Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Russell Marker percolates up

A few days ago an entry from In the Pipeline included the phrase "Mexican yams and their biggest fan," with the last two words linked to somewhere. oooh! Intriguing! I thought maybe I'd know who this fan was. The link takes us to a Chemical and Engineering News article about Russell Marker. So of course the article discusses the history of Syntex and mentions our man of the hour: Dr. Djerassi.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Herr Doktor Djerassi

If you know anything about him you won't be surprised to hear that Carl Djerassi has a personal/professional web site devoted to the promotion of his books, plays, art, and generally himself. He provides access to lots of interviews where he shares his opinions on all of these topics--oh, yeah, and also of science and the development of the oral contraceptive pill.

There is one interview in particular which is a nice audio file. It's nice, if you are reading his autobiography, to know what he sounds like. His demeanor in interviews also provides insight into who he is in a way that is not quite captured in the book. So if you're curious, follow this link and find the BBC audio file, and have a listen.

Stereochemistry and the Pharmaceutical Industry

I heard part of an interview with Thomas Quasthoff on the radio last weekend. I'm not into opera, but his voice and presence is amazing. I became aware of Quasthoff several years ago when he gave an interview on TV....perhaps it was 60 minutes? I don't remember for sure anymore.

His biography is compelling, and illustrates the importance of stereochemistry in drug manufacture. In recent years there has been some argument about whether the FDA is too slow to approve drugs; too careful about approvals. Maybe, but maybe not. In the case of thalidomide I think everyone would agree there are many who were spared a difficult life because the FDA hesitated. Unfortunately in many other countries it was approved without sufficient testing.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

hey, followers and students

Let's wiki!
I have been looking over the Wet Paint wikis that are constructed by my ochem students, and I am really impressed. I haven't had so much fun with something that seems like grading for a long time.

I am missing contributions from a few students, though, and I know two of them are people who watch this blog. So if you fit that description, please check your wiki site to see if I have been invited to be a member, and if I have accepted.

If you have no evidence I have looked at your blog, please invite me to join.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

what's new in green chem?

I'm headed to Portland this weekend to reconnect with some professional buddies who are also into Green Chemistry. What's new in Green Chem and in Green Chem education? I can hardly wait to find out.

If there ever was a group of cool chemists, this is it.

Dear Mr President

I know you're surrounded by well informed people with cultivated opinions. I know you are facing an unimaginably difficult task: leading this country through really difficult economic times, coping with foreign policy nightmares, and improving the function of our health care system.

As a chemistry educator many of my students are pursuing careers in health care. I teach people who want to be nurses, people who want to be physician assistants, doctors, and pharmacists. I teach in a place that is, at its roots, a rural community. We are geographically somewhat isolated, and people come from many more rural areas around here to get their health care.

Health care is increasingly becoming tough to find in those outlying communities, and our community is limited in its capacity to train nursing and other health care students because even our regional hospital is not all that large. At my college, the health programs are tremendously competitive, and the limit to producing new health care workers appears to be a lack of money to make it possible for the college and the supporting hospital to train very many people.

So I have people anxious to become nurses and doctors who love this part of the world and want to live and work in places like this. Yet the training for these people draws them into urban places, and debt after school often draws them into specialization or urban jobs so that they can not return.

If we are going to invest huge sums of money into reconstructing our economy, I would be delighted to see some of that money used to produce a system that can support the education of these people in a fashion that allows them to come back to small communities for their professional practice. This is what they want, and it is what our communities need, especially as the population of our country--most dramatically in these very same rural communities--becomes older and needs more care.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pre-Med? Read on.

This message is from Kate.

Hello Fellow Pre- Med Students~

I hope that by this time you have heard of the MCAT. If not then you definitely need to talk to someone. If so then you have probably heard of the MCAT prep course that all recommend you take. The University of Oregon offers one over in the valley during the summer.

I have spoken with Diane Pritchard at U of O Bend about getting a course over here for we Bend-kids. She said that it is very possible, we would need about 10 to 12 students to make it go. The trouble lies in the fact that Diane has tried to do this in the past and after getting a good initial response then had everyone bail on her. So needless to say she is not super interested in doing all the leg work if no one is going to follow through.

That is where I come in. I am a Pre-Med student who doesn't want to drive to Eugene twice a week this summer to get ready for the test. Check out this link for the most up-to-date info on the course

If enough folks are in Diane would make this happen for us. Course costs $625 I think, and well worth it I hear.
My email is and let me know of your interest.

Have a great day and happy learning~ Kate

Cahn-Ingold-Prelog Rules

Ochem students: you may remember today's brief discussion of the rules for assigning priority to groups around a chiral center. I promised I'd get back to you about an issue that came up in relation to this. I was unsure of myself on an issue surrounding what I think we can call a more-complex example. Well, I am disappointed in the textbooks in my office. None of them provide an explanation that is adequate to deal with the structure we were looking at in class. But there is a straightforward (if not simple) way to solve the problem.

And, as usual, it was I who was misapplying the rules and not our esteemed author.

Guess where I found a good description, illustrated with examples, concise, accurate, etc.? My favorite web source: Wikipedia.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Chemistry and Cookery, the Column

I discovered today that Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking, has a column available to read for free at the New York Times. Being an old fan I don't know how I missed this for so long, but I am quite happy to have found it! Links to the columns can be found most easily by starting at his website, Curious Cook.

Monday, January 5, 2009


Cyanide ion (CN-) and sulfuric acid produce HCN, a highly toxic gas. When inhaled, HCN interferes with celllular respiration and can lead to what amounts to molecular-level suffocation.

I am grateful to the writer and editors at the Oregonian for giving specifics on this accident. So often I see vague references in the media to spills or accidents involving chemicals, without actually naming them. As in, "a tanker turned over and spilled a toxic chemical...." ammonia? chlorine? xylene? The consequences of such spills can vary dramatically.

Good eye for the person who noticed the foaming, too. The evolution of the gas seems to have tipped him off to the fact that something was amiss.

Anybody know what they do with cyanide in a chip factory?

Friday, January 2, 2009

what I got for Xmas

My DNA is on its way to the lab.


Do you think radio lacks because it can not deliver video content? I must respectfully disagree.

Science Friday (from Talk of the Nation, hosted by npr) has a fantastic website that includes a library of videos that may even rival those of TED. At the moment I am particularly taken with the Hungry Scientist presenting carbonated fruit. But there is much more to explore. The Hungry Scientist blog also deserves checking out.

Suddenly winter break seems way too short.