Monday, April 24, 2017

What happened to all the sparteine?, 2017 edition

Also in this week's C&EN, a really fun and informative article by Stephen K. Ritter on the aftermath of the Great Sparteine Shortage of 2010. It sounds like TCI America has taken this problem on: 
A few clues in the case of the missing (–)-sparteine did turn up during C&EN’s investigation. The compound has been found in two places: U.S.-based chemical suppliers Sigma-Aldrich and TCI America report having small quantities available. Sigma-Aldrich sales representatives say they have no idea what is happening with the (–)-sparteine supply chain and can’t disclose its source. The company lists (–)-sparteine from $50 per 0.5 g and up, depending on the grade and amount. 
At TCI, R&D Manager Sriramurthy Vardhineedi has a bit more to share. In 2011, when TCI recognized the shortage, the company developed a proprietary procedure to produce kilogram quantities of high-purity (–)-sparteine as needed, Vardhineedi says. TCI is possibly the world’s only current commercial producer, he notes. (–)-Sparteine remains in high demand, Vardhineedi adds, but he points out it is expensive. TCI offers the compound at $98 per gram and up, depending on the amount. 
As to what happened to the supply after 2010? “We are guessing that some company decided to stop making this valuable chiral alkaloid without realizing they were the sole supplier,” Vardhineedi says.
I would really like to know what caused the shortage - and here's hoping that we don't have to wait another 7 years to find the answer! 

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles from this week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News:

Friday, April 21, 2017

View From Your Hood: Lac Leman edition

From chemTwitter denizen Suzanne Jansze:

"I have been working at the EPFL in Switzerland for the past two years and have a nice view on the Alps and Lac Leman (better known as lake Geneva)."

(got a View from Your Hood submission? Send it in (with a caption and a credit, please) at; will run every other Friday.) 

This "Drug Discovery Game" looks fun

From the inbox, an interesting idea: 
The Drug Discovery Game is an engaging, fun, interactive demonstration that serves as a springboard to a discussion of the methods used in medicinal chemistry.  Students (playing the role of medicinal chemists) are given seed capital money and challenged to invent a small molecule pharmaceutical starting with a central molecular scaffold and molecular fragments.  The demonstrator/teacher (playing the role of a biologist running an assay) provides logical feedback after each student’s attempt that guides the student toward the solution.  The game simulates portions of the workflow of medicinal chemistry research and launches discussions of such topics as the methods of modern drug invention, the cost of pharmaceuticals, molecular structure and design, and structure-activity relationships. 
This website contains all that is required to play the game including a “how-to-play” video, instructions for set-up, rules, freely downloadable pieces for various puzzles, and some ideas for education discussion points.  The game has been employed as an educational outreach activity for upper elementary, middle, and high school students during “Take Your Child to Work Day” at a biotechnology company and utilized during introductory lessons in organic and medicinal chemistry on an undergraduate level...
Sounds like a great idea and a wonderful way to talk about drug discovery in an interactive way with kids (probably older ones?)

(On a side note, Take Your Child to Work Day is next Wednesday, April 27. My company doesn't do this sort of thing - what are folks' experiences with this on at your organizations? What works well, what doesn't?) 

Derek Lowe on the geography of medicinal chemistry jobs

Via his Reddit AMA, a relevant question answered by Derek Lowe:
u/organiker: Any tips on landing a med chem job these days for someone with a PhD + postdoc experience? 
Also, what's the typical career progression for someone ending up in a chief science officer/division head/head of chemistry type role? 
Derek Lowe: It's not easy out there, but it can be done. Your odds are probably better with smaller companies, and there are two ways to play that. One is to head to where the smaller companies (and many of the bigger ones) are, that is, Boston/Cambridge or the SF Bay area. That's not a bad idea, but another strategy might be to try outfits that aren't in such a rich labor environment and would be happier to get you. The downside of that is, when the small company wipes out, as many do, you're left without as many options. That factor alone is a big reason for the popularity of the big clusters. 
I don't know if there's a typical progression, as to the second question. A lot of larger companies have two tracks (managerial and scientific), so if you want one of those jobs, you'll want to be on the first one. I never inclined that way, so I may not be a good person to ask!
It will be really interesting to see when (if ever) Peak SSF or Peak Kendall Square will come, if ever. I suspect it will take some sort of bizarre event to change this trend, but maybe I'm wrong. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Medicinal Chemist Jobs List: 94 positions

The Medicinal Chemist Jobs list has 94 positions.

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions, but if you want to do the traditional "leave a link in the comments", that works, too.

Want to chat about medchem positions? Try the open thread.

Positions I'm not including: positions outside the United States (this will likely change), computational positions (this will likely change as well), process positions (coming soon....), academic positions (likely never.)

Coming soon: a process chemistry version - I promise! (sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooon)

Daily Pump Trap: 4/20/17 edition

A few of the positions posted recently at C&EN Jobs:

Richmond, VA: Evonik, looking for a Ph.D. pesticide chemist.

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia:  Saudi Aramco, hiring a process safety engineer.

Looking for editors: Nature Electronics, looking for an associate or senior editor. Also, Nature Catalysis. (That 62k salary isn't right, right?)

A broader look:  A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) "1000+", 426, 9,644 and 15 positions for the search term "chemist."

LinkedIn shows 3,429 positions for the search term "chemist" and 20,518 for the search term "chemistry." Job titles from LinkedIn - first with quotes, and the second without: Polymer Chemist: 11/714. Analytical chemist: 234/302. Research chemist: 46/58. Synthetic chemist: 18/690. Medicinal chemist: 19/50. Organic chemist: 37/77. Process chemist: 32/72. Process development chemist: 10/12. Formulation chemist: 54/64.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A very helpful graphic for polymer chemists

by @DKSchne
Original graphic here (by @DKSchne.) 

"I Work from Home"

I found this hilarious, but I think I go for The New Yorker's bizarre sense of humor. For those in the office, you'll want some headphones (NSFW-ish.)

Pretty sure that's not non-toxic?

Wired magazine had a fun article about rat contraception in New York City (of course.) It had this interesting little paragraph (emphasis mine): 
Credit: Sigma-Aldrich
...ContraPest works by attacking oocytes, the egg precursors that every female mammal is born with. The active ingredient in the product is something called 4-vinylcyclohexene diepoxide, or VCD. It’s tongue-numbingly spicy, but totally non-toxic—except to oocytes. Specifically, it binds to a receptor that, when activated by a survival factor, keeps the egg precursor alive and healthy during a female’s baby-making years. But when VCD binds, it interferes with that signal and the oocyte dies. “The chemical destroys the eggs in their very smallest form so the animals can’t ovulate anymore,” says endocrinologist Pat Hoyer, who spent two decades figuring out the mechanism in mice and rats. No eggs, no offspring.
I'm not crazy in thinking something with two epoxides should have a hard time being called "totally non-toxic", am I? The Sigma-Aldrich MSDS seems to indicate that you should avoid using VCD as hand lotion...

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 588 positions

The 2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated mostly by Andrew Spaeth, with minor help from me) has 588 positions.

Seeing as how we have seemed to hit an overall plateau, I will be ending the regular updates for the 2017 list, with the final one being published on the morning of May 2, 2017.

I plan the new list to begin on or around July 1, 2017, with all future discussions happening on the Chemistry Faculty Jobs List webforum.

The usual stuff: 

Have you had a Skype/phone interview or an on-site with a position on the Faculty Jobs List? Please add the date of the interview to the open thread. The open thread is here.

Do you see anything that needs correcting? Please leave a comment in the open thread, or e-mail me at

As the 2017 Faculty Jobs Open Thread has gotten longer, the Blogger software that this blog is run on has added a new wrinkle: when you initially load the thread, it loads only the first ~220 comments and then has a "load more" button near the bottom of the page near the comment box. Only after pressing that button about 7 times does it load the latest comments.

A link to See Arr Oh's Chemistry Bumper Cars 2017 edition.

Daily Pump Trap: 4/18/17 edition

A (very) few of the positions posted at C&EN Jobs:

Pretty slim pickings...: Not much there...

Fremont, CA: Matheson Tri-Gas is looking for a senior product manager for electronics. There's also an entry-level product manager.

Ivory Filter Flask: 4/18/17 edition

A few of the academic positions recently posted at C&EN Jobs:

Marquette, MI: Northern Michigan University is looking for a organic/general chemistry instructor. 

Biggest little postdoc in the world: The University of Nevada - Reno is searching for a teaching postdoc. 

Newark, DE: The University of Delaware is searching for a senior laboratory technician; duties include "preparing solutions, analyses and experiments for General, Biochemical, and Organic laboratory courses."

Manhattan, KS: Kansas State is looking for an "Assistant Professor in Grain Processing." Huh. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

How many chemical biologists are there?

Via random clickings on Twitter (or was it LinkedIn?), this interesting statement in a Nature Reviews Drug Discovery interview with Jay Bradner (the president of NIBR) about making a strong push into chemical biology: 
...Building on this legacy, we have created a new discovery unit with NIBR: Chemical Biology & Therapeutics (CBT). To my knowledge, chemical biology has not previously been an organizing principle for serious efforts in coordinated drug discovery. 
What does this mean in practical terms? 
We have pulled the foundational disciplines of chemical biology into one seamless collaborative unit. CBT — under the direction of Jeff Porter — will innovate new small-molecule libraries with unique functionalities, implement high-throughput biology in annotated libraries, reconsider protein sciences and integrate sophisticated computational analyses, all to glean unexpected insights from biological systems. Examples include new types of therapeutic agent, such as targeted-protein degraders that link the cellular machinery of degradation to proteins of therapeutic interest, and reconsiderations of chemical equity, such as vast and chiral DNA-encoded libraries. We intend to organize around new types of chemical tool to make unprecedented insights into disease biology, and we expect that new therapeutic vectors will emanate immediately from these efforts. 
I envision more than 400 chemical biologists organizing around these principles. (emphasis CJ's) And we've spent a lot of time reworking the organization to colocalize these individuals, because I believe that a high degree of effective molarity drives innovation in biomedical research.
So how many chemical biologists are there? I sent this question out on Twitter, with the rhetorical question of "Are there 400 chemical biologists?" I regret that what I really meant was  "Are there 400 chemical biologists who are footloose-and-fancy-free enough for Jay Bradner to hire?" I think most folks interpreted my question as "no way there are 400 chemical biologists!", and I only have myself to blame for that. (I don't think that, actually.)

There were a vast number of estimates, all taking the over: Laura Kiessling said definitely more than 400 (so did Matt Disney), Anirban Mahapatra also suggested a number in the 1000s (with a good way to estimate being the various co-authors of the various chemical biology journals out there). Patrick Holder also says "well over a 1000 worldwide" (considering that Cal probably has produced over 120 during its time). Aaron Crapster suggests that there have been over 500 trained in the Bay Area alone (in the past 10 years.)

Finally, Professor Bertozzi weighed in: "If the >150 PhD and postdocs trained in my lab qualify as chemical biologists, then the # worldwide must be more like 10,000."

(This has got to be wrong, don't you think? Are there 66 Carolyn Bertozzi-equivalents in the world in terms of training chemical biologists? Are there 132 0.5CBEs? or 264 0.25CBEs?)

Sadly, I can't rely on my favorite crutch, the Survey of Earned Doctorates, which is relatively silent as to the specific field of chemical biology. I did find a surprising fact: the United States has graduated somewhere between 700 and 800 Ph.D. biochemists every year between 2005 and 2015. By comparison, readers of this blog know that the U.S. graduated somewhere around 600-650 Ph.D. organic chemists a year during this time.

Regarding the specific question that I had, i.e. "how many Ph.D. chemical biologists have graduated in the United States?" I estimated (without much thought) that the number was less than 1000. (I was spitballing 50 per year with "chemical biology" having been around for ~20 years.) I could be convinced it's more than that (2000? 2500?), but not by much. As for the worldwide number, I honestly have no idea.

Readers, what do you think? 

Another one for the MICE files

Also in this week's C&EN, looks like the U.S. attorney has another trade secrets case (article by Marc S. Reisch): 
...Anchi Hou, 61, who worked at DuPont for 27 years, is accused of downloading more than 20,000 files on DuPont’s flexographic printing plate technology in the months prior to his retirement at the end of 2016. If convicted, Hou could receive a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and pay a fine of up to $250,000. 
According to a Federal Bureau of Investigation complaint filed against him in the U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J., Hou worked in DuPont’s advanced printing division in Parlin, N.J., and was involved in the development of photo-polymeric plates used in printing presses. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from National Taiwan University and a Ph.D. from Penn State University. 
Four days after forming a flexographic printing consultancy in November 2016, Hou told DuPont he planned to retire at the end of the year. In December, Hou was discovered taking photos of equipment in the Parlin facility. The firm then checked computer records and discovered that Hou had been downloading proprietary documents since July. 
DuPont filed a civil complaint last month suggesting that Hou had visited printing firms in Taiwan in July 2016 with an eye to selling them proprietary information. The FBI arrested Hou on April 7 after learning that he and his family had booked airline flights to leave the U.S.
Of the four reasons that people perform espionage (Money, Ideology, Compromise and Ego), it looks like Dr. Hou was after Money.

(I wonder what was the actual criminal act? Surely it's not illegal to become a consultant and to use the knowledge gained from your employer, but it is probably illegal to take documents containing trade secrets from your employer. Are the pictures illegal?) 

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles in this week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News:

Friday, April 14, 2017

HPLC vial caps

A list of small, useful things (links):
Again, an open invitation to all interested in writing a blog, a hobby that will bring you millions thousands hundreds tens of dollars joy and happiness. Send me a link to your post, and I'd be happy to put it up.