming

In the meantime, I thought I should mention this long essay by William MacPherson, a former Washington Post reporter who finds himself nearing retirement age and being a lot poorer than he was planning: 
...Against the advice of people who thought they knew better, I bought shares in AOL before it really took off and in Apple when it was near its bottom. I figured Apple’s real estate must be worth more than the value the market gave the company. I was right. Shares in both companies soared. If I’d shut up and stayed home…but I didn’t. On the advice of these same people who advised me against AOL and Apple, I turned my brokerage account into a margin account for someone else to handle, and I left the country again. A few more dips into the well, a few turns in the market, a few margin calls, and when I went back for another dip, the well was empty. The old proverb drifts back to me on a wisp of memory. A fool and his money are soon parted. My adventures were over. 
The story is, of course, more complicated than that—whose story isn’t?—but these are the essentials. It’s unlikely, and it’s not intended, to evoke sympathy. I’d acted like one of those people who win the lottery and squander it on houses, cars, family, and Caribbean cruises. But I hadn’t won the lottery; I’d fallen under the spell of magical thinking. In my opinion, I didn’t squander the money, either; I just spent it a little too enthusiastically—not on Caribbean cruises but on exploring the aftermath of the fall of Communism in eastern Europe. I don’t regret it. When my writing was bringing in a little money I had a Keogh plan, and when I was at the Post a 401(k) account. I’d made a little money in real estate and received a couple of modest but nice inheritances, which together, and with Social Security and the pension, would have given me enough income to live on, had I not felt I’d lost the ability to continue writing and had I forgone, or at least spent more modestly on, my work in Europe and related activities, avoided the margin account, and so on. The “so on,” I should add, included a major heart attack that led to congestive heart failure, a condition that greatly reduced my physical resilience and taxed my already-limited income.  
There are a lot of people like me, exiles from the middle class who suddenly find themselves on Grub Street....
For those who do not have a spouse or children (or other family, as he does) to rely on, this sort of slow drift into poverty has got to come with a slew of negative second and third order effects. Best wishes to the author, and to all of us. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Starting chemist salary at gold refiners' in Jackson, Ohio? $25,000

Via the Wall Street Journal*, more anecdata about how we do not have a shortage of chemists in this country (emphasis mine): 
JACKSON, Ohio—Building contractor Alan Stockmeister is known around town for his stewardship of local businesses: radio stations, a movie theater and a bank, for example. But nothing has been quite like his refinery just off Main Street, which has become an outpost in the multibillion-dollar global gold trade. 
Ohio Precious Metals LLC owns one of five refineries in the U.S.—there are 73 world-wide—certified to melt scrap gold and pour it into ingots that can be traded on global markets. OPM’s more than 170 workers process several billion dollars a year in gold and silver headed for banks and jewelers in New York, London and Shanghai... 
...Mr. Stockmeister, 62 years old, who took over his father’s small construction business, wasn’t particularly interested in gold or recycling when he bought OPM a decade ago. His goal was to protect and create local jobs, he says. When he heard that the assistant manager at a local Wendy’s had a chemistry degree, Mr. Stockmeister gave him a job. Starting wages for entry-level chemists at OPM are $25,000 a year. Engineers start at $45,000. 
Gold from all over the world arrives in this city of 7,200 people in UPS envelopes and armored trucks. The plant, about two hours east of Cincinnati, is ringed by barbed wire. Employees pass through metal detectors and put their shoes through an X-ray machine. Violating the “no metals in, no metals out” policy can result in dismissal...
For some reason, I am inclined to wonder if there's some sort of typo here. I hope  OPM is just a really stingy employer (although, not according to Glassdoor) and that they don't actually employ all that many chemists. Also, if Wendy's is the only upwards wage pressure in Jackson, Ohio, there might be a problem.

That said, as long as rock-bottom wages like that exist, I'm going to keep thinking that not all is well with the chemistry job market.

*Can't get to the article without a subscription? Search "Gold Rush in Ohio? Small Town Plays Big Role" and the WSJ website will let you in.

Process Wednesday: the most horrifying plant story you will hear today

Thanks to a Derek Lowe post, longtime chemblogosphere commenter Thomas McEntee tells a story of his past: 
Complacency...can be a killer. In December 1974, I was called by the plant supervisor to come out to where the day shift was running another 2000-gal oxidation of tetrachlorocatechol using a process I'd developed for the production of high-purity o-chloranil. We had run this 15 or 20 times before without problems. The process involved use of considerably less than a stoichiometric quantity of nitric acid in hydrochloric acid under about 15 psig oxygen in the headspace. When the oxidation was complete, we centrifuged pure o-chloranil and washed the cakes with hexane..(uh oh). The problem I was presented with was that the reaction was not taking up oxygen. We checked the oxygen cylinders (OK), the dual manifold system (OK), and scratched our hard hats. 10 minutes later, the reactor exploded. Flames erupted from where the sight glass had been. 
Long story short, 3 of us nearly died and it was a week before I got out of the hospital.
The graveyard shift had the job of cleaning the GL reactor, finishing the cleaning with water washes and a final spark test for explosivity. 
After months of denials, the truth came out that the reactor cleaning had not been done at all and that about 100 gallons of hexane were in the reactor when the day shift loaded it for the new run. The batch sheet had been filled in as if all the cleaning and spark testing had been done. Under the agitation conditions we used and in the presence of pure oxygen, the hexane auto-ignited. 
Critics will say 'well, that should teach you..." but we had been able to bypass messy recrystallizations from carbon tet using this process. We had the forms and the boxes to check but the plant workers, all good guys but a tad lazy in those eerie hours after midnight, tried cutting some corners. As Derek wrote, it all gets back to people thinking about what they're doing.
This is pretty horrifying to me, for a variety of reasons. It's pretty clear that pencilwhipping the batch record was seen as an okay thing to do, which is an obvious problem (and not one that the chemist should be responsible for, said a chemist).

I wonder if the operators knew how deadly leaving hexane in the reactor was in this case. Also, I presume that a lot of development work had gone into avoiding the use of nitric acid. Yikes -- what a mess and I am glad no one died. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Anyone give the Rheo Thing some help?

He's looking for a new position. Go over there, see if you can help him out. 

Daily Pump Trap: 11/18/14 edition

Good morning! A few of the positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website:

Wever, IA: I always highlight bench chemistry positions in rather obscure places because it's a fun story. I feel like I should give it a tagline or something. Today's entry is the Iowa Fertilizer Company, who is looking for a lab chemist for its new fertilizer plant:
Iowa Fertilizer Company seeks those who are looking for a challenging career with a new company at a large, new facility which is poised to change the face of the fertilizer business in the Midwest. The selected candidate will grow their career with us as we grow our business. Iowa Fertilizer Company (IFCo) is currently seeking a Lab Chemist to become part of our organization at our location in Wever, Iowa. 
IFCo is looking for a Lab Chemist to join our Engineering team in Wever, Iowa. This individual will assist in training and partner with the lab superintendent to develop laboratory and operations personnel in the technical aspects of wastewater analyses and treatment, product quality with Ammonia, UREA, UAN, Nitric Acid, and air quality monitoring. Assistance will also be needed in planning, directing, and conducting technical reports and review on regulatory issues. The incumbent will oversee training of chemical laboratory tests to assist making qualitative and quantitative analyses of solids, liquids, and gaseous materials for purposes, such as research and development or processes, quality control, maintenance of environmental standards, and other work involving experimental, theoretical, or practical application of chemistry and related sciences.
Spring House, PA: Johnson and Johnson is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. radiosynthetic chemist.

Ipswich, MA: I'd like to know what this New England Biolabs postdoc is about -- they're looking for a Ph.D. organic chemist. Also, a production associate position (B.S. chemist desired.)

Cleveland, OH: Sherwin-Williams is looking for a polymer process control engineer; 5+ years experience and a B.S. in chemical engineering desired.

Malta, NY: GlobalFoundries desires a failure analysis engineer; they desire a M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist with broad instrumental experience.

Ivory Filter Flask: 11/18/14 edition

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

Terre Haute, IN: Indiana State University is seeking an assistant professor of organic chemistry. Deadline is January 5, 2015.

Charlotte, NC: UNC - Charlotte desires an assistant professor of nanoscale chemistry, which is a new, interesting title.

Bay City, MI: Delta College seeks a M.S. chemist for a position as a chemistry instructor; starts at 48k -- not bad.

Conway, SC: Coastal Carolina University is looking for an assistant professor of marine chemistry; "specializations in environmental biogeochemistry and global cycling are particularly encouraged."

La Crosse, WI: The University of Wisconsin - La Crosse is seeking an associate lecturer to run its organic chemistry laboratories. M.S./Ph.D. desired; 37-45k offered.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Well, the e-mails and the ads worked: Donna Nelson is your 2015 ACS President-Elect

Via Twitter:
Donna J. Nelson is the 2015 @AmerChemSociety president-elect.  Full story coming soon.
I thought it was interesting that this was the first year that 1) one of the candidates (Professor Nelson) sent e-mail blasts to vote for her and 2) both she and Professor Dorhout ran ads in print editions of C&EN.

I am a little bit concerned that this will usher in a new wave of spam into our inboxes...

This week's C&EN

A quieter week this week:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

DuPont methanethiol leak results in 4 deaths in LaPorte, TX plant

Via the New York Times: 
Four Texas workers died and a fifth was hospitalized Saturday morning after a hazardous gas leak at a DuPont chemical plant east of Houston. 
The workers were overcome about 4 a.m. Central Standard Time, apparently as they were responding to the leak of the gas, methyl mercaptan, according to the plant’s manager, Randall Clements. 
Methyl mercaptan is mixed with odorless natural gas to give it its characteristic rotten-egg smell. The company said the leak was contained at about 6 a.m. The worker who was not seriously injured was being hospitalized overnight for observation.
The leak spread a stench across broad areas of La Porte, an industrial town on the Gulf of Mexico about 20 miles east of Houston, but the company said it posed no hazard to the community. 
A spokesman for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an independent agency, said a team of experts would arrive in La Porte on Sunday to search for the cause of the accident.
Mr. Clements said in a written statement that the company was cooperating with federal, state and local authorities, and was conducting its own inquiry into the accident. “We will share what we learn with the relevant authorities,” he said in a statement. 
...The company said that the leak began when a valve on a container of methyl mercaptan malfunctioned. La Porte’s emergency management coordinator, Jeff Suggs, said the accident occurred in an operating unit that produces additives for fertilizers....
Questions that I have:
I'll be monitoring the story...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fun card game, I'll bet

From Carney, J.M. "Retrosynthetic Rummy:
A Synthetic Organic Chemistry Card Game." [1]
Here's a fun idea for a card game: "Retrosynthetic Rummy" [1]:
ABSTRACT: A deck of cards and a card game have been developed in an effort to make practicing organic chemistry and synthesis more fun for students. 
The game is played as a variation of rummy, in which players collect sets of similar cards and runs of cards in a synthetic sequence. This card game reviews knowledge of functional groups and reaction types and requires an ability to place many organic transformations in an appropriate order to synthesize target molecules.
I'm waiting for Chemical Commodities Pit, though -- I'll corner the market on HPLC-grade acetonitrile every time.

1. Carney, J.M. "Retrosynthetic Rummy: A Synthetic Organic Chemistry Card Game." J. Chem. Ed. ASAP DOI: 10.1021/ed500657u

Testing travails for shale crude on rail

I have been following the shale oil on rail story a little. I don't know why, but I find it (and the Wall Street Journal's coverage of it very interesting), especially since it hinges on accurate chemical testing: 
Regulators set to decide on crude-by-rail shipping rules are relying on testing methods that may understate the explosive risk of the crude, according to a growing chorus of industry and Canadian officials. 
The tests’ accuracy is central to addressing the safety of growing crude-by-rail shipments across the continent: whether Bakken crude contains potentially dangerous levels of dissolved gases. Several trains carrying Bakken crude have exploded after derailing, including a fiery accident last year that killed 47 people in a small town in Quebec. 
...The U.S. government recently tested the same North Dakota crude using both the older and newer methods to compare the results.
Testing crude after the light ends have escaped is like popping open a bottle of soda and trying to determine how fizzy it was in the bottle, said Bob Falkiner, refinery director at a Canadian crude-quality association that is calling attention to problems with existing studies. “If your goal is to measure the amount of carbon dioxide in a can of soda pop, clearly you can’t pour it into an open beaker because the very thing you want to test for will be gone,” said Mr. Falkiner, an engineer at Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM -1.01%  ’s Canadian subsidiary.
The testing controversy centers on how to determine vapor pressure, a measure of how quickly a liquid fuel evaporates and emits gases. Traditionally, the industry has relied on Reid Vapor Pressure, a decades-old methodology but one that doesn’t require sealed or pressurized containers to collect or test crude samples. 
“For some of the production there are some differences that they wouldn’t have picked up on unless they sampled it properly,” said Andre Lemieux, a board member at the Canadian crude-quality association. In October, Ottawa acted on the recommendation of Mr. Lemieux’s group and said it would analyze how crude reacts in a sealed cylinder to better understand how it reacts during transport in a tank car. 
Canada’s transport ministry doesn’t typically test oil or other potentially hazardous products, but decided to run a series of tests following up on a Transportation Safety Board investigation of crude involved in the Quebec train disaster. The study will look at 80 samples of Canadian crudes and will incorporate sealed and pressurized cylinders.
“We’ve identified it as probably being for our purposes the most accurate test to make sure we’re not losing any light ends” said Patrick Juneau, a Transport Canada engineering research officer in charge of the tests. “The science on this is evolving. Where we were a year ago or five years ago is different from today,” he said. 
Under normal conditions, these light ends can boil out of the crude, creating a volatile head on the crude inside the tank car that can increase the risk and magnitude of an explosion. Many light oils contain elevated levels of highly volatile gases like butane and propane, but where they are highest-such as in the Eagle Ford shale in Texas—crude is routinely stabilized to remove them. As The Wall Street Journal reported, producers in the Bakken have rejected calls so far to stabilize the crude, citing studies such as those by the North Dakota Petroleum Council and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. Both concluded that Bakken crude wasn’t more volatile than other crude oils in the U.S. 
The lead author of the North Dakota Petroleum Council study defended the work, saying his technique was more than adequate for determining the amount of dissolved gases in crude. “The results would be no different” using sealed containers, said John Auers. “We used the standard methodology used for years.” 
There is no information about how samples were collected in the AFPM study, but the author, Frits Wybenga said there are no data to suggest the commonly used test is inadequate. “Nobody has demonstrated this is a problem,” he said. 
A scientist with North America’s leading testing firm said in a February presentation that measurement of volatility in crudes “can be easily affected by the loss of light end materials during sampling process.” And a study conducted under more stringent conditions by the U.S. government did find more volatile compounds present in Bakken crude. The government study was the only one that tested a variety of companies; other studies relied on companies volunteering to be tested....
I have no doubts that there are more volatile gases in crude from fracking, but I suppose that it's all about data and testing methods here. Lots of money is riding on which testing method needs to be used.

(How would they get rid of the gases anyway? Purge/sparge the tanks with nitrogen? Pull vacuum on the railcars for 20 minutes (oh man, the mess.))

UPDATE: And this post appears to be overtaken by events -- from this morning's physical copy of the WSJ (emphasis mine):
North Dakota plans unprecedented steps to ensure crude pumped from the state’s Bakken Shale oil producing region is safe enough to be loaded into railroad tank cars and sent across the country. In the first major move by regulators to address the role of gaseous, volatile crude in railroad accidents, the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which regulates energy production in the state, said it would require Bakken Shale well operators to strip gases from crudes that show high vapor pressures. 
“We believe the vast majority of our Bakken oil will fall well below the standard,” Lynn Helms, director of the state’s Department of Mineral Resources, said at a news conference. The proposed state rule will require all operators to run crude oil through equipment that heats up the crude and forces out gases from the liquid. An estimated 15% of current producers without such equipment will have to submit quarterly test results showing their wells don’t exceed the state’s proposed 13.7 pounds a square inch vapor pressure limit, Mr. Helms said.... 
...A representative for the North Dakota Petroleum Council, an industry lobbying group, criticized the proposed rules for “micromanaging the industry,” and said they could lead to unintended consequences such as increased burning of excess natural gas at well sites.
The proposal also would prohibit blending condensate or natural gas liquids back into crude and require rail loading terminals to inform state regulators of any oil received for shipment exceeding the vapor pressure limits, Mr. Helms said...
Huh. Well, ND crude-by-rail just got a little more expensive. Good for whoever is selling them the heating equipment, maybe.