Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015 JLC New Year's Resolutions

And so we close another year on the chemblogosphere. Instead of recounting the highs and lows of 2014, I've decided this year to focus on what lies ahead for Just Like Cooking.

A goofy, fitting send-off to 2014,
courtesy of the San Fran ACS Meeting
Three areas I'll try to focus on for 2015:

1. Photocatalysis. It's exploding in all areas of chemistry, with new complexes and new (old) dyes appearing daily. Hopefully 2015 will show more light-promoted reactions as key steps in total syntheses.

2. Antibiotic Development. Dire predictions swirl around our readiness, as a species, to defend ourselves against the ever-evolving horde of microorganisms surrounding us. Hopefully 2015 - whether by luck or skill - finds new molecules to address this challenge.

3. Alternative Careers / Leaving the Lab. (Refer to my apologia from a few weeks ago...)

Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy start to 2015!
See Arr Oh

Two New Knights of the Periodic Table

Sir Martyn Poliakoff (RSC)
Hearty congratulations to two chemists receiving 2015 Honours as Knights Bachelor "for services to Chemistry."

Sir Martyn Poliakoff, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Nottingham, and star of the Periodic Table of Videos.

Sir Simon Fraser Campbell, former senior VP at Pfizer, who helped to discover drugs Viagra, Norvasc, and Cardura.

Scientists recognized with OBEs "for services to Chemistry" included Prof. Ian Mark Mills (Reading) and Prof. Kenneth Richard Seddon (QU Belfast).

Sir Simon Fraser Campbell (Nature)

Monday, December 29, 2014

"Gatekeeping" in Intro Chem Lab

Over at Chemjobber, there's an interesting discussion around "gatekeeping" - intentionally using introductory science courses as weed-outs to restrict access to higher-level material - and whether anyone actually does this in practice. Although I don't think of my experience in these terms, I'll relate my recollections and let readers judge for themselves.

Stone walkway, 2014
At Big State University, I was part of a teaching assistant (TA) team tackling Chemistry 101 lab. These were classic experiments: density, dilutions, diffracting light, quantitative analysis, titrations, measuring exotherms. TAs not only ran labs, but lectured beforehand, graded reports, filled out student evaluations, and tallied final grades. 

While the content wasn't enough to weed out dedicated students, the lab policies certainly may have been. The implied ideology went: "if you can't follow these rules now, you'll never cut the higher-level labs.

Pass in a report 1 minute past the start of lecture? Zero
Handwritten report? Zero.
Blatant disregard for lab equipment? Zero.
Show up to lab without proper PPE? Go home
If a student had not replaced broken glassware by semester's end? Fail.
Evidence of plagiarism from the lab manual or suspected from others' reports? Fail
Miss the final exam? (Yes, a final lab exam...) Fail.

Though the TAs tried valiantly to corral teach the ~400 students who came through our section each semester, my honest memory was that we usually kept fewer than 250 by term's end.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas | Happy Thursday

Merry Christmas to my wonderful, interactive, patient readers. It's been a great year over here.
(If Christmas isn't something you celebrate, happy Thursday!)

If you're looking for something holiday-themed - and don't feel like resorting to Google - try these:

Look, I made the tree this year!
Chemistry of Tinsel

Chemistry of Snowflakes

Chemical Aroma of Christmas Trees

Holiday Organic Synthesis

A Chemjobber Tradition - The Letter Home

ScienceGeist's Chemistree

I have a long week coming up, and a merry backlog of topics to write about.

More posts forthcoming!

Dona nobis pacem,
See Arr Oh

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Greener Nylon Synth? Just Add UV and Ozone!

"Any sufficiently-developed technology is indistinguishable from magic" - Arthur C. Clarke

Looks like we'll soon have a more straightforward way to make stockings, zip-ties, and tire belts. 

Adipic acid, a six-carbon diacid representing one of the "sixes" in Nylon 6-6, apparently takes quite a bit of industrial "elbow grease" to make. The current process, starting from cyclohexane, requires cobalt, manganese, copper, and vanadate salts, high pressures of oxygen gas, and hot nitric acid. Out the other side, its responsible for 5-8% of the nitrous oxide we humans spew into the atmosphere each year.

From Science 2014, Hwang and Sagadevan

Now, researchers Hwang and Sagadevan (National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan) believe they have a better method. Reporting in this week's Science, the two disclose a method that sounds so much simpler: flush a sample of cyclohexane with ozone and UV light, and, presto! Solid adipic acid at the bottom of your reactor. No metal salts, no nitrous oxide, no high pressures or temperatures.

Wow, that looks a lot simpler.

The researchers note that zapping ozone produces both singlet oxygen, 1O2, and a single singlet oxygen atom O(1D). The highly reactive single singlet (say that three times fast!) can easily insert into C-H bonds, and, since it seems to prefer insertion next to an already-oxidized carbon, the diol, diketone, and finally diacid products are formed preferentially.

Applause, please: Look at this beautiful pictorial SI!
Twice, in two days.

Just for fun, Hwang and Sagadevan crack open some larger hydrocarbons, and check the selectivity of alkyl-functionalized rings and aromatics. There are tantalizing possibilities here that I'm sure, given the ease of this reaction setup, most organic chemists will already be trying: how do complex natural products* react under these conditions? If anyone tries it this weekend, please drop me a line.

*For that matter, I wonder if this pathway is operative in human tissues under physiological conditions? Sunlight does have some 300 nm band, and we certainly come into contact with ozone out in the wide world. Hmm.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

More Pictures in Supporting Information? Please!

Just stop what you're doing right now, and look at the gorgeous reaction setups in this Nature SI.

From SI page S16. Source: Nature / Baran lab

My kudos to Phil & co - they sure do capture a good visual chronology of their reactions!

Also prompted one of my more tongue-in-cheek Twitter exchanges in recent memory...

Do these pics remind you of anything? : )

...and now for Something Completely Different

I've been mulling over a version of this post for far too long, so here goes:

It's time to make some changes around here.

As I've quipped before, all careers in chemistry eventually leave the lab. Nearly gone are the days of the frizzy white-haired scientist holding aloft the shimmering vial and shouting "Eureka!"

Today, we often find ourselves in transition: Post-docs become professors, who write papers and manage a group. Bench chemists move into operations or regulatory roles. Technicians re-train and become patent clerks. Even med-chem project leaders eventually hire enough people that they think project strategy and logistics far more than they shake sep funnels or run TLCs.

Adapting to change can be ruff.

And so it is with me -- I find myself at a career inflection point. My Twitter handle reads: one foot in, one foot out. Ever wondered what I meant? It means I'm no longer your friendly "workaday synthetic chemist." I'm still in a role where I think about chemistry daily, and I apply my skills to solve problems. . . I just don't run reactions with my own two (gloved) hands.

At this juncture, one feels a complex mixture of emotions, to be sure:

Excitement, to learn new things and travel more frequently.
Embarrassment, that I've been blogging about chemistry and yet haven't touched a rinse bottle of acetone in months!
Fear, that I won't be as good at this new venture as (I thought) I was at synthesis.
Resolve, that I'm going to buck up and do my best, despite my nerves.

So, gentle readers, please bear with me. I'm going to probably shift away from lab stories and synthetic methods, and try to return to the theme of my very first post:
"This blog will reach out to the wider world about science, and especially chemistry."
I may write more stream-of-consciousness posts about navigating complex organizations, managing expectations and people, and thinking strategically. I may say "vision" or "collaborative."
[Oh great, thinks half my audience, he's really drinking the corporate Kool-Aid now!]

Fine - I'll also still write about chemistry. When something really awesome catches my eye : )

Thanks again, as always,
See Arr Oh

I admire and applaud all who made it to the end of this short chautauqua. If you'd like to leave any kind advice on steering one's blog in a new direction, comments are open!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Fond Farewells

Today marked endings* (of sorts) for two prominent members of the chem-blogging community.

First up, Carmen Drahl - intrepid Chemical and Engineering News reporter - announced she was stepping down:

Just a few hours later, Paul Docherty of Totally Synthetic, arguably the blog that gave rise to post-peer-review in synthetic chemistry, called it quits to focus on a burgeoning informatics career.

I'd like to wish both Carmen and Paul a teary, heartfelt good-bye. After all, they both got me into blogging; see my Haystack and TotSyn guest posts. Moreover, they built the bridge from the Tenderbutton / In the Pipeline / The Chem Blog era into the rich and diverse bloggy landscape we enjoy today (see just a fraction of them, in my blogroll, at right).

Best wishes to both Carmen and Paul as they ride into the Internet sunset.

It's a road, off in the distance. Like a metaphor, or something.

*But not for me. Sorry, chemblogosphere, you're stuck with the pup for yet another year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Confusing 'Chemistry' Image of the Day

This image appeared in an NPR Shots blog post outlining the CDC's recent recommendations on male circumcision:

Source: NPR News / Corbis Images

Please help me understand - What on earth do the floating molecules have to do with this story? 

I grok that the image suggests two men deep in conversation. The article doesn't mention any drugs. Nor bodily substances. No pheremones, hormones, biomarkers, or viral particles enter the conversation. Just another case of stock images gone wrong?