Nutley nostalgia on Roche campus closing
Jun28

Nutley nostalgia on Roche campus closing

The most-viewed article at C&EN online over the last seven days was news from Lisa M. Jarvis on the announced closing of the venerable Nutley, NJ, campus of Hoffmann-La Roche - better known today as simply Roche. A mere 13 miles from Manhattan's Times Square, the US headquarters of Swiss company moved to Nutley in 1929. A total of 1,000 jobs will be lost when the campus closes late in 2013 - Susan Todd at The Star-Ledger has a pair of articles with the details (1, 2). Todd also used the term, "venerable." The Nutley campus is legendary for the discovery and development of major drugs - isoniazid for tuberculosis, for example - and the manufacture of vitamins. At one time, it was the example of how a pharmaceutical company could run an independent research institute with its Roche Institute of Molecular Biology. But this week, we lament the sadly unsurprising loss of employment for many of our friends in chemistry and pharmacology, as well as a host of good folks in administration and support services. Despite its contraction from a high of 10,000 employees in its heyday, Roche continued to provide 9-10% of the tax base for the city. My nostalgia for Roche extends back to my childhood, growing up on a hill five miles across the Passaic River in the predominantly Polish town of Wallington. From a clearing in the woods on the hill, the major landmark across into Essex County was the Roche tower, built the year before I was born and known by the unglamorous name of Building 76. The route my family took while driving back from the official state pastime of mall shopping invariably took us past the Roche campus on the Route 3 side. This drive past Roche from the west was preceded immediately by a glorious view of the New York City skyline, almost straight on with the Empire State Building. Whenever I see these two landmarks, I know that I'm almost home. My Uncle Tommy was a facilities maintenance worker at Roche for about 30 years. Readers here are certainly concerned about the loss of scientist jobs - but Roche provided upward mobility for high school and GED graduates like my uncle. He used to buy us our vitamins from the employee purchase plan. My daughter - and much of the internet - absolutely hate the smell of multivitamins. When I stick my nose deep into a bottle, I smell nurturing, love and care. Roche brought the first synthetic vitamin C to market using the combined microbial and organic synthesis method of Nobel laureate Tadeus Reichstein. When I was a...

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Do you remember your PhD defense?
May02

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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2011: The year in blog numbers
Dec31

2011: The year in blog numbers

Well, we're right about at the end of 2011 and it's time to thank you find readers for checking in with us throughout the year. We're slowly rebuilding our momentum here at CENtral Science since moving from ScienceBlogs and were just shy of 90,000 visits for the year. Many of our colleagues get that many each month or week, and a few even each day. Still, we're very happy that you take time to read here - we consider our readers to be top-quality - brilliant, creative, good-looking, and they even smell good, too! I'll take 90,000 of you folks any day over millions of other less desirable readers. I can't resist the temptation to put up our year-end traffic report since I have the data available and I just love data sets. In addition, I find it interesting to see what topics garnered the greatest traffic. Below, I've put up the list of posts that received 100 or more views. The homepage is obviously the first because of those who have us saved as a browser bookmark. But, no surprise, our major topic of interest overall was synthetic marijuana and other until-recently-legal high such as "bath salts." But ranking quite highly were our posts on dietary supplements containing aromatase inhibitors for bodybuilding and the newly-approved natural product analog for multiple sclerosis, fingolimod (Gilenya). Title Views Home page 18,563 DEA already admits defeat on synthetic marijuana ban? 10,400 Flurry of FDA action against aromatase inhibitor supplements 5,970 What’s the buzz?: Synthetic marijuana, K2, Spice, JWH-018 5,373 “Synthetic marijuana” chemist John W. Huffman interviewed on regional NPR program 2,856 iAroma synthetic marijuana and the loss of Max Dobner 2,456 K2 Synthetic Marijuana: Heart Attacks, Suicides, and Surveillance 1,853 Fingolimod (Gilenya; Novartis) for Multiple Sclerosis 1,775 NC legislators aim to clean up “bath salt” omission 1,737 David Nichols, legal highs, and the social responsibilities of the scientist 1,611 Compilation of synthetic marijuana posts 1,510 Mephedrone in the U.S. 1,465 NIH biosketch change as “Kick Me” sign? 1,150 Strong chemistry in NC bills banning legal highs 1,121 Ch-ch-ch-ch, Changes 1,093 Skin-bleaching: got mercury? 909 Who decides what’s an analog of a controlled substance? 843 About David 753 Poppy seed tea can kill you (repost) 752 Mike Kastan to lead Duke Cancer Institute 741 GSK to sell iconic Elion-Hitchings building 675 The Future of Chemistry Jobs – Keep Reading and Commenting 670 Real-life NCIS: USNA midshipmen expelled for K2 Spice distribution ring 617 Synthetic marijuana for pharmacists 587 Racism charged in DePaul chemistry tenure denial 540 #icanhazpdf: Civil disobedience? 533 Norman R. Farnsworth, grandaddy of medicinal plant research, passes at 81 521 Intravenous...

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Most important lessons learned from a teacher
Oct08

Most important lessons learned from a teacher

In the current US political climate, teaching as a profession is taking a beating. I don't quite understand how one of the most important jobs in this country, particularly at the K-12 level, is somehow perceived at the heart of our economic woes. Over at his NeuroTribes blog (mind, science, culture) at PLoS Blogs, science journalist Steve Silberman has a superb collection of science writer reflections on the most important lessons some of us have learned from teachers. I'm honored to have been invited to be in such lofty company - thanks, Steve! By the way, consider following Steve on Twitter @stevesilberman - his tweets are some of the most interesting and content-rich of any out there. All of the passages are wonderful in their own way but my favorite stories are by David Dobbs on his adulthood violin teacher and Sarah Fallon on her AP chemistry teacher. Go read and pick your favorite. My entry begins with my oft-told tale of growing up in northern New Jersey: As a gangly Polish kid in an Irish Catholic high school, I was a perennial target for physical humiliation. Being good in school didn’t help matters. But I had two science teachers whose kindness and support stay with me 30 years later. Thomas Hannan was a tall, handsome baseball coach who was also our 10th grade biology teacher. I good-naturedly taunted him by scoring a 100 on any test he could throw at us. After class one day, he offered to formalize the challenge: every time I got a 100 thereafter, he would buy a Pepsi and award it to me in class. If I didn’t, I owed him a Pepsi. I thought this was madness. I didn’t need another reason to be pushed around by the jocks. But as the baseball coach, Hannan’s endorsement became an inoculation against the thrashings that typically befell a smart kid. Good biology grades became an “in” thing. My chemistry and physics teacher, Neil Bender, was the opposite of Hannan in physical appearance — disheveled, mismatched clothes — and had a penchant for diverging into his other passion during class: movie reviews. After our first submission of chemistry lab reports, he commended us on our work but announced that one student’s work stood head and shoulders above the rest. He refused to say who until all of the cool kids badgered him for the student’s identity. As I sat in the back at the lab bench for the other outcasts, I was shocked when he revealed that I was the one with the propensity for chemistry. I was not the only one singled out by...

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