About this Author
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

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« The Sirtuin Saga | Main | Now That's A Catalyst »

December 13, 2011

Nothing Says "Chemistry" Like Nonsense!

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

The University of Ottawa has it all: colored solutions in their test tubes, thoughtful young scientists to look at them intently, and the absolutely required nonsensical chemical structures on the board in the background. What more do you want from a research department, eh? Throw in some purple spotlights and I'm sold. (Link via Chemjobber and Barney Grubbs on Twitter).

Update: embarrassing spelling fixed. Canadian readers are welcome to email me their complaints about the time they visited Woshington, DC.

Comments (45) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Chemical News


1. CMCguy on December 13, 2011 11:35 AM writes...

you meant to say "thoughtful young attractive female scientists" as that would likely really distinguish Ottawa relative to vast majority of chemistry department in having it all...

Permalink to Comment

2. Ryan on December 13, 2011 11:37 AM writes...

At least it's a step above having a wirey-haired professor trying to reanimate a sinister looking corpse...

Permalink to Comment

3. Owen on December 13, 2011 11:42 AM writes...


Permalink to Comment

4. Vader on December 13, 2011 12:03 PM writes...

CMCguy kind of hit it already, but: If the point is to recruit top students and postdocs, the only thing that really matters is that the chix staring intently at the colored tubes are hot.

Permalink to Comment

5. Alan on December 13, 2011 12:27 PM writes...

Good find. Every time I see one of these, I worry that my university will be the next to embarrass its scientists with a gaffe like this. Also...

Nothing says "American" like not being able to spell the name of a neighbouring country's capital city!

Permalink to Comment

6. James on December 13, 2011 12:54 PM writes...

"Designers tried to incorporate accurate formulas at first, but modified them to make the design more eye-catching and effective."

They certainly made them more eye-catching (to a saddo like me at least). Not sure about effective though.

Permalink to Comment

7. Anne C. Hanna on December 13, 2011 1:10 PM writes...

Of course, portraying female students in your ads as mere eye candy might actually be somewhat repellent to top *female* students and postdocs.

Permalink to Comment

8. biologist on December 13, 2011 1:23 PM writes...

and it would be so easy:

1. put fluorescein structure on wall
2. put fluorescein solution in tube
3. have student hold UV source near tube to test whether the synthesized compound is really fluorescein

nice picture, including eerie glow! If you want red instead, try rhodamine etc.

Permalink to Comment

9. SP on December 13, 2011 2:03 PM writes...

How do graphic designers decide that a formula is more eye-catching? Are a mix of superscripts and subscripts really more noticeable to the non-chemist than a proper structure? At least they didn't do another common design trick, trying to make things symmetric by duplicating and flipping the image (so not only do you get enantiomers, you also have the atom labels written in backwards orientation like a 4-year old.)

Permalink to Comment

10. anonymous on December 13, 2011 2:32 PM writes...

Fagnou was the only professor running innovative research within this chemistry department.

Permalink to Comment

11. AMRI'zed on December 13, 2011 2:34 PM writes...

Give me a......Brake. Yes they got that "2" over superscript not in subscript.... So what.....Besides the fact that chemist have been thought to keep that "2" in subscript for NO particular reason at all, I don't see anything wrong with Purple spotlight or No sense chemical structures.

The fact is that, chemist have done such a poor job to get their appeal to general public. They even Whine big time if someone else try to do it for them.

No one except 7 year Phd's + Postdocs & 5 more year further in Academia or in industry would look at the back ground and find something wrong with the chemical structure.

Permalink to Comment

12. Curious Wavefunction on December 13, 2011 2:55 PM writes...

Man, these people seem to love their internal nucleophiles. (I propose a new term; "Nuceofool"- A species which goes berserk with its drawings of nucleophiles and nucleofuges).

Permalink to Comment

13. Curious Wavefunction on December 13, 2011 2:55 PM writes...

Man, these people seem to love their internal nucleophiles. (I propose a new term; "Nucleofool"- A species which goes berserk with its drawings of nucleophiles and nucleofuges).

Permalink to Comment

14. CMCguy on December 13, 2011 3:01 PM writes...

Here is a link that shows the other ads (and background of "models") and appears the one above is only outrageous one

#11 AMRI'zed I don't disagree that in general chemists have done relatively poor job of appealing to the public however seems if aim is to really attract high school students should not use graphs that most would know are incorrect (as suggested by UofO chem prof quoted in the article). Further isn't science about pursing truth so it would be dis-indigenous to rely on such false info. Simple example of peer review IMO.

Permalink to Comment

15. Hap on December 13, 2011 3:01 PM writes...

You mean, like the people they're trying to recruit? It's not as bad as GT's labs, but it is likely to end up as a joke among their target audience. That's a FAIL. If you can only make fantasies interesting, perhaps you should be in another business.

I don't think this picture's going to help recruitment, anyway, if there's nobody in the department. When they lost Fagnou, they lost their best organic person - both Toronto and Waterloo probably outgun them there.

Permalink to Comment

16. AMRI'zed on December 13, 2011 3:37 PM writes...

#14 CMCguy. Subscript is not as popular as superscript. Anyone who knows E=MC2, understands what superscript means. In any chemical formula having that "2" in subscript or superscript would mean exactly the same thing (Twice the number of same atom).

God knows why chemist got to use subscript to define the No. of atoms not superscript. Its probably one of the status quo nobody really bother to question it.

If you are going to write a sales newsletter (which is what most of the university websites are) you have to relate to something people can easily recognize. NOT something that you need a PhD or master to understand.

I think chemist should just do what they do the best (Crank up compounds) and leave the rest to sales people.

Permalink to Comment

17. ech on December 13, 2011 3:39 PM writes...

Well, I'm not a chemist but even I can see some irregularities in the structure on the white board.

Sometimes the creative types want to get it right. A family member was working on a movie that had scenes set in a lab in the 30s to 60s and wanted some atomic power and quantum mechanics equations for a chalkboard. (The lab was working on time travel devices.) Since I have a BA in Physics, I was consulted. I put together a list of ideas from Wikipedia and emailed the instructions. ("Go to this page. Write this sentence at the top. Now put down equation (3). Write this sentence below. Follow with equation (5).)

I was told that when the scenes were being filmed, someone noticed that the equations weren't jibberish and remarked on it.

Alas, only one of the scenes made it into the movie and the blackboard is in the background and out of focus......

Permalink to Comment

18. alf on December 13, 2011 4:03 PM writes...

No one has yet mentioned the stylish protective eyeglasses. Become a chemist and you too can wear these cool glasses! This ubiquitous element is never messed up.

Permalink to Comment

19. David Young on December 13, 2011 4:18 PM writes...

It is like a music department ad with six-lined staves, upside down clefs and stems is on the wrong side of the note-head!

Permalink to Comment

20. MoMo on December 13, 2011 4:18 PM writes...

Industry does this too. We had top executives photographed once in front of nonsense structures while they looked all studious and scientific.

I did'nt correct them because it fit them to a tee-Dorks in Dick's clothing.

Find the company online and win a prize!

Permalink to Comment

21. Sleepless in SSF on December 13, 2011 4:26 PM writes...

@AMRI'zed: Not sure if I'm proving your point by being a pedant, but there are at least three non-superscript/subscript valence errors in the portion of the molecule to the left of the model. And, there's reason that chemists don't put the number of atoms in superscript: that's where the charge goes. In fact, the numbers in each quadrant around an atom mean something. Just because you're ignorant of the formalism doesn't mean it isn't of tremendous value to chemists.

And really, it doesn't take a PhD or an MSc to recognize these errors. In fact, I'm pretty sure it doesn't even take an undergraduate degree -- most anyone who's ever taken high school chemistry would recognize the subscript errors at least. And since high school students are probably the target audience, ads with errors like these are certainly not the best way to convince them that Ottawa has a prestigious chemistry program.

Permalink to Comment

22. p on December 13, 2011 5:03 PM writes...

AMRI'zed is either a sales guy or a troll.

For the sake of his soul, I hope he's a troll.

Permalink to Comment

23. GC on December 13, 2011 5:12 PM writes...

Meh, it's not just chemistry. Remember before PCs were widely available, computers were depicted exclusively by spinning tape reels and walls full of blinkinlights.

Permalink to Comment

24. AMRI'zed on December 13, 2011 5:18 PM writes...

# 21 : How often do we use charges to represent a neutral entity. Why not less often used "charges" go to the subscript and more often used "Numbers" to superscript. You do know that we have flexibility to move these datas around according to more "generally accepted criteria" or you just want to pretent that "Old is Gold"?

#22 : FYI' Look at my user name. Do you still think I am a sales guy?

Permalink to Comment

25. CMCguy on December 13, 2011 5:52 PM writes...

#24 so you do admit to being a troll correct?

Permalink to Comment

26. Sleepless in SSF on December 13, 2011 5:55 PM writes...

@AMRI'zed: Nope, I don't think we need do keep them where they are just because that's the way it's been done for many years (although being a mass spec guy, I am sort of attached to the charges :)

However, if we're going to throw out literally millions of textbooks, periodic tables and other references; reset the chemical literature; and flummox the experience and expectations of every living chemist, I'd like to think it was for a better reason than that you dislike subscripts and think superscripts are more popular.

Permalink to Comment

27. AMRI'zed on December 13, 2011 6:29 PM writes...

#25 No I am a Libertarian.

#26 I understand. I never said we should change the entire chemical literature. But if the Mass media understands superscripts better than subscripts. There is nothing wrong in writing a sales letter and representing chemical formula in a superscript.

I think we should take off our "chemistry shades" and once in a while look the world as it is.

Permalink to Comment

28. freezedream on December 13, 2011 7:36 PM writes...

This is what happens when you hire a generic graphic artist to design a chemistry advert, who doesn't know anything about chemistry. No wonder they produce such stereotypical, misleading and incorrect adverts!

This might sound crazy but I'm sure there are plenty of actual chemists out there who know how to sell their chemistry and make it look nice and even design eye catching, correct and realistic ads.

Permalink to Comment

29. freezedream on December 13, 2011 7:44 PM writes...

This is what happens when you hire a generic graphic artist to design a chemistry advert, who doesn't know anything about chemistry. No wonder they produce such stereotypical, misleading and incorrect adverts!

This might sound crazy but I'm sure there are plenty of actual chemists out there who know how to sell their chemistry and make it look nice and even design eye catching, correct and realistic ads.

Permalink to Comment

30. chemottawan on December 13, 2011 9:23 PM writes...

the fact that these pictures are all over the metro in Ottawa is what pissed off Tito Scaiano -amongst others-... oops....

Permalink to Comment

31. Ottawa Chem Grad on December 13, 2011 9:37 PM writes...

On the other hand, the designers could have coloured in all the cycles with our pencil crayons...Desingers ain't chemists, and at least this one will fade. Sorry G. Tech.

Permalink to Comment

32. ~(_8^(|) Homer Simpson on December 14, 2011 2:38 AM writes...

Is Fagnou a founder of Nativis?

Permalink to Comment

33. Dr Jimbo on December 14, 2011 5:37 AM writes...

I am a Libertarian
That's between Virgo and Scorpio, right?

Permalink to Comment

34. Porto on December 14, 2011 7:31 AM writes...

Ar least the scientist had what looks like safety glasses on. Last year I got an alumni blurb having a photo of a chemist in a lab without them. I think this is worse than having nonsense structures in the background.

Permalink to Comment

35. CR on December 14, 2011 8:29 AM writes...

In the end, this is not going to make any difference except to a few people on some blogs. However, that being said, it doesn't make things look better by drawing them incorrectly - those "in the know" - will see the beauty and those that aren't, just see lines on a board. How hard is it to make accurate drawings? Seriously. It's like having a car ad and showing a picture of a 5-wheeled car. What art/marketing company would let that through?

Permalink to Comment

36. Canageek on December 14, 2011 9:51 AM writes...

@AMRI'zed: But then were with the isotopic mass go? ^^

Permalink to Comment

37. BCP on December 14, 2011 10:21 AM writes...

To me this is all about quality. Even if your prospective students don't notice then what does scientifically sloppy advertising say about the quality of the institution? It makes me think "did they notice?", "did they care?". I can't imagine a recruiting campaign for the English department full of grammatical errors being a good idea, why should chemistry be any different?

Permalink to Comment

38. CMCguy on December 14, 2011 12:25 PM writes...

#37 BCP although my initial comment was aimed at lighter side of this I agree but would expand to include attitude as reflects "Style" over "Substance" (almost literally in this case with Design stress above correct formula). There is typically is constant tension between R&D types and Marketing types for focus on accuracy verses best sales pitch (with former often rarely consulted in meaningful way). Sacrifice and slippage from factual based info in efforts to promote products has been an alarming factor is damage to Pharma. Sure I understand the above errors may not be a big deal to most people but IMO opens the door to greater distortions of messages.

Permalink to Comment

39. Just sayin' on December 14, 2011 1:29 PM writes...

Their oxocarbenium and N-oxide ions are missing charges. I'm not a fan of the pinky-up test tube holding either.

Permalink to Comment

40. Steve on December 15, 2011 4:16 AM writes...

Derek - I only saw this after you corrected the spelling, but have you considered that your original version just looked better - design wise?

Permalink to Comment

41. sgcox on December 15, 2011 4:51 AM writes...

~16. AMRI'zed: "Subscript is not as popular as superscript. Anyone who knows E=MC2, understands what superscript mean"
You mean like this ?

Permalink to Comment

42. Anakin Skywalker on December 15, 2011 2:35 PM writes...

I think she is studying Yoda's urine sample. Behind her is its formula.

He is a Jedi, you know. Those Midichlorians mess up the chemical bonds.

Permalink to Comment

43. Rachel Shapiro on December 17, 2011 1:29 AM writes...

The University of Ottawa Library is recruiting a Web Initiatives Librarian. Required degree: "A Master's degree in Library and Information Studies (M.L.I.S.) from an ALA accredited institution."
Divorce Attorney Los angeles

Permalink to Comment

44. embarrassed on December 17, 2011 9:46 AM writes...

AMRI'zed, could you change your username, please? I'd just as soon not have you appearing to be our company scientific spokesperson. Whatever the opposite of the halo effect is called, it's probably happening here, and the rest of us do somewhat care about our reputations.

Permalink to Comment

45. Anonymous on December 18, 2011 4:54 PM writes...

looks like chemistry that MoMo would write on a chalk board. LOL

Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry