Monday, March 16, 2015

Overhaul In University's EH&S Policy Pledges To "Put Safety Third, Maybe Fourth"

Ithaca, NY

A comprehensive overview of campus safety policies at Cornell University has led to a "complete overhaul" in the institution's attitude and culture surrounding laboratory safety, stated Dean of Research Mark Thompson.

In an open letter to staff, faculty, and students, Thompson stated that safety procedures at Cornell have been thoroughly evaluated, and redesigned "from the ground up."  The letter also indicated that university administrators and faculty had rededicated themselves to "putting safety third, maybe fourth."

"Safety has always been at the heart of all research policy enacted at Cornell.  For this reason, we have performed an exhaustive evaluation of both our policies and practices.  This effort has allowed us to state unequivocally that this university places safety as the third most important criterion in evaluating the effectiveness of a research group, sitting only behind 'ability to generate grant revenue' and 'tenure,' respectively."

Thompson also acknowledged that "in an increasingly digital research landscape" the "online presence" of a given investigator might soon overtake "safety," effectively making the latter the fourth most important evaluation criterion.

The letter closed by reassuring students that under no circumstances would safety ever drop below the "seventh most important thing [sic]". 

C&EN Onion reporters were contacted by a source inside the university who indicated that the Dean's staunch stance on laboratory safety might be less than authentic.  "They [campus administration] went through the same song-and-dance routine a couple years ago with the whole 'green science' thing," stated a graduate student, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.  "Nothing changed, the department just slapped some posters on the doors telling people to keep their sashes down to cut energy use.  And they bought an acetone recycling system, which I might add has been used, like, twice."

Friday, March 13, 2015

Sigma-Aldrich Unveils Artisanal Organic Building Blocks

St. Louis, MO

In a press release immediately following a publication in Science some say heralds the end of synthetic organic chemistry as we know it, a spokesperson from fine chemicals manufacturer and distributor Sigma-Aldrich stated that the firm is introducing a new line of artisan-prepared synthetic building blocks in Q3 of this year.  The new product line, termed Arti-Blocks™, likely aims to retain customers in the face of on-demand, automated synthesis.   In addition, the company announced plans to open a new production facility in Waltham, MA, which is expected to employ 400 scientists, technicians, and administrators.

Jamie Carmichael, spokesman for the firm began, "Sigma-Aldrich aims to provide new, innovative products to its customer base.  As such, we are proud to introduce our artisanal organic building block product line.  Customers can rest easy knowing that their coupling reagents, precursors, and other synthons were generated using traditional borosilicate glassware, the old-fashioned way."

Carmichael continued, "In addition, we are now offering Arti-Plus™ reagents, which, in addition to being handcrafted by our chemists, and purified in small batches of no more than 50 grams via flash chromatography."

"These products include certification indicting they have been handmade by real chemists, and not by any automated system."

As of press time, the company had issued a second press release indicating that their St. Louis production plant would be "undergoing significant reorganization with regard to personnel."  The announcement did not indicate how many jobs would be affected, but did state that "innovative, and stream-lining automation solutions" were planned for late FY15.  Analysts have generally responded favorably to the announcement, with some predicting the firm's second quarter earnings will increase by as much as 5.4% over Q1.

Rampaging Synthetic Chemists Smash Synthesis Machine

C&EN Onion European Chemical Sciences Correspondent Fluorogrol Reports


Urbana, IL

Ugly scenes today marred the unveiling of what may become a landmark paper, as an angry mob of organic synthesis researchers invaded the chemistry department at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign before seizing and ultimately destroying a so-called "synthesis machine."

An article in the journal Science, describing the development of what is in effect a cyborg post-doc, prompted an initially peaceful protest outside the chemistry department under placards carrying the slogans KEEP NATURAL PRODUCT SYNTHESIS NATURAL, SUZUKI COUPLINGS ARE CHEATING and GIVE ME C–H ACTIVATION OR GIVE ME DEATH. However, witnesses described a marked increase in tension after the arrival of a counter-demonstration of inorganic chemists, who taunted their organic counterparts with highly charged epithets including "pot-boiler" and "column monkey".

An anonymous demonstrator later told C&EN Onion: "It all kicked off when the fucking stamp collectors showed up. The was always an undercurrent of anger, but that was when it boiled over and you became keenly aware just how many people had brought BuLi with them."

Asked to explain the motives of the inorganic counter-demonstrators, a hooded organometallic researcher said, "We're just here looking for trouble. I've got no dog in this fight, unless you're gonna tell me that thing's got an onboard SQUID magnetometer."

Anger having now reached fever pitch, a large group stormed the building, making directly for the lab housing the controversial machine. Minutes later, the helpless automaton was flung from a second floor window, landing amongst cheering protesters and breaking, ironically enough, into a number of fragments. Amid frantic shouts that the machine may have developed the capability to heal itself, clamp-stand-wielding synthetic chemists smashed what little remained. To their credit, many of them first donned appropriate personal protective equipment.

John Wiseman, a technician present during the break-in, remained sanguine as he detailed the damage to the lab. "The automated synthesis platform was what they came for, of course, but someone also found time to steal a bunch of NMR tubes and a fresh batch of DMP. You know what these people are like."

Wiseman also claimed that clashes involving armed factions of researchers were not without precedent: "You'd be surprised. There are a lot of radical chemists out there."