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Archive → February, 2010

How Grainy Is The Salt Picture?

Sodium chloride is in the spotlight at the New York Times once again this week. John Tierney’s column and blog post delve into what scientists really know about the effects of reducing salt in people’s diets.

It isn’t just an academic question. A movement to cut sodium intake in the population at large is afoot. It’s based on public health data that say lowering NaCl consumption in a population lowers blood pressure on average, and can thus reduce the risk of diseases such as stroke. And
it involves chemists, from those trying to determine how we taste salt to those working on making salt taste enhancers.
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Gimme That Old Time Poisonin'

shutterstock_35269411It’s not often that an article about chemistry reaches the “most popular” articles list on Slate. Perhaps the last one was a much-talked-about Slate article about the UCLA/Sheri Sangji case.

Unlike the Sangji article, this story from Friday was about something I’d never heard of before- during Prohibition, the U.S. government ordered the adulteration of industrial alcohol in order to thwart bootleggers and stop people from drinking. As author Deborah Blum explains, that didn’t go so well. Poisoned holiday revelers died by the dozens in the nation’s hospitals. And outraged public health officials and anti-Prohibition legislators had harsh words for the government’s ethically dubious chemistry dabblings.

Since most liquor syndicates were simply taking denatured industrial alcohol, which has additives put in to make it undrinkable, and distilling it to remove said additives, the feds decided to make that distillation a bit more complicated.
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ETH Data Manipulation Report Posted On-line

8739news4ethLast fall, chemist Peter Chen voluntarily resigned from his post as the vice president for research at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Zürich, (ETH) following a report from a scientific board of inquiry–that Chen had himself requested–which found that data from his lab published a decade ago in two peer-reviewed papers and a doctoral thesis had been falsified.

The university announced the board of inquiry’s results in September 2009 but it was prevented from releasing the full report publically by a court order from the graduate student involved. According to a post today on the ETH website: “The Court has now ruled, in an initial decision taken at the end of December 2009, that ETH Zurich may in principle publish the export report but only in such an anonymised form “that no conclusions can be drawn about the dissertation or the identity of the complainant”.”

You have to go to the university’s German site to access the report. The blacked out lines are actually multicolor and here is the legend: Blue = PhD Student, green = molecule 1, yellow = molecule 2, black = miscellaneous, red and grey = additional members of the research group.

The basic conclusion from the board of inquiry: “The only credible explanation is manipulation of the data.” They finger the graduate student and vindicate Chen.

Some parts of the 22-page document are dry, but in general it is well-written and shows a measured and comprehensive analysis by the scientific board of inquiry. It also gives insight into how such investigations proceed…

Blame It On The Brain(s) Behind The ACIEs Puns

So. My breaking point came a few weeks ago when I read one of ACIE’s genius abstract caption titles, “Just another Mannich Monday.” After laughing out loud, I proceeded to hum the cheesy tune by the Bangles, loudly, from C&EN’s rooftop Berlin office, for three days. From here until perpetuity, the lyrics “I can’t be late because I guess I just won’t get paid” will remind me of Mannich-derived, stereoselective, one-pot syntheses of “spirocycles, 1-aminoindanes, and 5,6-fused azabicycles that have a quaternary carbon center.”

Yeah yeah. I know I’m not the first to grin, groan, or comment about the puns, pop references, and general goofiness ACIE puts into its online abstracts. Many a blogger (Derek Lowe, Excimer, “Phil,” and Chiral Jones ) have also, um, “admired” ACIE’s ability to bring Shakespeare (“Double, double, no toil and trouble”), Star Trek (“Beam me up,” twice), the X-files (“The truth is out there“), and the disembodied voice from the London Underground (“Mind the gap”) into the world of chemistry. The journal has even gotten pretty risqué of late with “Metal ménage à trois” and “Balls galore!”

But Mannich Monday followed soon on the heels of the caption “The Write Stuff,” which permitted the New Kids On The Block hit–(oh yes, here’s the video)–to breach my consciousness for the first time in 20 years—a particularly traumatic reminder of the boy band phenomenon.

So much so, that I had to meet the evil mastermind behind it all.
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Snoverkill Safety

Safety goggles protect the eyes from more than stray chemicals: this hardy worker protects his eyes from the driving wind and snow of today’s Snowpocalypse III, Snoverkill, GroceryStore Thunderdome, Snoverload, whatever you want to call it.

Although ACS offices have been closed all week, C&EN is still operating, and we do need to eat. Venturing into the tempest, Deputy Editor-in-Chief Maureen Rouhi, Associate Editor Linda Wang, and I went to pick up lunch for the seven of us who stayed in hotels in town or braved the commute to get to headquarters and produce the magazine on schedule. On our way back with the victuals, we encountered this fellow shoveling the sidewalk in front of the hotel/restaurant.

C&EN Enjoys Snoverkill

C&EN Enjoys Snoverkill

Most people in DC seem to have taken a light-hearted outlook to the past couple Snowpocalypses, unlike the first one in December, when a cop pulled a gun at a snowball fight. This fellow chuckled and was very happy to have his picture taken with Linda. As quoted from a fellow C&ENer who saw this photo, “Linda looks like she’s about to happily bonk the equally happy grinning dude! Reminds me of Japanese TV!”

Jobs Do Exist

Those of you who follow C&EN writers on Twitter may have noticed the small blitzkrieg of tweets (a twitzkrieg?) announcing open positions at C&EN. We’re looking for two assigning editors for C&EN’s ACS Journal News & Community department. Read the full job description/qualifications and apply here. Contrary to what the job ad has listed, location may be flexible.

Science And Public Policy

Critics of this page frequently argue that C&EN’s editor-in-chief should comment only on matters concerning chemistry or the chemical industry. There is no place, they argue, in the American Chemical Society’s newsmagazine for commentary on public policies about which ACS members might disagree. The magazine, in fact, should stay out of public policy issues altogether, in the view of some of these critics.

The stories in this week’s issue of C&EN illustrate why this criticism is unrealistic in today’s world. The first seven department stories—from the cover story to both stories in the Business Department, both stories in the Government & Policy Department, the single story in the Science & Technology Department, and even the first story in the ACS News Department—all deal with issues that have a public policy component to them. Science and technology and public policy are inextricably linked in modern societies.

For example, the cover story, “Fluorochemicals Go Short” by Senior Correspondent Steve Ritter, is a comprehensive examination of the development of a policy for dealing with two particularly persistent long-chain perfluoroalkyl compounds: PFOS and PFOA. As an interim measure, chemical companies, with EPA’s blessing, are replacing PFOS and PFOA with compounds with shorter perfluoroalkyl chain groups that impart the same functional properties as the longer chain compounds. “Although the alternatives are just as persistent, they aren’t as bioaccumulative and appear to have a better toxicity profile—which is still being confirmed by testing—and are thus considered sound replacements,” Ritter writes.

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