Making People Hate Chemistry on Halloween
Oct31

Making People Hate Chemistry on Halloween

Thanks to a tip from ChemBark et al., here is the most “insanely irresponsible” promotion of hazardous chemistry demos that I’ve seen. Written by Gizmodo Contributing Editor Eric Limer, the post draws from books by author William Gurstelle (Backyard Ballistics, Absinthe & Flamethrowers). On one hand, Gurstelle has done much to promote scientific curiosity among the public. That’s a good thing. Plus, Gurstelle has safety glasses in his promo picture. But Limer takes some of Gurstelle’s ideas out of context and suggests that they be used to scare or harm others. Thankfully, many commenters have gone over to Gizmodo to register their disapproval but the post remains up. I understand from his profile and website that Limer lives in an area hit by Hurricane Sandy but I encourage him to take down his hurtful post as soon as is feasible. Quirky is fun and interesting and people can find this information elsewhere with a little work. But promoting it at a major geek site is a Bad...

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Naming Genes Unlike Named Reactions
Oct29

Naming Genes Unlike Named Reactions

Our best wishes to all of you in the Northeast getting ready for Hurricane Sandy. I understand that even DC is closed today. So if you still have power at home, let me share a bit of levity with you. Over the weekend I learned that my science writing student, Meghan Radford (@meradfor), had a clever piece published at mental_floss, the magazine and website, “where knowledge junkies get their fix.” Megan’s article entitled, “18 Gene Names that Cover the Gamut, From Movies to Pop Culture to Cartoons,” illustrates the comical yet discordant and unscientific process behind naming genes. Her article reminded me of C&EN’s Carmen Drahl when she wrote about named reactions in both the magazine (C&EN, 17 May 2010) and her Newscripts blog here at CENtral Science. I’m not familiar with any genes that are named after the person who discovered them but, as Radford points out, a great many have been given interesting colloquial names. International gene nomenclature organizations exist but the standardized rules of these committees still make refer to the less formal names. For example, the human “sonic hedgehog” gene is SHH. The name of the original Drosophila hedgehog gene, hh, made functional sense as described by Nobel laureate, Dr. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard: fruit fly embryos with mutated hh expressed pointy extrusions called denticles and resembled hedgehogs. The mammalian homologue, Sonic was named after the Sega video game character. My favorite from Radford’s list is one I hadn’t known: INDY, for “I’m not dead yet.” Beyond this laboratory levity is a very serious issue for clinicians. From a 2006 New York Times article by John Schwartz: A gene with a funny name may be linked to a medical condition that can be heartbreaking. The human variant of the fruit fly’s “hedgehog” gene, known as “sonic hedgehog” after the video-game character, has been linked to a condition known as Holoprosencephaly, which can result in severe brain, skull and facial defects. “It’s a cute name when you have stupid flies and you call it a ‘turnip,’ ” Dr. Doe said. “When it’s linked to development in humans, it’s not so cute any more.” But today, I take time to be proud of my student for pitching a story to mental_floss and getting published. You can also read more formal writing by Meghan Radford at her blog, Neural Expression. Source: Radford, Meghan. 18 Gene Names that Cover the Gamut, From Movies to Pop Culture to Cartoons. http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/148072, 27 October 2012....

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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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Elion-Hitchings Building Tour: A Storify
Oct22

Elion-Hitchings Building Tour: A Storify

As discussed in my post last week, I had the opportunity on Saturday to tour the old Burroughs-Wellcome US headquarters building in Research Triangle Park, NC. Designed in 1969 by architect Paul Rudolph, the building was completed in 1972. The building became known as the Elion-Hitchings Building after BW scientists Trudy Elion and George Hitchings shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicinewith Sir James Black.The building was acquired by Glaxo when they merged with Wellcome in 1995 (Glaxo had built its US headquarters in RTP in 1983, just north of the BW property.). Now GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the company began liquidating buildings and consumer products over the last two years. When they announced their intent to sell the Elion-Hitchings Building in April, 2011, I suggested that someone purchase it to fashion into hipster condominiums. My hopes were dashed when United Therapeutics purchased it and two other buildings for $17.5 million in late June of this year. United Therapeutics has a 55-acre lot adjacent to the GSK property where they’ve constructed a new headquarters building of their own. What follows is a Storify compilation of my tweets from Saturday with photos that I sent out. I’ll post other photos later. Triangle folks: You can still come to tour the Elion-Hitchings Bldg in RTP today 9:00 – 12:40 for $15 at door http://bit.ly/T5YrxE David Kroll Sat, Oct 20 2012 05:15:07 ReplyRetweetFavorite Just arrived at former GSK-held Elion-Hitchings Bldg, now owned by United Therapeutics. http://pic.twitter.com/qOiH8kf7 David Kroll Sat, Oct 20 2012 06:34:40 ReplyRetweetFavorite @davidkroll It looks like the building is held up by giant lab jacks Matthew Hartings Sat, Oct 20 2012 07:11:50 ReplyRetweetFavorite You can’t erase the GSK. Logo outline on frosted glass. #elionhitchings http://pic.twitter.com/RiJPqN3a David Kroll Sat, Oct 20 2012 06:46:47 ReplyRetweetFavorite I wonder if GSK was still paying these 1996-97 wages? #elionhitchings http://pic.twitter.com/okKeIVAU David Kroll Sat, Oct 20 2012 06:52:55 ReplyRetweetFavorite This was the view for the executive secretarial pool. RTP requires that 40% of lots remain wooded #elionhitchings http://pic.twitter.com/YGGT75i4 David Kroll Sat, Oct 20 2012 07:12:27 ReplyRetweetFavorite @davidkroll Very cool! Didn’t know that stat! Stephanie Beck Sat, Oct 20 2012 07:36:12 ReplyRetweetFavorite Since Stephanie is a news producer for WRAL-TV in Raleigh, I thought I should do some fact-checking and find the source for this factoid once I got home. Turns out that I was wrong — I underestimated the wooded requirement.According to RTP’s Land Management plan, the built-up area of each lot is limited to 30%, leaving much more of the pine forest than I had originally cited. The #elionhitchings patio where Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood appeared in “Brainstorm”; Burroughs-Wellcome then http://pic.twitter.com/AO67RfIK David Kroll Sat,...

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Burroughs-Wellcome Elion-Hitchings Building Open for Public Tours October 20th Only
Oct18

Burroughs-Wellcome Elion-Hitchings Building Open for Public Tours October 20th Only

I’m not an architect but I absolutely love quirky and creative buildings. During the eight years I lived in the foothills outside of Denver, I passed the clamshell-shaped home featured in Woody Allen’s 1973 movie, “Sleeper” – yes, the home with the Orgasmatron (a prop made from a cylindrical door like those used for research darkrooms). For you youngsters who may not know what I’m talking about, here’s a two-minute movie clip that’s probably safe for work. Well, from that era is another futuristic building designed by Paul Rudolph and completed in 1971 — then known as the Burroughs-Wellcome Headquarters Building in Research Triangle Park. The building has survived mergers and acquisitions as BW became Glaxo Wellcome and then GlaxoSmithKline and was recently sold to United Therapeutics. Like the “Sleeper” house in Colorado, the structure was featured cinematically in the 1983 movie “Brainstorm” with Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood. Now known as the Elion-Hitchings Building in honor of BW’s 1988 Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine*, the building will be open to the public this weekend for the first time in decades, with thanks to the new owners. Since United Therapeutics is currently renovating the interior, the building will be empty but visitors will be welcome to take photographs. The event is sponsored by Triangle Modernist Houses and, at the time of this post, tickets ($9.95 each) are still available for all times this Saturday morning, October 20. For more background on the building and details on purchasing tickets: go to this page for Triangle Modernist Houses. I hope to see you on Saturday! *The 1988 Nobel to Trudy Elion, George Hitchings, and Sir James Black is one that very easily could have been justified as a chemistry Nobel. UPDATE 19 October, 7:30 pm EDT: I have three extra tickets for the 12:15 pm tour. I’ll give them away (yes, FREE – $9.95 face value) either as a pair and a single, or all three, to the first one or two people to leave a comment below that answers a question I posted on Twitter. Be sure to put your real email address so I can send you my receipt and instructions to pick up your tickets. The tickets have been given away – thank you for...

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