Rocking The Expo
Sep01

Rocking The Expo

Even though David Schurer jokes that he “would watch TV and eat ice cream” all day if he could, he was working hard on the Expo floor at the ACS national meeting last month. And he was loving it. As vice president and co-owner of Sorbent Technologies, an Atlanta-based chromatography materials and supply company, Schurer was working the crowd to drum up new business for his small company. Working the crowd at the Expo means luring them your way, and to do that, Schurer would often sling his Mini Martin guitar around his shoulder and do what he loves to do most. “I always do Louis Armstrong tunes, like ‘Ain’t Misbehaving,’ ” Schurer told me recently. “I usually play a Beatles tune, ‘Blackbird.’ And ‘Foxy Lady,’ ” usually at selective moments when the context matches the song. Says Schurer, “the ladies always like a little Hendrix.” Also in the mix are improvisations that conjure Hank Williams and Dave Matthews and music and lyrics that he makes up on the spot. “In D.C., I was just burning it and pretty much did what I had to do,” Schurer said. I had a brief conversation with him at the Expo and took a picture of him, but it took me a while to get back to him to find out if his musical approach to marketing and his leading role in chromatography had anything to do with one another. Schurer didn’t expect to be the bard of the Expo, but there have been signs that he could be for a long time. Let’s just say that music is in this guy enough that he dropped out of Emory University in the mid-1970s to give music a go. He played in bands and did solo gigs, but it wasn’t looking promising. Besides, he recalled, “I was getting parental pressure up the wazoo” to go back to school. Which he did, earning a business degree at Emory. But the musical life kept beckoning. “I hit the road after graduation,” he said, playing everything from “rock to pop,” solo or in bands, wherever and whenever he could. “I backed an Elvis impersonator,” he recalled, adding that sometimes things got a bit hairy. “I played in a bar where a girl got shot. It was kind of weird.” It was between the music gigs where Schurer got his feet into the laboratory supplies industry. His dad owed the Linden, N.J.-based Ace Scientific Supply Company, and he asked David to spend some time in Puerto Rico on a project that was leading edge at the time—developing interfaces between microcomputers and laboratory instruments. That turned into a...

Read More
Pictures from an Exposition
Aug28

Pictures from an Exposition

  Every exposition at a national ACS meeting is a wonder of magnitude, logistics, specialty knowledge, personalities, marketing and promotion innovations (and desperations), and business diversity. The microculture of the journals and book industry, for example, is so different from that of the lab automation industry. For me, though, the biggest draw at each Expo is the opportunity to browse the material culture of the laboratory. It’s a  menagerie of forms and textures and designs that I revel in the way I might be amazed and amused by the biological forms, textures and designs on display at a zoo. And I particularly like to snap a macro lens onto my camera. This accoutrement provides me with a sort of low-power-microscope perspective on the gala. With that point of view, it’s the details, the components, of the mass spectrometers, x-ray diffractometers, calorimetry systems, automated sample handlers, and other laboratory instruments and furnishings that come to the fore. This act of abstraction also reveals how the result of design and material choice so often brings with it, not so much on purpose as by consequence, arresting aesthetic appeal. This movie requires Flash Player...

Read More
Looking Back At The National Meeting
Aug25

Looking Back At The National Meeting

With the ACS national meeting in my own backyard this year, I appreciated that fact that I didn’t have to travel very far. But I also wondered whether that would impact my ability get good photos. When I’m in a new city, my senses are heightened, and I experience the world in a different way than I normally would. I guess that’s why ACS keeps the meetings moving from year to year—to keep them fresh and exciting. On the other hand, forcing myself to see Washington, D.C., in a new light brought this meeting to a new level of satisfaction. Here are some things that caught my attention: This movie requires Flash Player...

Read More
“Snickers Is Almost A Perfect Food,” And Other Food-Texture Musings
Aug25

“Snickers Is Almost A Perfect Food,” And Other Food-Texture Musings

On the menu at last Tuesday’s food-texture talks at the ACS national meeting was a circus of flavors and sensual experiences (if only via PowerPoint): force deformation curves of fractured foam cell-walls for starters, an entrée of roasted-nut plot distributions, and a milky-smooth monologue on the pleasures and pains of food texture for dessert. (Regrettably, hotel catering didn’t contribute to the spread, as the session was over before lunchtime, and we all left salivating.) After a couple detailed recounts of experiments dealing with cell-rupturing crispiness and nut-cracking crunchiness, Gail Vance Civille of Sensory Spectrum, Inc., wrapped everything up by bringing us back to the basics. Texture, she defined, is the sensory measure of structure or inner makeup of foods and other materials. We measure it with our skin and muscles, and we need people to evaluate it; machines can only help simulate textural experiences. We break down foods in three ways—mechanical, salivary, and thermal—and when foods don’t break down the way they’re supposed to, we reject them. For example, a waxy piece of chocolate that doesn’t melt on our tongues as it should is, well, waxy and unappetizing. “Foods are meant to be destroyed,” says Civille, and in the process we are very attuned to factors like whether they’re adhesive, rough, hard, or springy, and whether they leave residual loose particles, absorb moisture, and provide a uniform bite. People don’t like foods that are messy or hard to control. That’s why we add raisins to our cereal, Civille points out: the fruit picks up the flakes that get stuck in our teeth. Cherry tomatoes are a turnoff to a lot of people—why? Because their outer layer ruptures and squirts juice everywhere; this is problematic. “Snickers,” on the other hand, “is almost a perfect food,” hails Civille. “The chocolate melts, the peanuts break down smaller and smaller and mix with the nougat, and everything disappears at the same time.” In case you were wondering why you can’t lay off the Snickers, there you go. At the end of the talk, someone in the audience asked Civille about Pop Rocks, curious why people would enjoy a candy that explodes in your mouth and gives you an unusual tingling sensation. If you’re not familiar with the retro confection: Pop Rocks are candy bits that contain pressurized CO2 gas; when you put them in your mouth your saliva dissolves the candy, allowing the carbonation to be released from the tiny bubbles. (It’s like suddenly a hundred hormonal teenagers start throwing a rave party in your mouth—fun!) Civille clarified her argument on texture pleasures and pains: “People don’t want to get rid of all...

Read More
Scenes From The ACS Meeting
Aug24

Scenes From The ACS Meeting

The ACS national meeting was held last week in Washington, D.C., and I attended numerous governance functions, award presentations, luncheons, dinners, and the like. Here are a few highlights from my week. Several heads of foreign chemical societies attended the open meeting of the ACS Board of Directors on Sunday and were invited to make comments to the board. In his comments, Wolfram Koch, executive director of the German Chemical Society, said: “Chemistry should no longer be seen as the problem, as it was for decades, but now as the indispensible solution to the global challenges we face. Sustainable development on this Earth does not mean less chemistry, but more chemistry.” At a roundtable on the National Chemistry Olympiad (NCO) and U.S. participation in it, Arden P. Zipp, chair of the Chemistry Olympiad Subcommittee of the Society Committee on Education, noted that the structure of this year’s NCO study camp had been changed. The 20 students who attended the camp had 11, instead of 14, days of instruction, lab work, and testing. The six students who were selected to represent the U.S. at the international competition then had three days of intensive one-on-one laboratory instruction to prepare them. (The team is allowed to spend a total of only 14 days together preparing for the Olympiad.) The result? The best finish for the U.S. team since 2002, with one gold and three silver medals. More important, the students did dramatically better in the lab portion of the event than did previous competitors. Zipp noted that 125 of ACS’s 189 local sections participated in this year’s selection process and that he and the rest of the subcommittee would like that number to grow. The event celebrating the inaugural class of ACS Fellows occurred on Monday afternoon. Well over 100 of the 162 fellows who were selected in July attended the event (C&EN, July 27, page 62). At least as many well-wishers crowded into the ballroom of the J. W. Marriott Hotel. Each new fellow received a certificate and lapel pin. Bruce E. Bursten, ACS immediate past-president, said to the fellows in his opening remarks: “This is likely the first time you have been recognized for both your scientific achievements and your service to ACS. You have contributed in significant ways to addressing challenges facing our world and our society and in communicating the power of chemistry.” I have a strong sense that recognition as an ACS Fellow will rapidly become an important component of ACS membership and that the event welcoming new fellows will be a fixture of the fall national meeting. Bursten deserves an enormous amount of credit for his...

Read More
The Benefits Of Sparse Shuttles
Aug21

The Benefits Of Sparse Shuttles

As I’m sure many attendees of the ACS national meeting this week noticed, the shuttle pick-up times were rather, um, sparse. This threw a wrench into the works for those who like to hop back and forth between sessions. As a result, many of us had to commit to certain symposia and listen to talks that we might otherwise have skipped out on. And there are always one or two talks in a session that don’t entirely fit in with the theme running through the others. But sticking around for those talks doesn’t necessarily turn out to be such a bad thing. I attended a session hosted by the Division of Analytical Chemistry on Wednesday that might loosely be described as “imaging biological systems with nonlinear optical techniques.” Most of the talks described results obtained from in vivo imaging of biological matter (human hair, cancer cells, etc.) via second or higher harmonic generation microscopies. Chris B. Schaffer of Cornell University, however, presented fascinating results his group has obtained using nonlinear techniques to cause localized damage to cells, rather than just to image them. Schaffer’s group is studying small-scale strokes in the brain; these tiny clots or leakages in small blood vessels are implicated in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Normally, larger scale strokes are studied in animal models by tying off blood vessels to initiate a stroke, Schaffer said, but in small strokes, this isn’t really possible. So his group uses nonlinear laser ablation to “produce an occlusion in a targeted way,” he said. After a specific blood vessel has been damaged, the natural clotting cascade is triggered, producing what looks like a small stroke. At this point, the researchers are able to study the changes in blood flow in the network around the damage with two-photon excited fluorescence microscopy. Schaffer’s group has found that if an artery on the surface of the brain is damaged, blood flow is not impacted much, presumably because of the connectivity of all the blood vessels in that network. However, if an artery that penetrates down into the brain is damaged, blood flow in the system is severely affected. In addition, when the team created an occlusion in the brain of a rat with Alzheimer’s disease, new amyloid plaques formed around the damaged area relatively quickly, indicating what might be a “positive feedback cascade for treating” the disease, Schaffer said. Anyone else out there stick with a session that forced you to learn something new and...

Read More