Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Not my bag, baby

From our friends at the FDA, I see that certain urological products have been found to be adulterated because of failure to follow cGMP. I can't quote the entire letter, because I'm pretty sure it will set off your work firewalls, but this excerpt from the warning letter sounds bad:
b.    AMS 800 Post Market Surveillance Report, D007644, Rev. 01, dated 6/6/12, included an action item for further investigation to determine the root cause for a potential increasing trend in complaint rates related to atrophy and cuff malposition/migration.  No investigation was conducted or documented.
I'm just going to point out that "cuff malposition" sounds painful. Man, I hope they have these problems worked out by the time I'm old enough to need these products. There but for the grace of God...

N.B. Do not do image searches for the AMS 700. You've been warned. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Chemists overcoming challenges

In this week's C&EN, Linda Wang's collection of inspirational stories of people overcoming a variety of personal challenges in their journey to becoming chemists. I really enjoyed Dr. Charlotte Cutler's story -- she has cerebral palsy and did work in grad school as a synthetic organic chemist: 
...In the lab, I cannot reliably hold anything with my left hand alone. My first research experience was in a synthesis lab working on moisture-sensitive cyclo­proparene chemistry. Looking back, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t work in such a physically challenging field. I would set up my hood with many clamps or anything else I could use to hold or stabilize glassware. Using syringes with pyrophoric reagents was challenging, so I learned to use a cannula whenever possible to transfer liquids. 
I was fortunate that the research for my doctorate was interdisciplinary in nature. It involved not only organic synthesis but also electrochemical polymerization and characterization, as well as simple photovoltaic device fabrication. It allowed me to learn new areas of chemistry where the lab work suited me a little more than lab work involved in pure synthesis, which required more stability in my handling of equipment. 
My chemistry career started out in organic synthesis and now continues years later in formulation science, where I have worked on many challenging and interesting projects in the microelectronics industry. Although there have been times when my physical challenges have made lab work difficult, I have persevered, motivated by the fact that research stems from the need to learn, understand, adapt, and move forward with the results, whether or not they are what we expected.
Impressive. Read them all and be inspired!  

This week's C&EN

A variety of tidbits from this week's C&EN:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

I CANNOT believe this was published

Via Egon Willighagen, a truly bizarre article in Drug Discovery Today that appears to have been accepted for publication:
In drug discovery, de novo potent leads need to be synthesized for bioassay experiments in a very short time. Here, a protocol using DrugPrinter to print out any compound in just one step is proposed. The de novo compound could be designed by cloud computing big data. The computing systems could then search the optimal synthesis condition for each bond–bond interaction from databases. The compound would then be fabricated by many tiny reactors in one step. This type of fast, precise, without byproduct, reagent-sparing, environmentally friendly, small-volume, large-variety, nanofabrication technique will totally subvert the current view on the manufactured object and lead to a huge revolution in pharmaceutical companies in the very near future.
Believe it or not, the author proposes the use of optical tweezers to synthesize drugs atom-by-atom (among other nanofabrication techniques.)

I am holding out hope that this paper is some sort of Sokal Affair-type hoax, or perhaps an incredibly convincing piece of elaborate performance art. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lawsuit stemming from November 2013 rainbow flame incident

Via DNAinfo Chicago, news of a lawsuit:
LINCOLN PARK — The mother of a student who was burned in a chemistry lab fire at Lincoln Park High School is suing the school, Chicago Public Schools and the teacher involved.
Jennifer Dryden, the mother of student Tatiana Schwirblat, filed the lawsuit last week arguing the chemistry teacher, Joy Walter, and other defendants were negligent. The chemistry lab fire broke out just before noon Nov. 25 and injured a total of five students, authorities said at the time. Tatiana, 16, suffered second-degree burns, including burns on her face, authorities said. 
The lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court claims Walter was demonstrating an experiment involving the ignition of elements when the fire erupted. Walter was igniting the element cobalt in a Petri dish with a match and poured an "unmeasured" amount of methanol over the cobalt and match, which sparked an explosion, according to the lawsuit. Tatiana's clothes caught fire, causing burns on her body and face, according to the suit. 
The lawsuit claims Walter failed to take steps to protect students from injury, including putting up a shield around the Petri dish to prevent injury in case of an explosion. It also claims she failed to measure out the methanol before using it as an accelerant in a chemical experiment.
Another student who witnessed the experiment said watching her classmate's sweater catch fire was the "scariest thing ever." The witness said the flames quickly spread to another lab table and ignited the girl's sweater.
Here's a Courthouse News summary

I did not notice in either December 2013 or January of this year that this accident had just happened in November 2013. (That's perhaps because initial reports of the accident focused on the methanol fire, and not that they were performing the 'rainbow flame' experiment.)

It still seems evident to me that the 'rainbow flame' experiment should not be performed as advertised (as found here, for example) and that the wood splint method is much safer. It's evident to the American Chemical Society, anyway. If more lawsuits pop up, it'll start becoming evident to school boards and insurance companies. 

Notes from the broader economy

From this morning's news trawl, an interesting comment on wage increases in the broader economy. From the Wall Street Journal: 
Are American workers finally starting to see some decent wage increases? A report Thursday offers hope, showing incomes picked up at a healthy pace in the first three months of the year. 
The weekly earnings of the typical full-time worker rose 3% in the first quarter compared to a year earlier, the fastest pace since 2008, the Labor Department said. That translated into median earnings—the point at which half of all workers made more and half made less—of $796. When you adjust for inflation, median earnings are now at their highest level since the second quarter of 2012. 
Even better is that the earnings growth far outpaced the 1.4% year-over-year rise in consumer prices, as measured by the Labor Department. Earnings that rise faster than costs mean workers will have more money to spend on discretionary purchases. Consumer spending is the biggest source of economic demand in the U.S. 
It’s way too early to tell whether the trend will continue, especially since the nearly five-year-old U.S. economic recovery has been so choppy. But Thursday’s report follows other signs pointing to a strengthening labor market.
Let's hope it continues. In other news, I thought this comment on startup funding was fascinating and emblematic of our times. From the AP:
Funding for U.S. startup companies soared 57 percent in the first quarter to a level not seen since 2001, as venture capitalists piled more money into a growing number of deals, according to a report due out Friday. 
...Software companies received the most money — $4 billion. Biotech was a distant second with $1.06 billion. The last time the software sector received this much money was in the fourth quarter of 2000, right as the dot-com bubble was about to burst...
The dominance of the tech sector in the US economy is unquestioned -- it makes me wonder if/how much the biotech funding scene tracks the tech sector? 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Taking a student loan in graduate school? The government is making money from you

Jordan Weissman at Slate has the details: 
...At the same time, the government will lose a small amount of money on direct loans to undergraduates, which make up more than half of its lending operation. While the Department of Education makes a profit on unsubsidized Stafford loans to college goers, it takes a hit on subsidized Staffords that go to low- and middle-income undergrads. When everything shakes out, the programs combine for a 10-year, $3 billion net loss. 
...Now back to those grad schoolers. Their loans, which are shown in red and blue below and now make up about one-third of the government’s yearly lending portfolio, are expected to yield almost $113 billion over the 10-year window before admin costs. Once again, that’s three-quarters of the government’s direct lending profit. Graduate students are such lucrative customers because they pay higher interest rates than undergraduates and don’t default all that often. For the government, they’re low-risk, high-reward borrowers.
It would be fascinating to know what percentage of the government's student loan profits come from humanities students as opposed to science/engineering types. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No-response rejections from major university graduate programs?

I've heard anecdotal reports about major graduate programs accepting application fees and not sending any communications or rejections -- have you heard anything about this? 

(NB, it wasn't in chemistry, but it was a science/engineering field.)