A Little Night Music
Apr16

A Little Night Music

Exactly one week ago today, I was at the ACS national neeting, trolling the convention center in New Orleans for interesting talks in the Organic Division, when I chanced upon an unassuming stack of black-and-white photocopied fliers. They promised both music and refreshments at that night’s joint poster session with the Medicinal Division. I like music and refreshments, so I stuffed the flier into my bag. It should come as no surprise to you that chemists also like music and refreshments. Long after the last poster was lovingly rolled into its case, they were tapping and dancing along to the Zydepunks, who I think were the best example of interdisciplinarity at the meeting. I should mention that I’d forgotten my camera that evening and was kicking myself for having done so. Lucky for me, Don Rogness, a grad student in the Larock group at Iowa State, was sitting by the stage with camera in hand. The pictures you see in this post are all his. (Thanks, Don!) The Zydepunks are a self-proclaimed musical mashup with Cajun, Irish, Breton, Klezmer, Slavic, and Zydeco influences. During the concert, I talked over the frenetic strains of a fiddle and a melodica with Organic Division Program Chair Scott Sieburth from Temple University. He told me he put this event together because he and the planning committee want to make Wednesday nights at ACS meetings an great thing to stick around for. These days, lots of people leave the meeting before then. Sieburth searched for the local sound by doing what any self-respecting ACS division program chair would do: He checked out bands’ MySpace pages. Here’s the Zydepunks’ page. His final preparation for the pre-poster-session concert? Going to Neophobia, a local retro furniture/clothing shop, where he picked up his colorful shirt. Sieburth got some good feedback right there at the concert. While we were chatting, Jared Mike, another Iowa State grad student, shook Sieburth’s hand and admitted being skeptical about having a band play the convention center. “I was surprised they were this good,” he said. “Nice find!” After the concert, I spoke with bassist Scott, the lone New Orleans native in the group. “Yes, this is my first gig in the convention center,” he said, and the first for an all-chemist crowd. It was at least 10:30 when the music wound down, but the band sold more than a few CDs. That’s me in the trenchcoat, trying hard to look like a reporter, and you can see Sieburth’s colorful shirt behind...

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Leaving The Big Easy = Not Easy
Apr10

Leaving The Big Easy = Not Easy

I’m sitting in the airport, waiting for my flight, hence my current state of blogorrhea (two back-to-back posts!). At least one of C&EN’s reporters got bumped from an American Airlines flight out of New Orleans yesterday. I’m flying US Airways this afternoon, so keep your fingers crossed for me. Safe (and on-time) travels to everyone, especially to the Nature team. I feel like I’m leaving on a high note–last night, I was trading stories about the meeting with chemists and music lovers as the joint ORGN-MEDI poster session wound down and the Zydepunks kept on playing their unique blend of folk/punk music. I’d say they were good; they had more than a few chemists playing the air drums in the convention center when they thought nobody was looking. Expect a more detailed post (with pictures!) about this soon, where I do my best to pretend I write for Rolling Stone or Q Magazine. The low point? Feeling more than a little guilty that I spent five days here and stayed exclusively in the nice, clean, touristy part of the city, pushing the gritty reality (see here and here) to the back of my mind. Philly’s got next, but because we have a permanent blog now, I don’t have to say “see you in Philadelphia.”...

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Chewing The Fat About Antibiotics, Cancer
Apr10

Chewing The Fat About Antibiotics, Cancer

It’s Thursday, and the folks who cleared out of the New Orleans convention center early missed out on a great set of talks in the MEDI division about targeting fatty acid biosynthesis for antibacterial, anticancer, and other pharmaceutical applications. The speakers working on keeping microbes at bay all brought the point home that we need new types of antibiotics (new structures and new mechanisms of action) to stave off resistance in infections like TB and staph. While not trying to trivialize the severity of infectious diseases (TB has been with us since the beginning of recorded history and is still the cause of a big chunk of the deaths in the developing world), I’ll share a graphic that stuck out for me: it’s a figure from the New England Journal of Medicine that speaker Judd Berman threw up. It shows how an infection of methicillin-resistant staph spread between pro football players on the St. Louis Rams and to members of an opposing team over time and maps out the infected players’ positions on field. It sounds like something on ESPN’s SportsCenter that I’d need a telestrator to cover, but it’s frightening to think that drug-resistant infections are spreading outside of hospitals nowadays, from something as simple as a burn from astroturf. Back to the symposium. Blocking or reducing fatty acid biosynthesis to kill bacteria like staph isn’t the newest idea (those bad bugs have cell walls that people would like to target), but the pathways are complex, and there are lots of enzymes that researchers could think about targeting or learn a little bit more about. I counted at least four appearances of the words “underexploited target” or “unexploited target” on presenters’ slides. There have also been some recent protein structure advances in this area that are giving researchers some hints and validating work that’s come before. What struck me (and was mentioned by the organizer at the end of the talk) is the sheer chemical diversity of the molecules that researchers are using to block fatty acid synthesis. They are targeting different enzymes to be sure (human versus bacterial, as well as enzymes that catalyze different steps of the biosynthesis), but there really seems to be an enormous amount of flexibility. There’s a lot we don’t know in this field, and hopefully more researchers (and venture capitalists) will be willing to commit the funding and take up the torch. I’ll leave you with an example of, um, macromolecular inhibitor design from Dan Romo‘s group at Texas A&M. He’s working on beta-lactones as anticancer candidates. He tells me that taking this picture was his idea. Notice the attention to...

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Six Degrees Of C&EN
Apr10

Six Degrees Of C&EN

As was mentioned in Susan’s post, there was a bit of Hollywood in town during the spring meeting. I also happened upon several trailers full of film equipment during a stroll down Decatur street on Tuesday night and thought I’d fill readers in on a secret C&EN connection to the New Orleans movie action. C&EN Senior Correspondent Ann Thayer’s brother and sister-in-law have been down in the Big Easy for several months working on “12 Rounds,” an action flick being directed by Renny Harlin. Ann’s sister-in-law says their crew was shooting “car running shots” through the central business district on Tuesday night, but there are now five other movies filming in town, including one that has made its home base on Decatur. If anyone stopped to ask any of the crews what they’re working on, give us a shout in the...

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Preparations: Medical, Mystical, And Logistical
Apr09

Preparations: Medical, Mystical, And Logistical

Earlier today, I decided to follow Lisa’s suggestion and visit the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. After Linda’s awesome voodoo post, I got the impression that pictures of musty hand-labeled vessels of liniment and snake oil would appeal to C&ENtral Science readers. This is the door to the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. It has ornate and nicely timeworn handles. It also was locked when I got there. Ray Burks had accompanied me on the journey and found out from a shopkeeper next door that it’s best to book a tour of the place in advance. I’m leaving town tomorrow, so I suppose the full tour will have to wait until the next New Orleans-based conference. (The next ACS National Meeting to be held here will be in 2013, but who’s counting?) So as not to deprive you, gentle readers, of the aura of the place, I did my best to take some photos through the glass door. Check out the mortar and pestle collection and bottles that once contained sedatives. Only slightly dejected, we made our way back to the convention center, but Ray was drawn to the Bottom of the Cup Tea Room, a charming palm reading/tea shop that sells a fantastic array of mineral spheres for customers to use in meditation and other rituals. Shopkeeper Tom Mullen enthusiastically rattled off a list of his wares: calcite, obsidian, garnet, malachite, rose quartz. “Not gem quality, of course,” he interjects. He says he’s had a fair number of chemists come by his shop this week. I’m not surprised–it’s easy to get lost in the flavorful tea selection and the fossilized trilobites for sale alongside the stones. For as long as I can remember, I’ve mapped and scheduled things out pretty precisely when I go someplace new. This experience made me glad that for once, I wasn’t so...

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Nothing Like The First Time
Apr09

Nothing Like The First Time

For graduate students, attending an ACS National meeting for the first (or second time) can be a bit overwhelming. Throughout the afternoon on Tuesday, associate editor Linda Wang and I enjoyed pouncing on unsuspecting grad students to ask them if they had experienced anything weird or surprising while attending the events here in New Orleans. I did the interviewing while Linda snapped these photos. Here are some of our favorite responses: Following the Women Chemist Committee’s luncheon, Penny Neisen Roufs and Maria Deslandes from Case Western Reserve University shared that they accidentally stumbled onto a movie set while walking to Kinko’s to print Roufs’s poster. (A WCC/Eli Lilly & Co. Travel Grant recipient, Roufs presented a paper and poster under the Division of Organic Chemistry.) They regret not asking about the title of the movie as they were being quickly escorted off the set, which featured period costumes from the 1920s. (Others mentioned having seen the set as it moved throughout the city this week.) Walking through the exposition hall, we stopped Subramanya Pingali, a grad student at the University of New Orleans. He told us about an unusual evening poster session, which featured distractions that included bright balloon sculptures and a huge flat-screen TV broadcasting one of the NCAA basketball games. (We are betting that others didn’t mind having the TV there at all.) We stopped Jennifer Haghpanah, a grad student at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, as she was buying herself an ACS t-shirt at a booth in the exposition hall. This week, she has been most intrigued by the SciMix Interdivisional Poster Session & Mixer held on ACS Island in Second Life, a 3-D virtual world created by its residents. Although she described it as “weird,” she loved being able to ask questions and get responses from presenters in this virtual world. Andrea Verdan and Todd Gatlin, grad students in chemical education at Clemson University, were in awe after attending Tuesday afternoon’s symposium honoring Richard N. Zare, the recipient of the 2008 George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education. Verdan says she was overwhelmed by the opportunity to sit in the same room with “the elite of the chemical world,” including Dudley Herschbach, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986. Gatlin enjoyed witnessing the “funny and playful nature” of these “high-level...

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