Category → The Editor’s Blog
I arrived in Anaheim on Thursday, March 24. As usual everyone has been busy throughout the meeting.
As it always does at national meetings, the C&EN Editorial Board met at 7:30 a.m. on Friday. The C&EN Editorial Board monitors the editorial health of the magazine and adjudicates disputes between the C&EN editor-in-chief and ACS members, among other duties. Two of the seven members of the board are the ACS president and chair of the board of directors, so the C&EN Editorial Board has to meet early to free them for meetings scheduled throughout the rest of the day.
Which I love. It means the most important governance meeting I attend is the first thing that happens all week. It’s not that it’s all downhill from there, but it certainly takes some pressure off.
One of the points I made in my presentation to the board is that C&EN is not just a print publication any more. Yes, about 96,000 ACS members still take the print edition and it is still our flagship product, but consider:
- The electronic edition of C&EN is increasingly popular, with 67% of members living outside of North America taking it and 16% of members living in North America taking it.
- C&EN Online
- C&EN introduced two news channels to ACS journal home pages in 2010, the Environmental SCENE and the Analytical SCENE; we will introduce two to four more news channels this year.
- GlobCasino was reinvented in 2010 as a network of focused blogs, now numbering 10, with three—Terra Sigillata, Just Another Electron Pusher, and Transition States—hosted by people not on C&EN’s staff.
There’s more, but I think you get the idea. The C&EN brand includes much more than the magazine you’re familiar with. And there’s more to come. Like C&EN Mobile.
On Saturday, I attended the Society Committee on Budget & Finance meeting. This committee is a large, serious, august group, as well they should be. ACS had a very good year in 2010, ACS Treasurer Brian Bernstein reported to B&F. The annual audit is now completed, and the net from operations in 2010 was $23.8 million, the highest on record and the seventh consecutive year of positive results. Total revenue was $463.7 million (0.8% growth over 2009), which translates into a return on revenue of 5.3%, the highest since 1984. The society’s unrestricted net assets now stand at $130.3 million, still down from before the Great Recession but moving very much in the right direction.
Two of the titans of the chemistry enterprise celebrated landmark birthdays in conjunction with the national meeting. On Saturday, I drove from Anaheim to Pasadena to attend the Harry Fest at Caltech, a 75th birthday bash for chemistry professor Harry B. Gray that drew more than 300. On Sunday evening, a slightly smaller but no less enthusiastic group of colleagues and former students gathered for a reception and dinner to mark Columbia University chemistry professor Ronald Breslow’s 80th birthday.
The ACS Board of Directors held its open meeting on Sunday morning. Several foreign dignitaries visiting ACS at the meeting discussed their chemical societies’ activities during the International Year of Chemistry. Of special note, ACS Board Chair Bonnie Charpentier, ACS Executive Director and CEO Madeleine Jacobs, and Soon Ting-Kueh, the
immediate past president of the Federation of Asian Chemical Societies signed a memorandum of understanding committing ACS and FACS to several mutually beneficial activities over the next three years.
C&EN Assistant Managing Editor Sophie Rovner posted on Newscripts on the presidential event on chemistry and Hollywood. As Rovner notes in her post, the large hall was packed, and what was particularly gratifying was that it was packed with young faces. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many young ACS members in one place at one time. It bodes well for our organization’s future.
Rovner notes that University of Oklahoma chemistry professor Donna J. Nelson became the science advisor the television series “Breaking Bad” after reading about the dark program in a story in C&EN. What I wanted to stand up and say is that C&EN received several letters to the editor after that story appeared criticizing the magazine for publishing it. C&EN shouldn’t have given any space to such a dark television program about a high school chemistry teacher involved in illegal activities, the letters concluded. I’m still dumbfounded that some ACS members don’t want to acknowledge anything but the bright side of chemistry.
Monday morning at the opening of the exposition marked the debut of the new, unified ACS Village Booth. Now all elements of ACS who have a stake in the meeting, from CAS and the Publications Division to Meetings & Scientific Advancement, Education, and Member Insurance are all together in one dramatic and impressive booth. At precisely
10 a.m., ACS Executive Director Madeleine Jacobs, M&SA Division Director Denise Creech, CAS President Robert J. Massie, and Publications Division President Brian D. Crawford cut the ceremonial ribbon opening the booth.
C&EN hosted its first webinar of 2011 at the Anaheim meeting. C&EN Deputy Editor-in-chief moderated. University of Toronto chemistry professor Andrei K. Yudin presented a lecture on “Aziridine Aldehydes as Reagents for Rapid & Chemoselective Synthesis of Complex Molecules.” More than 200 people tuned in for the webinar.
That’s it for now.
Other Voices on the Budget
I have little doubt that my editorial in this week’s issue will raise a ruckus among some readers. Once again, the refrain will go, the ultra-liberal Baum has come out in favor of big government and high taxes.
Turns out, I’m not alone. The March 4 issue of Science
Orbach writes, “It was with a mixture of astonishment and dismay that I watched as the U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 1, a bill to fund the federal government for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year. Left intact, the massive cuts in research contained in the bill passed on 19 February would effectively end America’s legendary status as the leader of the worldwide scientific community, putting the United States at a distinct disadvantage when competing with other nations in the global marketplace.”
Orbach goes on to state that funding for scientific research should not be a partisan issue (good luck on that in today’s political climate) and that, “The spending cuts in the bill would have a devastating effect on an array of critical scientific research.” He concludes that “the Senate must restore funding for science in the FY 2011 budget. Failure to do so would relegate the United States to second-class status in the scientific community and threaten economic growth and prosperity for future generations of Americans.”
The February 25 issue of Science has an excellent news story entitled “House Cuts to DOE National Labs Would Also Hamstring Industry.” The story reports that the cuts in the Republican 2011 budget would result in the layoff of several thousand workers at the national labs and hamper industrial research ranging from the pharmaceutical industry to the oil and gas industry. The story leads, “A spending bill passed by the House of Representatives last week would bring the Department of Energy’s entire science program to a screeching halt and wreak havoc on research funded by other agencies and by private industry.”
The budget charade being played out in Washington is nothing less than a national tragedy. Anyone who cares about the future of our nation should be speaking out on it.
C&EN launched “C&ENtral Science,” the magazine’s permanent blog, in March 2008, in time for the spring ACS national meeting in New Orleans. A number of C&EN staff members attending the meeting posted blog entries on everything from symposia they had attended to tchotchkes being given out by exhibitors at the meeting exposition. A smattering of readers followed us on the blog.
We created “C&ENtral Science” with a bit of trepidation. There was concern about diverting staff resources from covering hard news of the chemistry enterprise toward what some viewed as ephemera. There were questions about setting priorities. People pointed out that successful blogs often had a snarky tone that we thought was inappropriate for C&EN. Others worried that the lighter, breezier tone we were hoping to achieve on “C&ENtral Science” could detract from the perception of C&EN as a serious newsmagazine.
For the past two years, “C&ENtral Science” has been something of a grabbag. Numerous staff members attending national meetings continued to post on, yes, tchotchkes, dining experiences, and people they ran into on shuttle buses, as well as symposia and governance functions. C&EN’s informal “staff photographer,” Associate Editor Linda Wang, worked with C&EN Online Visual Designer Tchad Blair to create memorable slide shows from the meetings.
C&EN has been engaged in a major project with the ACS Washington IT Department for more than three years to create a workflow that renders all C&EN content in XML—extensible markup language—to facilitate delivery of the content electronically over the Internet and via mobile devices. That Digital Workflow Project has now morphed into the C&EN Production Automation Program, a set of four projects that will revolutionize the delivery of C&EN to its readers.
One reason the workflow project has been so complex and drawn out is that C&EN is a weekly magazine with three delivery modes—print, electronic, and C&EN Online—which we produce in parallel. We do multiple types of editing simultaneously, and the content you read isn’t final until the pages of the print edition are complete. Our workflow is inherently complicated.
Another reason, however, is the complexity of the typography and design of a magazine that covers the chemistry enterprise. Of necessity, C&EN contains many “special characters”—Greek letters and mathematical symbols, for example, to express chemical names and concepts. We have also chosen to retain many elements of classical typography, with the names of journals and the Latin names of species italicized, to take another example.
Because I have been in the magazine business for more than 30 years, I am sensitive to typography. Have you noticed how some of the elements of typography I noted above have completely disappeared from newspapers and most magazines? You won’t see Science magazine or Escherichia coli in italics in the New York Times. You almost certainly will not see α-interferon, either. I call this the tyranny of XML; it is a protocol that is powerful for the electronic delivery of content, but it is wreaking havoc on print.
I don’t have the time to fully understand zeta potential, so of course I go to Wikipedia, according to which: “Zeta potential is an abbreviation for electrokinetic potential in colloidal systems. In the colloidal chemistry literature, it is usually denoted using the Greek letter zeta, hence ζ-potential. From a theoretical viewpoint, zeta potential is electric potential in the interfacial double layer (DL) at the location of the slipping plane versus a point in the bulk fluid away from the interface. In other words, zeta potential is the potential difference between the dispersion medium and the stationary layer of fluid attached to the dispersed particle.”
Okay, that makes my head ache. And thank goodness, Steven Trainoff, director of engineering at Wyatt Technology assures me that even if I don’t exactly know what zeta potential is, I could still appreciate the importance of an instrument they are introducing at Pittcon 2010, the Möbiuζ, which Wyatt claims can more precisely and easily measure the electrophoretic mobility of proteins than other methods.
Accurate measurement of protein electrophoretic mobility—which is related to the zeta potential—is especially important in formulating protein drugs. That’s because protein drugs must be charged in a formulation. The charge must be high enough to ensure that proteins are stable—individual molecules repel each other—but not so high that not enough molecules can be crammed in the formulation. It’s therefore critical to know the charge on the molecule, which can be inferred from the electrophoretic mobility.
Now, many instruments out there can measure electrophoretic mobility, Trainoff says, but they are not good with small proteins, such as the 14.4-kilodalton lysozyme, in the high concentration that they exist in a formulation. That’s because as proteins become smaller, the noise from diffusion becomes too much. Wyatt’s new optical instrument solves this problem by using an array of 30 photodiode detectors instead of the usual single detector. The massively parallel detection system means faster detection and higher sensitivity than is possible with other instruments. For example, Wyatt’s Möbiu? can determine the electrophoretic mobility of a 1-mg/mL sample of immunoglobulin G in about 30 seconds.
Watch out for the March 29 issue for C&EN’s official coverage of Pittcon 2010. Senior Correspondent Stu Borman will summarize the highlights and trends, Senior Correspondent Steve Ritter will compile the most noteworthy instruments on display, and Senior Editors Celia Henry and Mitch Jacoby will report from the technical sessions.
I had back-to-back meetings with 10 companies while at Pittcon; some of them I’ve mentioned in earlier posts. The one that left a deep impression is Anasazi, a maker of 60- and 90-MHz FT-NMR instruments that sells 90% of its products to the education market: community colleges, 4-year colleges, and even high schools.
I completed my chemistry education without ever seeing, let alone using, an NMR instrument, and I’m so excited that high school and college students can actually use, touch, and manipulate the machine instead of just learning how to read and interpret the spectra, thanks to affordable and low-maintenance products such as those from Anasazi.
Don Bouchard, president of Anasazi, tells me that Anasazi FT-NMRs are ideal for the education market because they do not use superconducting magnets that need gases and cryogenic conditions to operate. The company does have a few industry customers, he says, for applications that can be optimally executed with the 60- and 90-MHz instruments. The
difference in price, according to Don, is significant: about $100,000 for an Anasazi instrument, including a five-year warranty vs about $225,000 + $15-30,000/per year in maintenance costs for a 400-MHz spectrometer with a superconducting magnet.
Anasazi NMR spectrometers are installed at three U.S. high schools and many colleges, including at least 20 community colleges in California, Don says.
Although Anasazi’s primary customers are from academia, Don and his wife, Julie, are at Pittcon in hopes of attracting customers from industry and government labs. Those of you chemistry teachers with some Department of Education Title III money might want to talk to them.
The sad saga of bisphenol A (BPA) and food containers reveals much about what is wrong with some environmentalists today.
C&EN has covered the health concerns associated with BPA extensively for several years. We have covered the reports of the National Toxicology Program on the health effects of BPA and the Food & Drug Administration’s difficult balancing act in regulating human exposure to the chemical.
C&EN has also covered the chemistry that makes it difficult to eliminate all uses of BPA associated with food. Senior Editor Mitch Jacoby, for example, wrote in the Dec. 15, 2008, issue (page 31) that “for many food applications, for example, in the metal-packaging industry, finding a new material with just the right combination of properties remains a major challenge” because “the materials used to coat food cans must adhere strongly, provide corrosion resistance, and withstand the high temperatures required for sterilization and processing. The coating also has to be compatible chemically with the food and cannot impart a flavor or odor.” BPA has all of these characteristics; most potential alternatives do not.
C&EN’s full coverage of Pittcon 2010 will appear in the March 29 issue. In that issue, C&EN reporters Celia Arnaud, Stu Borman, Mitch Jacoby, and Steve Ritter will synthesize the four-day scientific and exhibition fest on instrumentation/analytics in highlights of product introductions, technical sessions, and industry trends. Their stories will be C&EN’s definitive take on Pittcon. What I am posting are my mere musings.
We just finished from the first ever C&EN luncheon at Pittcon, attended by 100 guests. Not a bad crowd, considering that Tuesday is the second day of the exhibition. Our luncheon guest speakers were Frank Witney, president and CEO of Dionex, and Greg Herrema, senior vice president and president of analytical instruments at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Both made a strong case of the complexity of analytical challenges in the 21st century, as well as the ability of the instrumentation/analytics to develop new methods and tools to meet these challenges. So far so good.
At Q&A period, though, not one person in the audience asked a question. What’s with that? Are people too busy, shy, wary to participate? Any ideas about how to encourage discussion during a luncheon?
Altogether, the luncheon was fine. As moderator, I asked a question with several follow ups that I think the speakers and the audience appreciated.
I’m still figuring out zeta potential, but I have to catch my flight back to Washington, DC now.
Photo credit (both): Peter Cutts Photography