Monday, December 5, 2016

Tips for getting through to the public about chemicals

Also in this week's C&EN, a helpful article by Professor Baruch Fischhoff of Carnegie Mellon University, talking over best practices for communicating science to the public, especially with regards to various scientific issues where there is controversy:
My experience suggests that programs applying our science to communicating technology risks and benefits are often rewarded. For example, my colleagues and I developed a widely distributed brochure about potential negative health effects of 60-Hz electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from both high-voltage power lines and home appliances, just as the issue had begun to boil in the 1980s. 
As required by our science, we first summarized the evidence relevant to lay decisions and then interviewed people about their beliefs and concerns. Finally, we tested draft communications, checking that they were interpreted as intended. Among other things, those communications addressed a common bug in lay mental models: how quickly EMFs fall off with distance. We also candidly described the limits to current evidence regarding possible harm and promised that new research results would not be hidden. It is our impression that we contributed to a measured societal response to the risk. 
The EMF case had conditions necessary for securing a fair hearing for the chemical or any other industry:
  • A good safety record. For example, public support for nuclear power rose over the long period of safe performance preceding the Fukushima accident.
  • Talking to people. The chemical industry’s outreach programs supporting local emergency responders have enhanced trust in many communities.
  • A scientific approach to communication. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is creating disclosures designed to improve trust in banking and insurance products.
Developing scientifically sound communications is not expensive. However, it requires having the relevant expertise and evaluating the work empirically. Such communication often faces three interrelated barriers among some of those responsible for its adoption:
  • Strong intuitions about what to say and how to say it, discounting the need to consult behavioral science and evaluate communications.
  • Distrust of the public, perhaps fed by commentators who describe the public as incapable of understanding (that is, being chemophobic).
  • Disrespect for the social sciences as sources of durable, useful knowledge.
There is a kernel of truth underlying these barriers. People do have some insight into how other people think, the public can be unreasonable, and social scientists do sometimes oversell their results. To help outsiders be savvy consumers of behavioral research, my colleagues and I have tried to make our science more accessible, for example, through a Food & Drug Administration user guide and via Sackler Colloquia in 2012 and in 2013 on the science of science communications, with accompanying special issues of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA.
Professor Fischoff has raised some very interesting points. I wonder if the problem with the chemical industry's communications to the public is that this conversation is usually only happening under the shadow of various chemical industry incidents, i.e. removing the safety record required to sustain a basic level of trust.

Also, I think it's interesting that the EMF project involved trying to communicate the one essential fact (that EMG falls off dramatically with distance). I wonder if there is one essential fact (or two, or three?) that chemists need to always be communicating with non-chemists?

Interesting look into PPG

Also in this week's C&EN, an article by Marc Reisch on PPG. Fascinating to see what how many scientists and engineers at their research campus (emphasis mine):
About 20 minutes from PPG Industries’ headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh is the Allison Park Coatings Innovation Center. Set on 175 rolling wooded acres, the glass-clad research facility employs more than 280 synthetic chemists, analytical chemists, formulation experts, and chemical engineers. 
First opened in 1974, the facility just got a $7.8 million upgrade. The project added robotic paint spray booths that replicate customer manufacturing conditions along with new synthesis labs and equipment to accommodate a growing workforce. 
“We hired 45 Ph.D.s just in the last five years,” says David Bem, PPG’s chief technology officer. More researchers will be coming to the site soon. In the coming years, he says, the firm plans to hire additional chemists, including those with B.S. and M.S. degrees, as it advances work on new types of coatings. 
The Allison Park researchers are at the vanguard of a global technology force of 3,500 intended to give PPG an edge in architectural, marine, automotive, and other coatings. They are also an important piece of PPG’s plan to compete with rival Sherwin-Williams, which is set to complete its acquisition of Valspar in early 2017 and displace PPG as the world’s largest paint maker.
Will be worth keeping an eye on.  

This week's C&EN

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

Friday, December 2, 2016

50 mL separatory funnels

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.

Merck to build new Bay Area R&D campus

Merck has staked out a new R&D campus for itself in the heart of South San Francisco, the epicenter of the Bay Area’s biotech mega-hub. Alexandria Real Estate Equities, the builder of many biotech facilities around the country, will be breaking ground on the site soon after Merck bought into a new, 294,000-square-foot West Coast research complex at 213 East Grand Avenue. The move-in date is being set for 2019.... 
...A Merck spokesman told me back in July that a central research campus in San Francisco would also open the door to about 100 new hires. 
“We will ultimately consolidate our Oncology, Immuno-oncology, Biologics and CMR discovery work into a combined research site,” she noted at the time. “Our Palo Alto site will continue to focus on Immuno-Oncology and Biologics and Vaccines discovery until the long-term facility is up and running.” 
The western migration follows a move by Merck to reduce staff levels at its operations in Kenilworth and Rahway, NJ. The move also affected its North Wales, PA screening facility. And Merck has already picked out a lab in Cambridge, MA for its expanded work in the East Coast hub. Now it’s well along the way to doing the same on the West Coast. 
All of that fits neatly into a broad industry trend that has dominated R&D over the past 5 years. Big Pharma has been identifying central hubs, often in the mega-centers like Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, UK and San Francisco, to concentrate its forces.
It's pretty amazing to me how pharma R&D is sorting itself into either Bay Area or Cambridge enclaves. With the assumption that this is (in the long run) where most of their medicinal chemists (and process chemists?) will be located, I imagine this will have the effect of increasing wages (while gains when compared to cost-of-living will be more modest.)

Does anyone see this trend reversing? I don't. Longtime readers are probably tired of me saying this: the prominence of Bay Area and Cambridge in pharma are due to decades of billions of federal research investments in world-class universities and medical centers combined with a relatively friendly funding atmosphere for entrepreneurial adventures. What this says for other regions and their pharma/biotech hopes isn't very positive, I'd think. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Introducing the Medicinal Chemist Jobs List

This is a "back of the hood" kind of experiment, but I'm going to try to track all the open research-track medicinal chemist positions in the US. Here's what I have so far (just 14 positions), but I have about 200-300* more to enter (by hand).

If you feel like giving me a hand, here's a Google Form that would make life a lot easier for me, but if you want to do the traditional "leave a link in the comments" that works, too.

*UPDATE: Boy was that the wrong guess. It was more like 30. Well, more to come, I hope. 

Interview: Ryan Stolley, organometallic chemist, AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow and climate change policy advocate

Via random chance, I have been introduced (virtually) to Dr. Ryan Stolley, an organometallic chemist and AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow. This post has been lightly edited for grammar, and checked by Dr. Stolley for accuracy.
Can you tell us a little about your background in chemistry?  
My background in chemistry is mostly in the organic/organometallic space. I did my undergrad at a small (less than 5000 students) liberal arts school with a strong chemistry department and had the opportunity to do both organic synthesis and coordination chemistry research over summers and throughout the year. I then did an NSF REU (research experience for undergraduates) in Thailand doing natural products chemistry. This was an interesting chemistry/cultural/philosophical experience for discussion elsewhere.  
I then did my PhD in organometallic methodology developing Ni- and Pd-catalyzed N-heterocycle forming reactions. I had some pretty good success publishing a number of papers and a book chapter. I have always had a desire for some sort of public service and in undergrad was engaged in the chemistry club and was also chairman for the chemistry student advisory council in graduate school that had votes in retention/promotion/tenure proceedings and was a vehicle for student advocacy and events.  
What did you do after graduate school? What was it like to postdoc at a national lab? 
After graduate school I took a postdoc at Pacific Northwest National Lab. I was working on more nickel catalysis this time in the electrochemical oxidation of H2. Working at a national lab was and can be amazing for a number of reasons. The entire lab is research only and you work with some seriously smart people with excellent resources. However, it's not the utopia that can be often thought of by undergraduate and graduate students. 

Daily Pump Trap: 12/1/16 edition

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

Toronto, ON: Encycle Therapeutics is looking for Ph.D. chemists to perform peptide-related synthetic research.

La Jolla, CA: The California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr) is looking for synthetic postdocs; interesting that they're requiring fluent Mandarin speakers (these positions will have permanent appointments at Tsinghua University.)

Livermore, CA: Lawrence Livermore is looking for a postdoc in material science; will (ultimately) require a Q clearance.

Palo Alto, CA: Acme Bioscience is looking for a synthetic postdoc. Does anyone know anything about Acme Bioscience? I know they've been around a while... They list some H1bs-status employees on staff in 2014 and 2015... no Glassdoor entries, though. Pay is in the 47-49k range, which isn't much to write home about in the Bay Area.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) "1000+", 371 , 9,393 and 30 positions for the search term "chemist."

LinkedIn shows 1,358 positions for the search term "chemist" and 13,782 for the search term "chemistry." Job titles from LinkedIn - first with quotes, and the second without: Analytical chemist: 183/240. Research chemist: 28/41. Synthetic chemist: 11/380 . Medicinal chemist: 13/33. Organic chemist: 28/52. Process chemist: 15/43. Process development chemist: 5/6. Formulation chemist: 44/48. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 12/1/16 edition

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

New York City, NY: Queens College (CUNY) is looking for an assistant professor of chemistry; preference for an organic or inorganic chemist.

La Jolla, CA: UCSD is hiring an assistant professor of biochemistry or biophysics.

Memphis, TN: The University of Memphis is looking for an assistant professor of chemistry. "Desired candidates will have a proposed research program that strengthens existing activities in the department (including medicinal, nanomaterials, or environmental focus areas; see our website at for additional information about ongoing research)."

Arkadelphia, AR: Ouachita Baptist University is hiring an assistant professor of organic chemistry; "organic synthesis, physical organic, or computational organic chemistry are preferred."

Utica, NY: Utica College is searching for an assistant professor of biochemistry.

Omaha, NE: The University of Nebraska at Omaha is hiring an assistant or associate professor "in interdisciplinary STEM discipline-based education research."

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Press "load more" on the Faculty Jobs Open Thread to see new updates

Hello, friends:

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 does it load the latest comments.

I'm really sorry about this, especially since there's nothing I can do about it.

I'm asking you to vote, either in the comments to this post, the comments to the Open Thread or by e-mail to me ( to tell me if you'd like a new Open Thread. If there is an overwhelming majority that wants a new thread, I'll be closing the old one to new comments and opening a new one.

Again, my apologies for this latest wrinkle. Thanks for hanging in there.

Cheers, Chemjobber

I hear possum bacon is yummy - I wonder if it's an antibiotic

The authors may have a conflict of interest with the opossum...
Credit: Motley et alJ. Nat. Prod.
Via the Chemistry Reddit, a really amusing source for natural products [1]:
...To obtain the large number of microbiome bacteria from diverse mammalian sources that we required for our screening process, we used an opportunistic sampling approach to explore roadkill (animals killed as a result of unintentional vehicular collisions), which is an underutilized source of microbiome bacteria.  
In our case, we focused on fresh (recently deceased) roadkill comprising mammals that are native or naturalized to central Oklahoma. Roadkill offers a convenient route to accessing microbiome bacteria since it (i) is abundant in many areas, (ii) presents the opportunity for sampling diverse animals and their associated bacteria across a broad geographical region, (iii) alleviates concerns over the trapping and testing of live animals since only carcasses are sampled, and (iv) offers the possibility to conduct chronologically dependent testing of specific animal populations over extended periods. In this paper, we present the development and application of our mammalian-microbiome-derived natural product discovery pipeline (Figure 1) and present data for several new and known depsipeptides obtained from opossum-associated bacteria.  
...Opportunistic sampling of mammalian roadkill took place over a two-year period near the University of Oklahoma campus (Norman, OK, USA). Carcasses deemed fresh (generally determined to have been struck by motor vehicles no more than 10 h prior to sampling) were selected, and those with one or more intact orifices (i.e., mouth, nose, ear, eye, and rectum) or gastrointestinal tracts were sampled roadside with sterile swabs....
Imagine the undergraduate who had to sample the intact orifice...

In all seriousness, congratulations to Motley et al. for interesting science and a novel source!

1. Motley, J.L.; Stamps, B.W.; Mitchell, C.A.; Thompson, A.T.; Cross, J.; You, J.; Powell, D.R.; Stevenson, B.S.; Cichewicz, R.H. "Opportunistic Sampling of Roadkill as an Entry Point to Accessing Natural Products Assembled by Bacteria Associated with Nonanthropoidal Mammalian Microbiomes." J. Nat. Prod. ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acs.jnatprod.6b00772

Low and negative interest rates means nuns are jumping into the market, buying pharma stocks

Is Sister Lioba doing better with her portfolio than you?
Credit: Georgi Kantchev, Wall Street Journal

Unusual story about a stock-trading nun in Germany* by Georgi Kantchev in the Wall Street Journal:
On a recent morning, Sister Lioba Zahn read the Bible, attended prayer, did the laundry and then prayed again. In the afternoon, she called her bank and started trading. 
...For over a century, Mariendonk financed itself by selling milk and candles, and through income on its bank deposits. After the European Central Bank began cutting rates, eventually going all the way below zero to their current -0.4%, Sister Lioba realized her convent needed extra income to survive. 
“With rates so low, we must get a better return if we want to sustain the convent,” says Sister Lioba, who holds the position of “cellerarin,” a convent’s version of a chief financial officer. 
Back in 2013, the nunnery’s roof needed repairing and the only car that the 28 sisters owned was nearing the end of its life. Calling her bank, Sister Lioba was offered a seven-year savings bond that carried a 1% annual return. She said she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “You don’t need to have studied mathematics to see that we were going down,” said Sister Lioba, who had studied psychology. 
After morning prayer, she gathered her fellow nuns into a wood-paneled room inside the convent and showed a PowerPoint on low interest rates. Presiding over the meeting, Sister Christiana Reemts, Mariendonk’s abbess, made an observation. “Twenty years ago we could get enough money from interest to renovate our whole building,” she remembered saying. “Now the interest rate can bring tears to one’s eyes.” In Mariendonk, a decision was made and global markets had a new investor.  
Sister Lioba now runs a portfolio of roughly €2 million, or $2.1 million, from her convent office. “I started by googling what a swap is,” Sister Lioba says, referring to a derivative that allows an investor to exchange the income stream of one asset with that of another. 
Like many investors, Sister Lioba remembers the first stock she bought: Novo-Nordisk AS, a Danish drug company. She bought it in late 2013 and its value increased by around a third before she sold it earlier this year at a profit. “My only regret is why we didn’t buy some more at the time,” she says.... 
Her trading has brought her convent a 2.6% return, which isn't great, but not bad compared to negative rates. I'm guessing Sister Lioba doesn't charge much for her services... (Why not just put it into an index fund?)

*Can't get to the article? Google the headline: "Get Thee to a Brokerage! Low Rates Turn Nuns Into Traders" 

Warning Letter of the Week: testing into compliance edition

A firm reminder to the general manager of Dongying Tiandong Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. in Shandong, China from the Food and Drug Administration:
 1. Failure to adequately investigate and document out-of-specification results according to a procedure, and implement appropriate corrective actions.
...For example, according to your Deviation Handling Sheet No.07-2015021, you resampled and tested crude heparin batch Y102-1504005 multiple times, with the following results.                                           
You neither evaluated the initial sample OOS, nor conducted retesting of the initial original sample to confirm it. Instead, you resampled until you obtained a passing result.

Similarly, your initial test results for another crude heparin batch (Y102-1503008) were also OOS. Again, you resampled without justification, and accepted the batch when you obtained results within specification.

Disregarding the OOS results, and resampling and retesting without scientific justification, constitutes “testing into compliance.” This practice is unscientific and objectionable under CGMP....
I love that last sentence.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 497 positions

The 2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated mostly by Andrew Spaeth, with minor help from me) has 497 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.

Job posting: synthetic organic chemists, Arcus Biosciences, Hayward, CA

From the inbox, positions at Arcus Biosciences:
Our Medicinal Chemistry Department is one of the most critical parts of our research engine. We are looking to greatly expand the size of this department in 2016, with no less than 6 immediate openings for PhD-level chemists with a strong background in synthetic organic chemistry.

The Medicinal Chemistry Scientist will be responsible for designing and independently synthesizing novel molecules directed at one or more of our biological targets.  He/She will be a key member of one or more of our multi-disciplinary drug discovery teams.  As a member of such teams, the Scientist will be responsible for the identification and characterization of novel drug candidates and their advancement into clinical evaluation.  This will require the development of a broad working knowledge of various scientific disciplines in addition to medicinal chemistry, including immunology, cancer biology, pharmacokinetics, drug metabolism, and toxicology, among others.  With the guidance of our experienced leadership, the Scientist will integrate large amounts of data on previously synthesized molecules into the design of novel molecules anticipated to possess increasingly optimal biological profiles.

The ideal candidate will hold a Ph.D. in synthetic organic chemistry and may have conducted (although it is not a requirement) post-doctoral research on a synthetic or biological project.  The successful candidate will have an excellent scientific publication record and national reputation as a leader in his/her chosen field.  The role demands a highly goal-driven approach and the ability to focus on time-sensitive objectives.
That's cool. Full posting here. Best wishes to those interested.

(P.S. Thumbs up to "postdoc not necessarily required.")  

ACS Publications will have a safety requirement in 2017

From a worthwhile editorial in ACS Central Science by Professor Carolyn Bertozzi on lab safety, a policy change that I was not aware of (emphasis mine):  
ACS also hopes to contribute to safety awareness beyond our campus walls through its publishing activities. Starting at the beginning of 2017, all ACS publications will require experimental details to address and emphasize any unexpected, new, and/or significant hazards or risks associated with the reported work. There are two different important aims in asking for this additional information. First, as the primary source of chemical information, it is crucial that we use the literature to educate researchers about the risks inherent in the experiments we publish. Second, we hope that making this information required and widely available will change how this and future generations of scientists think about safety as integral to their role in the chemical enterprise. It is a professional requirement and a chemist’s responsibility in this world.  
Just as experimental details are turned into lab notebook entries for future findings, the community will then implement these better habits in their own papers and continue to catalyze the responsibility for safety throughout our industry. Finally, we do not want the most crucial of these safety notes to be sequestered only in the experimental sections. Particularly when unanticipated hazards or risks become apparent in the process of scientific inquiry, either in data acquisition or analysis, we want authors to highlight that information in results and discussion sections, perhaps even in the abstract.
Seems like a good idea. Readers, what do you think?

(Can anyone come up with a good way to measure any potential impact?)  

This part of the essay is particularly effective: 
Matt Francis, orchestrator of those brilliant turkey banquets from my intro, both talks the talk and walks the walk. Every year, he held a legendary hands-on training session for new students showing them proper Schlenk line technique. This is the kind of activity that most of us delegate to postdocs or senior students but perhaps shouldn’t in light of what happened at UCLA. Matt’s effort to ensure that students know how to safely manipulate air- and/or moisture-sensitive, often flammable reagents under vacuum may have spared them from countless accidents and injuries.
This kind of hands-on training from a senior PI is invaluable.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A depressing post about graduate student (and postdoctoral) mental health

This is a depressing post about mental health. I'd love it if you were to give me advice on this; if you don't want to read it, I won't be offended.

This week's C&EN

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