Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Another Year, More Chemophobia

Over the holiday break, a few people sent me pictures and links to demonstrate that we still have plenty to do to counter chemophobia in 2015. Here's a sampling:

1. U.S. FDA Cancer ad. Have you seen these pictures around airports, bus stations, and subways? This one - which I'm sure is equally supposed to simultaneously discourage youth smoking (while reminding them of Sauron from Lord of the Rings) appeared in my inbox a few days ago:

Nothing like some straight-up chemophobia from Big Government.

2. Health beans - now chemical-free!

Thank Goodness that 'omega fatty acids' or 'vital antioxidants' aren't chemicals!*

3. Microwaving'll kill ya. As a throwaway line in the Newsweek article interviewing famous futurists about whether or not Back to the Future Part II accurately predicted the future, Syd Mead, a "visual futurist" who designs sets for sci-fi movies, said this:
"No, I don’t remember [how the film depicted food]. I hope it wasn’t pills. [laughs] That was a fixture in future films. Popping steak or spinach or whatever in a pill. I hope it never comes to that."
"Microwave dinners are bad enough. Of course, microwave upsets the molecular structure of food, which isn’t too terribly healthy."
I've heard these arguments before, but neither one makes any sense. Healthy people routinely take all sorts of food supplements in "pill form" - vitamins, curcumin, antioxidants, essential oils - the list goes on and on. And as far as I'm aware, microwaves can't actually "upset" (change) the molecular structure of food.

Reminder: Syd consults for science fiction movies. We have a lot of work to do.
*Yes they are.

Chemistry Photo-Op

Carrying high-resolution cameras in our collective pockets has spawned a new age of lab photography. Witness Chemistry in Pictures, the official American Chemical Society Tumblr site. There you’ll find mazelike porphyrin crystals (below), glowing TLC plates, and ultralight aerogels poised atop fragile flowers.

Credit: Anna Slater | Chemical & Engineering News Tumblr

Want to dive even deeper into the laboratory? Kristof Hegedus has you covered: his aptly-named site Photos from an Organic Chemistry Laboratory brings forth reaction gifs, failed black tars, and icy fractals of crystalline intermediates. Perhaps your interests lean towards chemical education – the picture blog for you is Picture It… Based out of the University of Bristol, and freely available for re-use through Creative Commons, the authors overlay well-posed plants, foods, and common substances alongside their constituent molecules. 

Finally, for the effete artiste, we present Beautiful Chemistry. A joint venture of Tsinghua University Press and the University of Science and Technology in China, this site has it all: Priestly’s apparatus, HD videos of crystal growth, and animated DNA nanostructures. A true treat for the chemically and artistically inclined.

Chemistry Bumper Cars, 2015-2016

In the age of Google and Glassdoor, hiring has become a year-round activity. Postdocs and grads alike should keep their ears to the wall, since nowadays any group meeting could list "Relocation" on the agenda...

From June 2014 - December 2014, comments, search engines, rumours, and tweets noted 50 faculty moves and 119 new faculty starts for academic chemists. I've started another page simply because the flow hasn't stopped; perhaps I should start up a database for next year?

**Know of someone missing? Let me know in the comments!


Roman Manetsch (South Florida to Northeastern)   thanks, Andrii!

Pending Confirmation

Wes Bernskoetter (Brown to Mizzou)

New Hires

Kyle Bantz (Virginia Military Institute)
Katherine Mullaugh (College of Charleston)
Sereina Riniker (ETH)
Isaac Garcia-Bosch (Southern Methodist University)
Charles Sing (UIUC)
David Lacy (U Buffalo)
Steven Ray (U Buffalo)
Alexey Akimov (U Buffalo)
Jonathan Moerdyk (Seton Hall)
Aaron Rossini (Iowa State)

Pending Confirmation

Note: I'm drawing the line for recommended faculty moves on December 31, 2014. Rather artificial, I know, but I had to stop somewhere!

For 2012-2013 moves, click here
For 2014-2015 moves, click here.

A Nudge Towards "Scrudge"

Last night, while I trudged through Alexander Shulgin's seminal work* PiHKAL, I came upon scrudge, a fantastic heretofore-unknown-to-me term for a very common phenomenon:

Here's the reaction Shulgin attempted:

And, in his own words (emphasis mine):
"The elephant labored and brought forth a mouse. A lot of work for a material without activity. 
I have used the term "scrudge" in this and other recipes, without defining it. With this aldehyde, as with most aldehydes where there is no ortho substituent on the benzaldehyde, the reaction progress should be carefully followed by thin-layer chromatography. As the aldehyde disappears from the reaction mixture, the nitrostyrene appears, but there is usually the development of one or more slower-moving components as seen by TLC. Such a wrong-product is called scrudge."
Scrudge just works. Not to judge, but any synthetic drudge could tell you they've experienced the same. On scrudge, I won't budge. Just look at the beautiful art inspired by just such a smudge:

Credit: Vittorio, who blogs over at Labsolutely

This post's a bit of a kludge, but I hope I've provided a nudge towards scrudge.
Feel free to use it in your next lab meeting or thesis defense!


*"Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved"

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2015 State of the (Scientific) Union

(Adapted from last year's post with 2015 data)

Did you watch President Barack Obama present tonight's 2015 State of the Union address?

Source: Whitehouse.gov
I downloaded the text to the 2015 S.o.T.U. (Turning Point), and compared it against the text from 2011 (Winning the Future), 2012 (An America Built to Last), 2013 (Unfinished Tasks / Next Chapter), and 2014 (Opportunity for All).

I’m not a political pundit or a news analyst - I *am* a scientist (see below). So let's see how certain scientific themes grew or shrunk over the past 365 days.

Breakdown (# of each word in full text):

Energy – 2011: 9, 2012: 23, 2013: 18, 2014: 8, 2015: 2
Oil – 2011: 2, 2012: 10, 2013: 5, 2014: 6, 2015: 4
Gas - 2011: 1, 2012: 9, 2013: 7, 2014: 4, 2015: 2
Wind / Solar - 2011: 4, 2012: 3, 2013: 4, 2014: 2, 2015: 3
Nuclear – 2011: 5, 2012: 3, 2013: 3, 2014: 5, 2015: 5
Batteries - 2011: 0, 2012: 2, 2013: 1, 2014: 0, 2015: 0
Biotech / Biomed / Biofuel – 2011: 3, 2012: 0, 2013: 0, 2014: 0, 2015: 0
Chemical – 2011: 0, 2012: 1, 2013: 0, 2014: 1, 2015: 0
Tech / technology – 2011: 12, 2012: 9, 2013: 8, 2014: 6, 2015: 3
Science / scientist – 2011: 7, 2012: 2, 2013: 4, 2014: 1, 2015: 6
Engineering – 2011: 3, 2012: 1, 2013: 3, 2014: 1, 2015: 0
Math – 2011: 3, 2012: 0, 2013: 2, 2014: 1, 2015: 1
Research – 2011: 9, 2012: 4, 2013: 4, 2014: 4, 2015: 2
Development – 2011: 1, 2012: 2, 2013: 1, 2014: 0, 2015: 2
Carbon – 2011: 0, 2012: 0, 2013: 1, 2014: 3, 2015: 1
College / Universities– 2011: 12, 2012: 15, 2013: 8, 2014: 12, 2015: 14
Health – 2011: 8, 2012: 5, 2013: 5, 2014: 8, 2015: 8
Internet  2011: 6, 2012: 1, 2013: 1, 2014: 0, 2015: 3
Cyber  2011: 0, 2012: 1, 2013: 2, 2014: 1, 2015: 2
Jobs  2011: 25, 2012: 33, 2013: 32, 2014: 23, 2015: 19

Interesting 2015 one-offs: "I'm not a scientist", universal child care, $0 community college (?), "Google, eBay, and Tesla", Precision Medicine Initiative, solar fuels, Instagram from Space, stopping hackers, opening Cuban relations, Pope Francis' "small steps."

Is there a take-home message here? Does word count relate to the overall direction of the country? Probably not. Each speech is different: 2015 brought middle-class values, international relations, and Presidential legacies; while 2014 spoke to middle-class unemployment, higher ed, and equality issues

Still, I'm saddened that, in a speech many journalists billed as a push for education and technology-based jobs, the time spent on those subjects by this President appears to be dwindling.

Readers: Did I miss anything? Let's discuss it in the comments!

Friday, January 9, 2015


Presented for your enjoyment: a tapestry of structurally-related alkaloids, which take up their very own page in a recent Tetrahedron article. Beautiful.

[click to enlarge]

Happy Friday,
See Arr Oh

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015 JLC New Year's Resolutions

And so we close another year on the chemblogosphere. Instead of recounting the highs and lows of 2014, I've decided this year to focus on what lies ahead for Just Like Cooking.

A goofy, fitting send-off to 2014,
courtesy of the San Fran ACS Meeting
Three areas I'll try to focus on for 2015:

1. Photocatalysis. It's exploding in all areas of chemistry, with new complexes and new (old) dyes appearing daily. Hopefully 2015 will show more light-promoted reactions as key steps in total syntheses.

2. Antibiotic Development. Dire predictions swirl around our readiness, as a species, to defend ourselves against the ever-evolving horde of microorganisms surrounding us. Hopefully 2015 - whether by luck or skill - finds new molecules to address this challenge.

3. Alternative Careers / Leaving the Lab. (Refer to my apologia from a few weeks ago...)

Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy start to 2015!
See Arr Oh