Thursday, February 23, 2017

Generals against Powerpoint

(An occasional series) From Tom Ricks' book "Fiasco" about post-invasion Iraq, an interesting tidbit about incoming national security adviser H.R. McMaster*:
McMaster also challenged U.S. military culture, all but banning the use of PowerPoint briefings by his officers. The Army loves these bulleted briefings, but McMaster had come to believe that the ubiquitous software inhibits clarity in thinking, expression, and planning.
Best wishes to General McMaster in his new endeavor.

*Always another great opportunity to mention the weirdest named battle of the late 20th century, and then Captain McMaster's involvement. 

The Medicinal Chemist Jobs List: 85 positions

Doing my best to track down all open research-track medicinal chemistry positions. At the moment, the list has 85 positions.

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions, but if you want to do the traditional "leave a link in the comments", that works, too.

Want to chat about medchem positions? Try the open thread.

Positions I'm not including: positions outside the United States (this will likely change), computational positions (this will likely change as well), process positions (coming soon....), academic positions (will likely be included about a year from now?), industrial postdocs (maybe someday soon.)

Coming soon: a process chemistry version - I promise! (sooooooooooooooooooooooon)

Job posting: research chemist, Boragen, Research Triangle Park, NC

Via random clicking, this position:
We are seeking an entrepreneurial and highly motivated chemist to become an important member of an exciting venture-backed startup team, Boragen. The role of the chemist will be to develop novel chemistry to address current agricultural problems, especially regarding antimicrobials and animal health issues. The successful candidate will support hit-to-lead and lead optimization chemistry for a range of biological targets, as well as some formulation studies using chemical and physical tests. The successful candidate must have an aptitude for innovation in a fast-paced startup environment, and a strong commitment to work with a highly collaborative discovery team. The position will be based in Research Triangle Park, NC. 
  • Ph.D. in Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Medicinal Chemistry, or related fields
  • Demonstrated expertise in synthetic organic chemistry with experience in the design and execution of complex multi-step syntheses
  • Experienced in developing formulations in agriculture, cosmetics, or pharmaceutical industry is a plus...
Full listing here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Daily Pump Trap: 2/23/17 edition

A few of the recent positions at C&EN Jobs:

La Jolla, CA: Synthetic Genomics is looking for a B.S./M.S. bioanalytical chemist.

Research Triangle Park, NC: Bayer is searching for an environmental fate field scientist. (B.S./M.S./Ph.D., 2+ years experience.)

Rockville, MD: The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is looking for a science communicator; M.S. required, Ph.D. preferred.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) "1000+", 424, 8,799 and 9 positions for the search term "chemist."

LinkedIn shows 3,532 positions for the search term "chemist" and 19,756 for the search term "chemistry." Job titles from LinkedIn - first with quotes, and the second without: Polymer Chemist: 13/632. Analytical chemist: 249/301. Research chemist: 43/57. Synthetic chemist:  17/604. Medicinal chemist: 22/45. Organic chemist: 35/79. Process chemist: 21/63. Process development chemist: 8/9. Formulation chemist: 54/57.

Huh, that's a new one: Pfizer is looking for a Ph.D. synthetic chemist with 0-4 years experience:
We seek a creative, enthusiastic, and highly motivated synthetic chemist to join our Applied Synthetic Technologies laboratories in Groton, CT. As part of the Photo-Redox Chemistry team, the successful applicant will contribute, through the development and execution of innovative photo-chemical technologies, to the accelerated advancement of clinical candidates.
Never seen that, I feel.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Uh, wow

Thesis defense flyers have gotten more interesting than when I was a student. (via Twitter)

Is there a medicinal chemist generation gap?

...I think we should trade the 12-year exclusivity period from biologics to small molecule drugs. 
Why would this help? Because small molecule drugs are far easier to copy and far easier to produce than biologics. Extending the exclusivity period for small molecules at the expense of biologics might provide the incentive needed to get biopharma to ramp up their chemistry departments again. And in the long term, more small molecule drugs could not only address a lot of serious illnesses, but would also mean more drugs will eventually be made available at extremely cheap prices once they become generic, rather than the more modest 20-50% discount expected for biosimilars (the generic version of biologic) drugs.... 
...There are practical reasons to try to do this now. In the world of biopharma, small molecule approaches have been losing favor to biologics because biologics can command higher prices, are harder to copy, face less severe competition, and tend to have much longer product life cycles. Given the attractiveness of biologics from a business standpoint, the industry has curtailed its discovery efforts around small molecules. A generation of expertise in medicinal chemistry is growing older and the few scientist replacements aren’t being trained quickly enough in all that institutional knowledge. Persuading biopharma to go back to small molecules would help stem the loss of knowledge, which would increase the odds of creating great, eventually generic small molecule drugs.
Is it really true that "the few scientist replacements aren't being trained quickly enough"? Is there a demographic gap between soon-to-retire medicinal chemists and their younger replacements? I could believe such a thing, but I'd like to see some data.

Dr. Serikawa suggests that this would be a good long-term idea for the country; I'm inclined to agree (seeing as how the point is "employ more medicinal chemists".) Somehow I doubt biopharma management and their shareholders would agree, though.

Would a President Trump agree to this? It scratches his "drugs are too expensive" itch, and that might be worth something. I can't imagine that pharma-oriented senators would be excited, though. 


Credit: detail of this photo
An interesting detail noticed by Twitter user mem_somerville at the Rally for Science in Boston this past weekend.

Does anyone know who this person is? I wouldn't mind helping them out.

UPDATE: They've been found. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

US chemistry Ph.D.s awarded: 1994-2015

A little tabulation of the data in the NSF's Survey of Earned Doctorates. Data set here.

It's interesting how the number of organic chemistry Ph.D.s went up, just as the number of pharma jobs probably started declining in 2003 or so. 

2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 563 positions

The 2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated mostly by Andrew Spaeth, with minor help from me) has 563 positions.

Have you had a Skype/phone interview or an on-site with a position on the Faculty Jobs List? Please add the date of the interview to the open thread. The open thread is here.

Do you see anything that needs correcting? Please leave a comment in the open thread, or e-mail me at

As the 2017 Faculty Jobs Open Thread has gotten longer, the Blogger software that this blog is run on has added a new wrinkle: when you initially load the thread, it loads only the first ~220 comments and then has a "load more" button near the bottom of the page near the comment box. Only after pressing that button about 7 times does it load the latest comments.

Finally, a web forum! Because the open thread has gotten more unwieldy, I have opened up this web forum ("Chemistry Faculty Jobs List"). Feel free to join/post!

Daily Pump Trap: 2/20/17 edition

A (very) few of the positions posted at C&EN Jobs:

Foster City, CA: Gilead is hiring a senior EH&S program manager and also a senior EH&S specialist.

"AdvanSix, previously Honeywell": A listing in Colonial Heights, Virginia for a senior research scientist. It's a M.S./Ph.D. position, with these basic qualifications:
  • MSc organic or physical organic chemistry with 5 – 10 years experience
  • Ph.D in organic or physical organic chemistry 0 – 5 years experience – highly preferred
  • Ph.D Chemical Engineer with 5-10 years extensive experience in Organic and Analytical chemistry 
  • 5 or more years of developing and testing new chemical products and finding applications for them preferred, experience optimizing and commercializing chemical processes a plus. 
That "highly preferred" is very interesting. 

Somerville, MA: Voxel8 is searching for a senior polymer chemist; no education requirements, 6+ years experience. Listed salary is 85-100k. 

Job posting: visiting assistant professor of organic chemistry, Davidson College

Via Twitter, a visiting assistant professor position at Davidson College (Davidson, NC):
Davidson College, a highly selective, nationally-ranked liberal arts college 20 miles north of Charlotte, North Carolina, invites applications for a one-year visiting position in organic chemistry to begin July 1, 2017. Duties include teaching laboratory classes in organic chemistry and possibly directing student research. Candidates must have an M.S. in chemistry for appointment as Instructor or Ph.D. in chemistry for appointment as Visiting Assistant Professor.  ABD candidates will be considered.  Teaching experience is preferred. 
Submit applications online only at including a letter of application, curriculum vitae, teaching statement, undergraduate and graduate transcripts, and the names and contact information for three references who have agreed to provide letters of recommendation.  Consideration of completed applications will begin February 28, 2017 and continue until the position is filled but all applications must be completed by April 1. Please direct inquiries to Felix Carroll, Professor of Chemistry, at
Best wishes to those interested. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 2/21/17 edition

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

Scranton, PA: Marywood University is looking for an assistant professor of biochemistry.

Dubuque, IA: Loras College is looking for a visiting assistant professor for August 2017.

Greenville, SC: Furman University is hiring two visiting assistant professors; one inorganic, the other open.

San Antonio, TX: Trinity University is searching for a visiting assistant professor. "Salary: competitive."

Monday, February 20, 2017

This most unusual opening to an article you will read this week

Also in this week's C&EN, a story about earwax in the cover story about naturally-derived catalysts: 
As a teenager in the 1960s, Charles V. Johnson of Lake Geneva, Wis., was tinkering with his chemistry set when he discovered that earwax could serve as a catalyst for making pigments. Later on, as a zoology undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Johnson took a daring chance in a chemistry lab: He applied earwax to a boiling chip and substituted it for a palladium catalyst in an organic synthesis experiment. It worked well to make trans-stilbene, although his professor didn’t seem impressed. 
“That’s the thing that has bothered me most,” Johnson told C&EN in a 2012 interview. “My instructors didn’t think there was anything to it.” After graduating, Johnson worked as a chemical technician at Sigma-Aldrich until he retired. He occasionally toyed with using earwax as a catalyst over the years to, for example, polymerize a methacrylate-based material he bummed off his dentist. 
Johnson often contemplated what the active catalyst might be in earwax, but he wasn’t able to do an analysis to find out. Most likely, it’s an amino acid or protein, he assumed. Amino acids such as proline are well-known organocatalysts. And catalytic proteins, known as enzymes, have been used since the dawn of civilization—though not knowingly until modern times—for food and beverage processing.
Naturally, I suspect palladium in the boiling chip, but who knows? I tend to doubt that squalene has catalytic properties for carbon-carbon bond formation...

(Does anyone remember Dylan and his earwax?)

A myriad of feelings

Also in this week's C&EN, a letter to the editor:
It is sad to see the words “Graduate & Postdoctoral Student Chemistry Research” in the title of a symposium to be held at the next ACS meeting. And not just any symposium, but a presidential event, no less. C&EN in its coverage goes on to refer explicitly to “postdoctoral students” (C&EN, Feb. 6, page 65). 
Postdocs are scholars, not students. They have completed the longest and most advanced courses of study available in their fields and earned the highest degrees attainable—degrees that qualify them to be professors. Far from being students, postdocs are highly trained scholars who assist faculty in teaching students, guiding projects, and supervising research groups under the leadership of their principal investigators. 
Postdoctoral scholars are frequently used as cheap academic labor and at least one recent study, based on longitudinal data over more than 30 years, has shown that doing a postdoc is injurious to their long-term career earnings (Nat. Biotechnol. 2017, DOI: 10.1038/nbt.3766). To this injury, ACS is now adding the proverbial insult by calling them students. ACS and its president owe an apology to this underappreciated group of our colleagues. 
Andrew J. Lovinger
Arlington, Va.
It would be vaguely interesting to know who wrote those two words; I doubt it was C&EN.* 

I have always preferred "postdoctoral fellow" to "postdoc", but I'm a Title Voluptuary, I suspect. 

*Reminder: I write a column for C&EN, so fair warning, I'm probably biased.

This week's C&EN

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

6 mL transfer pipets

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.

Have a great weekend!

What killed Kim Jong-Nam?

Lethal on landing?
Credit: The Drive
Regarding that crazy story about North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's half-brother being killed in a Malaysian airport, friend of the blog Josh Bloom asks a darn good question: 
Organic chemists are a different species (1). While the world was pondering the geopolitical ramifications of the assassination of Kim Jong Un's half-brother Kim Jong-Nam, we were all wondering "what the hell was in those needles?" 
This morbid curiosity became even more so as the story changed. Instead of needles, different reports said that a liquid was either sprayed in Kim's face or applied with a cloth. For us chemists, that is even crazier. What on earth could be applied to the skin and cause dizziness, a headache, and then death so quickly? This has led to speculation about what chemical was used, because, given the "facts" that we now have, there is no obvious answer...
(Here's a little context for this story.)

He's actually got a list, which is helpful and sorta kinda morbid - but mostly helpful. Me, I'm going for an isocyanate of some sort, but maybe I'm wrong. It was probably fentanyl or something else boring-ish.

Readers, what say you? Animal, vegetable or mineral?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Medicinal Chemist Jobs List: 81 positions

Doing my best to track down all open research-track medicinal chemistry positions. At the moment, the list has 81 positions.

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions, but if you want to do the traditional "leave a link in the comments", that works, too.

Want to chat about medchem positions? Try the open thread.

Check out the other bottom tabs on the list for various notations and side experiments.

Positions I'm not including: positions outside the United States (this will likely change), computational positions (this will likely change as well), process positions (coming soon....), academic positions (will likely be included about a year from now?), industrial postdocs (maybe someday soon.)

Coming soon: a process chemistry version - I promise!

Weird personal finance question about retirement investing in the Trump era

This gets a little political, so I won't be offended if you don't read this. It's mostly about retirement.

Job posting: process chemist, Abide Therapeutics, San Diego, CA

Via random clicking, a position with Abide Therapeutics in San Diego, CA:
Process Chemist:  
Description: The successful candidate will optimize the synthesis of potential drug candidate molecules directed toward the inhibition of serine hydrolases and function as part of a cross-disciplinary team to advance compounds into clinical trials. The candidate will execute process chemistry optimization of synthetic routes to lead molecules in addition to preparation of novel building blocks and key intermediates on large scale. 
The successful candidate will participate in discussions with contract manufacturing organizations (CMO) to enable the preparation of compounds for preclinical and clinical evaluation on multi-kilogram scale. Additionally, the candidate will engage in pre-formulation activities for lead molecules and early development of solid oral dosage forms. The successful candidate will also contribute to preparing the CMC section of IND applications and investigational medicinal product dossiers in collaboration with consultants, QA specialists and CMOs. 
The chemist will work independently, use databases and information tools to keep current with process chemistry trends and contribute to patent applications and publications. 
Experience and Education Requirements: 
  • BS/MS in Organic Chemistry with 5-7 years experience in the pharmaceutical industry
  • Experience with process chemistry, scale-up and cGMP principles; pilot plant experience a plus
  • Experience interacting with CMOs
  • Experience advancing compounds from discovery into Phase 1 clinical trials...
Click here for full listing. Best wishes to those interested. 

Daily Pump Trap: 2/16/17 edition

A (very) few of the positions posted at C&EN Jobs:

Charleston, TN: Wacker is looking for a Ph.D. chemist to be the lab manager for its plant in Tennessee. It's also looking for an assistant production manager (looks interesting and busy.)

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) "1000+", 420, 8,781 and 11 positions for the search term "chemist."

LinkedIn shows 3,248 positions for the search term "chemist" and 20,600 for the search term "chemistry." Job titles from LinkedIn - first with quotes, and the second without: Polymer Chemist: 15/711. Analytical chemist: 288/348. Research chemist: 43/53. Synthetic chemist:  18/672. Medicinal chemist: 22/43. Organic chemist: 36/81. Process chemist: 24/63. Process development chemist: 7/8. Formulation chemist: 60/65. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Transitioning from process to medicinal chemistry?

A very good friend of mine transitioned from medicinal to process chemistry relatively early in their career, but has anyone ever heard of people going from the plant to the bench (loosely speaking)? From the inbox:
Do you have advice, experience, or anecdotes of chemists who switch from process to discovery/medicinal chemistry?  I am a process chemist [redacted] and want to switch to the discovery/development side of the field.
I've not heard too much about this. It seems to me that you'd have to demonstrate some knowledge, comfort or willingness to learn about the more biological aspects of medicinal chemistry.

Readers, what say you? Got any stories to tell? 

A report from Bristol on that TATP incident

Via Jyllian Kemsley's The Safety Zone blog, a writeup of that TATP incident from senior people at the University of Bristol. It was written by the dean of the Faculty of Science (Prof. Timothy Gallagher) and the head of the school of chemistry (Prof. Nicholas Norman). I'm going to excerpt this, but you should go over there and read the whole thing: 
On 3 February 2017, a graduate student in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol was carrying out a literature procedure to oxidise an aldehyde to the carboxylic acid using aqueous acidified chlorite. The experiment was carried out on a 5 mmol scale (just under 1g of aldehyde) and risk assessments identifying all hazards had been undertaken and signed off by both student and supervisor. The reaction solvent was acetone (50 mL). 
Part of the procedure involved adding a quantity of 30% hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) solution to remove some of the by-products of the reaction, whose presence was (apparently) associated with a yellow colour (possibly including chlorine dioxide). The literature indicated that H2O2 be added until this yellow colour had disappeared, which should have required about 1 mL of peroxide solution. 
The student, focusing on the yellow colour, which did not completely disappear, continued to add hydrogen peroxide solution until about 50 mL had been added. During workup to remove the solvent, the student realised that the solvent volume was not decreasing and that the liquid was becoming viscous, and so likely contained far more “product” than was expected. GCMS analysis indicated the presence of triacetone triperoxide (TATP), and it was estimated that this could amount to 30-40g if all the excess H2O2 had reacted with the acetone solvent. 
At that point, the graduate student immediately alerted the supervisor, who escalated this to the Head of School. A series of decisions were made and actions taken that resulted in the disposal of the suspected TATP by means of a controlled explosion carried out by the emergency services. 
Nobody was injured and no damage was done in the lab. Although the TATP presented an explosion hazard, the risk of explosion was considered minor due to all material remaining in solution; TATP is far more sensitive to detonation as a solid. Immediate disposal was warranted, however, due to the risk of precipitation/crystallisation of a solid material.
The authors have some statements that I will summarize (errors made are mine)
  1. The student was overfocused on removing the yellow color in the reaction, even as the risk of H2O2 + acetone had been identified.
  2. The role of the acetone was overlooked. 
  3. When the student recognized how they had made an error, they reported it immediately to their supervisor. "This was highly responsible – the most important thing done – and shows the value of investing in developing and fostering a culture in which colleagues recognise errors and misjudgements, and they are supported to report near misses."
This seems like a reasonable response and a fairly quick one, all to the credit of the University of Bristol.

I'd sure like to know what the "workup to remove the solvent" was. Did the student put this material on a rotary evaporator?

This incident reminds me of a favorite list of "what if" questions from McConville's "Pilot Plant Real Book", including the question "Consider the possibility of operator error - over charging or undercharging raw materials, adding materials in the wrong order, omitting a component, overheating, holding for too long at reaction temperature, opening or closing the wrong valve, etc."

Finally, it would be great if there was some kind of central repository of chemical incident information. This report would certainly be a good candidate for inclusion in it. I wonder if the chair of the department of chemistry at UCLA has such a report to file? 

A peculiar case of remarkable similarities

Tables 4 and 5 from Mandapati et al. and Seelam et al.
Via Twitter, Lana Hiscock found some very interesting similaries between two Tetrahedron Letters papers. She also wrote it up on Reddit: 
"Recently I discovered two almost identical, and in places copied and pasted, articles on synthetic methodology (both published within the last 6 months). Amazingly, neither journal has any link on their website which I could find for reporting apparent plagiarism. Not only that, but I caught the outright copying easily and it's something that should have been picked up in peer review.... 
...Additionally, and highly suspiciously, they all refer to water as a "grenary" (or "greenary" in one case) solvent. If you Google "grenary solvent" you get the ChemistrySelect paper as the fourth result. If you can read the articles, it's obvious, in my opinion, that these papers are all related to a common ancestor."
In her Reddit post, she points to four separate papers (a 2016 Tet. Lett., a 2017 Tet. Lett., a Synth. Commun. paper and a ChemistrySelect.). This Reddit comment from Auntie Markovnikov indicates there may be both plagiarism and self-plagiarism going on.

I haven't been able to check all four papers, but I have downloaded both Tetrahedron Letters papers and as you can see above, there are remarkable similarities in the methods table.

Amusingly, if you search a phrase in both of the Tetrahedron Letters papers ("The reactions are rapid and facile and accomplished at room temperature"), you find yet another paper, this one from 2011 and published in Green Chemistry Letters and Reviews. The subject matter is rather similar; one wonders if this is the original source.

As more and more of the literature becomes open-access, isn't there some way to program bots to crawl the literature and look for plagiarized text? Might be a useful thing...