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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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August 19, 2011

Day Off - Some Links and Some Ancient Greek

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Posted by Derek

I'm adding a day to the weekend, so science is going to have to march on without me for a while. I do have a few miscellaneous links to things that have been piling up, though: here's the Chronicle of Higher Education on growing links between drug company research and academia, and (for something completely different) here's a rather crazed editorial at Marketwatch calling for the immediate abolishment of the FDA. ("Everyone would start marketing crazy drugs to cure cancer, impotence, etc. And my response is – so what?").

And here's a short review in Organic Process R&D on a reaction that I've never done, but which looks interesting: direct amine substitution of C-H bonds. You do that with various semi-exotic rhodium catalysts, and I'm not aware of any other useful ways to do it at all. Anyone out there had any experience with this?

To cap things off, if anyone's looking for something to do in their spare time, well, do what I've been doing on the train rides home: help transcribe some ancient Greek papyri. No, I'm not kidding. These are unstudied examples of the Oxyrhynchus papyri, a trove of discarded writings from an Egyptian city of Roman and post-Roman times, excavated in the 1890s and still being worked through. (The book City of the Sharp-Nosed Fishis a good overview of what's been found so far).

They'll put scanned ones up on the screen for you, and you can transcribe the Greek letters for their database. I'd recommend hitting the "Next" button at first until you get one that's in nice, dark, all-capital lettering; those are pretty easy to work with. Some of the dashed-off script ones, though, are a real challenge, and you'll be surprised at how much handwriting varies. Here's a useful comparison of that sort of thing, and this is another excellent resource on reading papyri. If (like me) you don't have a whole lot of ancient Greek at your disposal, you can always try to translate text strings you find using this tool at Tufts' Perseus site. Mind you, these guys mashed all their words together with no spaces, so it can be a bit tricky - one help is that kappa-alpha-iota ("and") shows up a lot. Enjoy! I find it, weirdly, to be a lot of fun.

Comments (15) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping


1. RB Woodweird on August 19, 2011 9:15 AM writes...

"The Oxyrhynchus Papyri are a very numerous group of manuscripts discovered by archaeologists including Bernard Pyne Grenfell and Arthur Surridge Hunt at an ancient rubbish dump near Oxyrhynchus in Egypt...."

This is why you always shred personal documents before you put them in the recycle or in the trash.

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2. Will on August 19, 2011 9:32 AM writes...

I spent a little time ~10 years ago with the DuBois chemistry, trying to insert a nitrogen (making a five member sulfonomate) into a propagylic carbon. Never really worked out well for me, don't recall if it chewed the triple bond or something else...

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3. RandomChemist on August 19, 2011 10:01 AM writes...

I would take Classical Latin any day before Ancient/Polytonic Greek...too many verb forms and too many breathing diacritics.

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4. Dylan on August 19, 2011 10:29 AM writes...

Seem to be missing the MarketWatch link and I can't find the editorial on their site either.

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5. Chemjobber on August 19, 2011 10:39 AM writes...

I enjoyed that DuBois review when it came out in ASAP format. Can anyone tell me why it's in OPRD?

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6. RM on August 19, 2011 10:48 AM writes...

This is why you always shred personal documents before you put them in the recycle or in the trash.

Not that it would make much of a difference - take a look at the condition of some of the fragments. There's enough desire for information from the period that even if they had passed them through a cross-cut paper shredder, researchers would still be puzzling over them. Quite literally, in fact, as I'd guess they'd have an "assemble the document jigsaw puzzle" web app in addition to the identify letters one.

BTW, That "useful comparison" of handwriting confirms the impression I got - this is a devilishly hard task for a web audience, especially with the level of information provided through the app. A large number of examples on that page are along the lines of "this one looks exactly like other letter, except for this little detail you'll likely miss even if looking for it."

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7. MoMo on August 19, 2011 11:00 AM writes...

Derek, you never cease to amaze me with your rennaissance-man interests. It just so happens I have been studying ancient cultures and medicine for years. Check out the Ebers medical papyrus for starters at

The ancients laid down a pharmacopiea against many diseases and should be studied by drug designers everywhere and their chemists (actually brewers) had scientific command of their craft even back then.

But the Egytians had the same problems as Pharma does today-their bosses controlled them, made the big money, and outsourced their jobs to Nubia.

Same as it Ever Was! Same as it Ever Was!

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9. billswift on August 19, 2011 12:47 PM writes...

What's weird about it? A mildly to moderately challenging activity with no real downside risk is almost the definition of play.

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10. Eric on August 19, 2011 1:24 PM writes...

looks like Hershey lost its J-1 visa oompa Loompas. I've seen this practice of using foreign students as cheap labor
in analytical and contract labs all across the country.

Should be good for a couple of thousand jobs if they elimnate this practice, although many just fly in as toursits and stay

"Foreign students stage walkout"

Ps- you'll find this article hard to find on the times website as they are pro-illegal immigrant.

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11. Jonadab on August 21, 2011 11:35 AM writes...

For the most part, you don't really need spaces in Greek. The morphological patterns are such that you generally know where the words end, even if you don't know all the words. (I suspect this is true, at least to some extent, of most fusional languages.)

Case distinction is mainly useful for the fact that it makes it a lot easier to immediately recognize proper nouns as such and thus avoid hunting through the lexicon for something that isn't going to be there. If it weren't for proper nouns, I don't think Greek would need case either.

Punctuation and the diacritics are REALLY nice to have, though, especially the breathing marks and circumflex. Even the acute accent can be handy, e.g., it's generally the easiest way to distinguish relative pronouns from articles.

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12. Jonadab on August 21, 2011 11:47 AM writes...

> I would take Classical Latin any day
> before Ancient/Polytonic Greek

The mention of "Roman times" makes me suspect this is probably Common Greek, which is significantly easier to learn.

> this is a devilishly hard task for a
> web audience,

I suspect they imagined most of the people participating would have some knowledge of the language. (It's probably the second most popular ancient language worldwide, after Latin. Only a small percentage of the population knows any Greek, but the world is big and there's a whole heaping large passel of people out there.)

Deciphering handwriting is MUCH easier if you know enough of the language to make some use of context when deciding what a letter is. The word "kai" could basically just be a random scribble, and in context you'd generally know what it is, just as with a word like "from" sloppily written in handwritten English.

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13. RandomChemist on August 21, 2011 12:43 PM writes...


"The mention of 'Roman times' makes me suspect this is probably Common Greek, which is significantly easier to learn."

Agreed, at least Koine Greek isn't written in annoying boustrophedon. Perhaps my aversion to Koine and Ancient Greek stems from certain teachers' gushing over the aorist tense and lamenting its absence in English.

"It's probably the second most popular ancient language worldwide, after Latin. Only a small percentage of the population knows any Greek, but the world is big and there's a whole heaping large passel of people out there."

Without knowing any figures, do you believe that either Aramaic or Classical Hebrew could also be in the running for second-most-known ancient language worldwide? Also, don't forget about Sanskrit, Pali, or Classical Chinese! On the other hand, Akkadian and Ugaritic probably can't compete in such a contest. Anyway, thanks for the discourse.

Χαῖρε πολλά!

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14. Anonymous BMS Researcher on August 21, 2011 3:44 PM writes...

Speaking of how shredded documents can be reconstructed if there is sufficiently intense desire to do so:,8599,1983287,00.html

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15. Canageek on August 22, 2011 3:16 PM writes...

Wow, that sounds much harder then my latest semi-constructive hobby: Doing markup on wikisource. Same idea, they give you an image and you transcribe it, but we have OCR, and most of our stuff is typed. The markup can be a pain though.

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