Monday, December 31, 2012

Here's to a "Lucky '13!"

A festive (colorized) bacteriophage
Source: University of Basel | NatGeo
I don't think I say this enough, so here goes: I'm truly touched that you stopped by to check out my little corner of the internet. My deep thanks and appreciation to each person reading today.

They say having too many choices causes "analysis paralysis." Well, to combat this phenomenon, I've decided to only offer up two (2) blog-related New Year's resolutions for 2013:

1. More frequent posts.
2. More media integration - podcasts, pictures, audio, etc.

For those already ringing in the New Year across the globe, let me know about life in the future!

Best wishes to everyone for a healthy and prosperous 2013.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Call to Arms!

Sorry, JACS, we exaggerated a little
Remember that Fe-S catalysis from JACS I posted about a few days ago? I had asked for someone to step up with some #RealTimeChem goodness, and luckily someone did!

Chemist Matt Katcher of Princeton has been kind enough to re-run one of the examples from the paper (Table 2, example 2). He's skeptical, based on TLCNMR, and LCMS, that even trace product has formed; the authors claim 83%.

What's missing here?

Looks like there's some 'splainin to do! Anybody else have a few minutes today? Maybe, with enough groundswell, we could have another NaH oxidation fight on our hands.

Who's in?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Winter Vacation Situation

Drain spout stalagmite
Help me out here, because I'm terribly curious. What's your company / school / organizational winter holiday policy?

Several suppliers have written to inform us that they'll be closed from roughly Xmas to New Year's, which seems about right. But I've heard of much more liberal policies across the pond; one unnamed Swiss fine chemical supplier indicated closure from 12/21 through 1/2/13!

Twitter tweeps and Facebook friends seem to confirm the trend: everyone has this week off (except,

Readers: gimme a 'heads-up' in the comments: how long do you shut down for the break? Do schools get more or less time than industry? Is the trend nation-specific?

Thanks!  -SAO

Update (12/27) - Heard on the Twittersphere: Merck chemists get 12/24-1/2/13, and a tweep from a K-12 software company gets 12/25-1/1/13.

Oxidation? Just Add LEDs

Researchers at the University of St. Andrews recently reported an extremely short synthesis of melohenine B, just two steps from a related commercially available alkaloid. The (6-9-6-6) core skeleton of melohenine B, a rare duck for sure, had only just been disclosed in 2009.

Ready for the kicker? The final step requires nothing more than dye, air, and light.

After LAH reduction of commercially available (-)-eburnamonine (a vasodilator), the chemists needed to find a reliable method to blast apart the indole 2,3 pi-bond to bring about the core 9-membered ring. Various "go-to" oxidants such as m-CPBA or sodium periodate gave N-oxide or returned SM. Hitting the compound with a molecular piledriver - ruthenium oxide - produced the product in a stingy 21% yield, along with elimination side products.

Taking a cue from an early photo-oxidation example, and perhaps the ozone-based Witkop indole oxidation, the researchers tried methylene blue-promoted singlet oxygen cleavage. This worked much better than anticipated ("quantitative" yield) and returned a single diastereomer resulting from hemiaminal ring-opening and substrate-controlled closure.

Now I've seen a lot of photochem go by in the past 10 years, most of which requires 1) sunlight, 2) a CFL bulb, or 3) an array of blue LEDs. But this may be the first time I've seen such simple conditions; the reaction requires a single red LED! Check out the protocol, lifted from the SI:
"The substrate (12 mM) in methanolic methylene blue (40 uM) was irradiated by a 627 nm 3 W LED with vigorous stirring under an air atmosphere. The progress of the reaction was monitored by TLC (generally 3-24 hrs)."
That 627 nm light shouldn't surprise anyone, since it's right in the middle of methylene blue's absorbance spectrum. Still, the application of technology usually found in day spas to organic synthesis makes me smile.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Desert Island Chemistry: Simple as Fe-S

"Damnit, Jim, I'm a Professor,
not a chemist!"
(cue the Gilligan's Island theme music)

Quick! You're on a desert island, and you have to make a heteroatom-rich drug compound. You don't have any of your fancy Pd, Pt, or Ni complexes - those unfortunately went down with the ship. Since your phone is made from coconuts, no access to Aldrich, either; boronic acids and bromoarenes are out. Your scouting party reports finding a simmering sulfur-encrusted thermal vent, and you still have a few hand warmers in your pockets...

...What do you do?

Well, if you were lucky enough to bring the latest JACS ASAP, you'd know right away: grab a jar, stir a 2-nitroaniline and a methyl-heteroarene together with equal parts iron powder and sulfur, toss the mixture into the thermal vent, and wait - about a day should do it. Et voilà! Just about any benzimidazole you can think of, courtesy of a catalytic iron sulfide species formed in situ

The authors present 21 entries, most in the ~50-80% range, which includes examples where normally labile bromo- or chloroarenes (Suzuki classics!) survive the procedure unharmed. The only catch? The heteroatom must be at the 2- or 4-position of the methyl-arene (sorry, no meta). 

Source: JACS | Prof. Nguyen, CNRS
So what's going on here? The authors invoke a biologically-inspired iron sulfide cluster, like the kind one finds in redox proteins underpinning essential processes like respiration or DNA repair. Though the mechanistic details haven't been fully teased out, they claim a six-electron (6e-) reductive transfer, using evolved water and the iron sulfide cluster as electron and proton shuttles, followed by ring closure. (Extra bonus: many of the products can be directly triturated out of the reaction mixture!)

Reader challengeI'm itching to try this reaction, but don't have any iron powder, sulfur, or nitroanilines handy. Anyone want to give it a shot, and let me know how it turns out?

Be a #RealTimeChem hero!

Holiday Chemophobia: Can't We All Just Get Along?

Know what this is?
Me neither.
Source: LWON
First: A belated 'Happy Holidays' to all those chemists already returned to work.

Second: From the Twitter-verse comes a post from the (normally) fine writers over at Last Word on Nothing

Titled "Secret Satans: Chem101" (get it?!), the post fits in with a holiday series at LWoN. I'll let the editors explain:
"We are choosing our most daunting subjects and writing about why they scare us."
As a reader, I expected to hear some gripes and groans about the unfairness of chem grading, those interminable labs, perhaps pronunciation of long IUPAC-mandated noms-du-chem. But instead, right in the introduction, I spot this: "cold sweats," "freaked out," "deep dread," "chemophobia."

Yes, readers, this is a science blog.

I can hear the commentary now: "Calm down, SAO, this is a snarky, fun, satirical holiday piece. Right?" Well, no. "Hate" and "hatred" both appear, as does "loathe," "disaster," "evil plot," and "screwed up." Cue up the sardonic comparisons, like "cryptic as Arabic" or "esoteric knowledge, secret formulas kept by early metallurgists and alchemists." One of the authors speaks of a safety mishap involving [sic] "bromide gas," which recounts how her inadvertent calculation error caused a building evacuation. Fun stuff!

And then there's the graphics. How many times must we plead - Don't let art directors draw your molecules! I don't know exactly what these "animal tracks in the snow" represent, but if the piece aims to vilify simple chemical knowledge, it certainly does that (P.S. I know they're from Shutterstock, but that doesn't excuse their inclusion).

So why am I so critical? Shouldn't we just give LWoN a pass, have a chuckle at a favorite scientific punching-bag, and move on? 

No. Blogs, and especially science blogs, should try to take the high road. We're the voice of reason, the nagging suspicion, the social conscience of the wild, woolly online world. We should aim to advise, not attack, and question where others condemn. That cute anecdote at the end? Doesn't make up for the 709 words you just used to drag chemistry through the muck.

You can do better.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Lab Warnings

Continuing the holiday tradition...

That awkward moment when you ask
"How many pressure vessels shipped out with this warning?"
Source: Chemglass / Fisher Sci
It's the last part that cracks me up.
Source: Scientific equipment auction site

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Fun


Bonus picture:

(These pictures were modified from the original, which appeared here in Nat. Chem. Thanks again to Stu Cantrill for his great sense of humor!)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Merry Christmas

All of us here at Just Like Cooking wish you a restful, reflective, and joyous Holiday season.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

John Kuhn: NFL Chemist

Meet John Kuhn, age 30. Two-time Super Bowl Champion (XL, XLV). Pro-Bowler (2011). Former Pittsburgh Steeler, now Green Bay Packer. And...a chemist.

Source: ShipNewsNow
Wow, if only I had known when #ChemCoach was going on!

Apparently, while at Shippensburg College, Mr. Kuhn not only majored in chemistry (GPA 3.29) but had a variety of internships with Johnson & Johnson and the PA D.E.P.

Here's a few quotes from a 2011 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article:
"A lot of people don't know I was a chemistry major in college. It was kind of tough, but at the same time I really enjoy science and math. I just kind of stuck it out in college and got my degree in it. . . . I worked a couple of internships, including one with Johnson & Johnson. I'm fairly certain they would have offered me a job if football wouldn't have worked out."
"It was pretty tough but it's something that I enjoyed. When you enjoy something, it makes it easy to do the work."
I'm absolutely floored that I haven't heard about this earlier. Kudos to CoulombicExplosion and Alex Goldberg for the initial tip-off!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

'Tis the Podcast Season

So, whatcha doin' for the next 30 minutes?

Want to listen to three chemists cynically dismember the ACS grad report? Sure you do!

Head on over to CJ's place, and criticize our critique.
Frost Flowers
Source: Matthias Wietz |

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Purple Squirrel Hunt

Chemjobber posted about a "fishy" ACS Careers ad earlier this morning, and a clever commenter deduced a reasonable explanation: the uber-specific writing limited the candidate pool to only those folks working in the founder's lab!

Prof. Christian Melander, of NCSU, helped to found Agile Sciences in the Research Triangle area back in 2007. The company (and the job announcement) aims to find 2-aminoimidazole compounds capable of biofilm dispersion to treat, for example, stubborn hospital-acquired infections or respiratory ailments.

Well, you might think a parody job posting about a comment on a blog about a job posting to be a bit...meta, but here we go*

"Burgeoning Midwestern lab seeks bench chemists who love silicon-Lewis base chemistry. Must enjoy race cars and working long shifts. Mustaches a plus"

"Large, exploration-driven government agency seeks scientists driven to find alternative life forms. Must own set of rubber boots, waders, and enjoy the smell of metal- and sulfur-rich lakes. Creative writing background preferred."

"Are you a 'thinker?' Massive multinational pharmaceutical seeks innovative chemists for 'design' role in large East Coast city. Must enjoy scowling at computer monitor 12+ hours, skimming literature. Prerequisite: outsourcing experience."

"W. Coast Research Institute seeks hard-core synthesis folk. Ability to beat boss in arm wrestling a plus. Must enjoy high-profile publications, spotlights, and joining heterocycles in unforeseen ways. Join our cult, err, program today!"

*Note for the humorless: this is satire.

'Beast Mode' Secret - Candy!

It's almost playoff season in the NFL, and some teams are getting hot at just the right time. Teams like the Seattle Seahawks, and their bruising running back Marshawn Lynch.

Apparently 'Beast Mode' begins with a Skittle shower
Source: ESPN Sport Science | Marshawn Lynch
Here comes the chemistry: an ESPN Sport Science video posted yesterday explains one of the secrets behind Marshawn's "Beast Mode" - the seemingly unstoppable extra bursts of power Lynch displays as the game goes on. Noshing on candy while standing on the sideline seems to grant him special powers, as shown by some "science-y" experiments (n = 1 for everything, alas) which tested grip strength, agility, and reaction time.

Though the tests might not be top-notch, the message still carries: I'll watch any sports video that attempts to explain how glycolysis and insulin work together to regulate blood sugar levels.

(We'll also forgive them for just showing animated red blood cells, when they could have zoomed in on mitochondria, or perhaps laid out the whole Krebs cycle. Maybe next time?)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Gotta Chelate 'Em All

Quick, someone call TOC ROFL; there's a fantastic new abstract graphic in town:

Source: JOC | B. Fischer, Bar-Ilan
Yes, that's Pac-Man, in all his NAMCO glory, chomping on a chelated soft metal ion. Turns out these compounds excel at wrapping up "soft/borderline" metals (Cu, Zn, Pb, Hg, Fe) and stopping radical reactions in their tracks.

Maybe this entry might also complement Derek's "Things I won't work with," since cooking up these (wait for it) methylenediphosphonotetrathioates proceeds as follows: Add super-stoichiometric ethanedithiol to hot bromoform and aluminum salts, and stir in starting material (a bis-phosphoryl-dichloride); heat for 5 days.

P.S. - Don't forget that the two-step process evolves four equivalents of thiirane....yum!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Fun: Adventures in Small Business

This has been a looooong week.

I often modify tweets with hashtags #startup or #phdlife, to give readers a flavor for just how chaotic, random, stressful, yet strangely rewarding life at a small company can be. This week, though, takes the cake - here's a brief breakdown of the last four days:
  • Haggled with Enterprise Rent-a-Car; planned an equipment-gathering "road trip"
  • Set up safety training
  • Toured a now-defunct medium biotech for info on soon-to-be-auctioned assets
  • Arranged for large instrument crating and cross-country shipping
  • Year-end software updates
  • Convincing colleagues, granting agencies, and local gov't that, yes, we really are that small
  • Scheduled an electrician to hook up (large, heavy) new toy
  • Writing, writing, and more writing
Reflection. Seemed apt.
Oh, almost forgot to mention: chemistry.

Happy Friday,

Thursday, December 13, 2012

WWWTP? Alzheimer's 'Drug'

I dub thee "Artistic Lead I"
(K.C.N. would be so proud!)
Source: ADDF
From the Twitterverse came a link to Estee Lauder's Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF). A nobel effort, to be sure, but check out their "molecule" on the home page.

Anyone have any idea what this could be? I remember learning that (generally) red = O, black = C, yellow = S, and blue = N, but what's "shiny pearlescent purple?" (tungsten?). My guess would be that any structure with 2 cyclic N-O bonds and a reduced sulfoxide would be quite unstable, but that's me...

If anyone knows what they were trying for, let me know in the comments.

Update (9:25AM) - Here's my rendering in ChemDraw:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Sweet Science

Hello, amine equivalent!
Source: Cumberland Packing Grp.
No, not boxing . . .chemistry!

From a fresh Org. Lett. ASAP, courtesy of the Amgen Process group, comes the 2-amination of some 3,5-disubstituted pyridine N-oxides. The group wants to add in an ammonia surrogate, but faces low conversions and poor regioselectivities (2- vs. 6-) with "standard" literature conditions (excess tert-butylamine, tosic anhydride). Substantial gains occur with a switch to Hunig's base and TsCl, but they need to find a bulky, electron-poor nitrogen source. Since we're potentially talking kilos here, price and availability become major considerations.

So what did the researchers choose as their "N" source? Saccharin. Yup, the artificial sweetener from the pink packets, used on process scale. Saccharin beat out many other "Gabriel-type" protected amines (phthalimide, Boc phosphoramidate, etc.), and you can't beat the price: about $5 / kilo. Under optimized conditions, the group saw yields from 21-97%, and product ratios of ~28:1. Better still, acidic hydrolysis (HCl, 80 degrees) frees up the 2-aminopyridine compounds, most of which are crystalline solids.

Pretty sweet synthesis.

Chemistry 'Rules of Acquisition'

Pardon me while I nerd out for a moment...

"Rule 74: Knowledge equals profit"
Source: Paramount
One of the more popular characters on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was Quark, the scheming Ferengi bartender who set up shady deals and forever vexed station security. To support Quark's M.O. the show's producers compiled a tongue-in-cheek set of Ferengi business tenets called the "Rules of Acquisition" (recall that these same producers once invented a language for ST:TNG).

Now, although the lab atmosphere purportedly promotes cooperation and teamwork, those of us who've staunchly guarded a favorite piece of glassware or equipment might beg to differ. I therefore suggest an (admittedly incomplete) set of Lab Rules of Acquisition**

1. Everyone writes their own dissertation.
2. If I wash your flask, it's going in my drawer.
3. Keep your friends close, and your stir bars closer.
4. Using 'group intermediates' saves you the trouble!
5. Rotovaps are fair game.
6. Always 'repurpose' others' old NMR tubes.
7. Become best friends with the lab manager - they have all the best supplies.
8. Never turn down free lunch.
9. Authorship = currency.
10. When all else fails, blame the intern.

*Readers: Have more suggestions? Feel free to comment, and I'll add them into the mix!
**P.S. For those with a literal streak, this is clearly satire. Labmates who behave this way end up in hot water.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Making It

It's Official: Phil Baran has finally "made it."

You could have 120 papers before your 40th birthday, profiles in Nature, and win a bunch of international awards. You could run a ridiculously bright group at a Top 5 program. You could have finished pala'uamine. But the real arbiter of success?

Your very own reagents, and a splash page at Sigma-Aldrich.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Here at JLC, I've been mighty tough on routine weekend work before. I feel (and still do) that time management, equipment investment, and clear project goals go a long way towards giving you free time to play on Saturday mornings.

Well, a recent Forbes piece forced me to re-think a bit about my own weekend track record. Bruce Booth wields a mighty megaphone, arguing that equity, financial risk, and personal time investment in biotech startups drive innovation in ways that pure translational research cannot. He drops in a real gem near the middle:
"A great chemist in a drug discovery startup can personally change the trajectory of the equity of the startup with a new lead series.  Working over the weekend actually might change the outcome of a startup."
Found art:
Marshmallow Fluff Pac-Man
Intriguing. Really makes you think, too...does that apply to me? Then it hit me: every major discovery that's come my way has happened on a holiday or weekend. That initial grad school hit? Saturday morning, while boss was out. Postdoc molecule? Holiday weekend. My new intermediate? Came in to check TLCs on a Sunday. On and on we go...

I do have a possible explanation. Weekend work, though it takes away from social and family time, presents an opportunity for your brain to think in different ways. To escape the work week drudgery, break the mold, maybe read that random paper or set up that "this will never work, but hey..." experiment in the back of your hood. Maybe that's where true innovation happens.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

CNN Science Time Capsule

I'm forever fascinated by popular media treatment of 'science' as a niche interest.

Don't believe me? This morning, I browsed on over to on a lark, and decided to count links. Starting below the toolbars, and counting until the pictures of talking heads at the bottom, I counted a total of 158 story links. For a general news aggregator, you'd expect coverage of politics, weather, and entertainment news, but you'd also hope for some medical, environmental, or (FSM forbid!) actual research news.

I counted 15 stories with actual scientific content of any kind (9.4%).

So, what do you get for your science coverage tithe? Here's the headlines I chose:
(all text likely c. CNN, look at that scary legal disclaimer!)

"Notorious B.I.G. autopsy finally out"
"Hi-tech blimp to track down Bigfoot"
"Florida's great python hunt is on"
"The Maya collapsed; could we?"
"NBA great battles blood cancer"
"Diesel-spewing big rigs go green"
"Arctic spawns massive ice islands"
"Don't wait for Syria to cross red line"
"Which milk is best for you?"
"Researchers test blood for autism"
"Pacific earthquake shakes Japan"
"Acute pregnancy sickness explained"
"A fish called Obama"
"Meteors to bombard Earth this month"
"Yes, you can recycle cigarette butts"

Mayans, Bigfoot, Meteors, celebrity autopsies, pythons, and the NBA. Wow. There you have it: your daily science blast for the 20,000,000 monthly viewers on CNN's homepage.

Friday, December 7, 2012

One More for the Road

OK, between my last post and that B.R.S.M. post, we've covered soda, wine, beer, carrots, salmon sperm, bone meal, coffee, and whiskey. If you include his comments, we can toss wool, almond meal, clay, and urine into the mix. But a recent J. Med. Chem. abstract may take the cake for me...


Yup, here's the abstract, graphic and everything:

Source: J. Med. Chem. 2012, ASAP
What's the cecum, you ask? Great question! It's a "pocket" of large intestine, immediately following the small intestine and just before the colon. Apparently, it's renowned for two things: a high level of gut flora, and an anaerobic environment. When metabolism / fate scientists want to see what happens to an intestinal prodrug, this model comes into play.

Here's the prep, "fresh" from the Supporting Information:
"A solution of phosphate buffer (50 mM, pH 6.8) was prepared and deoxygenated by bubbling nitrogen for ten minutes. Male Sprague-Dawley rats were sacrificed and the cecum was exposed. The cecal contents were removed and used to make a 10% w/v suspension in the oxygen free buffer."
The microbe-rich slurry, after incubation with the compound at 37 degrees C with exclusion of oxygen, reduces down disulfide bonds, azo groups, even nitro aromatics to the parent anilines in "just a few hours."

Dunno about you, but I still think I prefer ol' Zn / AcOH. Probably smells a bit better, anyway.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Strange Brews

While leafing through the latest magnum opus by Prof. Phil Baran and his Super Group (Nature, 2012, 492, p.95), I came across this playful graphic* near the bottom of page 4:

Source: Nature 2012 | Baran group, Scripps
Yes, that's right: Phil's "toolkit" chemistry for site-selective radical additions works in buffer, cell lysate, or oolong tea. Sounds like we need a few more entries in B.R.S.M.'s "Conditions You'll Never Try" post!

Mmm, delicious solvent...
Perhaps a story I tossed out in his Comments section bears repeating: I once attended a conference where Profs. Paul Wender and Kazunori Koide spoke on alternate days. Wender went first, and mentioned in passing that one of his group's specialties (I think it was Rh [2+2+2], but correct me if you know otherwise...) could be performed in beer. Not to be outdone, Dr. Koide called his group the following morning, and arranged a hasty trial of his transition-metal detecting fluorescent sensor in Starbucks coffee.

Escalation followed. By the end of the conference, everyone had rung up their labs to try ever more exotic solvents, ranging from wine to paint thinner, then finally to whiskey. As explained in Adam Rogers' fantastic 2011 piece "Mystery of the Canadian Whiskey Fungus," this aged, distilled melange of organic compounds should foil up all but the most robust reactions; I'm fairly certain the reaction - another metal-catalyzed cyclization - still performed around 40%. Not too shabby.

*Just noticed that Bethany Halford beat me to it, at least as far as the tea!


I know it's not yet Friday - not on this part of the globe, anyway - but I thought fondly of this site earlier, and thought I'd try my hand at a new one.

[Background: We've spent a large part of the day embroiled in lit searching and software negotiations]

Readers, can you do better? Try it out here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Chemists in Costume

Source: J. Chem. Soc. 1937, 705.
While poring over papers this weekend, I ran across two photos of chemists I couldn't resist sharing. Although many folks think of chemists as old men with frizzy white hair, glasses, and lab coats, these two pictures show them in a different light.

First, a portrait of Camille Matignon, appeared in a four-page obituary from a 1937 issue of J. Chem. Soc. Matignon held the Chair of Inorganic Chemistry at the Collège de France for 26 years, rubbing elbows with Berthelot and Le Chatelier. Matignon served as an editor, public speaker, President of the French Chemical Society, and was named a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor.

The obituary comments on his "...striking personality and gay, vivacious enthusiasm..." I think that statement compliments this portrait rather well, don't you?

The second photo, stolen borrowed from the MIT Chemistry Department newsletter Chemformation, shows a fairly famous organic chemist disguised in a skeletal visage for Halloween. I won't spoil it for those who want to take a guess, but I've provided a link to the MIT faculty page, if you need a hint...
Source: E. Vinogradova / MIT

Saturday, December 1, 2012

WWWTP? 'Heroes' Edition

For more WWWTP, see earlier posts here and here, and ChemBark's here and here.

Recently, my special someone and I decided to watch NBC's Heroes, front to back (thanks, Netflix!) Not familiar with the show? Its premise: special powers imbued by random genetic mutations, sort of an X-Men-meets-Matrix hybrid serialized prime-time drama.

So, you might expect that since several major characters study molecular biology, and the show groks concepts like viral mutation, limb regeneration, and space-time fluctuations, that it would hire a scientific consultant to help with set design...right?

...Wrong. Below, I've snapped some stills from Seasons 1 & 2 of the show. No plot spoilers, just pure, unadulterated fake science-y goodness.

Genetics professor Mohinder Suresh muses in his Brooklyn, NY apartment.
Methinks that "ladder" thing is supposed to represent DNA.
No telling what the giant 1960s molecular models behind it are...

A chalkboard still from Season 2, in Dr. Suresh's "lab." The figure label (offscreen) reads: B-DNA.
There's so many things to comment on here (syn? A3? double-bonded H?).
Most remarkably, it's pretty close to the base pairs its supposed to represent! (B for effort?)

Across the lab from the "B-DNA" chalkboard, there's some free-standing whiteboard doodles.
The resolution isn't high enough (pre-HD) to figure out exactly what these were,
but I think the bottom structures might be riboses. Hey, he's a geneticist, right? : )

Also in Season 2, main character Peter visits the home of a former molecular biologist. Of course, she, like most scientists, has framed journal covers and science art adorning every wall of her home (don't we all?).
Guess we'll just leave this one to 'artistic interpretation.'

Update (12/1/12) - Chemjobber has SPOILED it, telling me about maitotoxin's appearance in the later episodes. I've found a 2008 post that seems to agree...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Who's Your (Science) Rock Star?

After I posted earlier on Joe Perry's bare-chested R.S.o.S. adventures, an interesting discussion crept up on Twitter. Let's say you had a scientific charity approach you for a lab photo shoot. Who would you want to invite? Chemjobber has already weighed in here. Personally, I trend towards more eclectic acts, so I'd be inclined towards TMBG (they did write a song about nuclear fusion, after all...).

So, readers, who would you like? More 'arena rockers' like Bon Jovi or KISS? Perhaps a socially-conscious musician like Bono? Classical, perhaps? (I think Yo-Yo Ma would look great in goggles). Or maybe someone more modern, like or Lady Gaga?

Voice your choice in the comments. Thanks!

Rock Star PPE

I'm not usually up-to-date on the latest GQ, but something caught my eye as I thumbed through the December issue: Joe Perry, lead guitarist of a lab coat.

Apparently, Mr. Perry donates his time to a charity - Rock Stars of Science - sponsored by clothier Geoffrey Beene. Along with other artists, they sponsor cancer research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The grantees, naturally labeled "Rock Docs," have received substantial funds via this venture: G.B.'s website claims $126 million since 2006!

Joe Perry tours Sloan-Kettering
(That jewelry begs to get caught in an overhead stirrer)
While the fan in me says "Awesome," the safety-conscious chemist cries out: where's Mr. Perry's PPE? No goggles? No gloves? No hair ties? To risk sounding prudish, bare chests and chemicals don't exactly mix. Sure, it's a posed photo-op, but hey - when a VIP visits a building site or machine shop, they force him into glasses and construction helmets, right?

Well, I suppose it's for a good cause, and if the idea of guitar gods getting involved with basic cancer research gets the general public excited, I'm all for it.

*Update: Apparently CENtral Science blogged this all the way back in 2009.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Don't You Want a 3-D Model of Meth?

Respectfully stolen from E.P.
I know I do! But that's not the only reason I'm donating $25 to Prof. Ethan Perlstein's Crowdsourcing Discovery project. In the States, today usually marks the start of the fevered Christmas shopping season - 'Black Friday' - so if you can afford to drop $200 on a laptop, or $500 on a flat screen TV...why not $25 to support science?

I know the arguments:

"Others will give, so I don't need to"
"I don't like the idea of supporting research into illegal drugs"
"So little money ($25K) can't possibly make a dent into real science"
"I already give to other charities"

OK, I hear you, but let me try to convince you. When's the last time you spent $25 on a single purchase? I'd guess that you bought an article of clothing, maybe some DVDs, or perhaps a lunch out? So...why not science? This money goes directly to research. No middlemen, no agencies, just scientists, equipment, and radioactive amphetamines!

What's not to like?
Christmas Cactus, Nov. 2012

Take the long view: As scientific funding becomes tighter for early-career academics and Fellows alike, this funding mechanism will play an ever-increasing role in supporting risk-takers and entrepreneurs. Look at the winners thus far on Indiegogo, Kickstarter, or RocketHub. Watches? Albums? Clothes? I say it could just as easily be Microscopes, Cells, and Chemicals.

Just in case your thumb locks up from excessive scrolling, I've pasted the project link here one more time. And I'll give Ethan's group the final word:

"Short-term rewards: the thrill of discovery, for us and for you. 
Long-term rewards: the increased certainty of new, more effective mental health drugs and more accurate diagnoses for everyone."
**P.S. Even Derek's into this! Again, what's not to like?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and...Moringa?

I wrote this post for the #foodchem carnival, hosted at CENtral Science. Thanks again, Rachel!

Ahh, November! Chilly winds, smells of wood smoke in the air - along with the start of the NFL season - mean it must be near time to celebrate Thanksgiving. Don't know about you, but this season calls to mind three heartwarming, folksy tunes:

1. "We Gather Together," almost the banner song of the Pilgrim Hymnal.
2. "Alice's Restaurant." Yes, it's hokey and hackneyed, but darnit, it's a tradition! And #3...

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme |
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine.

Simon and Garfunkel, 1966 (and a bunch of Scots-men* and -ladies afore that). The haunting imagery of so many aromatic spices brings me back home: warm cardamom, sweet cinnamon, dark clove, tangy lemongrass. Certainly chemistry enough to wet your whistle: each spice carries a wealth of compounds to cure whatever ails you. Rosmarinic acid (sage, rosemary) for neuroprotection, thymol (thyme) to ward away bugs, trimyristin (nutmeg) for skin creams, or menthol (mints) to dull the pain.
Rosmarinic acid. How come all the good plant
products have Michael acceptors?
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Speaking specially for the parsley (one of my favorites), I can tell you that its dried leaves contain more iron than just about any other spice; we verified this by thiocyanate titration in undergraduate lab. Since then, I've admitted to placing parsley on just about every food: breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Moringa leaves, drawn using moringa leaves!
Credit Jenna Turner, NGM
Every decade seems to have a spice of choice for the medically inclined. Ginseng (memory loss) ruled the eighties, followed by curry powder (anticancer) in the '90s, then green tea and later pomegranate juice (antioxidants). Well, make way for a new spice on the block: moringa. According to this month's National Geographic, moringa leaves, which hail from India, may pack more nutritional punch than any of your standard spices - high in iron, calcium, potassium, even protein. I'll wait 'til I see it on menus at local restaurants, but it's always fun to speculate what the next "in" food will be.

A restful and Happy Thanksgiving to all.

*It's come to my attention in proofs and comments that the song in fact hails from Yorkshire (Northern England), meaning I've just alienated roughly 1/4 of the British Isles. My sincere apologies; perhaps next time Simon and Garfunkel reunite, they can sing Loch Lomond or something....

Monday, November 12, 2012

On the Air with CJ

Over the weekend, CJ and I got together on some podcasty goodness. We recapped the high points of the last ACS Webinar: Doctoral Glut Dilemma: Are There Solutions?

Go on over to Chemjobber to listen to our logical leaps, witty repartee, and bon mots. Tell us, who do we most resemble on air? Howard Stern and Robin Quivers? Robert Siegel and Melissa Block? Hannity and Colmes? Rocky and Bullwinkle?
I'm the one in the tux.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Friday Fun - Startup: Year One

I mentioned before that I work for a tiny company; we're bigger than 'virtual,' but smaller than the Dirty Dozen. Recently, I passed my first anniversary at this gig, and, inspired by Alison Frontier's "Not Voodoo" site, I decided to recap our wild and woolly first year. All stats refer to myself only, unless otherwise specified.

"How about...Saturday?"
Credit: 20th Century Fox
"40-hour" work weeks: 3
40-60 hour weeks: 43
60+ hour weeks: 6
Weekends worked: 5
Holiday + vacation + sick days used: 24

Supplies Used
9" pipettes, boxes: 12
Teflon tape rolls: 1
Dow Corning grease tubes: 1
Scin vial flats: 5
NMR tubed purchased: 10
NMR tubes "acquired": 23
Boxes of gloves: 14
Gloveboxes: 1
Syringe needles: 500+
Broken Erlenmeyers: 15

New vendor accounts: 17
Purchase Orders: 186

Turnover: 50%
Facility visitors: 130+
Business Cards Distributed: 150+
Group Lunches: 48
Milestones, 1958
Credit: Columbia
Happy Hours: 2

Reactions Run: 455
Grants Submitted: 3
Papers Downloaded: 1,500+
Inventory Chemicals: 200+
Books purchased: 5
Multi-gram batches of API delivered: 2

Auctions: 25
Trips up to the roof for repairs: >10
Waste pickups: 5
(Small) Explosions: 2
Lost power: twice
Trucks rented: 11
Continuing Ed / Training Classes: 48 hours
Visits by elected officials: 1
Lab coats destroyed: 2
Hot plate malfunctions: 7
Facility alarm tripped: once
Reimbursed Mileage: 1,600+

Cups of coffee brewed, between everyone: 1,400+

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

#Chemjobs: Fellowship Freefall

Back in graduate school (*cough* ages ago), I distinctly recall looking forward to the annual announcement of the Division of Organic Chemistry (DOC) Graduate Fellowships. The competitive awards, which require advisor recommendations, essays, and a pretty slick research record, granted the lucky few a full year's stipend along with travel funds to attend the National Organic Symposium.

When I clicked for the 2012-2013 crew, I felt something was missing...where's all the fellowships? I counted only eight grantees. Not to condemn them; their research certainly merits the award, but didn't the DOC used to give out a whole pile more?

In a word: yes. Here's the historical data for the grantees, taken from this website

Talking points:

1. Lines, lines: It's not an accident that the trend mirrors the overall economy generally, and employment in Big Pharma specifically. Note the huge uptick in awards between 1997 and 2001, when the average was ~18 per year. Boom times. It's since settled down to just about 8 annually, around the average of the recession-era '80s.

2. Visits: Those last seven years (2006-2012) match the corresponding decline in corporate recruiting (see MIT, Harvard graphs via Chemjobber).

3. Strange birds: Since graduate school enrollment has dramatically increased, at the same time as fellowships have decreased, these awards become even more prestigious, if only by dint of rarity.

4. Peak Perfection: Let's look at the top year: 1997, when 19 fellows were named. Who sponsored the awards? Take a trip down memory lane...

DuPont Merck
Hoescht-Marion Roussel
Org Syn (x 3)
Organic Reactions
Boehringer Ingelheim
Bristol-Myers Squibb
Procter and Gamble
Eli Lilly
Smithkline Beecham
Merck Research
Rohm and Haas

Wow, how many of those guys even exist anymore? Contrast this list with the 2012 crop:

Merck / Division of Organic Chemistry
Org Reactions / Org Syn
Boehringer Ingelheim
Org Syn (x 2)
Troyansky (family endowment)

Pretty slim pickins.

5. Winners? Losers? Some auspicious names have been missing from the DOC Fellows' list in recent years: Harvard, MIT, Scripps? Actually, the trend improves for state schools, with 5/8 in 2012 going to the public universities. Compare this to 1995 ("boom times"), when the list included Harvard (x 2), Stanford (x 2), Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, MIT, Yale, USC, Chicago, and the publics represented by Berkeley (x 2), Wisconsin (x 2) and Utah.

Note: Thanks to Chemjobber for the inspiration.
Update (11/8/12) - Fixed USC, not a public uni! Thanks, Anon commenter...also Chicago..

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Once Chemjobber got this meme rolling, I couldn't help but participate...

Happy Halloween, Everybody!

Chem Coach Wrap-Up: Lessons Learned

Here's all the various #ChemCoach days, in chronological order:

Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five
Late Entries

My Excel skillz surely impress no one, but if I were to try to divide all 61 'entries' (59 posts, 2 HM) into 'job boxes':
(Maybe not *quite* as awesome as CD's pie chart)
A few other observations, building on what Chemjobber, Deb, and Rachel have already mentioned...

Introverts? Ha! - I know what you're thinking: sample bias. The folks most likely to write into a blog carnival already pre-select themselves for extroversion, right? Allow me to retort: reading through the posts, many chemists actually seem to enjoy public interaction! Sometimes, they go out of their way to seek it. Chemists quip movie lines, cold-call contacts, give public demos, and even go to metal shows (music, not metallurgy).

Great Work, Team! Next week,
we''ll start two-a-days!
No. Standard. Day. - OK, I hear you loud and clear, guys! No one wanted to be that stereotypical "mad scientist," chained to their bench mixing potions in a dank, dark basement lab. The majority of you reveled in the professional chaos (and freedom!) of living in the moment, with no set agenda to tie you down. Coffee helped.

Demographics - Who says science is just for boys? Who says it's just for girls? The carnival definitely leaned masculine overall (43:18 men : women). Interesting factoid, though: nearly all the female entrants wrote in early, while more men were likely to procrastinate or send late-night emails...

The Times, They Are A-Changin' - I'll echo one last sentiment CJ touched upon - look back at that pie chart. The best-represented slice remains "lab scientist;" however, that block is clearly shrinking relative to where it might have been in the late '90s.

Thanks again to everyone who participated, and thanks to those who helped me get the word out.

See you all next year! - See Arr Oh