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Archive → September, 2010

Safe science garb: Lab coats

What would you do to improve the white sack?

A guest post by my C&EN colleague and sewing aficionado Cheryl Hogue.

As Halloween approaches, demand certainly must rise for lab coats. They are essential for portraying everyone from Beaker of “Sesame Street” to characters from “Grey’s Anatomy.” Nothing says “scientist” like a lab coat.

Of course, lab coats are also required gear in many (most? all?) chemistry labs.

What makes for a good lab coat? ChemBark’s recent blog post on buying a lab coat got me thinking about this. It also sparked a mad desire in me to design a lab coat for a woman, tailored to following curves a bit while not hugging the body. On many women, including me, many unisex lab coats look like white sacks with lapels and pockets.

But before I could break out my sewing machine and go totally “Project Runway,” I began pondering the characteristics of a good lab coat. Jyllian pitched in and checked with the consulting firm Advanced Chemical Safety. She found there are neither regulatory nor voluntary standards for lab coats.

So now, I throw it open to the chemistry community – what are your criteria for a lab coat? Should the characteristics of a coat vary depend on the type of work done in the lab?
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Without a net

The time has come, the blogger said
To talk of several sundries
Of posts and time and thesis-es
Of things that are not fun-dries
And if, perchance, I’ll find a job
And when I will be done, please*

I think the real question is not "will she fall over and crash dying to the floor?" but "is she the goat or the monkey?" Image by flickr user destinyuk.

The time comes in every grad student’s life when they must stand up, buckle down, and actually (sigh) graduate


This time has finally come for me.

Yes, I’ve been “writing my thesis” for a little while now, but that’s been kind of a part-time thing while I ran around and finished up experiments and loose ends and such. But now? No more experiments to do, no more loose ends to weave in, and no more putting it off. I’m finishing this semester (dangit), so it’s time to just get the thesis done. So this is what I am doing, with all the all I’ve got. Everything else will be pushed to the side for the time being.

In the past, the general MO for a graduating student has been to line up a job or post-doc, defend, then scamper along on one’s merry way to the pre-arranged next source of income. But personally, I’ve never been much of a traditionalist. I have no job lined up. There is no internship set up for me to go to.** So I don’t really know what’s going to happen with me come January or so. Like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ve decided not to think about that just now. All the panic that’s banging around the insides of my skull right now is thesis panic, not ohcraphowamIgoingtofeedmyself panic. Again, push to the side, push to the side.

In light of this impending thesismageddon, I’m probably not going to be around much for the next two months or so (I don’t have an exact defense date yet, but expect I will be setting one soon). I’ll likely bop in here or there with a quick link, or maybe a stray profile or two. In the meantime, I highly recommend you read Chemjobber for employment news, The Haystack and In The Pipeline for pharma-related job news, and Garfield minus Garfield for a sense of the absurd.

Words of encouragement, advice, or deep questioning of my intelligence are welcome in the comments.



*We know what this comes from, yes? Yes. Sorry for that last near rhyme. There aren’t a lot of things that rhyme with ‘sundries’.
**I have a couple more applications out, but no emails that say, “Please Leigh, come intern for us please please” quite yet.

Chemicals As Seen On TV

Watching cable television you may have noticed the following commercial.

It is always neat to see the chemical industry in the popular media. It is neater to impress your friends and family with what you know about the chemistry that appears on television. They might not be so interested. I tried rousing my little girl out of bed when the commercial came on. “Come on, Daddy, I have school tomorrow,” was her response. No fun at all.

Anyhow, if you are curious: The Sasol-Huntsman plant is a maleic anhydride joint venture in Moers-Meerbeck, Germany. It has 60,000 metric tons of capacity, but it is being expanded by 45,000 metric tons in a project that will be completed next year. That would explain the giant thing rolling down the street.

The plant is on the Neiderrhein. I don’t know why it wasn’t floated in via barge. Maybe the Neiderrhein isn’t deep enough to handle the displacement of such a big heavy thing. Maybe there were too many things in the way on the shore near the plant.

Ph.D. program rankings lack safety considerations

The National Research Council’s assessment of graduate programs is out today. To quote from my colleague Carmen Drahl’s story, “The rankings cover doctoral programs in disciplines ranging from aerospace engineering to theater. Those for chemistry alone evaluate over 150 departments on each of 20 criteria, which fall under the broader categories of research activity, student support and outcomes, and diversity.” The goal is to provide data that can be used to evaluate the quality of programs. But it seems to me that the survey is woefully lacking on the occupational health and safety front.

On the student support front, here are some of the related questions on the institutional questionnaire:

  • Is university-supported health care insurance part of the financial support provided to enrolled doctoral students?
  • Does the university-supported health insurance for doctoral students cover mental health services?
  • Missing: Are students eligible for disability or workers compensation?

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On Criticism of ACS and C&EN

Why don’t scientists complain to the source when invited to do so? Today, we discuss a call from C&EN News Editor-in-Chief, Rudy Baum, actively soliciting criticism of the ACS magazine – a post that in two weeks has netted a whopping five comments.  It’s not blogophobia – chemists seem willing to comment at In the Pipeline (18 Apr, 11 Aug, 20 Aug) and Chemjobber (8 Sept). Baum routinely and freely publishes letters to the editor in C&EN that are highly critical of the mag and larger organization. But why won’t chemists and other critics provide feedback directly on his blog?

I put up a version of this post up a few days ago at my other blog, Take As Directed, on the new Public Library of Science (PLoS) network, PLoS Blogs. There, the post netted a total of one comment. That one was not from a chemist but rather from my respected library information scientist colleague, Christina Pikas, formerly with me at ScienceBlogs and now at the vibrant Scientopia blogger collective.

Before I was offered that slot at PLoS to write among a group of truly lofty science journalists, editors, book authors, and bloggers, I had made arrangement for my long-time blog, Terra Sigillata, to move here to GlobCasino. I’ve held forth extensively how deeply satisfying it is for me to be here with another group of lofty journalists and editors, many of whom hold PhDs in chemistry and chemistry-related sciences and/or degrees from some of the top science journalism programs in the US. I’ve been really fortunate in having this science writing hobby bring me into relationships with some remarkable people I’d probably never have interacted with in my myopic research area.

But back to science. When I was an undergrad in the early 80s, most of us paid the then-$10/year student ACS membership fee to get what we then called “C-and-E News” because it made us feel like real scientists, tapped into the big world of all the great opportunities chemistry-related education would bring us. This influence was central to my lifelong collaborations and friendships with chemists despite my turning to the dark side of biology.

When blogger friends learned I’d be writing at both GlobCasino and PLoS, many looked at me askance – or as much as one could online. So, uh, er, you’re associating yourself with the evangelical open-access movement while also working with one of the most longstanding and traditional science publishers???

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Seattle Genetics’ Brentuximab Validates ADC Approach

After years of plugging away at antibody-drug conjugates, Seattle Genetics has finally secured significant validation for its technology. This morning, Seattle-based biotech announced impressive results from a pivotal trial of brentuximab vedotin, an anti-CD30 antibody linked to an auristatin, a small molecule that blocks the formation of microtubules.

Brentuximab, also known as SGN-35, shrank or got rid of tumors in 75% of Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients who had failed to respond to other treatments. Further, that response to SGN-35 lasted for over six months in many of those patients. In this patient population, medical experts had felt that anything more than a 30% response rate would have been solid, Needham & Co. analyst Mark Monane said in a note to investors.

The results “underscore the importance of targeting CD30 in the treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and provide strong validation for our proprietary antibody-drug conjugate technology,” Seattle Genetics’ CEO Clay Seagall said in a conference call this morning.

With today’s data, Seattle Genetics appears to be succeeding in an area that has proven challenging for many. In theory, designing an antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) is straightforward: tether a powerful chemotherapeutic to a cell-specific antibody that can deliver it directly to tumors. And voila, the therapeutic window is opened on chemo drugs that are excellent cancer killers but too toxic to healthy cells.

But developing an ADC has turned out to be tougher than anticipated. The biggest hurdle for scientists has been finding the right link between the antibody and the small molecule–the link after all enables scientists to control where and when that toxic payload is released. Continue reading →

The Kavli Prizes


Fred Kavli. Photo by Madeleine Jacobs

Alfred Nobel never got to enjoy the pomp and ceremony associated with the awarding of the prizes that bear his name.

Fred Kavli has no intention of making the same mistake. Kavli was a beaming, congenial presence throughout the week in early September when the 2010 Kavli Prizes were awarded in Oslo, Norway.

There’s no escaping comparisons between the Nobel Prizes and the Kavli Prizes. First, they are major awards—a bit over $1 million for each Nobel and right at $1 million for each Kavli. Six Nobels are awarded each year; three focus on science. The three Kavli Prizes also honor achievement in the sciences. Both the Nobel and Kavli Prizes are awarded in Scandinavian countries.

However, just as it is a mistake for anyone unfamiliar with the two countries to lump Norway and Sweden together as two Scandinavian nations that share a big peninsula in northern Europe, it would be a mistake to think of the Kavli Prizes as modern-day Nobel wannabes.

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Flurry of FDA action against aromatase inhibitor supplements

A bodybuilder with Grade I gynecomastia (left) and after symptom resolution. Source: Dr. Mordcai Blau, Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve ever met me, you’ll know that I’m not a bodybuilder. That’s why I was taken aback earlier this year when I learned that men are taking aromatase inhibitors – and not for breast cancer.

This education came to me when I was asked by a network news program to comment on a litany of drugs and supplements found in the possession of self-proclaimed guru James Arthur Ray following the Sedona sweat lodge deaths at one of his “Spiritual Warrior” retreats. Among the bodybuilding supplements and testosterone replacement drugs authorities found in his possession was anastrozole (Arimidex), for which he had a valid prescription.

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