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Category → ACS Meetings

19th-Century Medicine In New Orleans

Strolling around the French Quarter on my last day attending the spring ACS national meeting in New Orleans, I stumbled across the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, a 19th-century apothecary shop filled from floor to ceiling with bottles and jars containing crude drugs, herbal medicines, and even voodoo potions. For those of you who didn’t get a chance to visit this gem of a place, check out this virtual tour I put together–and be sure to visit the next time ACS visits New Orleans in spring 2018!

Chemistry of the Bar: Amaretto 101

Amaretto: Disregard those almonds, they've got nothing to do with it. Credit: Shutterstock

Amaretto: Disregard those almonds, they’ve got nothing to do with it. Credit: Shutterstock

At last week’s American Chemical Society meeting in New Orleans, a group of chemists came together to discuss the latest and greatest in alcohol. No, this wasn’t on Bourbon Street. And karaoke, to-go cups, and beaded necklaces weren’t involved (as far as I know).

Instead, these folks shared stories about cocktails and hangovers at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center during a symposium called “Chemistry of the Bar.”

This week’s issue of Chemical & Engineering News features a column I wrote about one of the session’s presentations. Neil C. Da Costa, a researcher at International Flavors & Fragrances, in New Jersey, entertained the audience with tales of the hurricane, that rum-based drink the Big Easy is famous for. I featured Da Costa’s studies of the hurricane because of the soft spot I have for the cocktail: The first time I drank one was during my undergraduate years at, you guessed it, my first national ACS meeting.

But I gave short shrift to other “Chemistry of the Bar” presentations. One particularly interesting talk was given by Jerry Zweigenbaum, a researcher at Agilent Technologies, in Delaware. Along with Alyson E. Mitchell and coworkers at the University of California, Davis, Zweigenbaum investigated the ingredients of the after-dinner liquor amaretto.

If you’re like me, you might have thought that because amaretto smells like almonds, it’s made from them. Zweigenbaum says that’s not necessarily the case.

According to legend, amaretto was first made in 1525 by soaking apricot kernels in alcohol. You can see the tale, conveniently located on the website of amaretto maker Disaronno, here. Apparently, one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s star pupils was asked to paint a fresco of the Madonna in the Italian city Saronno. His model was a local innkeeper who showed her gratitude by gifting the fellow a drink made from the infamous kernels.

Today, Disaronno says its amaretto contains “herbs and fruits soaked in apricot kernel oil.”

But the problem with alcohols like amaretto, Zweigenbaum says, is they are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives here in the U.S., rather than by FDA. That means companies don’t have to list the beverages’ ingredients or nutritional content.

So what exactly Disaronno and other amaretto companies are putting in their wares remains a mystery. Zweigenbaum decided to find out. Continue reading →

Looking Back On Philadelphia (#ACSPhilly)

The American Chemical Society meeting in Philly is now fading into our long-term memories. Chemists accomplished a lot in the City of Brotherly Love: They shared ideas, reported their chemical discoveries, and made new connections. Be sure to check out Monday’s issue of C&EN for stories from the meeting as well as photo highlights. In the meantime, here’s a look back on our time in Philly, told in pictures.

And as we say goodbye to Philly, we look toward next spring’s gathering in New Orleans. The beleaguered region and its residents once again have a cleanup ahead of them, after facing Hurricane Isaac. Our hearts go out to everyone there who is dealing with the consequences of this natural disaster–it reminds us just how fragile life can be.

Liveblogging New Drug Candidates This Sunday

The spring ACS national meeting is just around the corner, and with it, as always, comes the unveiling of a few drug candidates’ structures. This symposium is always held in a big ballroom, and it’s always packed.

I’ll be liveblogging the “First Disclosures of Clinical Candidates” symposium, which is this Sunday, March 21, from 2PM to 5PM Pacific. You can follow my updates at C&EN’s new pharma blog, The Haystack. (Link will be live Sunday).

My updates will also appear on Twitter. You don’t have to have a twitter account to see these updates. But if you do use twitter just follow me @carmendrahl

To read the abstracts, visit the ACS meeting technical program, click on the ‘divisions’ tab, select the MEDI division, and then select “First Time Disclosures”.

Some food for thought before Sunday: 4 of the 6 talks appear to be about targeting G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). Last year the stat was two out of six. It always makes for a good talk when GPCRs and other membrane-bound proteins are involved. Since it’s unlikely that there will be detailed structural information on the target (like an X-ray crystal structure) for teams to go on when optimizing their drug candidate, teams have to be resourceful.

Rocking The Expo

Music cells silica and alumina

Music sells silica and alumina

Even though David Schurer jokes that he “would watch TV and eat ice cream” all day if he could, he was working hard on the Expo floor at the ACS national meeting last month. And he was loving it. As vice president and co-owner of Sorbent Technologies, an Atlanta-based chromatography materials and supply company, Schurer was working the crowd to drum up new business for his small company. Working the crowd at the Expo means luring them your way, and to do that, Schurer would often sling his Mini Martin guitar around his shoulder and do what he loves to do most.

“I always do Louis Armstrong tunes, like ‘Ain’t Misbehaving,’ ” Schurer told me recently. “I usually play a Beatles tune, ‘Blackbird.’ And ‘Foxy Lady,’ ” usually at selective moments when the context matches the song. Says Schurer, “the ladies always like a little Hendrix.” Also in the mix are improvisations that conjure Hank Williams and Dave Matthews and music and lyrics that he makes up on the spot. “In D.C., I was just burning it and pretty much did what I had to do,” Schurer said.

I had a brief conversation with him at the Expo and took a picture of him, but it took me a while to get back to him to find out if his musical approach to marketing and his leading role in chromatography had anything to do with one another.

Schurer didn’t expect to be the bard of the Expo, but there have been signs that he could be for a long time. Let’s just say that music is in this guy enough that he dropped out of Emory University in the mid-1970s to give music a go. He played in bands and did solo gigs, but it wasn’t looking promising. Besides, he recalled, “I was getting parental pressure up the wazoo” to go back to school. Which he did, earning a business degree at Emory.

But the musical life kept beckoning. Continue reading →

Pictures from an Exposition



Every exposition at a national ACS meeting is a wonder of magnitude, logistics, specialty knowledge, personalities, marketing and promotion innovations (and desperations), and business diversity. The microculture of the journals and book industry, for example, is so different from that of the lab automation industry. For me, though, the biggest draw at each Expo is the opportunity to browse the material culture of the laboratory. It’s a  menagerie of forms and textures and designs that I revel in the way I might be amazed and amused by the biological forms, textures and designs on display at a zoo. And I particularly like to snap a macro lens onto my camera. This accoutrement provides me with a sort of low-power-microscope perspective on the gala. With that point of view, it’s the details, the components, of the mass spectrometers, x-ray diffractometers, calorimetry systems, automated sample handlers, and other laboratory instruments and furnishings that come to the fore. This act of abstraction also reveals how the result of design and material choice so often brings with it, not so much on purpose as by consequence, arresting aesthetic appeal.

Continue reading →

Looking Back At The National Meeting

With the ACS national meeting in my own backyard this year, I appreciated that fact that I didn’t have to travel very far. But I also wondered whether that would impact my ability get good photos.

When I’m in a new city, my senses are heightened, and I experience the world in a different way than I normally would. I guess that’s why ACS keeps the meetings moving from year to year—to keep them fresh and exciting. On the other hand, forcing myself to see Washington, D.C., in a new light brought this meeting to a new level of satisfaction.

Here are some things that caught my attention:

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“Snickers Is Almost A Perfect Food,” And Other Food-Texture Musings

shutterstock_2754827_crop2On the menu at last Tuesday’s food-texture talks at the ACS national meeting was a circus of flavors and sensual experiences (if only via PowerPoint): force deformation curves of fractured foam cell-walls for starters, an entrée of roasted-nut plot distributions, and a milky-smooth monologue on the pleasures and pains of food texture for dessert. (Regrettably, hotel catering didn’t contribute to the spread, as the session was over before lunchtime, and we all left salivating.)

After a couple detailed recounts of experiments dealing with cell-rupturing crispiness and nut-cracking crunchiness, Gail Vance Civille of Sensory Spectrum, Inc., wrapped everything up by bringing us back to the basics. Texture, she defined, is the sensory measure of structure or inner makeup of foods and other materials. We measure it with our skin and muscles, and we need people to evaluate it; machines can only help simulate textural experiences. We break down foods in three ways—mechanical, salivary, and thermal—and when foods don’t break down the way they’re supposed to, we reject them. For example, a waxy piece of chocolate that doesn’t melt on our tongues as it should is, well, waxy and unappetizing. Continue reading →