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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Do you remember your PhD defense?

A new and already-dear friend is defending her doctoral dissertation tomorrow. I remembered that I had written a post awhile back on my feelings about my own defense, and how my perceptions at the time didn’t measure up to reality. The timing of this repost also coincides with the Diversity in Science Blog Carnival just posted at Neurotic Physiology, written by another remarkable woman scientist friend of mine, Scicurious. The theme of that carnival is “imposter syndrome” – the broad pathology of self-doubt that one is somehow not qualified for one’s career. I should have submitted this post for that carnival because it falls into that category. So, for what it’s worth, I’m reposting my feelings in 2008 from the 19th anniversary of my dissertation defense. (How quaint to see that I was using a Palm Treo back then!)   This post appeared originally on 13 November 2008 at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata. For whatever reason, I woke up really depressed and exhausted today – pretty much for no reason, I think. I checked my schedule on my Treo – today marks 19 years since my dissertation defense. I remember being really depressed throughout writing my dissertation thinking, “is this all I have to show for this many years of public support for my training?” My defense was on a Monday so I spent most of Sunday practicing my seminar in the room where I’d give it – it sucked so badly that I couldn’t even get through it once. When the time came, it was the most incoherent performance I had ever given or ever would. I was a blithering idiot during my oral exam. There was a great deal of laughter in the room as I stood outside in the hall. How in the hell did they give me a Ph.D.? Several of my friends, and even those who were not exactly friends, said it was the best talk I ever gave. One of my committee members took his turn during the questioning to note this was one of the clearest dissertations he had read in awhile. I picked him specifically because he was outside of my field but was a scientist who I respected greatly and continue to admire. I was the first graduate student of my mentor – he was promoted with tenure six months later. Funny, the difference in my perception and reality. It still wasn’t great – I only got two papers out of it. One was in a pretty decent journal, although not Cell, Nature, or Science. I ended up with a few postdoc offers, several in great institutions that...

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Poppy seed tea can kill you (repost)

Almost exactly two years ago, I posted the following story at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata. I was drawn to revisit this moving, tragic story yesterday after reading a post by organometallic chemist Sharon Neufeldt at I Can Has Science? entitled, Morphine, Heroin, and Lemon Poppy Seed Cake. In honor of Tom’s courage and the memory of his son, this repost is a fitting adjunct to Sharon’s essay. The following post appeared originally on 31 March 2009 at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata. A little over a week ago, we posted on the very sad story of the accidental death of a University of Colorado sophomore from ingesting poppy seed tea. The poppy, Papaver somniferum, is the commercial source for prescription narcotic painkillers such as morphine and codeine. The seeds can be had online and in retail stores. The plants can often be grown if these seeds are not roasted or otherwise sterilized. I had originally suspected that the CU-Boulder student had not used poppy seed tea but rather some other decoction of the plant itself. I had always contended that the seeds did not contain appreciable amounts of morphine, codeine, or other opiate-related molecules. However, it appears that I am wrong. Commenter Tom just shared with me the absolutely heartbreaking story of the death of his 17-year-old son from poppy seed tea: Abel, Just a note regarding your statement: “A previous report has been that the student and friends were boiling up poppy seeds, but I was suspicious as those lack significant amounts of opiates.”. Our son died 6 years ago from exactly the same causes as the man in this case. Except that my did in fact use only poppy seeds, in large amounts. Even though there is no Morphine in the seeds, they contain traces from the rest of the plant from the processing/harvesting. We have put up a Web site that includes the coroner’s report stating that cause of death was indeed Morphine overdose from poppy seed tea. You can find our Web site at: http://www.poppyseedtea.com/ I spent some time on Tom’s site, Poppy Seed Tea Can Kill You, and I just have to say that I am in awe of the effort and courage this gentleman has undertaken to keep other kids and other parents from experiencing the same tragedy. Related specifically to Tom’s comment, he has courageously posted a redacted version of the medical examiner’s report from 13 Sept 2003. Therein, the toxicology analysis of tissues, blood, and the tea his son ingested are detailed. On the third page, the content of the tea was quantified as having a “high level of morphine,”...

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Remembering Challenger…
Jan28

Remembering Challenger…

This post appeared originally at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata on 28 January 2007. It was a very cold morning in North Florida (in the teens/low 20s Fahrenheit) as I walked in to class during my second semester of graduate school. I vaguely recall some concerns about the launch of Challenger that morning because of the cold and I believe it was scrapped once before, this highly-touted launch of America’s first schoolteacher in space. 1986…This was before the ubiquity of the internet and I didn’t have a radio in our small lab. The first I heard of the disaster was while standing on the med center cafeteria lunch line when a visually-impaired gentleman asked me what I thought of the space shuttle event. I thought he was referring to the likelihood that the launch was canceled again. Instead, a blind man was asking me if I had seen the explosion. Two of my fellow students who had undergraduate pharmacy degrees were down in Orlando that morning taking the Florida pharmacy boards so they could score some lucrative part-time work to supplement our graduate stipend of $6,600 per year. They could see the somewhat Y-shaped cloud to the east from their exam room resulting from the detonation of the booster rockets. Afterwards, I recall some criticism that NASA had been pressured to go forward with the launch due to President Reagan’s scheduled State of the Union speech that evening. I recall Richard Feynman’s famous illustration of a distorted O-ring from his glass of ice water during a press conference of the Rogers Commission investigating the accident. [This link autoplays a 29-second video of his testimony] The Florida DMV issued a memorial license plate with proceeds to go toward education of the children of the astronauts who perished in the disaster. I renewed the plate each year until leaving Florida for my postdoc…and keep it to this day. (Note: Prof John Lynch at Stranger Fruit remembers yesterday’s anniversary of the 1967 launchpad oxygen fire that claimed Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee.). Added 28 January 2011: The NASA mission description for STS-51L describes in great detail the sequence of technical failures leading to the explosion. I couldn’t find any information in the mission plans to indicate that any chemistry experiments were planned but I hope you’ll indulge me in this remembrance today here at CENtral Science. This Awesome Stories post by Carole D. Bos closes with a quote from Richard Feynman that concludes Appendix F of the Rogers Commission Report: For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be...

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What’s the buzz?: Synthetic marijuana, K2, Spice, JWH-018
Sep07

What’s the buzz?: Synthetic marijuana, K2, Spice, JWH-018

The topic of one of our most popular posts of all time has been the synthetic marijuana products containing JWH compounds, naphthoylindole cannabimimetics synthesized in the 1990s in the Clemson University laboratory of John Huffman. This post first appeared at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata on 9 Feb 2010 and gives you some background on the active components of K2, Spice, and other products. My field of natural products pharmacology was founded by indigenous cultures who recognized that plants and fungi contain compounds that produce altered states of consciousness, leading to their most common use in religious ceremonies. While we may most often associate these naturally-occurring drugs with hallucinogens, the arguably most common natural product in use today is marijuana or Cannabis sativa. Indigenous to India and China, Cannabis has been the subject of increasing decriminalization worldwide due in part to its clinical, medicinal effects in multiple sclerosis, cancer, and AIDS. Over the last few months, I’ve seen reports of a so-called “synthetic marijuana” being sold on the internet with stories most commonly coming from England and Germany and, in the US, from Kansas, Missouri, and Arizona. In fact, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports today that a bill has been brought before the Missouri House Public Safety Committee seeking to add this product to the state’s list of illegal drugs. I became intrigued as to why anyone would go through the trouble of making a synthetic marijuana when the real thing is so readily cultivated worldwide, albeit illegally in most locales. So what is it? “Fake weed” Synthetic marijuana, marketed as K2 or Spice, is an herbal substance sold as an incense or smoking material that remains legal in much of the United States but is being increasingly banned at the state and local levels. The products contain one or more synthetic compounds that behave similarly to the primary psychoactive constituent of marijuana, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. The compound most commonly found in these products is a chemical first synthesized by the well-known Clemson University organic chemist, Prof John W Huffman: the eponymous JWH-018. Another compound, found in Spice products sold in Germany, is an analog of CP-47,497, a cannabinoid developed by Pfizer over 20 years ago. Known as (1-pentyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole), or the more proper IUPAC name of Naphthalen-1-yl-(1-pentylindol-3-yl)methanone, JWH-018 is one of over 100 indoles, pyrroles, and indenes synthesized by the Huffman laboratory to develop cannabimimetics, drugs that mimic the effect of cannabinoids such as THC. The primary goal of these studies was to create pharmacological probes to 1) determine the structure-activity relationships of these compounds and 2) tease out the physiological function of subtypes of receptors we have...

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Sharks don’t get cancer but do they get Salmonella poisoning???

This post appeared originally at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata on 18 May 2007. I’m putting it up today to accompany a superb post by University of Hawai’i graduate student and science writer, Christie Wilcox, at Observations of a Nerd. Actually, sharks do get cancer but a 15-year-old book by William Lane led people to think otherwise, launching investigation of shark cartilage as a source of antiangiogenic, anticancer compounds. While there is one promising shark cartilage extract (Neovastat) in clinical trials for multiple myeloma, most oral preparations on health food store shelves aren’t stabilized and characterized well-enough to guarantee stability of antiangiogenic compounds. But it gets worse with this news today from FDA’s MedWatch program that illustrates once again the safety problems of some dietary supplements – shark cartilage may just not work; it might also give you Salmonella poisoning: NBTY and FDA informed consumers and healthcare professionals of a nationwide recall of 3 lots of Shark Cartilage Capsules the company manufactured in 2004 and distributed to consumers through mail and internet orders, and retail stores throughout the United States. The product was recalled because of possible contamination with Salmonella, an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections, endocarditis and arthritis. Customers can return the product back to the place of purchase for a full refund. Read the press release for specific names and lot numbers of the recalled product. What is most concerning is that the wholesaler distributed the tainted extract to no fewer than seven manufacturers, some among the most commonly encountered brands in pharmacies and health food stores like Nature’s Bounty and Rexall Sundown. If you have any elderly relatives or friends and family who are otherwise immunocompromised, make sure they are not taking any of the listed shark cartilage preparations. In fact, I wouldn’t take any shark cartilage preparations outside of a clinical trial. Once again, be careful out...

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