Keen observers may have already noticed that there are fewer blogs to choose from today. Sadly, The Haystack and Artful Science have officially entered retirement. Many thanks to Lisa Jarvis and Sarah Everts for their fantastic contributions to CENtral Science over the years. You can still read posts on both of their blogs either directly or through the “Archived Blogs” tab in the navigation bar. And luckily, both Lisa (@lisamjarvis) and Sarah (@saraheverts) are fairly active on twitter, so be sure to follow them there if you don’t already.
Tweet of the Week:
— Radium Yttrium (@DrRubidium) March 7, 2014
To the network:
Cleantech Chemistry: Selling it: Making chemicals from CO2
The Watch Glass: Probes study Venus
Today’s guest post is by Andrei Yudin, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Toronto. His research group aims to build new bridges between basic chemistry research and drug discovery. During a sabbatical, Yudin launched a blog, and soon discovered that blogging brings several tangible benefits to his group as well as his research program. You can read his blog at www.amphoteros.com.
I have always been intrigued by science blogging, but the barrier to give it a shot of my own has been steep. When I started my sabbatical in July of 2013, I realized that I would have some extra time, making it the best moment for me to begin blogging. The idea of connecting with a target audience of fellow researchers using a new means was especially attractive to me. In addition, as I was running experiments during my sabbatical, my graduate students and faculty colleagues were curious about what it was I was cooking in the lab. I did not want them to think that I was “breaking bad”, so I decided to put it all out there – my successes, my failures, and a good dose of self-ridicule. This is how www.amphoteros.com saw its first post on July 20, 2013.
I quickly realized that there were relatively few research-oriented chemistry blogs, which stands in contrast to other disciplines such as biology. While the culture of chemistry is different and chemists do not often feel the need to collaborate with one another, our craft is becoming more interdisciplinary and new ways of communicating scientific findings and/or sharing opinions are only going to help.
At the moment, amphoteros is driven by my keen interest in science advances both basic and applied. People ask me how I find time for writing and coming up with original subject matter on a daily basis. I somehow do not feel challenged by this: there is always something “bloggable” I can come up with during my train ride back home. I cover a range of subjects and I always look forward to the feedback I get from the readers. The usual way I conceive my posts is by thinking about one of the dominant thoughts that has been consuming me on a given day. Typically, these musings are related to a particular publication, although I do not make a distinction between what’s current and what’s old. To me, something that is important, yet published 50 years ago, is current. In terms of content, I like to have a lot of graphics on my posts. This gives me a chance to practice ideas for my future lecture presentations. In academia, we always think about new ways of presenting our research in lectures, yet it is tough to sit down and implement them. I partially address this problem using my blog posts: many of them serve their purpose in lectures.
While I blog, I find it encouraging to communicate with like-minded individuals who provide interesting comments. People often contact me by email and say that they enjoy the content I offer. I also like receiving requests to cover certain topics. I am keen to see which subjects on the blog are particularly popular. Straightforward tracking mechanisms enable me to dig deeper into those areas.
My blogging activities have led to other tangible outcomes as well. For instance, I find it easier to recruit students as many of them find the material I write about both educational and interesting. I have gotten both graduate and postdoctoral applications as a direct result of my writings. I also find that, by following my blog posts, students who take my classes are better engaged with the material I teach. Blogging is also turning into a great mechanism to keep in touch with my former students.
One of the emerging trends I see is my lab engagement in writing blog posts. I already had several students guest-post interesting material and anticipate that these offerings will expand in the future. It is 2014 now, my sabbatical is over. Yet the blog is in good shape, I find time to write, and the readership is growing.
Sorry for the radio silence last week. This overlord was a little overloaded. But to make up for it, here’s a double dose of network highlights.
Tweets of the weeks:
— Neil Withers (@NeilWithers) February 21, 2014
“Who would have guessed that the first NMR spectrum of ethanol would grow into the ability to watch the brain think?” – George Whitesides.
— Curious Wavefunction (@curiouswavefn) February 25, 2014
To the network:
Artful Science: A blogging siesta
Newscripts: Amusing News Aliquots (2/21) and Amusing News Aliquots (2/28) and Google Glass Might One Day Diagnose And Track Diseases Like HIV
The Chemical Notebook: The Curious Case Of Cereplast
Today’s post is by Maureen Rouhi, C&EN’s Editor-in-chief.
Suspicions of sexism roiled the theoretical chemistry community last month when organizers of the 15th International Congress of Quantum Chemistry (ICQC) posted a partial list of speakers. The all-male list prompted theoretical chemists Emily A. Carter of Princeton University; Laura Gagliardi of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; and Anna Krylov of the University of Southern California to urge a boycott of the conference for its “gender-biased discriminatory practices.”
Gender inequity continues to persist in science. Until it disappears, we all must remain ready to expose it, because exposure leads to awareness, which improves fairness.
The 15th ICQC will be held in China in June 2015. It is being organized by chemistry professor Zhigang Shuai of Tsinghua University, under the sponsorship of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science. The academy’s president is Josef Michl, a chemistry professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The boycott call, he says, could be pivotal “in the long and difficult struggle that women have faced in science in general.” In a letter to academy members, he thanked Carter, Gagliardi, and Krylov for “raising a well-justified objection.” He also apologized for the “premature public release of a partial speaker list.”
“It is really terrible that this happened,” says Kendall N. Houk about the events that led to the boycott call. Houk is a chemistry professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an invited speaker. “But at least it has catalyzed a visible uproar and vivid reminder that chemists need to keep vigilant to avoid lapsing into old, bad habits that continue to disadvantage women scientists.” Houk says female members usually make up at least 25% of his research group. “They are becoming excellent computational chemists, and I look forward to their being speakers at future ICQC meetings.”
“The majority of the theoretical chemistry community is welcoming to female scientists,” says Sharon Hammes-Schiffer, a chemistry professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and an invited speaker. However, she adds, certain pockets “have cultures that are less welcoming to female scientists,” and people must speak up and point out unfairness when it is apparent, as in the case of the 15th ICQC’s all-male partial speaker list.
“Despite increasing awareness, biases are still prevalent in certain situations,” Hammes-Schiffer says. The boycott petition and the ensuing discussions will force people to examine their subconscious biases and to behave and make decisions in a manner that will lead to change, she adds. “As more women move into leadership positions and as the gender ratio continues to become more balanced, the culture will shift. Until then, we need to remain vigilant and to train our students and postdocs in a way that ensures that future generations will create a culture that is equally welcoming to both genders.”
In the meantime, the list of speakers for the 15th ICQC has evolved. To date, of 33 invited speakers, seven are women, a larger share than in previous ICQCs. Whether the boycott call caused this spike, I can’t tell. I give the organizers the benefit of the doubt that they had planned to invite this many women all along.
Whether this representation fairly reflects women’s participation in the field is another question. Michl says one has to look at those who lead research groups because they would be the pool of potential speakers. An educated guess could come from examining the corresponding authors in journals that publish only theoretical chemistry. In the 2013 issues of the Journal of Chemical Theory & Computation, the International Journal of Quantum Chemistry, Theoretical Chemistry Accounts, and the Journal of Computation Chemistry, women represented 11.49% of corresponding authors, for a 1:9 ratio of women to men, according to Michl. “The numbers clearly provide only a partial view, since much theory is published in journals that also publish articles from other subdisciplines; for example, the Journal of Physical Chemistry and the Journal of Chemical Physics,” he says.
Whatever is the true representation of women in the field, “it is low, and we need to continue to bring more women into theoretical chemistry,” Michl says. He notes that about 40% of graduate students in theory today are women. “This generation will run the show in a decade or two,” he says. “And the ratio of 1:9 will then be nothing but a bad memory.”
Today’s post is by Amanda Yarnell, assistant managing editor of C&EN’s science/technology/education group.
As part of our coverage of the West Virginia chemical spill, C&EN contacted a number of ACS members living in the affected area. We couldn’t fit all their stories into our report, so we’re sharing pieces of them here. Their tales reflect those of many Charleston area residents, who found out on January 9 that their tap water had been contaminated with a chemical used in coal processing. And they give a chemist’s perspective on the spill’s effects on daily life.
Like other residents, the chemists C&EN spoke to headed out to buy water when they heard the news.
Retired chemist Barbara Warren, who lives more than 2 miles from the Kahawha and Elk rivers, drove to her local Rite Aid. “The parking lot was full of cars. There was no water remaining there, nor was there any milk, juice, soft drinks, or any nonalcoholic drinks of any kinds. There were many empty shelves. Many were buying beer and wine and large bags of ice.”
When she got home, she and her husband found that they still had water in their 1991 pop-top Volkswagen van, leftover from a fall camping trip. A few days later, it rained, and her husband collected about 60 gallons of rainwater in coolers. “We used this for washing ourselves and dishes. I used two huge crab pots to keep hot water on the stove which could be mixed with cold rain water for warm water.”
Madan Bhasin also found a way to get clean, despite the water ban. The chief scientific adviser at Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center drained his hot water heater as soon as he heard the news. “I used it to take a nice warm bath.”
Xiaoping Sun, a chemistry professor at the University of Charleston, lives and works in the affected area. “Per the order, the water could only be used for flushing toilets and extinguishing fires,” he says. “Routine tasks such as brushing our teeth required thought to remind ourselves to not turn on the tap water. Washing dishes, laundry, and hands – these basic routine tasks could have put our family in harm.”
Although officials have cleared tap water to drink for all but pregnant women and children, Sun and other chemists C&EN spoke with continue to stick to bottled water for drinking and cooking.
“We ask whether they are using bottled water before eating in restaurants,” adds Sun’s U of Charleston chemistry colleague Juliana Serafin.
Warren installed a 10-inch countertop filter on her kitchen faucet with the best activated carbon 0.5 micron filter she could find. “I use that water for cooking and drinking, or we use purchased spring or purified water.”
“Times have changed,” Warren says. “At Stanford as an undergraduate, I remember doing an azeotropic distillation of carbon tetrachloride and benzene without hoods. We all got headaches. At the University of Chicago, we used to do reactions without gloves and wash our hands with hexane and acetone and methylene chloride directly, and sometimes chloroform.” She says they kept the same solvents in squeeze bottles by the sink just for washing. “After several years of that, I figure that MCHM and various unknowns will not kill me. Nevertheless, I may as well drink purified water or water from a source that is tested.”
Just as getting water was challenging in the days after the spill, getting accurate information also posed a problem for residents.
Sun notes that the recent chemical spill “has caused a high level of panic in this area. One reason for this heightened level of concern and precaution is due to the mixed guidance coming from local, state, and federal officials.”
Manufacturing process chemist Mark Darcy cites another reason. “I think there are huge differences in residents’ perception of risk. To someone who doesn’t know much chemistry, it’s alarming.”
Hoping to change that, Sun and his colleagues have treated the incident as a teaching moment for their students. “I believe that after this unfortunate event, I have been able to strengthen my organic chemistry class,” Sun says. He’s described the structure, nomenclature, and fundamental chemical properties of crude 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, the licorice-smelling chemical released into the local water supply. “And I’ve been able to strengthen my general chemistry class by bringing to the classroom practical chemistry in everyday life.”
Your #chemvalentine tweet of the week:
— ChemDraw (@ChemDraw) February 14, 2014
It’s been a pretty quiet, snow-filled week at the network:
Newscripts: Amusing News Aliquots
Tweet of the week, in honor of today’s “The LEGO Movie” release:
— Renée Webster (@reneewebs) February 3, 2014
And before we head to the network highlights, a piece of administrative news. I’ll be solo overlording from now on. Esteemed co-overlord Carmen Drahl is stepping down to tackle some other projects for C&EN. Good stuff is on the way, my friends, though Carmen will be missed around these bloggy parts.
Now, to the network:
Cleantech Chemistry: Rivertop Makes Montana a Magnet
Grand CENtral: Not Part of Generation Sputnik? What’s Your Chemistry Set?
Newscripts: Amusing News Aliquots
The Safety Zone: Tesoro refinery fire caused by weakened steel
The Watch Glass: Formulations for Fighting Abuse
Finally, our newest tumblr is up! Follow C&EN’s Chemistry in Pictures for a dose of cool chemistry images.
C&EN’s managing editor, Robin Giroux, sent around the following email to the staff (shared with her permission):
If you were drawn to science/chemistry when you were young, and you’re not one of the Sputnik generation (like I am), what was that intrigued you? What drew you in?
For my generation, the response is a resounding, “I had a chemistry set.” (And if you don’t believe me, read just the Feb. 10 ACS National Award vignettes!)
That made me wonder, was there a “chemistry set” for younger generations? If so, what?
So I’m asking the question of you – and feel free to ask others outside of C&EN – but I need to hear from you by next Tuesday (Feb. 11).
And tell me, if you will, how old you are, you can use “–ish”. (I won’t share, I won’t laugh, but I may be amazed :))
So I’m asking others outside of C&EN – what intrigued you and drew you into chemistry? Share in the comments below or send a note to Robin at r_giroux at acs.org.
For me (Yes, yes — I know I’m not a proper chemist, but I’ll still share), it was the hands-on experiments in my high school chemistry classes.
Tweet (with Instagram!!) of the Week:
— Laura Jane (@laurajane0103) January 31, 2014
To the Network:
Fine Line: State of the Vibe
Just Another Electron Pusher: I’ll get around to procrastinating later
Terra Sigillata: Promoting Chemistry’s Positive Public Image
From The CENtral Science Blogs
- Mar 10th, 2014By Alex Tullo
- Mar 6th, 2014By Bethany Halford
- Mar 10th, 2014By Rachel Pepling
- Mar 7th, 2014By Melody Bomgardner
- Jan 25th, 2014By David Kroll
- Feb 28th, 2014By Sarah Everts
- Feb 27th, 2014By Jyllian Kemsley
- Jan 26th, 2014By Rick Mullin