Monday, October 23, 2017

Chemours employee caught stealing trade secrets

Also in this week's C&EN, another employee going rogue and getting caught: 
A federal grand jury has charged a former Chemours employee with stealing trade secrets related to sodium cyanide and trying to sell them to Chinese investors. 
The indictment charges that marketing professional Jerry Jindong Xu, who worked for Chemours and its former parent DuPont between 2004 and 2016, intended to use the stolen information to convince Chinese investors to export sodium cyanide and later build a competing plant in North America. 
Sodium cyanide is widely used to extract gold from ore. Demand for the potentially deadly chemical has been on the rise as consumption of the precious metal increases.
Earlier this year, Evonik Industries and Grupo Idesa opened a 40,000-metric-ton-per-year sodium cyanide facility in Mexico. Chemours announced plans for a $150 million plant in the Mexican state of Durango. 
The indictment charges Xu with conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets. If convicted, he faces 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine. “We are committed to prosecuting anyone—be they rogue actors or foreign nations—who tries to line their pockets” by stealing trade information, says David Weiss, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Delaware. Xu’s lawyer tells C&EN he has no comment. 
According to the indictment, Xu told one Chinese correspondent that he launched the sodium cyanide project as “a long-term investment for himself and not to slave away at this only to benefit someone else.”
In the ol' Money Ideology Compromise Ego explanation for espionage, I've noted how often money is a primary explanation (although surely ego plays into it.) 

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles from this week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News

Friday, October 20, 2017

View From Your Hood: smoky skies edition

Credit: Anonymous
From an anonymous reader: "View from UC Berkeley Chemistry building with all the ash in the air from the Napa fires."

(got a View from Your Hood submission? Send it in (with a caption and preference for name/anonymity, please) at; will run every other Friday.)

Chinese Ph.D.s not coming to the US?

Also in this week's C&EN, a very interesting article from Jean-François Tremblay:
For the past 30 years or so, postdoctoral researchers from China have played an important role in chemistry research groups at universities in the U.S. Many research groups feature one or more graduates from Chinese universities who are in the U.S. to further their knowledge. But the supply of Chinese researchers is starting to dry up. 
Hao-liang Zhang, a soon-to-be graduate who has focused on glycosylation during his doctoral studies at Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry (SIOC), offers a perspective typical of graduating Ph.D.s regarding the pursuit of a postdoc in the U.S. 
“I would be older when I return to China, and probably less attractive to potential employers,” says Zhang, who hails from the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan. On the other hand, he can work in China right away and live close to his home too. A pharmaceutical company based in Chengdu, Sichuan, approached him recently. “The talks went well, and they offered me an attractive salary.” Zhang will relocate to Chengdu soon after defending his thesis next month.
The relevant data from the article: 
No one tracks the number of Chinese nationals doing a chemistry postdoc in the U.S. The U.S. National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science & Engineering Statistics does, however, count how many Chinese students who obtain a chemistry Ph.D. in the U.S. plan to stay in the country for a postdoc. By 2015, that number had dropped by 30% from 2005.
If you click through to the article, you will see in the graph that the number of Chinese Ph.D. graduates in the US who stay have gone from above 150 to around 110 or so. (That number seems awfully low to me, but maybe I'm wrong.)

I thought the comment from the SIOC professor was interesting:
More importantly, many young Chinese Ph.D. chemists no longer see the point of a foreign postdoc, Yang says. Ten or 15 years ago, “postdocs would go to work in world-class labs far better equipped than the ones in China,” he says. “But now, if they search outside China, they cannot find many labs that are better equipped.”... 
...SIOC, meanwhile, has essentially rebuilt all its buildings and retooled its laboratories over the past decade. Students and faculty now work in new and extremely well-equipped facilities. 
“Of course, we are focused only on organic chemistry,” says Biao Yu, a deputy director at SIOC. “But from what I myself saw, and from the reports of our students who are now in the U.S., we are better equipped than most of the U.S. Ivy League universities,” he says. When he was a student at SIOC in the 1990s, the institute had only two nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers. Today, the institute has 30.
That's a lot of NMRs!

I think it will be interesting to see if the trends shift, and which levels of Chinese industry and academia will be influenced by staff who have spent their time in the United States (and other research-intensive nations) and those who have been solely domestically trained. Which generation will be more influential in driving the course of Chinese chemistry? 

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles in this week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News:

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Proposed: The Midwestern Revival and Antibiotics Research Act

This Derek Lowe post says a lot of things that I feel about the Midwest and its flagship research universities, but it is this comment from "Flyover country" that I want to highlight:
Disclaimer – I went to University of Minnesota for chemistry graduate school. 
This trend will only accelerate in the future. In older days, say – the 1970’s, there was more parity in chemistry. Funding was easier to get and students from second & third tier graduate schools might not become professors at R1 universities, but they were likely to find a industry job somewhere – even without a postdoc. With the contraction of pharma in the United States, one essentially needs a PhD/postdoc from an top-tier, elite institution to find an industry job, let alone even consider a tenure track job. When funding at second and third tier universities dries up, the New York Yankees (Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Scripps) of the academic world can use their deep pockets to poach away the top tier professors. Top tier professors will want groups the size of Phil Baran or Barry Trost – they don’t want to be limited to 3-10 graduate students at a Midwestern university. 
Assume for a moment that academic funding was stable or even growing to support Midwestern schools. Disregard being a tenure-track professor at the University of Minnesota, Northwestern, or University of Kansas (if you’re an assistant TT professor there, you came from Harvard/Stanford/Scripps). Where are you going to work? Pfizer destroyed the pharma employment scene in the Midwest. Essentially all that remains is Eli Lilly in Indy & AbbVie in Chicago. Eli Lilly isn’t doing too well & while AbbVie isn’t tanking – it can’t absorb all of the chemistry grads in the Midwest. The top tier & even the second & third tier students will flee for the coasts because that is where the jobs are and the best schools. There are some places to work in the Midwest for chemists, but not nearly as many as the coasts. 
The Midwest (sadly) is a second tier place for chemists work and go to graduate school in chemistry. This just exacerbates & accelerates the trend.
This is mostly a cri-de-coeur about pharma (i.e. the fate of industrial medicinal/process chemistry in the Midwest), which I mostly agree with and have been emphasizing on this blog for a while.

(At the same time, I can point out a very small countervailing trend. Specifically, the state of Texas has seemed to manage to be able to pull away from top-tier older professors away from the coasts. That said, I don't think K.C. Nicolaou or John Wood represent a trend, and for some reason, it seems that Texas seems to have access to different funding structures than Ohio, Wisconsin or Illinois. I don't think it's really germane to FC's overall point.)

If I were to come up with a program to try to reverse this trend, here's what I would do:
  • I'd begin funding life science research (both biology and chemistry) towards antibiotics to the tune of $30 billion a year, for 20 years
    • Yes, yes, only some of it would be oriented towards graduate students, and it would be mostly portable training grants (i.e. giving the money to the student, not the PI) 
  • All of this money would be for institutions outside the coasts. 
  • The development of clinical compounds, etc. would be required to also be done in the Midwest, including all manufacturing. 
This doesn't have a snowball's chance of happening, but if I were the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, this is what I would be designing. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How many applicants there are for entry-level TT positions?

I see there's some chatter on the Faculty Jobs List open thread about the number of applicants:
Seems like the list usually has about 500 openings
Schools seem to get 100-300 applications per opening
Postdocs seem to apply to 10-20 opening each
so estimate 10x more applicants than openings
the talent pool seems to have about 5000 people looking for a job
Here's my stab in the dark that I have been formulating in my head for a while:

Each year, about 2,500 people graduate with a Ph.D. in chemistry; in 2015, it was 2,675 according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates. Of those, 826 (30%) got a postdoc and 478 (18%) got jobs. (Of the 478 who got jobs, 70% went into industry and 22% went into academia.) The rest (936 people) were still looking for a position, either in industry or academia. I am going use 2015 as my model year - this is probably wrong.

Assumption 1: of those remaining as Ph.D./not-postdocs, 60% apply for industrial positions, 40% apply to academic positions.
Assumption 2: of postdocs remaining, 50% apply for academic positions.
Assumption 3: each year, 20% of remaining postdocs for each year are hired for academic positions
Assumption 4: postdocs drop out of the running after 4 years.
Assumption 5: we're not counting international Ph.D.s who have come to the US to do postdocs yet

So it quickly becomes a question of "how many postdocs are remaining on the market after X number of years?" And so through quick math, my guesstimate is 2430 applicants at any one time (number of graduate students applying + 2016 postdocs + 2015 postdocs + 2014 postdocs + 2013 postdocs.) After you add in more grad students and all the international postdocs, etc., I bet you wander into the 3000-3500 range, but that's just a guess.

Readers, what do you think? 

This was a headscratcher

A couple of weeks ago, STAT covered Michael Laufer, a mathematics lecturer, who was claiming that he could make Sovaldi from a homebrew method with the reactor pictured above. (You may enjoy friend of the blog Josh Bloom's post on Dr. Laufer's claims.)

Through random clickings, I found this video of Dr. Laufer talking about democratizing pharmaceutical compound synthesis. It's an... interesting talk, but when you're talking about making API and considering TLC as sufficient proof of purity.... maybe you have some more thinking to do.

(I have a bunch of jumbled thoughts about people like him (and also Dr. Vinay Prasad's comments in the STAT article.) But if I were King of Pharma (and it's a good thing I am not), it seems to me that I would be making sure that the whole world knew that there are myriad different ways to get hold of the prescription drugs you need (patient assistance plans, etc..), and that I would be setting the price of drugs somewhere the threshold where politicians broadly begin using you as a political football, and interested amateurs like Dr. Laufer begin to get involved. But hey - maybe the problem is that, no matter how low the prices are set, we're always gonna be someone's target. Hard to say. Readers?)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

2018 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 354 positions

The 2018 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 354 positions.

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

Want to talk anonymously? Have an update on the status of a job search? Try the open thread.

On October 17, 2016, the 2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 401 positions.

Otherwise, all discussions are on the Chemistry Faculty Jobs List webforum.

The Academic Staff Jobs List: 31 positions

The Academic Staff Jobs list has 31 positions.

This list is curated by Sarah Cady. It targets:
  • Full-time STAFF positions in a Chem/Biochem/ChemE lab/facility at an academic institution/natl lab
  • Lab Coordinator positions for research groups or undergraduate labs 
  • and for an institution in Canada or the United States
Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

Want to chat about staff scientist positions? Try the open thread.

15 new positions at Organic Chemistry Jobs

Over at Common Organic Chemistry, there's 15 new positions posted for Sunday, October 15.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Interesting writing opportunity

From the Division of Organic Chemistry newsletter:
Organic Chemistry Writers Wanted
C&EN BrandLab produces sponsored content on the behalf of advertisers in Chemical & Engineering News. The custom content studio is seeking freelance writers with credentials in organic chemistry who can tell compelling, engaging stories with a sharp eye for technical accuracy. If you'd like to write for C&EN BrandLab, please get in touch with C&EN BrandLab’s executive editor, Raj Mukhopadhyay, at r_mukhopadhyay [at] acs [dot] org.
Best wishes to those interested. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Radio show: Mary Boyd, Berry College provost

Looking forward to talking with Dr. Mary Boyd, provost of Berry College, on Saturday, October 14 at 9 AM Eastern:

Questions for the audience:
  • Got a resume that you'd like us to review live on the air? We will actually do this (discreetly/anonymously, of course)
  • Got a cover letter that you'd like us to review live on the air? (discreetly/anonymously, of course)
  • How is the academic market these days?
  • Tips for a smooth phone/Skype interview
  • Tips for a good interview
What would you like us to cover? Some topics will be pre-chosen, some are up to you.

Job posting: LC/MS research scientist, Aegis, Nashville, TN

From the inbox, a position with Aegis Laboratories:
The Research Scientist is responsible for developing new methods and improving existing processes for the Aegis Laboratories.
Essential Duties & Responsibilities:
  • Develop improved analytical methods for a variety of instrumentation including the following:
    • Triple TOF
    • GC-MS/MS
    • LC-MS/MS
    • Other new technologies as required
  • Continued development of:
    • Small molecule method development 
    • Analytical Methods with Clinical Applications 
  • Discuss research results with technical staff..
Successful Candidates Must Possess:
  • A Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical, Analytical Chemistry, Medicinal Chemistry, or Toxicology Sciences required
  • A minimum of two (2) years of relevant experience in analytical method development utilizing GC/MS, LC/MS/MS instrumentation required
  • Experience in forensic analysis desired
Full listing here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Squeeze bottles of toluene

A list of small, useful things (links):
Again, an open invitation to all interested in writing a blog, a hobby that will bring you millions thousands hundreds tens of dollars joy and happiness. Send me a link to your post, and I'd be happy to put it up.

The most doom-y quote you're gonna read today

Via the New York Times' David Leonhardt: 
By 2019, G.D.P. per working-age adult is likely to be only 11 percent higher than when the crisis began (barring an unexpected growth surge or a recession). That’s a miserable growth rate over an extended period. Yes, the economy has done fairly well for last year or two, but not nearly well enough to make up for the long slump, especially because growth was also mediocre in the early 2000s. No wonder so many Americans are angry and frustrated.
I have no answers, only more questions.