This Week on CENtral Science: Whale Fossils, Oscar Noms, UC Davis bailout, and more
Feb22

This Week on CENtral Science: Whale Fossils, Oscar Noms, UC Davis bailout, and more

Tweet of the Week: I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve decided that getting a Ph.D. is like trying to run a marathon while you’re up to your waist in water. — Emily Mason (@ejmaso05) February 21, 2013 On to the network: Artful Science: Two million-year-old whale fossils printed with 3D technology Grand CENtral: Guest Post: “Science, the human endeavor” by Biochem Belle Newscripts: Amusing News Aliquots and Need A Centrifuge? Print One Out and I’d Like To Thank The Academy, Nay, Harvey Weinstein The Safety Zone: A brief Friday chemical safety round-up The Watchglass: When TSCA was a bill and Wire Suit and Chemistry...

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Chemistry Jocks Return By “Doing ELISA”
Jan04

Chemistry Jocks Return By “Doing ELISA”

Back in June, I started up a friendly little competition between the makers of two chemistry rap videos submitted to Newscripts. The clear winners were some undergraduate students who made a video entitled “Chemistry Jock” for extra credit in their organic chemistry class at UCLA. Now I’m not sure that the competition was exactly fair given that there were about 250 students in the class who all seemed to vote at least twice, but nonetheless, the “Jock” video won—and is still continuing to win on YouTube. It’s a true standout: As of the writing of this post, the video has been viewed on the clip-sharing site more than 25,000 times. Not ones to let fame go to their heads, the hard-working Chem Jocks are back with another educational video, this time about the process of doing ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). As you can see, the ELISA clip even includes some animation on how the assay works. This is for the benefit of high school students in CityLab, a science program held on Saturdays for inner-city Los Angeles kids. Yannick Goeb, Kimberly Bui, and Justin Banaga (the first three to appear in the ELISA video in chronological order) premiered “Doing ELISA” there as part of their volunteer work. Click here for more information on the third-year life sciences students. My favorite line? “My rhymes are so sick, I think I’m gettin’ ill/Can’t tell if I’m infected, but ELISA will.” The parting shot–the double pipette ejection by CityLab Executive Codirector Kevin Terashima–is also...

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Now on the Sheri Sangji Case: The L.A. District Attorney's Office
Jan13

Now on the Sheri Sangji Case: The L.A. District Attorney's Office

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) last week sent its findings in the investigation of the death of University of California, Los Angeles, chemistry researcher Sheri Sangji to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. The DA’s office will now review the case and decide whether to file charges against the university or any of its employees. Sangji, a research assistant in the lab of chemistry professor Patrick Harran, died a year ago after being badly burned in a laboratory fire. Cal/OSHA investigated the incident and subsequently fined UCLA $31,875 for laboratory safety violations related to Sangji’s death. As is standard practice in the case of a workplace death, Cal/OSHA’s Bureau of Investigations reviewed the case to determine whether there was sufficient evidence of criminal violations of the California Labor Code to warrant referring the case to the DA’s office. Now, “the prosecutor must evaluate the evidence to determine if a crime has been committed and, if so, if the evidence is sufficient beyond a reasonable doubt to show that the suspect is guilty of the crime,” says LA County DA’s office spokesperson Sandi Gibbons. “Reviews can take weeks or months, depending on the amount of evidence and if follow-up investigation is needed.” Cal/OSHA spokesperson Erika Monterroza told C&EN that the agency had referred Sangji’s case to the DA’s office. Gibbons confirmed that the DA’s office received the evidence from Cal/OSHA and is reviewing it. UCLA, however, “has been assured by Cal/OSHA’s lead investigator, as recently as today, that the investigation is ongoing and that no decision has been made,” says UCLA spokesperson Phil Hampton. “UCLA strongly disagrees with any pursuit of criminal charges. The campus believes that Ms. Sangji’s death resulted from a tragic accident involving no willful negligence and was unrelated to the record-keeping, inspections and follow-ups that have been the focus of Cal/OSHA and accounts in the news media.” Sangji’s sister, Naveen Sangji, has previously said that her family would like the district attorney’s office to get involved, because they felt that the Cal/OSHA and university investigations were not thorough enough. “We want to know who was responsible and who failed in their duties to make sure Sheri was safe at work,” Naveen said. According to Cal/OSHA policies & procedures, the laws generally considered in cases such as this are Labor Code Sections 6423 and 6425. The sections outline penalties for violations of occupational safety & health standards that include prison time and/or hefty...

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Cal/OSHA Investigates UCLA, Again
Aug27

Cal/OSHA Investigates UCLA, Again

(Post updated at end.) The University of California, Los Angeles, is still under the microscope of state regulators. California Division of Occupational Safety & Health (Cal/OSHA) officials paid the school’s chemistry & biochemistry department a surprise visit on Tuesday, Aug. 26. Cal/OSHA spokesperson Erika Monterroza says that the inspection marked the opening of a new investigation into laboratory health & safety at the university, although she refused to comment on the details of the investigation while it is ongoing, including what prompted it. California law gives Cal/OSHA six months to complete investigations, although the agency usually takes 3-4 months, Monterroza says. Rita Kern, a staff research associate in UCLA’s medical school, is a member of the University Professional and Technical Employees union‘s health & safety committee and accompanied the three Cal/OSHA inspectors. The inspectors did not reveal what prompted their visit, she says. The group had intended to inspect multiple labs in the chemistry & biochemistry department, Kern says, but because of time constraints looked only at the labs of Patrick Harran, a UCLA chemistry professor and the supervisor of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji, a staff research associate who died earlier this year from burns sustained in a fire in Harran’s lab. Harran was not present for the inspection, Kern says. The inspectors plan to return to look at the labs of other faculty members, Kern says. The inspectors scrutinized general housekeeping in the labs, whether people were wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, and whether workers were informed about the hazards of the chemicals in the labs, Kern says. She says that the inspection was more educational than adversarial, with the Cal/OSHA personnel making it clear that they were there to look out for the well-being of the lab workers. At the exit conference, the inspectors highlighted the need to ensure proper labeling of chemicals and put away items that are not in use, as well as that lab workers should be better informed about what they’re working with and the hazards involved, Kern says. One of the inspectors noted that what they had seen that day was not significantly different from what they have generally observed at other universities, Kern says. “UCLA will review Cal/OSHA’s finding and, where appropriate and possible, address them immediately, consistent with UCLA’s commitment to ensuring the safest possible operation of all campus labs,” says UCLA spokesperson Phil Hampton. It remains unclear what prompted the inspection. According to Cal/OSHA’s User’s Guide (pdf), a surprise inspection could be triggered by a formal complaint made by an employee or an employee representative such as an attorney or a union or health & safety professional. “Formal complaints are...

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Tampering with Evidence?
Aug05

Tampering with Evidence?

One of the allegations that has been printed in other media accounts of the lab fire and its aftermath at the University of California, Los Angeles, is that members of Patrick Harran‘s lab tampered with the incident scene. Based on documents C&EN obtained through a California Public Records Act request, this seems to be what happened: The fire occurred shortly before 3 PM on Dec. 29, 2008. Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji was taken to the emergency room and Harran followed. After Sangji and Harran left, Los Angeles County hazardous materials crews cleaned up the lab. (Recall that medical personnel had put Sangji under the safety shower. Showers are supposed to run at a minimum of 75.7 L/minute for 15 minutes, so there should have been about 1,100 L of water to test and mop up.) Harran returned to the lab around 7 PM and was asked by fire officials to shut down the experiment to ensure the hood was safe. Sometime after Harran shut down the experiment, UCLA deputy fire marshal Christopher Lutton took photographs of the lab and Sangji’s hood. Lutton also told Harran that the lab would be locked and investigated, although there’s no record of exactly what Lutton said. At around 7:30 PM, Lutton left the lab and went down to his vehicle remove his gear, call the locksmith, and call one of his colleagues. At about 8:30 PM, Lutton returned to the lab to find Harran and  postdocs Weifeng Chen and Hui Ding in the lab. In a later interview with Gene Gorostiza,  the UCLA police detective who investigated the scene tampering allegations, Ding said that he and Chen removed six empty flammable liquids containers from the lab and put them in the building’s trash. They also put other solvent containers into a lab storage cabinet. Lutton ordered everyone out of the room and stayed on the scene until the locksmith arrived at 9:55 PM. The locksmith finished changing the locks at 11:35 PM. At that point, the doors were locked and Lutton took possession of the only key, put up yellow barrier tape, and left. Lutton returned to the lab the next morning to find that the restraining bolts in a side panel to one of the doors had been released, allowing the door to open freely. Lutton told Gorostiza that at that point he discovered that the room contents had been tampered with. A timeline of the incident included in UCLA fire marshal documents says that, comparing photos of the lab taken in the morning to the ones taken the previous evening, containers of flammable liquids were removed, other containers were moved into a...

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