Friday, August 28, 2015

Get your votes in for the "Hiss and Ping" contest

Voting for the funniest, most accurate description of an analytical technique closes tonight at midnight Eastern. Go vote! 

Hamilton syringes

A collection of small, useful things (links):
Readers, any other posts in the chemblogosphere need attention? Do you have a new chemistry blog to plug? Here's the place to do it. 

The 200th hour

Derek Lowe has his Chemistry World column up on graduate school and academic chemical safety and he makes a great point about experience levels:
...That vivid memory illustrates another aspect of the problem: just as lab hours per calendar day (and perhaps also hours worked alone) are at their highest, one’s own experience is nowhere near at its peak. Graduate school is where chemists encounter a lot of reagents and procedures for the first time, and not all of these encounters will go smoothly. This is when one might find out, for example, just how remarkably air-sensitive trimethylaluminium is (if there isn’t a flame burning from the end of the syringe needle, the bottle has probably gone off), or just how long a large aqueous phosphorus oxychloride workup can sit around before it suddenly erupts all over the inside of a fume hood (several hours, damn it all)....
I'm reminded an episode of one of my favorite old shows "The Unit", where the youngest operator on the team grazes a senior operator in the arm during a training exercise. After giving Bob a thorough razzing, they congratulate him on reaching his "200th hour"* where he has "enough experience to be confident, enough to screw up real good."

It is a funny aspect of graduate school in chemistry where you're the least experienced, you work the most hours that you'll probably work during one's time in research chemistry and you're likely to be the least supervised you'll ever be (if you continue onto industrial bench chemistry.)

*Apparently this is flying terminology? 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Biotech cluster setup? Don't even bother.

Through a short summary from FierceBiotech's Nick Paul Taylor, I see that the Los Angeles Times is covering former Governor Jeb Bush's attempt to set up a biotech cluster around Scripps Florida (article by Noah Bierman): 
...He called a rare special session of the Legislature to approve the state’s share of the Scripps package — $310 million plus interest over 10 years — and won easy approval from the county government to spend more than $200 million. To make his case, he circulated a five-page economic impact study that said Florida could build a biotech economy every bit as impressive as the one that took decades to germinate in San Diego, only faster and bigger, with potential to add more than 40,000 jobs within 15 years of operation. 
Twelve years later, those dreams have not come true. 
Florida employed 27,611 people in biotech last year, according to the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity, or just 952 more people than it did in 2007, the last year for which the state has comparable data. Scripps accounts for many of those jobs, with a head count of 646 people in Florida. 
The data do show a doubling in the number of biotech establishments. And Scripps says it has attracted $425 million in federal grants and donations. 
But the promise of Florida’s investment was about a jobs bonanza from spinoff companies. 
Bush was captivated by the Scripps headquarters in La Jolla, a tony San Diego suburb where 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney owns a home. The institute and its satellite offices are located along Torrey Pines Road, a verdant stretch connecting it to the famed golf course of the same name as well as sandstone coastal bluffs and the ocean. The biotech boom around Scripps is hard to miss. Science and medical companies dot the area.
Florida, meanwhile, remains an afterthought in the biotech world. No Florida city has cracked the annual list of top 10 biopharma clusters compiled by Genetic Engineering and Biotech News, an industry publication. Traditional powers including San Diego, Los Angeles and the Bay Area dominate the list...
First, does anyone who has experience in the Jupiter area disagree with the article's assessment? Is it too early in the game to make a call?

Second, this story allows me to tee off on a favorite hobbyhorse of mine, which is the quixotic attempt of local governments to get their cities/states into the biotech business. I personally think it's a tremendous money loser; the benefits only accrue to the lucky few scientists who are recruited in early, when there's a lot of government cash to hand out by the attendant politicians (who also benefit when they show up at ribbon cuttings.) The taxpayer is left with the bill. I think it's clear that to do this right, you need:
  • More than one world-class clinical research hospital 
  • More than one world-class basic research university
  • More than one large pharma/biotech/medical device company with a major R&D center in the geographical area
  • Lots of available venture capital
  • Lots of available experienced scientists
  • An amenable business climate
(I'll bet items 1-3 are most important.)

Even the cities that do have these things (I'm looking at you, San Diego, RTP) have not done nearly as well in the last 20 years as San Francisco and Boston/Cambridge. 

It's a mug's game and I think that Florida is only one example. 

A brief history of Roundup Ready crops

In the midst of a fascinating article in The New Republic by Ted Genoways about the Chinese businessmen attempting to steal seeds from the Midwest and the FBI team that tracked them down, a short history of Roundup Ready crops: 
Monsanto was also quick to see the market opportunity. The company had grown with the production of 2,4-D and its descendant 2,4,5-T, which were then combined to produce Agent Orange to defoliate forest cover during the Vietnam War. In 1970, in an effort to come up with an even stronger plant killer, Monsanto chemist John E. Franz hit upon an herbicide called glyphosate, which was marketed under the trade name Roundup and had seen unmatched growth in broadleaf weed control in the agricultural industry. The only problem with Roundup: It was such an effective herbicide that farmers had to apply it carefully, spraying only early sprouting weeds, to avoid exterminating their crops. 
Monsanto’s engineers set about searching for a gene that would allow crops to survive exposure to Roundup. They found it in the wastewater-treatment plant of one of their own glyphosate production plants in Louisiana, where workers had noticed a range of bacteria thriving despite exposure to Roundup—and one, under lab testing, displayed total immunity to glyphosate pesticides. By 1996, Monsanto had commercially introduced soybeans that had been genetically modified to resist glyphosate—what the company termed “Roundup Ready.”
I had no idea that some level of serendipity occurred to help this happen. "Fortune favors the prepared mind" and all of that. (Does anyone know if this is actually true?)

The article legitimately questions whether or not the FBI should be using the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act to track foreign nationals performing industrial espionage within the United States. It seems to me that the most ideal scenario would be a new set of laws granting surveillance powers to federal agencies that are tasked with preventing industrial espionage from other nations. But asking for new laws these days seems like asking for a pony*, so we're probably going to muddle through with what we have.

*Not that I really want a lot of new laws, I note. 

What is it like to work at the DEA?

Does anyone know what it is like to work at the bench as a forensic chemist for the DEA? What kind of postings can you expect, etc? 

Here's a tiny bit of helpful background:
A good deal of a forensic chemist’s work is instrumental analysis, says Darrell Davis, laboratory director at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) South Central Laboratory in Dallas, Texas. Davis has been a forensic chemist for over 29 years with DEA, originally on the bench analyzing samples for the presence of controlled substances at the Southwest Laboratory in San Diego, and later managing the DEA lab in Dallas. 
Davis says that the DEA’s work is “mostly analytical [chemistry], both qualitative and quantitative. “We not only identify the controlled substance and its constituents … We also quantitate the controlled substance to let the courts and special agents know how pure the sample is. For example, we might analyze a kilogram of a cocaine-like substance and determine that 80% of that weight is pure cocaine.” 
In order to do these analyses, the chemists in Davis’ lab use mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy (IR), gas chromatography (GC), and liquid chromatography (LC). “We also use NMR [nuclear magnetic resonance] on the more complex types of samples.”
(The synthetic chemist in me wants to know - what's the other 20%?)

Anyway, anyone have any experience they'd like to share? 

Daily Pump Trap: 8/27/15 edition

Good morning! A few of this week's positions on C&EN Jobs:

Torrance, CA: Medical Chemical Corporation has, once again, a production chemist opening.

Interesting: Never seen an ad from "Commissioning Agents, Inc" before; they do a lot of regulatory-related work at API plants and the like, I believe.

Not every day: ...that you see Nature Publishing Group looking for an assistant editor in C&EN Jobs, but Nature Chemical Biology is looking....

Watertown, MA: Wolfe Laboratories looking for a senior director of pharmaceutical development. Just a little experience needed.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) "1000+",
652, 9518 and 15 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 768 positions for the job title "chemist", with 74 for "analytical chemist", 24 for "research chemist", 12 for "organic chemist", 4 for "synthetic chemist" and 3 for "medicinal chemist." 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Late August quote of the day

Crash Davis, "Bull Durham":
Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You'll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you'll be classy. If you win 20 in The Show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press'll think you're colorful. Until you win 20 in The Show, however, it means you are a slob.

A variety of numbers from the recent ACS Council meeting in Boston

From the inbox, a respected correspondent has some interesting numbers to share on the data from the latest ACS ChemCensus. This information was written by the correspondent and edited for clarity and formatting by CJ:
The Census, conducted every 5 years, is sent to domestic ACS members that are not: students, internationally-based, emeritus, or over 70 years old. Of our ~current membership of 157,000, only 73,000 members were contacted for the ChemCensus. For those of us keeping score that is less than 50% of our membership  (all numbers are rounded, 72977 was the actual number.) 
The percentage of ACS members in academia is now at 38%, up from 24% in 2004. The percentage of Industry (manufacturing*) ACS members is 42%, down from 54% in 2004. The % in industry (non-manufacturing, govt and self employed) has remained relatively flat over the decade at 12%, 7% and 2% respectively. 
The ChemCensus response was about 24,000, or ~33%.  
ACS has an 84% retention rate; with a churn of ~25,000 members not renewing (a few hundred die every year). Half of that 25K is students, we are told.  
The loss of industrial members is not particularly surprising, but is disappointing nonetheless. Here's hoping for a renaissance.

*This definition is pretty broad and self-reported, as I recall. 

Job posting: B.S./M.S. synthetic chemists, Bay Area

From the inbox, chemistry positions at Stemcentrx:
Chemistry - Research Associate 
As part of a talented and multi-disciplinary team advancing an exciting new approach to oncology drug discovery and development, the successful candidate will participate in discovery synthetic chemistry efforts aimed at identifying and developing novel linkers, payloads and linker-drugs technologies for preclinical evaluation and clinical use. The successful candidate will have strong synthetic skills, outstanding attention to detail and excellent record keeping abilities.
  1. Synthesize, purify and characterize biologically-active organic small molecules and linkers
  2. Contribute to optimization and validation of synthetic routes applicable for cGMP manufacturing of linker-drugs on multigram scale
  3. Maintain excellent experimental records for research and development efforts
  4. Contribute to development and optimization of analytical characterization methods for linker-drugs.
  1. BSc in Synthetic Organic Chemistry 2+ years of laboratory experience
  2. Experience in multistep organic synthesis
  3. Strong small molecule purification skills
  4. Knowledge of common spectroscopic and analytical techniques (NMR, MS, HPLC)
  5. Highly organized and disciplined record keeping
  6. Strong verbal and written communication skills are essential
  7. Excellent laboratory practices and safety techniques are essential
  8. Ability to multitask and meet deadlines in a fast-paced environment
Contact dane[dot]holte[at]stemcentrx[dot]com (note spamproofing) with CV and cover letter for these chemistry positions. Also, a link to all the available positions at Stemcentrx. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Price check: gas aisle

Over on the Division of Chemical Health and Safety's listserv, they're asking about the price of 60 L of helium. Anyone want to cough up their price in the comments?

Also, anyone have any screamin' good deals they want to brag about?

(Does anyone remember back when Tenderbutton talked about Oakwood and how much cheaper their TBSCl was? Those were the good old days.) 

Interesting contest from the Division of Organic Chemistry

A pretty interesting idea from the Division of Organic Chemistry:
Create a 2-3 minute video that conveys the value of Organic Division Membership. 
Prizes: Five (5) Awards of up to $1,500 for travel reimbursement to the 2016 ACS Spring Meeting in San Diego. One prize will be awarded for each winning video submission–collaborating video creators will need to determine the funding split. If fewer than 5 submissions are received, the budgeted travel funding will be split among the entries according to the discretion of the Executive Committee of the Division of Organic Chemistry. One award will be granted to the video with the greatest number of page views. Additional award prize categories are dependent on the actual submissions and could include: 
1. Most humorous
2. Most creative
3. Grand Jury Prize 
Qualifying videos will be posted to the ACS DOC YouTube Channel ( for viewing by the public and judges.
Here's a link to the full details of the contest. Best wishes to those interested.

Seems to me that the real value of Organic Division membership is that you can participate in ACS activities related to the Organic Division (the Symposia, that sort of thing.) I sure wish that you got your copy of Organic Syntheses in the mail still. That said, access to the videos from the National Organic Symposium (scroll down) is indeed something of value that I am really happy that DOC has taken on. Definitely worth my $15.

(Say, what would happen if DOC decided to take on a "best practices" advisory role in academic chemical safety? I kid, I kid.) 

Daily Pump Trap: 8/25/15 edition

A few of the postings from this week's C&EN:

Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD: The U.S. Army Research Lab is looking for a "Director, Weapons & Materials Research Directorate." Sounds fascinating; pays 121,956.00 - 183,400.00. Unknown whether or not you will be reporting to "Thunderbolt" Ross.

Rockville, MD: NCATS is looking for a Director of its Therapeutic Development Branch; looks to be pretty darn senior. Posted salary: $126,245-$158,700. (Something tells me that'd be quite a pay cut for those who'd be interested in the position?)

Louisville, KY: Hexion desires an experienced M.S./Ph.D. chemist to be a product development chemist.

Owensboro, KY: Bet you didn't know that there were chemists (?) working on Swedish snus. Wonder why the microbiology background?

Iselin, NJ: BASF looking for a B.S. chemist; looks to be analytical in nature. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 08/25/15 edition

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

New Orleans, LA: Xavier University of Louisiana is holding what appears to be an open search for a biochemistry faculty position.

Berkeley, CA: UC-Berkeley advertising for an associate/full professor position in experimental physical chemistry.

Crawfordsville, IN: Wabash College looking for an assistant professor of analytical chemistry.

San Bernardino, CA: California State University San Bernardino is looking for an assistant professor; "Specialization in bioanalytical chemistry, biomaterials chemistry, or environmental chemistry is desired." 60-70k offered.

"Liberal Arts College": Colorado College looking for an assistant professor of chemistry; organic/bioorganic concentration desired.

The joint Chembark/Chemjobber 2016 faculty jobs list stands at 161, with 11 new positions added. 

Bleg: destroying 25 grams of AIBN

From the inbox, a darn good question - how do you get rid of 25 grams of AIBN that needs to be disposed?

Any ideas? I would usually recommend that people look in Prudent Practices in the Laboratory, but that doesn't offer any suggestions. 

The UC-Berkeley diazonium incident

Also from this week's C&EN, Jyllian Kemsley talks with Professor Dean Toste and the EH&S director of UC-Berkeley on the recent diazonium salt explosion incident:
Earlier this year, a University of California, Berkeley, first-year chemistry graduate student synthesized about 1 g of a diazonium perchlorate compound (R-N2+ClO4) as part of an effort to explore the effect of the perchlorate ion on a reaction. Working at an open bench and wearing regular prescription eyeglasses, he was using a metal spatula to transfer the material out of a porcelain funnel when the compound exploded. 
Porcelain fragments shattered the lenses of his glasses and lacerated his left cornea and his face. The student required surgery on his eye but was not permanently injured and is back in the lab. 
He knew he was working with an explosive and followed appropriate safety measures for most of the experiment, but at the end, “he became a little complacent,” says the student’s adviser, chemistry professor F. Dean Toste. The student should have worn safety glasses and used a nonmetal spatula for the transfer. 
Toste and UC Berkeley Office of Environment, Health & Safety Executive Director Mark Freiberg have worked together in the months following the accident to figure out what to do to try to prevent other similar events. “We look at it as systemic failure,” Freiberg says. “We’ve spent a lot of time with this student and others in the lab, trying to explore this incident and glean from it as much as we can about how our current, fairly extensive efforts to improve safety were ineffective in this instance...."
Back when we discussed this in June, I was a bit confused as to why the graduate student made as much as they did. 1 gram seems like a lot. Doesn't look like we got any answers on that question.

The issue of side-shields on prescription safety glasses seems pretty fundamental, though, and it doesn't seem like much progress has been made there, either:
...Following policies implemented in response to the [CJ's note: UC Regents'/LADA Sangji-related] agreement, the student injured at Berkeley had completed standardized safety training; received personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriate for his research, including eye protection; and signed that he’d read the relevant standard operating procedure (SOP) for the experiment that he was doing.... 
...Wearing regular prescription glasses may give people a sense that their eyes are protected, even when they’re not wearing safety glasses or goggles. To address that issue, the UC Berkeley College of Chemistry will now pay any costs for prescription safety eyewear not covered by a researcher’s insurance company....
There are two separate issues here. First, it's cynically amusing to me to see that the organization has all the paperwork lined up that says "we told you to do it correctly." While UC-Berkeley has been legally protected, somehow the student was still in their lab, using the wrong equipment, wearing the wrong PPE.

(I am beginning to think (only 8 years after the Great Recession) that "systemic failure" is organization-speak for "everyone's at fault, so no one's at fault.")

Secondly, I have a question about the massive, massive problem in both academia and industry of wearing prescription glasses as pseudo-safety glasses in the laboratory.* I bet you that we could walk into any chemistry laboratory within 100 yards to 50 miles of where you are sitting here reading this, and we'd find someone breaking this common sense rule. While I think Berkeley is being very gallant in picking up the difference in costs for prescription safety glasses, I think this is a paper solution, just like the SOPs. What can we do about it? Readers, any suggestions?

*As a young graduate student, I decided to transition from prescription glasses to contacts to avoid the temptation of wearing prescription glasses in the laboratory and thinking "I am still protected here." Any vanity on my part, or that I was single at the time is strictly coincidental. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles in this week's C&EN:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Weekend longreads

First, this article by Lise Olsen in Texas Monthly on the LaPorte, TX deaths of 4 DuPont chemical operators is horrifying and quite thorough:
"Troubleshooting that alarm fell to a rookie operator named Crystle Wise, a 53-year-old, dog-loving, Harley-Davidson-riding grandmother with electric blue eyes. By chance, Wise had chosen to take her break in a spot dubbed the “smoke shack”—between the control room and the pesticide tower. Wise, one of the latest hires in the plant’s recent wave of turnover, was still finishing her nine-month training period with DuPont. She donned her safety helmet and goggles and grabbed an oversized wrench. Then she crossed a covered passageway to the Lannate tower and opened a heavy metal door that led to a stairwell. She headed for a complex set of valves on the third floor, to clear the clog and relieve the stress on the pipes—and on the rest of the crew. What Wise didn’t know was that she was walking into a disaster."
I tend to agree with the "Swiss cheese" model of accident analysis - in this case, you can really watch the holes line up. More on this later.

Also, does anyone have a good article on the Tianjin incident? I know there's a lot of sodium cyanide in the destroyed warehouse, but that doesn't explain the initial explosion.  

Nomination for the top 5 of the "Hiss and Ping" analytical techniques descriptions

It's taken almost two months, but finally, below are the entries for the contest for the funniest, most accurate description of an analytical technique.

Vote in the comments for your favorites. The top 5 vote winners will be judged by our panel of analytical chemists: 

The fine prize: A 1 pound bag of hard candies, a certificate fit for framing, 50 of the finest Chemjobber business cards, a handwritten thank you note (by me) and a $10 Starbucks gift card:

Biotechtoreador's NMR description: "Stick your molecules in a tube, then stick the tube in a magnet so the dipoles in the atoms in the molecules line up. Turn on a radio, and the atoms sway to one side while dancing with each other. Turn off the radio and watch as the dipoles in the atoms dance back. Repeat until you can draw it yourself."

Anon071720151225PM: "NMR is the chemical equivalent of StoryCorps. Tune into the right frequency and you'll learn something about a specific situation that can also teach you something broad and fundamental about the environment in which it occurs.

NMR is like radio-frequency-based molecular Twitter. Hit your sample with one short, pointed "statement" on a given frequency and then sit back listen to all the related nuclear opinions that come back at you. Fair warning: lot of it will just be noise."

Anon071720151225PM: "Sum frequency generation, where a surface becomes a Thunderdome: two frequencies enter, one leaves."

Brandon Findlay: "Dr. Evil: Alright, here's the plan. Here's the plan. Back in the 60's, I had a mass spectrometry machine that used, in essence, a sophisticated laser beam which we called an "Ninja Assassin." Using these "Assassins," we superheat the sample of interest "Bound" to a base coating of aromatic compounds, which we scientists call "The Matrix." "Animating the Matrix" creates a superheated plume of gas containing every ion in the sample, a "Cloud Atlas" if you will. By timing the "Speed" at which ions "Race" to the detector we can determine their mass with incredible precision. "Reloading the Matrix" with new analyte allows the same detecting plate to be used multiple times, lading to massive profits and a "Matrix Revolutions" in mass spectrometry.

Scott: Why did you pluralize the word revolution and use so many air quotes?

Dr. Evil: It's a V, for Vendetta, not an air quote, Scott. Okay? 

Scott: Huh?

Dr. Evil: Any ways, the key to this plan is controlling the rising gas. Like "Jupiter Ascending' it can quickly overload detector without proper safeguards. Because overall futuristic flair, and the polish source of "The Matrix", we shall call the device the Wachowski Starship. 

Number Two: [pause] That also already been created. It's called MALDI-TOF.

Dr. Evil: Right, people you have to tell me these things, okay? I've been frozen for thirty years, okay? Throw me a frickin' bone here! I'm the boss! Need the info."

Pete: "NMR- play BBC radio 3 at your sample, and record the screams."

The Iron Chemist: "EPR is like NMR but with electrons."

Peter Edwards: "IR is like a TV remote control. You shine an IR source (spectrometer or remote control) at your sample (chemical or TV), and the signal that you get in return doesn't usually tell you anything useful that you don't already know."

Molecular Geek: "FT spectroscopy is like listening to a grand piano crashing to the ground from a 10 story drop in order to determine which notes were out of tune."

qvxb: "GC/MS - Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry: A mixture of compounds and internal standards is injected into the gas chromatograph . The carrier gas sweeps the mixture over hot metal surfaces, where the compounds of interest degrade or rearrange, into a column where they are separated. Molecules that exit the column (i.e., those not pyrolyzed in the injection port) and enter the ion source of the MS, where they are bombarded by electrons and ionized to form one or more positive ions. These ions are separated by a mass filter (typically a quadrupole or quadruple after spell-check) and the relative intensities of each ion with a particular mass/charge ratio is determined by the data system. (Senior citizens will say computerized data system.)

The retention times of compounds may change as the stationary phase changes due to deposition of residues from dirty samples and reaction with oxygen from leaks. For compounds with similar mass spectra (e.g., xylenes) errors in identification may occur. This usually only happens when data are to be published or the sample is a PT sample." 

SeeArrOh: "Sit down by the fire, kids, and let ol' See Arr Oh tell you about the spectral technique every O-chemist loves: Proton-decoupled carbon-13 NMR. You see, back in the 1950s, gents in well-tailored suits with big glasses posed next to giant, room-filling machines capable of only a fraction of today's tablet computers' power. These men - and they were always men, then - would place thin glass tubes of their molecule into relatively misshaped magnetic fields and send in specific radio waves, hoping out the other side to see their recorder pens transcribe a forest of little inky peaks. 

Now, this worked fine if you wanted ALL the information about each and every proton in the molecule, but what if all you wanted to do was count carbons? Sending in radio waves tuned to carbon sent back little patterns of 2, 3, 4 (or more) peaks, depending on how many Hs were bound to each C. Too much info! 

Instead, if you blast all the protons with one high-powered radio pulse, their coupling to C falls apart, and you can sneak in a carbon-only pulse just afterwards. Et voila! Simple, single peaks shifted to match the chemical environment of where you found 'em in the molecule. Carbons next to things that tug on their electrons are on your left. "Saturated" carbons with lots of protons or buried deep with other carbons are on your right. Easy as pie."

Unstable Isotope: "You put your precious sample in a complicated machine and out come lines of great meaning. (This applies to multiple spectroscopy techniques.)"

ForensicToxGuy: "Time of flight mass spectrometry is akin to a foot race between skinny kids and heavier kids. They all start approximately at the same starting line. The gun goes off and the race starts. The lighter kids travel faster and the heavier kids are slower through the race course. The skinnier kids get to the finish line first while the heavier kids finish later.

I can say all of this because I'm a fat kid."

Anonymous07182015142P: "Radiocarbon AMS dating:

You take an irreplaceable archaeological artifact, smash it, pour acid on it, burn it, then catapult any remains as fast as current technology will allow."

standrewslynx: "NMR spectroscopy is like making love to a beautiful woman. You start vertical, but then get excited and end up horizontal. Then you roll around a few times...and relax."

Jon Lam: "So imagine you're a circus performer in a room, standing by the doorway. Your act consists of you holding a fairly large butterfly net, ready to catch what ever miniature clowns run through that doorway. But the mini clowns don't actually run in, they are actually being shot out of a cannon. Through the door. Into your net. But your cannon is kinda crappy so if the clown is too big, it just kinda plops out of the cannon and doesn't make it very far... Probably won't even make it through the doorway. But if the clowns are small, they get launched from the cannon with impressive speed... Probably too much speed so that when you try to catch them, they rip the net right out of your hands and keep going on their trajectory straight into the audience, perhaps into that section of nuns. It turns out, for the trick to work allowing the audience to see your daring clown capture, you need clowns of just the right size. Since you don't have a scale, the only way to find clowns of the right size is trial and error.

This is essentially how a magnetic sector mass spec instrument works."

Poison Ivy League: "1Hokey-31Pokey

You make your sample up
You book your sample in
You let your sample down and you spin it all around
You send in some RF waves and let the atoms have a shout
That’s what it’s all about."

"Elemental Analysis is like weighing out your sample 
except the sample is on fire
and you're on fire
because passing CHN is Hell."

Daily Pump Trap: 8/20/15 edition

A few of the positions posted at C&EN Jobs this week:

Irvine, CA: This information analyst position with Allergan is fascinating, in that it doesn't require a master's in library science degree; instead it asks for a Ph.D. w/10+ years experience. 

Beverly, MA: RAN Biotherapeutics is looking for a B.S./M.S. synthetic chemist. 35-55k, that doesn't seem like much? 

Cambridge, MA: Warp Drive Bio is looking for a B.S./M.S. research associate for LC/MS work towards their natural products work. 

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) "1000+", 635, 9,384 and 19 positions. LinkedIn shows 791 positions for the job title "chemist", 75 positions for "analytical chemist", 31 for "research chemist", 12 for "organic chemist", 5 for "synthetic chemist" and 3 for "medicinal chemist." 

Job post: director of life sciences, ACSH (job description revised)

Friend of the blog Josh Bloom sends a revised version of this job description to the inbox: 
Director of Life Sciences (revised 8/20/15)
The American Council on Science and Health is looking for a Director of Life Sciences. 
We are a 37-year old 501(c)3 non-profit  organization. Our mission is to debunk junk science and medicine, especially as it pertains to public education and policymaking.
The ideal candidate will:
  • Have a Ph.D. in biology (required)
  • Experience in molecular biology is essential
  • Expertise in genetic modification is essential; (we routinely write about GM technology, and personalized medicine based on genetic markers...)
  • Microbiology is a plus
  • Have excellent writing, and communication skills
  • Be able to explain complex, technical issues to a broad audience
We are a small, but rapidly growing organization. This means so we all have responsibilities that are in addition to the our primary positions (editing, recruiting, and managing large projects, whatever it takes). 
This is a full time position with benefits. 
This is an in-office job. It will be necessary to work out of our office in Manhattan. On rare occasions, working from home will be appropriate. We are looking for a high energy, imaginative individual who will do whatever is necessary to help us grow. In return, you will have a challenging, exciting and fun job that will have you looking forward to getting to work in the morning. 
Please send CVs and cover letters to: 
Dr. Josh Bloom
Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science
Best wishes to those interested.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why Dr. Naveen Sangji Should Be Talking To Congress

My thoughts on Dr. Naveen Sangji's comments at ACS Boston got long enough that I decided to write a separate post about it.

The silent ivory tower: First, she is absolutely right that the academic chemistry community has closed ranks. There have been few prominent chemists who have directly criticized either UCLA or Professor Harran. (From an online perspective, it's especially silent.) I don't run in academic circles anymore (not that I really ever did), so it's hard to say what kind of conversations about Prof. Harran's or UCLA's culpability have taken place during group meetings and the like.

New details on the incident: I'd like to hear more details that Prof. Harran asked her to perform the tBuLi syringing without the appropriate equipment (what equipment would that be? Certainly one could unpack a cannula and a graduate cylinder.) Personally, I think it's more likely that Prof. Harran asked her to do the syringe transfers and that he never thought that anything bad could have taken place.

Her interactions with the ACS Board: I am curious to hear about her interactions with the ACS Board of Directors to see if they'd make a public statement. How would someone even begin to pressure the board to act? E-mail? I can't imagine that they ever would have. They seem to shy away from that sort of controversy.

The policy proposal: Dr. Sangji believes that the ACS should advocate for the NIH to include an evaluation of a PI's safety record on funding proposals. While I agree that funding is certainly the only true coercive power that the NIH has over the universities, I repeat the same criticism of this potential policy that I have long made (when it was brought up by Beryl Benderly, back in 2009): How is it possible to accurately judge a PI's safety record? How do you get accurate data? How could you possibly avoid the inevitable sweeping under the rug of near-misses and actual safety incidents in order for professors, postdocs and students to continue to get funding? If I was a graduate student that had an accident and I knew that going to the emergency department for stitches meant that I'd be jeopardizing the future funding of my PI and my coworkers, I'd be sewing cuts up myself to avoid the potential damage to my career.

Apart from my policy critique, I believe that Dr. Sangji has a fundamental misunderstanding of the ACS and its relationship to the academic community. It's an organization that derives most of its Society-wide funding from ACS Publications, a publishing house which gets its work product, for free, in raw form from the academic community and then charges those same academics for access to its journals. Why would ACS ever decide to jeopardize this relationship over what is (in the ACS headquarters' eyes, I suspect) an internal employee safety dispute of its chief customer?

If there is one thing that I have learned over the past 6 years of watching the American Chemical Society attempt to deal with the mess that is chemist employment in the United States, it is this: it does not have tremendous power. While I wish that it held power over the chemical industry, it does not. While I wish it held power over academic chemistry, it does not. In fact, I would say that the only actual power it holds is its ability to extract revenue from universities via its subscriptions.*

To be sure, the ACS is an influential organization. However, how much sway does it have with NIH?Who does Francis Collins listen to more? ACS or the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology? Can anyone point to a single example in the last 10 years where the ACS has had any effect on governmental action at the state or federal level? (Maybe the federal Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2015?)

Here's my suggestion for how Dr. Sangji could achieve her goals:
  • Influence Congress to pass a law mandating that graduate students are employees from an occupational safety perspective and 
  • Get federal OSHA to place academic laboratory safety as one of its top enforcement priorities.
Pressing her sister's memory on each and every member of the American Chemical Society is tremendously important from a cultural perspective, but in this nation of laws, it's Congress that holds the true power.

*And this power may be declining over time!