Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chemist mystery of the day: Who died in 2013?

Thanks to Twitter chatter about the deadliest occupations, I was looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries and found this interesting tidbit: in 2013, 3 chemists died on the job. Their cause of death is not clear, but it seems to me (from the table) that at least 1 of them died from "violence and other injuries by persons or animals."

Any ideas? 

Book review: Molecules, by Theodore Gray

A page of "Molecules", by Theodore Grey
I am not really one for coffee table books (only recently having owned a coffee table, or a living room to have one in in), but I had the recent opportunity to look at a review copy of "Molecules", by software guru and chemical enthusiast Theodore Gray.

The photos (by Nick Mann) in the book are gorgeous. What is really worthwhile is his uniquely curated different sets of objects that he photographed (each representing a particular molecule or class of molecules). Each picture is accompanied by Gray's observations, which range from fun to whimsical to really insightful. Perhaps I am uninformed about the history of a variety of different molecules (indigo, in particular), but I learned a lot. There's a clever section on controversial molecules ("I Hate That Molecule") which include carbon dioxide, azodicarbonamide and thimerosal.

I do have a very minor "chemistry nerd" complaint about the structures in the book. It is difficult for me to see line drawings in anything other than the standard "ACS 1996" syle. As you can see above, the different atoms are individually labeled, including the hydrogens. Each molecule has a purple blur about it, which is supposed to represent the electrons. (I'm actually looking forward to explaining this to my kids.) This is an extremely picayune point and one that should really be ignored.

The book is listed at $30, so that is pretty pricey (according to this cheapskate), but it is really lovely and would make a nice present for a chemist or in particular, children who like science. I do not know lots of older children, but boys and girls from 3 to 6 have flipped through its pages and found that it entertains for at least 10 minutes at a sitting for multiple sittings. As a parent, that's high praise indeed.

(Next week: a review of the Molecules app.) 

Geopolitical news diversion

Bold predictions:

1. This drop in oil prices won't last. I predict that there will be no Russian bond default in 2015.

2. Anyone want to predict when pharma will start moving manufacturing to Cuba, now that the US will be normalizing relations? 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Anyone heard of paying chemists by the reaction?

The different ways to pay chemists:

1. A yearly salary
2. An hourly wage
3. By project (i.e. deliver X grams by Y time for Z dollars)
4. Subsistence wages, supplemented with food and alcohol (kidding)

Has anyone heard of paying people by the reaction? If so, how did it work out for you? How much did you get paid?

Seems to me that this is a bad deal for any chemist. (How do you determine how you get paid? Do you have to work up the reaction, or just set it up? How many stir plates do you get?) Surely there is some kind of labor law about piecework that might apply to such a scheme.

I haven't heard of this before, so I thought I would ask. Readers, what say you? 

Like the northern white rhino

From the 2nd latest C&EN issue, a Merck ad for positions in Rahway. Rather unusual these days. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

A great article about graphene or, Did I catch The New Yorker in an error?

I am not a graphene expert, but I really liked this John Colapinto article about graphene research in The New Yorker. Also, if you like Rice University's Jim Tour, he gets the full The New Yorker profile treatment. But here's an interesting section on using graphene in 3D printing (emphasis mine):
The group’s members were pondering how to integrate graphene into the objects they print. They might mix the material into plastic or simply print it onto the surface of existing objects. There were still formidable hurdles. The researchers had figured out how to turn graphene into a liquid—no easy task, since the material is severely hydrophobic, which means that it clumps up and clogs the print heads. They needed to first convert graphene to graphene oxide, adding groups of oxygen and hydrogen molecules, but this process negates its electrical properties. So once they printed the object they would have to heat it with a laser. “When you heat it up,” Aby said, “you burn off those groups and reduce it back to graphene.”
As any chemist could tell you, clumping and clogging is not the definition of 'hydrophobic' (although it certainly could be a symptom.)

I'm going to pat myself on the back for seeing an error/misinterpretation that slipped through The New Yorker's famed fact-checking department. 

Best wishes to Carmen Drahl

Also in this week's C&EN, Carmen Drahl writes on the chemistry of holiday tinsel, including the fact that they used to have lead tinsel (good gravy.)

This is just as good as any time to say that Carmen has announced on Twitter that she is resigning her position at the end of the year to become a freelance writer. I'm sad for the C&EN readership -- I will miss her articles. She's had a tremendous positive influence on me over the years and she has shaped the chemistry blogosphere from early on. I have always considered her a bit of a mentor (and she may be surprised to read that.)

My best wishes to her in her future journeys and I sincerely hope that we read her writing again soon. 

This week's C&EN

Back to blogging (and here's to a complete week, he said):

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bonus Process Wednesday: CSB speculation as to DuPont methanethiol deaths

From CSB chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso's written testimony in front of Congress today, the relevant portion on the November DuPont deaths due to methanethiol exposure: 
...DuPont is certainly no “outlier.” In fact, DuPont has long been regarded as one of industry’s leading lights in safety, and it markets its safety programs to other companies. What happened last month, however, was the fifth release incident at a DuPont facility that the CSB has investigated since 2010, and three of these had associated fatalities. While the CSB investigation remains underway in La Porte, some preliminary facts are already emerging. 
The incident occurred following an unplanned shutdown of the methomyl unit due to inadvertent water dilution of a chemical storage tank several days earlier. Efforts were underway to restart the process, but problems occurred including plugged supply piping leading from the methyl mercaptan storage tank.  
As efforts were underway to troubleshoot these problems, it is likely that methyl mercaptan (and possibly other toxic chemicals) inadvertently entered the interconnected process vent system inside the building. The release occurred through a valve that was opened as part of a routine effort to drain liquid from the vent system in order to relieve pressure inside. We found that this vent system had a history of periodic issues with unwanted liquid build-up, and the valve in question was typically drained directly into the work area inside the building, rather than into a closed system.  
In addition, our investigators have found that the building’s ventilation fans were not in service, and that the company did not effectively implement good safety practices requiring personnel to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) that was present at the facility. Appropriate PPE would include equipment, such as supplied air respirators, for workers performing potentially hazardous tasks inside the building....
Not enough time to do a detailed analysis here, but the fact that MeSH inadvertently entered the vent system seems relevant, as well as the fact that the valve drained into the building. (How can a valve drain? That wording seems odd.) I suspect that the vent system and where it drained was poorly understood and that the amount of MeSH they were dealing with was not understood well, either. 

Well done, Intel

From an ad for a Materials Chemist (synthetically oriented) at Intel Corporation, these requirements (emphasis mine):
Minimum Qualifications:
The candidate must possess a Ph.D. in one of the following disciplines: Chemistry, specifically synthetic inorganic, synthetic organic, or synthetic organometallic chemistry 
Preferred Qualifications:
Strong synthetic background, especially as it relates to the handling of air-sensitive compounds  
Proficiency in using NMR spectroscopy, x-ray crystallography and other analytical techniques such as GC-MS, HPLC, UV-Vis and IR spectroscopy, TGA/DSC.  
History of collaboration with cross-disciplinary academic and/or industrial partners  
Three (3) or more 1st author publications in high-impact chemistry journals (e.g. JACS, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., Inorganic Chemistry, Adv. Mat., etc.)  
Willingness to apply academic background to semiconductor industry  
Unrestricted right to work in the US without requiring sponsorship.
In one sense, I think this is a silly preference. What if they were a 2nd author? Co-first author? (what a ridiculous designation, incidentally.)

In another sense, if Intel informally has these sorts of guidelines, by all means, I think that they should make them clear.

(Do pharma companies do this? I feel like the answer is "no", but I could be wrong.) 

Daily Pump Trap: 12/11/14 edition

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

Norwell, MA: Battelle looking for a B.S. chemist (4 years experience) for a GLP study director -- looks to be pesticide-related. Posted salary: 60-105k.

Santa Cruz, CA: Another entry in the #cannabischemjobs database. SC Laboratories hiring a M.S/Ph.D. analytical chemist.

Floyd, VA:  Hollingsworth & Vose Company is searching for what seems like a product development scientist with some combination of education and experience that I can't quite figure out.

North Chicago, IL: AbbVie continuing its hiring spree, looking for an experienced fragment-based drug discovery biochemist.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and shows (respectively) 165, 1132, 6356 and 17 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 555 positions for the job title "chemist", 76 positions for the search term "analytical chemist", 34 for "research chemist", 6 for "organic chemist", 1 for "medicinal chemist" and 6 for "synthetic chemist." 

A good non-traditional careers story

Anonymous helpfully points out the continuing Fazlul Sarkar saga at Retraction Watch, including the affidavit in support of PubPeer by Dr. John Krueger, a former ORI investigator who stood up their forensic image group and:
My direct expertise in forensic image analysis stems from 20 years of relevant federal work in my second career, starting as one of the original Investigator–Scientists in the Division of Research Investigations (or later the Division of Investigative Oversight), Office of Research Integrity (1993–2013). In this position, I was responsible for the initial assessment of allegations of data falsification and also for the oversight of investigations into allegations of falsification of research. Both tasks involved a heavy commitment to forensic assessment of the evidence, either for the allegations (sometimes made ‘anonymously,’ meaning that ORI had no way to determine the source the allegation) for referral to institutions, or in the evaluation of the resultant institutional findings. This was one of the more interesting ‘silent’ jobs in science, as it provided many new opportunities.
It's quite a good read from both an non-research science job and a forensic analysis position, if you have the time for it.  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The 2013 Survey of Earned Doctorates is out

How did the Ph.D. chemists do? From "TABLE 59. Statistical profile of postgraduation plans of doctorate recipients in physical sciences fields, by sex and field of study: 2013" (PDF)

Let's remember this for the future: the modal outcome of a Ph.D. in chemistry in 2013 was a postdoctoral appointment, just like it has been for the past 20 years.

I've taken the Excel file and isolated it to just the chemistry Ph.D.s. Plenty of data to chew on.

(Year after year, the thing that continues to amaze me is the number of people who fill out the Survey of Earned Doctorates (i.e. their graduate school gives them the "YOU ARE OFFICIALLY GRADUATING" paperwork and the SED is part of that) and are still seeking employment or study. I should note that this number is always higher than I expect, but I don't have historical data to draw a conclusion about 2013's numbers.)

Daily Pump Trap: 12/9/14 edition

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

Baton Rouge, LA: Albemarle is looking for an entry-level Ph.D. NMR spectroscopist. Not every day that you see that.

Rolla, MO: Brewer Science, searching for a B.S.-level senior research associate.

San Francisco Bay area: I think this Bolt Threads engineering job sounds pretty interesting. Why it is at C&EN Jobs is beyond me, though.

More engineering positions: Myriant is located in Lake Providence, Louisiana. Looks like they're hiring chemical engineers and paying decently (?). 

Academic job posting open thread

I got a request for a "academic job hunt" thread recently, so I thought I would give it a try.

So, if you're giving a talk somewhere and feel like telling other people how it went and for people to keep track of who has received an offer, etc., feel free to use this post's comments.

I strongly suggest to those who want to do such a thing to be very careful about providing too much detail. I also suggest that if you decide that you want to mention the fact that you gave a talk at a moderately prominent Iowa liberal arts school, say, that you might try Google-proofing by adding "/
"s to the text, e.g. "Yesterday, I interviewed at Gri/nel/l College. It went fine and Professor Sn/ark/lepan/ts was a wonderful host."

If you'd like to tell me why this is a bad idea, I'm all ears: -- thanks. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 12/9/14 edition

A variety of the academically-related posts on C&EN Jobs:

Athens, TN: Tennessee Wesleyan College is looking for an assistant/associate professor of chemistry. Chance to develop a forensic chemistry course, looks like.

Brooklyn, NY: Long Island University - Brooklyn is searching for an assistant professor of inorganic or analytical chemistry.

Hong Kong, China: The Chinese University of Hong Kong is searching for a Ph.D. theoretical chemist to be an assistant professor. "A working knowledge of the Chinese language will be an advantage." Salary is "HK$675,960 to HK$867,300" which works out to a starting salary of 87k? Wow. (I presume that life is expensive on the island of Hong Kong.)

Newark, NJ: The New Jersey Institute of Technology desires an assistant professor of biochemistry and an assistant professor of environmental science. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

The latest ACS form 990

You still don't get (much) money for being a board member, I see. 
The latest ACS form 990. More notable for the lack of top compensation for the editor-in-chief of C&EN.
Healthy looking compensation, I see. 

The particulars of ACS pay. 

This week's C&EN

A variety of the many interesting articles in C&EN this week: