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Archive → November, 2010

Good news in University of Colorado chemical accident

Firefighters and students gather outside the CU Engineering Center, site of a reported chemical explosion Tuesday afternoon. (Marty Caivano)

The Colorado Daily

reported this evening on a chemical explosion that injured an unidentified PhD student at the University of Colorado Engineering Center in Boulder. Few details are available now but don’t let the photos of the firefighters put you off – the accident could have been far worse.

Emergency crews evacuated the University of Colorado Engineering Center this afternoon after chemicals exploded in a beaker and the exploding glass shards cut a 28-year-old doctoral student’s forehead.

The student was mixing chemicals in a room in the Engineering Center’s “chemical engineering” wing. No one else was injured, according to Bronson Hilliard, spokesman for CU-Boulder.

The student — whose name is not being released — walked himself to Wardenburg Health Center on campus.

Glass shards in the forehead tell me that the student was likely wearing appropriate eye protection. My guess is that we could have been reading about a student who was tragically blinded.

We send our best wishes to the student and to our colleagues at the CU Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

2010 Holiday Gift Guide

Behold, for the 2010 GlobCasino Holiday Gift Guide for the chemist in your life has arrived. Granted, we’re a touch late for Chanukah this year (unless you’re a last-minute shopper), but take advantage of that 8-day grace period, folks. We’ve got some good stuff here. And feel free to leave other suggestions in the comments or check out last year’s gift guide.

DEA acts on naphthoylindoles and 3-phenylcyclohexanols in synthetic marijuana

Umm, not for long.

A slightly different version of this post appeared yesterday at my Take As Directed blog.

Just before we in the US took off for the holiday, the US Drug Enforcement Agency released notice of “emergency scheduling” of synthetic cannabimimetic compounds currently sold in herbal incense products. Products like K2, Spice, Black Mamba, and pure compounds such as JWH-018 have been a boon for convenience stores, head shops, and internet retailers (not to mention huge, sustained traffic benefits for bloggers.). The complete text of the rule can be found here at the DEA website.

Already outlawed in Europe and with various bans in 15 states, these products are now officially viewed by DEA as worthy of “schedul[ing] an abused, harmful, non-medical substance in order to avoid an imminent public health crisis while the formal rule-making procedures described in the CSA are being conducted.”

What this means is that the DEA is going to release within 30 days a notice of formal ban of five chemicals – JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol – via temporary assignment to Schedule I, the US classification for drugs with no known medical benefit but that possess high abuse potential or are otherwise unduly harmful. This classification will then make these compounds temporarily illegal to sell or possess for one year (with a possibly six-month extension) while the DEA conducts studies and procedures for formal assignment to Schedule I.

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The National Research Council’s “Safety Summit”

Last week, the National Research Council convened a “Safety Summit” on academic laboratory safety. Roughly 40 people attended, including representatives from academia, industry, and government labs and agencies. The goal of the summit, says Dorothy Zolandz, director of NRC’s Board on Chemical Sciences & Technology, was to help the board determine what projects it should initiate in the area of laboratory safety.

The board is currently wrapping up an update to “Prudent Practices in the Laboratory,” as well as the production of educational materials for the State Department’s Chemical Security Engagement Program (C&EN, Dec. 7, 2009, page 44).

A few themes emerged from the summit, which included talks by several attendees as well as open discussion, Zolandz says. One was that several people felt very strongly that safety should be an explicit part of the hiring and evaluation criteria for faculty. But others felt that the problem was really a lack of resources for which faculty shouldn’t be held responsible. Matthew Clark, director of university programs at the Department of Homeland Security, commented that in his experience, issues of safety compliance came down to “cost, inertia, and arrogance on the part of the principal investigators,” Zolandz says.

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New CEO At Braskem

Brazilian petrochemical giant Braskem has announced a succession plan. Carlos Fadigas has been named Bernardo Gradin’s successor at CEO, pending a nod from Braskem’s board next year. A Braskem spokesman says that Carlos will indeed take over during the first quarter of next year.

This strikes me as a little curious, Bernardo only took over from Jose Carlos Grubisich, the CEO who built the company, in 2008. Two and a half years is not a long tenure. Bernardo seems to be faithfully executing the board’s strategy of getting bigger at home and abroad.

Bernardo is young, 45, so he isn’t retiring. He’s also Wharton School educated. What’s not to like?

“The succession plan is prompted by Braskem’s constant improvement of its governance practices, always guided by transparency and respect to shareholders,” the release said. The cryptic use of “improvement” is and “respect to shareholders” are possible clues. But if he is being fired, why wait a number of months?

Carlos Fadigas heads Braskem’s U.S. business, and thus is being vested with getting the Sunoco polypropylene integration off the ground. He was Braskem’s CFO between 2007 and 2010.

This succession is most probably benign. Bernardo might just be moving on to another job. Though, there aren’t a great many positions in Brazil that would be considered a promotion compared with Braskem.

I’m anxious to see where Bernardo lands or if any palace intrigue comes of this. I also wonder if there is a reason why Braskem has appointed a bean counter in his place.

These alternative careers? Maybe not so much.

Today for your reading pleasure, we’ve got a guest post from the ever witty Chemjobber. According to him, not all alternative jobs are good ideas.
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Leigh’s always writing about good alternative careers for chemists; here, I suggest a few bad ones for those of you contemplating leaving graduate school or a postdoc for something, anything else. Don’t try any of these:
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1. Counselor/psychotherapist: I can only imagine it: “Hey, dude — your Dad doesn’t like you? Cry me a river — I worked for a guy for five back-breakin’ years and all I got was this lousy sheepskin and a postdoc at East Butterfinger State College.” Chemists just aren’t big on sympathy.
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2. Singer: Sure there are some pretty decent folks who can sing along to the radio, but for every one of those, there’s ten people screeching “Every Rose Has A Thorn” at the top of their lungs while running a column. Face it, none of us are going to Hollywood.
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3. Traffic cop: “Yeah, I don’t really know how fast you were going, either. Probably 45 mph, plus or minus 5 or 10. What is the margin of error on this thing, anyway?”

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Organic farming + organic chemist? Image by flickr user tori.tori.tori.

4. Organic farmer: The confusion between organic food and organic chemistry would be enough to make your head explode. Don’t even attempt it, especially if you snicker every time you see “organic” written at the grocery store.
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5. Nurse: See #1.
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6. Temperance campaigner: Have you ever seen us before a departmental seminar or a Friday happy hour? Keep moving, folks.
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7. Diplomat: “You see, Senor Presidente, the reason we’re invading you is, well, we just don’t like you. And you rejected our paper a couple years back. Yeah, no, we haven’t forgotten. Enjoy!”
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8. Motivational speaker: “So the reason that you should live your dreams and strive for excellence is… is… is… ’cause I’ve been here 5 years and I desperately need a job! Kids, I’m your role model!”
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9. Dancer: It’s Thursday night, the chemists are out drinkin’ and jerking their bodies around dancin’ , and well, not really doing the field any favors. Cutting a rug, so to speak, isn’t something chemists are good at (even though there are rare exceptions).
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10. Fashion designer: “So for this year’s spring fashions, T-shirts! In all different colors: blue, blue, blue and blue. Don’t forget these awesome acid holes! This one, that’ll get them talking in Milan!”
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Thanks so much to Chemjobber for his infinite wisdom. Oh, and this blog post. And speaking of thanks, if you’re American, have a great Thanksgiving tomorrow! If you’re not, have a great Thursday.

Elegant defense of the humanities by noted structural biologist

This crosspost first appeared on 20 November 2010 at the PLoS Blogs home of my free-range blog, Take As Directed.

I’m not in the protein crystallography field. Instead, the way that I came to learn of Gregory Petsko at Brandeis University was via a tweet from literary agent, Ted Weinstein, about an hour ago.

Ted’s tweet referred me to an open letter that Dr. Petsko wrote in Genome Biology to the President of SUNY-Albany, George M. Philip. Now referred to as UAlbany, that state university campus announced six weeks ago that they were suspending admissions and eliminating several arts and humanities departments, including French, Italian, Classics, and the Theatre Arts.

President Philip himself earned a BA and MA in history from UAlbany and a JD from Western New England College School of Law. He became president of the university in 2009 after having been chief investment officer of the New York State Teachers Retirement System, described in his university bio as “one of the 10 largest public retirement funds in the nation, with more than 400,000 members and managed assets of $105 billion.”

Petsko, US National Academy of Sciences member and past-president of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, crafted a simply beautiful defense of the value of broad university education. I’ll just direct you to read it because he is such a clear communicator with a quietly biting wit. In case you don’t have time right now, here’s one paragraph to give you the gestalt – Petsko uses as an example his own monthly column in Genome Biology:

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Pics Of The Week

It’s been a while since we highlighted some of the gorgeous pics from our photo contest. So this Thanksgiving week, we’re offering up our honorable mentions for a visual feast.

In the Natural Polymers & Photonics Laboratory at Drexel University, researchers convert polysaccharides into nanofibers and thin films for use water purification and other applications. In Marjorie S. Austero's experiment, adding excess cross-linker to chitosan yielded the fine-fibered material seen in the colored SEM image.

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