2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

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Today the Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka for their work on G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). GPCRs, for those of you who are new to this topic, are proteins that straddle cell membranes. In some sense, they are one conduit for transferring information from outside of the cell to the inside of the cell. Functionally, when a GPCR interacts with other, very specific, molecules that are outside of the cell, the GPCR reconfigures itself, or at least the portion of the GPCR that is inside of the cell. This changing of shape sets off a cascade of other events within the cell. Thus, the GPCR is capable of reporting to a cell that there are certain molecules lurking outside of its doors. Obviously, this protein function has many implications for advancing technology as well as our basic understanding of how Life works. One of … Continue reading

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Response to Closing the Skills Gap

In the most current issue of C&E News, Linda Wang has a really important article on the divide between skills gained in graduate education and desired those desired by chemical industries. I suggest that you all read it. Modifying our educational process to better serve our students’ futures is a vital topic for all chemists to undertake. CJ has done a nice job of covering the article and moderating a truly terrific discussion of it on his site. As he continues to do, Chemjobber is THE place to go for discussions on how academia can better students for industry and how industry might better facilitate this process. (See posts here and here and here). I wanted to add my take as well. Below is the comment that I made on Ms. Wang’s post. I also expect to write a shorter version of this as a letter to the editor. Linda, … Continue reading

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Toxic Carnival: Loose Ends

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Hi all, Just wanted to wrap up some loose ends from the weekend. We’ve had a couple of links trickle in over the past few days, and I wanted to make sure that they got shared (and bookmarked) here. Also, a special congratulations is in order to Dr. Rubidium. Her terrific post on succinylcholine was the featured post over at gizmodo for part of the weekend. I’m extremely proud of her and feel very fortunate that her post was a part of this carnival! I am planning on writing up my thoughts on the blog carnival tomorrow. Here are the links that have come in: 1) Neurodynamics Leigh shared a fantastic post that was written in 2010 describing toxic potency and therapeutic index. It is a very instructive piece that can help a lot of newcomers better understand how toxic effects are measured. 2) Evolving Health There has been a … Continue reading

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Toxic Carnival: Day Five

Have you had enough?! No … Well I haven’t either. We’ve got some more fantastic posts today. Enjoy! As usual, I’ll aggregate them here through the day. I’m also planning a little recap for earlier next week. Thanks again to all who have posted and shared and tweeted and read and commented. I think that we’ve all had a bunch of fun with this. 1) The Poison Garden John kicked off the day on his blog “The Poison Garden”, the perfect venue for a #ToxicCarnival if I have ever seen one! His post very nicely lists and describes the poisons that come from some of our most infamous poisonous plants: cocaine from Erythroxylum coca, coniine from Conium maculatum (poison hemlock), atropine from Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade), and hyoscyamine from Hyoscyamus niger (black henbane). 2) Chemistry World Blog The crew at the Chemistry World Blog are back for more CO fun … Continue reading

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Toxic Carnival: Day Four

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Sorry that I didn’t update this yesterday. I was busy at NIST doing sciencey stuff. It was very productive, actually. I certainly wouldn’t have been as productive sitting at my desk with all of the fabulous #ToxicCarival posts from yesterday. Here they are: 1) The Organic Solution Jess confirmed the idea that our favorite toxic molecules likely contain fluorine! She starts off with a description of the history and toxicity of F2 and then moves into the wonderful world of organo-fluorine molecules. 2) Chemistry Blog Azmanam takes us on a tour of the history of nitroglycerine. This is a much better way to get up close and personal with the molecule than driving a dump truck through a nitroglycerine plant. My favorite line from the post was: “Yeah, with enough soap, one could blow up just about anything, if one were so inclined”. Go and check it out! 3) Scientifics … Continue reading

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Toxic Carnival: Day Three

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Today is Day 3 of “Our Favorite Toxic Chemicals” blog carnival! Lots of early activity! Should be a great day with some stellar posts. I will aggregate the links here as they come in. 1) Supernova Condensate Markus gets the ball rolling with his favorite toxic hydrides. Highlights include arsine: “apparently has a faint garlic-like scent, but chances are if you can smell it you won’t live long enough to tell anyone that” and HF: “frankly, scares the hell out of me”. Me too, Markus. Me too. 2) J.A.Y.F.K. Dr. Rubidium has put up a brilliant post about succinylcholine and describes its use for both medical and nefarious reasons. She goes into detail about murder cases that revolved around the tricky forensic analysis of succinylcholine in the body. I can’t properly tout her work here. I’ll refer you to praise that came from Deborah Blum: “Wish I’d written this tale … Continue reading

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Pain, Undoubtedly, Comes with the Cure

I was going to write my #ToxicCarnival post on oxalic acid and rhubarb. Oxalic acid is the molecule that makes rhubarb leaves poisonous. If you ingest it, oxalic acid will bind with all sorts of metals in your body and, in effect, will leach your system of much needed minerals. Of particular note is one of the products of this leaching, calcium oxalate. Calcium oxalate is one of the most abundant molecules found in kidney stones. That is what I was going to write about. But, as I sat down to work on it, I got a call from one of my college roommates. It had been a while since we had spoken, and I was excited to have him on the line. But calls like this, out of the blue, usually come with some sort of news. He told me that the wife of one of our friends had … Continue reading

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Toxic Carnival: Day Two

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Today is Day 2 of “Our Favorite Toxic Chemicals” blog carnival! Mind what you eat! Put some more lotion on your face! I will aggregate the links here as they come in. 1. The Haystack Carmen kicked things off today with a stellar post on tetrodotoxin. The post starts with a quote from Captain James Cook, slides nicely into organic synthesis, moves into Zombieland and a discussion of “The Serpent and the Rainbow”, and ends with her own thoughts on how “we” present chemicals and chemical risks to the public and ourselves. This is a clinic in good and entertaining science writing! Oh yeah … and did I mention food … pufferfish … Anybody out there ever tried it? 2. Nature Nanotechnology This isn’t part of the #ToxicCarnival, but Carmen pointed out this timely editorial from Nature Nanotechnology: The dose makes the poison. Do go and read it. 3. Atomic-o-licious … Continue reading

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Toxic Carnival: Day One

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Today is Day 1 of “Our Favorite Toxic Chemicals” blog carnival! Feel the excitement oozing over you! I will aggregate the links here as they come in. 1. In The Pipeline Derek is up first with a post on selenophenol. Quoting Th’Gaussling’s description of this molecule: “The biggest stinker I have run across. . .Imagine 6 skunks wrapped in rubber innertubes and the whole thing is set ablaze. That might approach the metaphysical stench of this material.” High praise, that. Derek, for those of you who don’t follow him, has an entire series on “Things I won’t work with”. Check them out! 2. Carbon Based Curiosities Excimer has a hilarious post on TCNE (tetracyanoethylene). He starts off his post lampooning Andrew Liveris and musing that if 95% of products are made with chemicals, then the other 5% must be made from unicorns and rainbows. He goes on to describe in … Continue reading

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Our Favorite Toxic Chemicals

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Announcing a Blog Carnival You may have heard. Chemicals are bad for you. Especially if they are made by “Big Chem”. They are especially scary if you happen to be a male reptile or an amphibian. If this is the case, you’re in line to have your johnson shrunk or, possibly, tack on a pair of ovaries. Nick Kristof, of New York Times Op-Ed fame, is the latest in a long line of writers to sound the alarm against “chemicals” being “spewed” into the “environment” by “products” being made at “Big Chemical” corporations. These vague pronouncements of doom pop up from time to time warning us against any and all products with “chemical additives”. They have played prominently in a recent discussion on the origins of autism. The aura of bad chemicals even made its way into an interview with DOW CEO, Andrew Liveris. Scared of chemicals? Not to worry, … Continue reading

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