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Category → Good People

RTI scientists solving forensic, designer drug mysteries

Kerstin Nordstrom, PhD, AAAS Mass Media Fellow, News & Observer

. Credit: Losert Laboratory/Univ of Maryland.

Catching up on my reading this Sunday morning, I’m beaming with pride on the collective accomplishments and coverage of some old friends and colleagues.

Kerstin Nordstrom, a AAAS Mass Media Fellow with the Raleigh News & Observer

, had a nice story on 3 September about the work of Dr. Peter Stout at RTI International. You old-timers will know this non-profit entity as Research Triangle Institute, home to the discoveries of Taxol and camptothecin by Wall and Wani and colleagues.

Kerstin, or Dr. Nordstrom I should say as she holds a PhD in physics, interviews RTI’s Dr. Peter Stout on the institute’s forensic analytical chemistry capabilities with regard to the “designer drug” industry. Yes, here we go again with my long-running commentary on the “synthetic marijuana,” “herbal incense,” “plant food,” and “bath salts” products that have recently taken a direct hit from “Operation Log Jam,” a coordinated, federal operation to shut down the industry.

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Al Malkinson the Scientist: Eulogy by Dr. Lori Dwyer-Nield

Lori Dwyer-Nield, PhD, Associate Research Professor, School of Pharmacy, University of Colorado Denver’s Anschutz Medical Campus; Investigator, Eastern Colorado Veterans Hospital

In this second part of my remembrance of lung cancer biochemical pharmacologist, Colorado’s Dr. Al Malkinson, I’d like to share with readers some recollections by Lori Dwyer-Nield, PhD. I’ve known Lori since my appointment to Colorado’s faculty in 1992 when she had already been a postdoctoral fellow of Al’s. Dr. Dwyer-Nield continued on as research faculty at the CU School of Pharmacy and co-authored over 40 publications with Al.

At Al’s memorial service last Saturday in Boulder, Lori was asked by Al’s wife, Lynn, to eulogize Al on behalf of all his scientific colleagues. Her thoughts were so warmly received that I wanted to share them more widely, especially with members of the scientific community who knew Al but were unable to attend the memorial. Moreover, I had reflected in my previous post how supportive Al was of his women trainees in balancing career and family. This eulogy provides a glimpse into this philosophy of Al’s directly from someone who lived it for over 20 years.

My tremendous thanks go out to Lori for agreeing to share with us this text of her eulogy.

 


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On the loss of a mentor: Al Malkinson, lung cancer researcher, scholar, gentleman

Note to Readers: After reading through my writing here and at my Take As Directed blog between October, 2011, and October, 2012, I’ve decided to submit this post as my entry for The Best Science Writing Online 2013, formerly The Open Laboratory. The 2012 version was published by the Farrar, Straus and Giroux imprint of Scientific American.

While the post details my emotions and recollections over a personal loss, I believe that it best reflects one of my strengths as a science writer: use of a personal story to touch on our own universal experiences as human beings who chose science as our vocation. All of you must have someone like Al Malkinson in your life. And he supported women in science long before special discussions groups on the topic even existed.

Finally, I also feel that my closing discussion — the lost art of the Festschrift — is an issue we must revitalize in modern scientific research. We rarely recognize our mentors and leaders while they are alive. I hope that my writing here motivates me (and you) to take action to formally celebrate the contributions of those who are still with us.


 

Alvin M. Malkinson, PhD. Credit: University of Colorado Denver, Skaggs School of Pharmacy

Those who make the deepest impression on you become the fabric of your being. Think about those who’ve passed through your life and have influenced your approach to science, society, family. . .

Even if years have passed since seeing one another, the lessons and attributes of these very special people continue to stay with you. But rarely do we truly get to express to these treasured souls just how much they have meant to us.

My first faculty mentor, lung cancer researcher Alvin M. Malkinson, PhD, passed away last Friday in Boulder, CO, at age 71.

Professionally, Al was Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy, now on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. But if you were fortunate enough to know him, you learned that he was a scholar of the world, lover of the arts, and true gentleman.

I last visited the pharmacy school two years ago and had learned from colleagues that Al had been ill. He apparently deteriorated rapidly during this July and passed from pneumonia secondary to other complications.

I hadn’t been able to get back to Denver last summer or this year but I now realize that wasn’t an excuse not to at least call Al. I always remember Al as a vibrant, worldly soul whose intellectual energy, I thought, was likely to power him for a couple more decades. Alas, he has left us early – far too early – and without some of us being able to say goodbye.

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Do you remember your PhD defense?

A new and already-dear friend is defending her doctoral dissertation tomorrow. I remembered that I had written a post awhile back on my feelings about my own defense, and how my perceptions at the time didn’t measure up to reality.

The timing of this repost also coincides with the Diversity in Science Blog Carnival just posted at Neurotic Physiology, written by another remarkable woman scientist friend of mine, Scicurious. The theme of that carnival is “imposter syndrome” – the broad pathology of self-doubt that one is somehow not qualified for one’s career. I should have submitted this post for that carnival because it falls into that category.

So, for what it’s worth, I’m reposting my feelings in 2008 from the 19th anniversary of my dissertation defense. (How quaint to see that I was using a Palm Treo back then!)


 

This post appeared originally on 13 November 2008 at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata.

For whatever reason, I woke up really depressed and exhausted today – pretty much for no reason, I think.

I checked my schedule on my Treo – today marks 19 years since my dissertation defense.

I remember being really depressed throughout writing my dissertation thinking, “is this all I have to show for this many years of public support for my training?”

My defense was on a Monday so I spent most of Sunday practicing my seminar in the room where I’d give it – it sucked so badly that I couldn’t even get through it once.

When the time came, it was the most incoherent performance I had ever given or ever would.

I was a blithering idiot during my oral exam. There was a great deal of laughter in the room as I stood outside in the hall.

How in the hell did they give me a Ph.D.?

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Cristy Gelling: Pittsburgh Postdoc, Premier Poet

I just received a nice bit of news from my alumni Facebook page of the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop which I took last summer with C&EN colleague, Lauren Wolf.

Turns out that our classmate Cristy Gelling has been recognized by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) as the editor’s choice winner of their “Science in Stanzas” poetry competition.

The competition was launched by Angela Hopp, Editor of ASBMB Today, and to recognize the other types of creativity possessed by scientists attending the upcoming Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in San Diego starting next weekend (April 21-25). The judges were themselves rather accomplished poets and humorists in science.

Gelling’s lovely poem is entitled, “Consistent with this, cell extracts from the iba57Δ strain showed virtually no aconitase activity (Fig. 2A),” and is only slightly longer than the title.

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Brian Malow: Science Comedian Makes a Move

Brian Malow, new Curator of the SECU Daily Planet. What’s the Daily Planet? Click on the image.

RALEIGH, NC – Although it’s personal day job news, I’m certain this announcement will be of interest to C&EN readers in the Research Triangle area and others in the science communications community.

Brian Malow, Earth’s Premier Science Comedian, has been named Curator of the SECU Daily Planet at the new Nature Research Center (NRC) of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Currently residing in San Francisco, Malow produces science videos for TIME magazine’s website and is a contributor to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk radio show.

The SECU Daily Planet is the iconic centerpiece of the new 80,000 square foot wing of North Carolina’s flagship natural science museum.

The NRC addition will open to the public with a 24-hour program of Grand Opening events beginning at 5 pm on Friday, April 20.

The Grand Opening will be preceded by a formal Gala and After Party on the evening of Friday, April 13. Tickets for the Gala and After Party are on sale here but admission to the April 20th public grand opening – and every day afterward – is free.

Building upon a 130-year history of showing visitors what we know about the natural world, the Museum’s NRC will engage visitors in-person and online to experience the scientific process in action: how we know what we know.

And what exactly is the Daily Planet?

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Bad news for Bionovo and herbal drug development

A pharmacognosy colleague contacted me on Friday morning with word that the botanical drug development company Bionovo was closing its chemistry group.

Well, the news is actually worse as judging from this 8 pm Friday press release:

Bionovo, Inc. (OTC Link Platform: BNVI.PK) today announced that it will need to obtain substantial additional funding to achieve its objectives of internally developing drugs. The Company reduced its workforce by over 90%. The remaining management of the Company will receive reduced cash compensation until either adequate financing can be obtained or the Company is sold.  The Company can not make any assurances about either of these events.  As previously announced, management and the board of directors are continuing to explore strategic options for the Company.  Management is currently reviewing the status of the ongoing clinical trial for Menerba.

The Company does not currently have adequate internal liquidity to meet its cash needs.  If sufficient additional funds are not received in the near term, the Company may not be able to execute its business plan and may need to further curtail or cease operations.

Bionovo has been the rare superb example of a company that’s been trying to develop FDA-approvable drugs based on Chinese traditional medicine. Led by Isaac Cohen, a UCSF guest scientist and Doctoral of Oriental Medicine, and chief medical officer, Mary Tagliaferri, Bionovo took a hard, science-based approach to identifying herbal extracts for cancer and women’s health issues. Cohen and colleagues at UCSF and elsewhere examined Chinese herbal medicines for their biochemical and cellular effects based upon their traditional use.

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Betsy Bennett: Bringing Science to the People

A belated Happy New Year, folks! May 2012 bring you high yields, great happiness, and good health.

The first day of the year brought wonderful news to everyone at my new place of employment, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and its new wing, the Nature Research Center.

Museum Director Dr. Betsy Bennett was named Tar Heel of the Year by the Research Triangle area newspaper, the Raleigh News & Observer. Bennett was recognized for her leadership and transformation of what has become the largest museum of its kind in the southeastern United States.

Since being appointed as director in 1990, Betsy has led two major expansions of the Museum from its humble home in the state agricultural building. N&O reporter Jane Stancill did superb work on this feature which graced page one of our Sunday paper. Betsy’s life story starts as does so many of ours in biology and chemistry, with a love of nature and how it works. I can’t do justice to Stancill’s writing – I absolutely love the imagery and metaphor of this concise thesis of her feature:

“Bennett’s skills developed on a natural path, a trail that meandered through science, education and politics.”

But I’m not telling you all of this to suck up to the new boss. Yes, yes, she’s a truly remarkable person and unmatched in her ambassadorship of the state’s central institution for science education. What I want to stress is that scientists are central to the daily life of citizens and should be recognized for these efforts as much as any sports figure, business leader, or politician.

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