Monday, July 28, 2014

Suggestions for the ACS' industrial chemists committee?

Also in this week's C&EN, a column talking about what ACS is doing for industrial chemists by Dawn Mason, the chair of Corporation Associates committee, which is the ACS's "formal link between these chemists and the society."

Here are the list of areas the CA commitee is currently working on: 
  • Safety
  • Lobbying Congress 
  • ACS policy statements
  • Educational outreach
  • Entrepreneurialism
  • Awards 
Dr. Mason ends with this statement:
We don’t do this work in a vacuum and are appreciative of all the other committees we team with to accomplish our common goals. We continuously strive to improve ACS’s ability to address the needs of its industrial members. If you have ideas or have identified unmet needs for our industrial members, please send them to
I'm a little surprised that there is not more of an "needs of industrial chemists" focus, as opposed to "needs of industrial chemistry", which is where most of the policy focus seems to be. Thinking about wages, salaries, unemployment and growing careers amongst industrial chemists would seem to be a great start. 

Chemtura in lawsuit on brominated flame retardants?

In this week's C&EN, a fascinating little comment from the CEO of Chemtura on flame retardants (article by Marc Reisch): 
Although growth is promising in lubricants and urethanes, the bromine business is going through a difficult time because of a lull in demand for flame retardants used in electronic equipment, Rogerson acknowledges. 
That business is also under pressure from regulators. Methyl bromide, for example, is being phased out as a fumigant because it depletes Earth’s ozone layer. And last year California, which sets the regulatory tone for the rest of the U.S., redefined safety standards for upholstered furniture so that brominated flame retardants would not be required. 
Earlier this year, Chemtura sued the state over the upholstery standards revision. “We probably didn’t respond as strongly as we should have to the negative media coverage in 2012,” which suggested that bromine in upholstery affects human health, Rogerson says. “By not saying enough and putting the facts out there, we probably were implicitly saying maybe they had something to the story.” 
With the lawsuit, “we said we are going to make our position known.” The suit may or may not succeed, but “it will at least bring to people’s attention that the standards were weakened” and that the state didn’t follow proper procedures in making the changes.
Kind of an expensive press release, no? I hope it works out for them.  

This week's C&EN

Lots of interesting articles in this week C&EN:

Friday, July 25, 2014

"It's a miracle"

Management lessons from Bull Durham. Have a great weekend! 

Why STEM is TE: post-secondary education requirements edition

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, a fascinating microcosm of the STEM problem: 
Casale said during the recession, the education level expected by Minnesota employers rose and as the state bounced back, degree requirements fell. In June, the state had the 10th-lowest unemployment rate in the nation. 
Still, there are remaining factors that determine a higher degree’s level of success — especially its area of focus. In the fourth quarter of last year, 80 percent of responding computer and mathematical employers in Minnesota required post-secondary education and 92 percent required at least one year of previous experience, according to the Job Vacancy Survey.
That contrasts with life, physical and social sciences, where about 95 percent of employers required post-secondary education and just over 80 percent of them required previous experience. 
In the survey, the department asks employers twice a year for the lowest level of degree that would qualify someone to fill their positions. Casale said the job market for biological science graduates isn’t as strong as it is for those who go into engineering and chemistry. 
Dani Mae Janssen, a mechanical engineering doctoral candidate, said she hopes to leave the University [of Minnesota -- CJ's note] next spring and pursue work as an academic or do research, potentially around Minneapolis. 
She said she doesn’t think employers consider people with less than a master’s degree for open positions in her field. But she said she lacks the internships that other students have and that employers have come to expect. 
For now, the only way the University tracks its graduate students after they leave is through their chosen program, said Belinda Cheung, assistant vice provost of the University’s Graduate School, and definitive numbers for given departments and degrees aren’t easy to locate.
Longtime readers of this blog will note that computer science positions want less education and experience than life, physical and social sciences, which is either evidence that 1) they're willing to train their people more or 2) they have reasonable job growth in their field.

Also, I think it's fascinating that the University of Minnesota and its programs are basically willing to admit that it doesn't know really what happens to its graduates after they leave the university. It's almost as if LinkedIn (and Google and the telephone and perhaps the United States Postal Service) doesn't exist. Ah, well.

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.