ACS Day 4 – Who is more important than JJ? The Red-Ticket man

At the ACS meeting I found the greatest individual of all time. I call him the red-ticket man. He handed out red raffle tickets that were worth a free beer at the poster session. He was shorter than I and had grey-white hair with a small white mustache. He was hard to locate and it took some time to find him. When I finally found him I took the mandatory 2 tickets out of his envelope. Being so happy that I found him, I ended up hugging him. Although during the hug I ended up taking 4 more red raffle tickets. I don’t think he minded, but I don’t think he knew, or maybe he just pretended he didn’t notice.

He said the tickets were just for, “us organic chemists”. I told him, “but I’m a Nuclear Chemist”. He didn’t even seem to mind. Isn’t he the greatest guy on the planet? I drank through as many of my red tickets as I could and had to end up giving the rest away. I gave the www.webqc.org guy a ticket and gave the rest to random people.

Mind you, I would never give away free beer on purpose, but I already had a problem standing  so I figured it was about time to give away those other tickets. To put my intoxication state in perspective, Kyle The Chem Blog guy and my good friend Stuart from the Bergman group had been drinking since 5:00pm for the meet-up. Stuart said he thought he had enough; Stuart doesn’t say that, so I knew it was time to stop. I would have added the TenderButton guy to the list of those drinking heavily at the meet-up, but he only had 2 beers so he doesn’t count. Wink I ran into Kyle from The Chem Blog again and he looked dazed at the poster session, he donated a pint of blood earlier which made him more susceptible to the effects of all the alcohol.

The other blogs are focused on who they thought the man of the day was, JJ La Clair. But, there was an even greater man at ACS-Day4. Mr. Red-Ticket man I salute you.

Mitch

Note 1: There were also quite a few other people who were drinking at Chevy’s for the meet-up.

Note 2: I forgot to mention, but after returning to Berkeley I went drinking with the www.mynano.info guy.

Mitch

By September 14, 2006 1 comment Uncategorized

How to get free drinks at ACS sci-mix

Unfortunately, I forgot my sci-mix drink tickets at home on Monday, but I found several alternative ways to get free alcohol.

1) Go to your school’s alumni meeting. When I walked into Berkeley’s free alumni meeting wearing jeans, my beat-up shoes and my several weeks of unshaven manly hair growth–I thought for sure they were going to throw me out, but I had my ACS badge so they let me in (eventhough they said I wasn’t on their list). I noticed they only looked at their current Berkeley student guest-list and didn’t even bother looking at the alumni list, I think some educational profiling was involved. I don’t know how swank private school alumni meetings get, but this was a real surprise being the product of decades of Californian public school education. I made the fortunate mistake of getting there 40 minutes before it started and was able to lay claim to the nearest table by the bar. Fortunately the free bar opened early and I was well on my way to happy-beer contentment by the time I had to walk to the sci-mix poster session.

2) Know the beer-give-awayers. So, without any drink tickets in hand I still went up to the beer-servers and asked for a beer. They said, “ticket”. I was like, “I don’t have any tickets”, and the very nice beer-chap looked over his shoulder a couple of times and then said “here-go-go”. That was awesome.

When I went to the ACS-registration help desk, they wouldn’t print me any more tickets. Now, the whole ticket idea is quaint. But, I could of just as easily taken my tickets to the nearest Kinkos and printed 100. I think the whole ACS idea of drink tickets is just to keep individuals from over doing it, but obviously I found a way to overdo it. I suggest ACS have an open bar next year, and forget the whole ticket idea. Does anyone even check to see if the number of drink tickets matches the number of cups served? I would doubt there is such a ticket Nazi. As scientists we should be open to performing experiments and I say ACS experiments with an open beer-bar next year. Since I am a just man, and the ACS may wish to do this experiment on a smaller scale, I will be willing to use myself as a subject for the free-beer experiment.

P.S. Sorry ticket Nazi, but there may be several plastic cups that don’t match with the number of tickets received.

By September 12, 2006 0 comments Uncategorized

Targets vs. Science

Most of the projects you see nowadays are directed at achieving a particular goal, and that’s a good thing. It can be easy to get distracted by other, unimportant details when there is a big difficult puzzle set out in front of you.  But what is the cost of this approach to science?

Suppose two groups are working on the same molecule.  One group goes with the brute force method and makes the molecule in a perhaps predictable and inelegant fashion.  The other group comes up with a beautiful idea and takes the time to execute that idea well, optimizing conditions so that there are no major weaknesses in the synthesis.  Which is better?  They both attained the same goal (making the molecule).  To complicate things, suppose the former group reports their synthesis 3 months before the latter.  Then what?

I am of the mind that the appearance of one synthesis shouldn’t cheapen the impact of a later synthesis, but it’s hard to argue that the chemical community thinks the same way.  How often do you see a second synthesis of a natural product show up in Org. Lett. instead of JACS simply because it was second?

More than just the implications for publication records and C.V.’s, how does this cause scientists to change their approach?  Some investigators are really embracing the approach where they just care about getting to the target first, no matter what the cost.  It seems that the chemical community is rewarding these types with high profile publications and certainly with funding, so it is a self-aggrandizing process.  What really irks me about this approach is how much thought gets lost in the process.  How many new reactions do scientists miss because they are only looking to get to that end product?  I’d bet there are a lot!

I can’t help but make the comparison to the business end of science.  Think about the med. chem. approach to chemistry: make a ton of compounds, yields or direct routes are irrelevant, just get the compounds to the bio assay.  It’s good business, and it certainly works, but a lot of elegance is lost in this approach.  Elegance is somewhat unimportant in med. chem. though because that’s not the point, but I see that mindset spilling over into academic chemistry and that is a poison to the field.

Academic chemistry should be about investigating new ideas in order to learn new things.  If professors think that the goal is just to serve industry, then we aren’t learning anything.  Industry does what industry needs to do, and it does it well.  The academic end should be pure and free of the dollars and cents involved, but if all you think about is finishing targets while ignoring the learning, you’ve missed the point.

Call me an idealist, but somewhere people need to be doing science for the sake of science.

By August 29, 2006 0 comments Uncategorized

The Brick Wall of Science (with Aerogel!)

In contrast to the joy of crystallization,  there is always that sinking feeling when you can’t get something to work.

In light of recent events, chemists are becoming much more skeptical about the veracity of the results they see in print, and to a large extent, that’s a good thing.  In some cases, however, this can be problematic as well.  For example, recently I’ve been trying to carry out what should be a simple, routine reaction.  I won’t give any details, but the reaction is the very definition of “textbook.”  I can’t get it to work worth a damn.  I’ve tried everything I can think of, I’m following literature procedures to the T, but it just won’t work out the way it’s reported.

Here’s the real dilemma: this reaction was reported to work, but I can’t reproduce the results.  I even know other people who have had trouble reproducing these results.  So what is the problem?  I have to wonder whether it’s a failing in my abilities as a chemist, but at the same time, at what point do you say “These reported results can’t be right.”  I’m definitely not to that point with my chemistry, but if I were working with a reaction that wasn’t so firmly established I would have to seriously consider the possibility that the reported results were false.

So am I jumping the gun on this?  Did I just miss something in those papers I read?  I feel like I may be more likely to accuse falsification just because there have been some high profile reports of such things.

Then try to think of yourself on the other end of things.  Any chemistry that I publish will be true to the best of my knowledge, but what if someone questions my results?  I know I have evidence to back it up, but how do you tell someone that their inability to reproduce my results must be some fault on their end.  Worse yet, what if I made an honest mistake and misidentified something?  Is that forgivable, or would my carelessness mar all of my accomplishments.  These are serious issues and I think that some of this may have gotten lost in the fray of competing accusations.

So what am I to do, with a textbook reaction that doesn’t behave like it should?  How long do I pound my head in to the brick wall of science before I give up on it?  And perhaps a more ominous concern is what happens when someone asks why I didn’t just use this obvious textbook reaction instead of my obviously circuitous work around!!

By August 23, 2006 0 comments Uncategorized