Personal Reflections On A 9/11 Hero (repost)
Sep11

Personal Reflections On A 9/11 Hero (repost)

Here is why I will always remember. Originally posted on 11 September 2006 at Terra Sigillata on ScienceBlogs. Let me tell you about John Michael Griffin, Jr. Griff, as he was known in high school, was a friend of mine. Late in the first half of our lives, he stood up for me physically and philosophically, for being a science geek. John’s endorsement was the first time I was ever deemed cool for wanting to be a scientist. Griff died an engineer and hero in the collapse of one of the World Trade Center towers five [12] years ago today. We lost touch almost twenty years before, but his kindness and friendship formed not only one of the cornerstones of the scientific life I have today, but in the person and father I have become as well. —– At a northern New Jersey Catholic high school in a predominantly Irish town, being a gangly Polish boy from two towns over was not the formula to cultivate one’s popularity or self-preservation. Throwing the curve in biology and chemistry classes didn’t help either, nor did being a David Bowie fan in a place where Bruce Springsteen was as revered as St. Patrick. That’s probably where the nickname, “Zowie,” came from – the name of the glam rocker’s first child. Worse, I had skipped a grade in elementary school, and being a year behind physically was not compatible with self-preservation during high school gym class. But, it was a very simple gesture, sometime in junior year, when one of the packs of scoundrels had me cornered, slamming me against the wall and throwing my books down the hallway. I believe that the offense was that our biology teacher had taken to buying me a Pepsi every time I scored 100 on one of his exams, and I had been enjoying yet another one. John, already well on his way to his adult height of 6′ 7″ or 6′ 8″, stepped in and said, “Hey, lay off of Zowie. He’s goin’ places.” And with that, the beatings stopped. I didn’t play sports, at least not any of the ones offered by our school. At that time, soccer hadn’t taken off in the States but I was a huge player and had met John at Giants Stadium in the NJ Meadowlands where I had season tickets (Section 113, row 7, seat 26) for the relocated New York Cosmos. At just $4 a ticket for kids 16 and under, I could afford season tickets to see some of the greatest international soccer stars of the late 20th century: Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, Italy’s Giorgio Chinaglia, Yugoslavia’s...

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The Nobel’s great, but take a look at this!
Jan10

The Nobel’s great, but take a look at this!

  As I alluded to earlier on this index page, I was fortunate to score the cover story the January 9th issue of the Research Triangle’s alternative weekly paper, INDY Week. Therein, I told the story of Robert J. Lefkowitz, MD, the biochemist and cardiologist who shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2012 with his former cardiology fellow, Brian K. Kobilka, MD, of Stanford University. In this first edition of pixels that didn’t make it to the final article, I want to follow on the moments after I took this photo after interviewing Bob for the article. He was kind enough to bring in his original Nobel medal and diploma for me to see and photograph (he’s currently having a replica made of the medal so that he doesn’t have to carry around the real one.). As I was packing up my recorder, camera, and notebook, he pointed over at the sofa across his office where this framed photograph sat: On October 19th, a week or so after the Nobel announcement, Lefkowitz was invited to Duke’s legendary Cameron Indoor Stadium for the men’s basketball season kickoff/pep rally called Countdown to Craziness. Lefkowitz was called out to center court where Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the 2012-13 men’s team presented him with his own Duke basketball jersey embroidered with his name and the number 1. Lefkowitz’s lab group framed the photo and had the entire team and Coach K autograph the matte. After packing up his Nobel medal and diploma, Bob pointed over to the picture and said, “How do you like that picture? My lab gave me this framed photograph – signed by the whole team – and Coach K. Which’ll really be something if they win the championship this year. Yeah, I’ll really have something.” Uh, yeah. But you’ll still have the Nobel prize regardless.   Here’s a low-res video of the event. The commentators babbled about basketball until 1:13 when they finally told their audience what they were watching. But listen to the crowd as the team left Lefkowitz at center court. For me, the scene was reminiscent of a story I remember being told by the Southern “Grit Lit” writer and University of Florida writing professor, Harry Crews. Crews passed away last May at age 76 and had been beloved on the UF campus. But he was never as popular as the Florida Gators football team. I can’t find the precise reference right now but I recall him speaking of a dream he had where he was sitting with his typewriter at the 50-yard line of Florida Field (“The Swamp”). He then typed what he thought was...

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The Official Christmas Video of Terra Sigillata
Dec23

The Official Christmas Video of Terra Sigillata

Harkening back to my Polish roots, I hereby declare Bob Dylan’s remake of Mitch Miller’s “Must Be Santa” (1960) as our official Christmas song. Written by Bill Fredericks and Hal Moore, Dylan’s take derives from the polka adaptation Brave Combo of Denton, Texas (here’s their version for comparison).     With your help, it might hit 2 million views by Christmas Day. As of the time of this post, it was at 1,997,052. Best wishes to all of our readers for health and happiness no matter what holiday you celebrate this...

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Well, How Did I Get Here?
Oct24

Well, How Did I Get Here?

To celebrate National Chemistry Week, the esteemed synthetic chemist blogger See Arr Oh put out a call for folks to describe to younger folks how they got where there are in the broad field of chemistry: What do you do all day? What chemistry skills do you use in your line of work? How do you move up the ladder in chemistry? What do I need to do to be in your shoes? The resulting answers from other bloggers — and any respondents, for that matter — will be compiled at his blog, Just Like Cooking, in what’s called a blog carnival. Specifically, contributors to blog carnivals are asked to respond to a theme or a series of questions. In this particular case, we are tagging our posts with the hashtag, #ChemCoach. Here’s the list and below are my responses. You may find it helpful to play this Talking Heads video while reading my answers. Your current job. What you do in a standard “work day.” What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there? How does chemistry inform your work? Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career* The most important question to ask yourself – If I were just coming into the field, would I learn something useful from your story? My current job My official title is Director of Science Communications for the Nature Research Center (NRC) at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. I’ve only been in this job since January 2012. This position is jointly sponsored by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS) at North Carolina State University (“State” for the locals) where I have an appointment as Adjunct Associate Professor of English (faculty page). There, I teach a graduate course entitled, “Science Writing for the Media,” and will be teaching an basic news and reporting class for undergraduates in the spring. I also take interns at the Museum from State’s M.S. program in Technical Communication.   What do I do in a standard “work day?” My job is to serve as a technical compliment to our Museum’s public information, public relations, and marketing team. My boss is NRC Director and well-known conservation biologist, Dr. Meg Lowman, also known simply as “Canopy Meg” for her pioneering work on the biodiversity of life in tree canopies. Typically, my position would be occupied by a card-carrying journalist experienced in science writing. However, Meg and the Museum director, Dr. Betsy Bennett, envisioned this position as a scientist communicator, requiring that the candidate have a Ph.D. in a biological or chemical science with a track record of teaching, writing, and...

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RTI scientists solving forensic, designer drug mysteries
Sep09

RTI scientists solving forensic, designer drug mysteries

Catching up on my reading this Sunday morning, I’m beaming with pride on the collective accomplishments and coverage of some old friends and colleagues. Kerstin Nordstrom, a AAAS Mass Media Fellow with the Raleigh News & Observer, had a nice story on 3 September about the work of Dr. Peter Stout at RTI International. You old-timers will know this non-profit entity as Research Triangle Institute, home to the discoveries of Taxol and camptothecin by Wall and Wani and colleagues. Kerstin, or Dr. Nordstrom I should say as she holds a PhD in physics, interviews RTI’s Dr. Peter Stout on the institute’s forensic analytical chemistry capabilities with regard to the “designer drug” industry. Yes, here we go again with my long-running commentary on the “synthetic marijuana,” “herbal incense,” “plant food,” and “bath salts” products that have recently taken a direct hit from “Operation Log Jam,” a coordinated, federal operation to shut down the industry. In my post on the federal takedown, I referred to a paper by Stout’s RTI colleagues where mass defect filtering was used to identify unknown analogs of known illegal compounds, particularly the JWH group of cannabimimetic naphthoylindoles (Anal. Chem., DOI:10.1021/ac300509h). (Addendum: That paper was also covered nicely in the 15 June C&EN by Erika Gebel.) Coincidentally, both Kerstin and Peter are dear to me – hence the following disclosures before singing the praises of the article: Peter earned his Ph.D. in molecular toxicology from Dr. Jim Ruth’s lab at my former home, the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado Denver’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy. My time at RTI’s Natural Products Laboratory (2002-2008) overlapped with Peter’s hiring. As an aside, I had not known Peter was hired until he saw a cart outside of my laboratory with my name and hunted me down, guessing there weren’t many Krolls in biochemical pharmacology. An equally lighthearted observation is that Peter has almost completely shaved his head as long as I’ve know him; I’m certain that’s a coincidence with his dissertation research project, “Mechanisms of Drug Disposition into Hair.” Disclosure #2: Kerstin is a fellow graduate of the 2011 Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop and serendipitously ended up here in the Triangle for her AAAS Mass Media Fellowship. What I like about the story is how both of them describe analytical techniques in relatively approachable language: Kerstin on HPLC: For liquid chromatography, an unknown chemical is pushed through a pipe. The pipe is filled with tiny silica particles – 1 to 10 micrometers in size – that attract some molecules and repel others. Each chemical has a different attraction, and so some, attracted to the grains, go slower than...

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Al Malkinson the Scientist: Eulogy by Dr. Lori Dwyer-Nield
Aug16

Al Malkinson the Scientist: Eulogy by Dr. Lori Dwyer-Nield

In this second part of my remembrance of lung cancer biochemical pharmacologist, Colorado’s Dr. Al Malkinson, I’d like to share with readers some recollections by Lori Dwyer-Nield, PhD. I’ve known Lori since my appointment to Colorado’s faculty in 1992 when she had already been a postdoctoral fellow of Al’s. Dr. Dwyer-Nield continued on as research faculty at the CU School of Pharmacy and co-authored over 40 publications with Al. At Al’s memorial service last Saturday in Boulder, Lori was asked by Al’s wife, Lynn, to eulogize Al on behalf of all his scientific colleagues. Her thoughts were so warmly received that I wanted to share them more widely, especially with members of the scientific community who knew Al but were unable to attend the memorial. Moreover, I had reflected in my previous post how supportive Al was of his women trainees in balancing career and family. This eulogy provides a glimpse into this philosophy of Al’s directly from someone who lived it for over 20 years. My tremendous thanks go out to Lori for agreeing to share with us this text of her eulogy.   Al the Scientist by Lori Dwyer-Nield as presented 11 August 2012 at Community United Church, Boulder, CO It’s an honor to speak about Al the scientist.  Al was my mentor and friend for 21 years, and in that time I learned that ‘Al the scientist’ was a complex character.  The more I think about it, though, I realize that Al the scientist was the same person as Al the family man and Al the writer.  We called Al our lab Dad.  I remember when I first interviewed for a post-doc position in Al’s lab, he had me meet with his lab first, and then with him.  That was quintessential Al.  His approach to lab management was egalitarian.  We all had to approve new lab members before he would let them join.  He saw his lab personnel as colleagues and friends, not employees.    In his eyes, the high school student or dishwasher was just likely to come up with the next great idea as anyone else.  And if someone contributed to a study, they got their name on the paper. He cared about each individual.  It didn’t matter if you needed to talk to him about a personal problem or an irksome experiment.  He did his best to help.  He was happy when one of his lab personnel got married, but he loved the babies.  Many mentors discourage having a family, but Al knew that family was important.  He also felt that we needed to have interests outside the lab, and even told one young...

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