Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Buried Treasure

Regular readers know that I've been collecting names of chemistry faculty moves for a while now. I had to chuckle at this particular announcement, by friend of the blog (and fellow Tweeter) Prof. Karl Gademann. From two clicks deep on his group's home page:
"Prof. Gademann's first professorial appointment was at the EPFL in Lausanne, and he currently holds a chair at the University of Basel as a full professor. He has been elected to the board of the Swiss Academy of Sciences, and is affiliated to the National Centres of Competence in Research ‘Chemical Biology’ and ‘Molecular Systems Engineering’. Karl Gademann will move in Summer 2015 to the University of Z├╝rich. His work has been recognized by a number of international awards, including the Latsis prize, the Novartis Early Career Award, the Ruzicka Medal, The Liebig Lecture by the German Chemical Society, and the European Young Investigator Award."
Thanks to an eagle-eyed commenter for the link.

Also, from both sites (UZH, BAS), it would appear that Dr. Gademann looks most professional when posed behind a rotovap condenser.

Best of luck in the new position, Karl - we'll add you to the list!

Monday, May 4, 2015


It's so refreshing that Spring has finally sprung in Big City, USA.

This one was snapped by an observant reader whilst on a
hunt for a new couch. Cost of each? $30.

Brewing Up Shikimic Acid

Could preparing Tamiflu starters be as simple as making your morning cappuccino?

The lab instrument in question,
straight from the Supporting Info
(I <3 pictures in SI)
Jason Smith and coworkers from the University of Tasmania have reported a PHWE - pressurized hot water extraction - to obtain shikimic acid, a common starting material in several routes to oseltamivir phosphate (Tamiflu). In a preparation that begs repetition, they grind up up 20 g of Chinese star anise, mix with sand, and quickly wash with a hot ethanol-water mixture using a household espresso maker (see right).

The researchers claim that, after a quick silica plug, they obtain 5.5% (w/w) of "sufficiently pure"* shikimic acid. I'd encourage you to go see the NMR spectra for yourself.

Of course, pressing common kitchen tools into synthetic service isn't news. My undergraduate lab group ordered many of its smaller-bore funnels and spatulae from a kitchen supply store. And let's not forget grindstone chemistry, popularized by the late Ajay Bose at the Stevens Institute of Technology, which used a stainless-steel blender** to combine solid reagents into heterocycles.

If molecular gastronomy involves bringing the techniques of organic and biochemistry into the kitchen, perhaps this represents its antipode, some sort of 'reverse' molecular gastronomy in which kitchen appliances and techniques inform bench science. Makes perfect sense; after all (say it with me)...Chemistry is Just Like Cooking!

*Based on the 1H NMR, I'm guessing their material hovers around 90% pure. Still good, given a 2-minute prep time. 
**Kitchen-Aid, no less - high-quality 'instruments' for high-quality chemistry : )

Wanted: Chemistry Humorists...err, Editors

Earlier this week, I took Angewandte Chemie to task: their (in)famous graphical abstract puns just weren't funny anymore. They responded with a job opening*, potentially to write exactly those puns I had just maligned. What a coincidence!

Chemistry writers of the world: Are you witty? Good at writing? Want to live in Germany?
Link's embedded in the Tweet.

*Sorry, Chemjobber, I know this is usually your beat, but I really couldn't resist.