A blogging siesta
Feb28

A blogging siesta

Hello Artful Science readers, As you’ve probably noticed, Artful Science has been on hiatus for a few months while I’ve been on a research sabbatical and then working on other projects. It will continue to be on pause until further notice but I hope to resume a new incarnation of Artful Science’s cultural heritage coverage sometime in the not-so-distant future. In the meantime, I often tweet about research on art and artifacts, should you wish to follow me in the land of Twitter. All my best from Berlin and thanks for reading,...

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This Week on CENtral Science: Happy #chemvalentine Day!
Feb14

This Week on CENtral Science: Happy #chemvalentine Day!

Your #chemvalentine tweet of the week: Asking someone out? This is failproof #chemvalentine #RealTimeChem #MyChemDrawMeme ^PMx pic.twitter.com/OCQervDtSY — ChemDraw (@ChemDraw) February 14, 2014 It's been a pretty quiet, snow-filled week at the network: Newscripts: Amusing News Aliquots The Watch Glass: Valentine’s Day Potpourri and tissue-engineered Olympic rings and Olympic...

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Not Part of Generation Sputnik? What’s Your Chemistry Set?
Feb06

Not Part of Generation Sputnik? What’s Your Chemistry Set?

C&EN's managing editor, Robin Giroux, sent around the following email to the staff (shared with her permission): Folks, 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 :)) Thanks!Robin 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...

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State of the Vibe
Jan26

State of the Vibe

I’ll share the gist of my Informex talk, which was entitled State of the Vibe in Pharma Chem or When New Worlds Collide. I spoke using PowerPoint slides, which I had never done before. Having seen hundreds of PowerPoint presentations, however, I knew that they had to begin with a “Forward-Looking Statement”, something to get the speaker or the speaker’s employer off the hook. So, I led the presentation with my own forward-looking statement, a quote from the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke:  “The truth is buried under a pile of facts.” I can’t find where Rilke actually says this, but who else would say such a thing? Thus covered, I went into an introduction of the magazine, beginning with a review of our cover stories on pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals from 2013. These showcased important themes. We covered the push toward services in contract manufacturing, the reevaluation of markets in fine chemicals, and the rise in biosimilars. Our annual case history explication of the mechanics of contract manufacturing had its crowd-pleasing focus on the drug molecules in question. There was a uniquely comprehensive feature on the quest for cures for rare diseases (a highlight of C&EN’s coverage last year, written by Lisa Jarvis). Then, there was the Pharmaceutical Year in Review, a look at what we called “The New Machine”. As for inside action, we ran features on China, where the long-running story of low-cost competition and its down side is nuanced by the anti-corruption push of the new five-year-plan. There was an article on the push to bring excipients into the fold of regulated manufacture, largely as a means of securing the supply chain and the businesses of Western suppliers of bulk drug material. And there was one on the reemergence of Design of Experiment, the statistics-intensive industrial quality regime from the 1960s that is currently riding the wave of data analysis in science-based (certainly in pharmaceutical-based) industries. I pointed to only one news story from 2013—DSM’s announcement last month of a deal with Patheon to create a separate company combining DSM’s pharmaceutical fine chemicals and Patheon’s formulation services businesses. A quick look at the number of diversified chemical companies who have somehow entered and exited the field of fine chemicals between the mid 1990s and 2000s has us wondering whether DSM will somehow join the club, leaving BASF as the sole diversified chemical giant still in the pharma chemical game. Next: A swing through ten years of fine, custom, and contract manufacturing in the pharma sector with a look at the CPhI headlines from 2003 to 2013. Long story short, we watched the sector rise steadily...

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C&EN Talks at Informex
Jan24

C&EN Talks at Informex

Informex, if somewhat downsized, was upbeat in Miami. I haven’t got official word from UBM on attendance, but the consensus on the exhibit floor was that floor walking was down. Business, however, was up! David Ager, principle scientist with DSM, said it was well worth the travel to South Beach for the leads his company picked up. Others said the same. Generally, spirits were higher in Miami than they were in Anaheim last year. Go figure. If there was any upside to last year’s venue, it was the proximity of hotels to the convention center. Informex 2013 was like an alternative Disney World behind the real Magic Kingdom with all the hotels on a short road that ended in a cul-de-sac fronted by the convention center. Most attendees spend all week at those hotels and at the exhibition. Still, show management had a hard time getting people from the exhibit hall to rooms in the hotels for the conference sessions. The solution this year was to combine the two with presentations given at two “Silent Theaters” in the exhibit hall. C&EN presented two of the session. Publisher Kevin Davies gave a presentation entitled “The Chemistry of Next Gen Sequencing”. And I gave one entitled “State of the Vibe in Pharmachem”. From the speaker’s perspective and the attendee’s, I thought the speaking theaters, in which the audience wore sound canceling headphones, worked very well. Most speakers drew good crowds. Kevin’s talk was intriguing. A history of the genome and its sequencing from Sanger, the genomics pioneer, to Illumina, the firm that debuted the much anticipated $1,000 genome just this month. There were walk-ons by Watson and a Dutch woman whose name approximates Crick. Much scientific intrigue, if not your standard chemistry. Kevin is an authoritative source on the $1,000 genome, having, in fact, written the book. His slide headings were fantastic—The Language of God, The Book of Life, and Mission Accomplished [with a photo of George W. Bush on deck under the banner for context]. He walked us, engagingly, through the rise of single molecule exonuclease sequencing, the emergence of companies like Solexa and Illumina, and the efforts and machinations of marvelously driven characters such as Jonathan Rothberg and Craig Venter. He showed us scientist pub life in Cambridge, UK, and the rise of Oxford Nanopore, which recently debuted a sequencing device about the size of a matchbox car, heralding the easy-access sequencing of our X-topian future. Kevin demonstrated this thingamabob at the bar last night, and it is quite amazing.  It is all very amazing. Especially the competition between scientists and the companies they form, reminding us that advances...

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Buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-Bad!
Jan22

Buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-Bad!

Today I was offered a great opportunity to air my grievances about Breaking Bad, the award-winning AMC dramatic series that I have avoided watching. As it turns out, I’m glad I waited until now! Donna Nelson, a chemistry professor at the University of Oklahoma who has garnered a bit of fame in the chemistry world as a consultant for the series, was the opening speaker at Informex this morning. I hit her with my reservations regarding the show, more-or-less like a ton of bricks, moments before she got started. My reservations, I told her, arise from the following perceptions: 1)   Science nerds (we will visit the word nerd below… relax) took to the show with immense enthusiasm for living vicariously through an outlaw chemist—an outlaw chemist who is making crystal meth for money! 2)    The science enterprise latched on to this show’s popularity as a chance to finally get science right on TV with a show… about making crystal meth! 3)   A fundamental question: What do the details of chemistry have to do with drama? I never cared about the authenticity of Carmella’s recipe for tomato gravy when I watched the Sopranos (twice) because it had nothing to do with the drama. I doubt David Chase brought in a chef to consult. Why should I be interested in the details of the chemistry in Breaking Bad when it is the dramatic element of how the chemistry is used that should hook me? In my view the Chemical Enterprise has shown too much enthusiasm for a story of science’s amorality tipping heavily into the immoral. What kind of anti-hero role model is Walter White? Nelson effectively disarmed me in our brief chat before she went on. I could tell intuitively that she saw something behind the kind of objections I raised, objections comparable to those of colleagues who pulled her aside when she got started and said… “Do you know what that show is about? Don’t do it!” She did it, and I’m impressed with what she's done. And C&EN had a bit roll in her contribution to the Enterprise as a volunteer adviser on chemistry: Nelson saw a story in C&EN written by Jyllian Kemsley in which Vince Gilligan, the show’s writer and producer, told her he would very much welcome input from chemists. The story ran after the first few episodes. Nelson decided to take him up on it, and got an introduction through Rudy Baum, then editor-in-chief of C&EN. Nelson says she was satisfied that the series did not glorify illicit drug production—she tells me that the protagonist is dragged through the desert in his underwear, among...

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