Corante

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: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Emolecules
ChemSpider
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
PubChem
Not Voodoo
DailyMed
Druglib
Clinicaltrials.gov

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
Kilomentor
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
ChemBark
Realizations in Biostatistics
Chemjobber
Pharmalot
ChemSpider Blog
Pharmagossip
Med-Chemist
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
SimBioSys
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Business|Bytes|Genes|Molecules
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Depth-First
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
FuturePundit
Aetiology
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Sciencebase
Pharyngula
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net


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


Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem


Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Instapundit
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus


Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily

In the Pipeline

Category Archives

August 29, 2014

A Last Summer Day Off

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I'm going to be taking an extra day of vacation before the kids start back to school, so I'm adding to the Labor Day weekend today. Blogging will resume on Tuesday, unless something gigantic happens before then. If I can come up with something appropriate, maybe I'll put up a recipe!

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

August 4, 2014

Summer Blogging Continues

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Irregular summer blogging will continue until later this week - I'm on the road at the moment, and internet access is spotty. I'll be able to see my e-mail at some point, and occasionally clear out the spam that silts up the comments section, but otherwise I'll be hard to communicate with.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

July 28, 2014

Summer Blogging

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I wanted to let everyone know that blogging will be irregular around here for the next week or so. I'll be taking some time off here and there, and while I'll surely get a few blog posts in, they won't show up at the usual times. (I started the whole time-off process over the weekend, with a trip to Stellafane, the big amateur astronomy gathering up in Vermont. Despite earlier weather forecasts, Saturday night was clear and dark, the best night skies I've seen in years. My wife and kids joined me (their first star party), and as we were getting pulled pork sandwiches from the food tent, my son looked around and said "Wow, there sure are a lot of barbecue-eating, telescope-owning guys with beards around here. You fit right in!"

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

July 4, 2014

Happy Fourth of July, 2014

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

This, at least, I have observed in forty-five years: that there are men who search for it [truth], whatever it is, wherever it may lie, patiently, honestly, with due humility, and that there are other men who battle endlessly to put it down, even though they don't know what it is. To the first class belong the scientists, the experimenters, the men of curiosity. To the second belong politicians, bishops, professors, mullahs, tin pot messiahs, frauds and exploiters of all sorts - in brief, the men of authority. . .All I find there is a vast enmity to the free functioning of the spirit of man. There may be, for all I know, some truth there, but it is truth made into whips, rolled into bitter pills. . .

I find myself out of sympathy with such men. I shall keep on challenging them until the last galoot's ashore.

- H. L. Mencken, "Off the Grand Banks", 1925

In those days the New York dockers were renowned for their truculence, inefficiency and sheer slowness. Four hours was supposed to be the standard and we got the standard. Neverthless, the difference from the British equivalent did not strike me as very marked, and by the time we sailed out into the dusk. . .among the wondrous multi-colored lights of the New Jersey Turnpike, at that time utterly unparalleled at home - by then I knew. . .that this was my second country and always would be.

. . .I only ever spent a few nights in (New York City), but made a lot of day and evening trips and saw quite enough of the place to convince me that anyone who makes a business of hating it or being superior to it, and there were plenty then, home-grown and foreign, is a creep, and that anyone who walks up Fifth Avenue (say) on a sunny morning without feeling his spirits lift is an ***hole.

- Kingsley Amis, "Memoirs", 1991

There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors. ... Our political life is also predicated on openness. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it and that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. And we know that as long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.

- J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1949

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

July 3, 2014

An Early Day Off

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Since the Fourth of July looks to be a rainy washout around here, I'm taking a day off to get a head start on the holiday weekend here. So instead of advancing the cause of science in the lab today, I'm home with a big pork shoulder, which I rubbed down with salt and dry spices last night. It's now cooking over a low charcoal fire with plenty of green hickory wood (from a small shagbark hickory tree I spotted over in the forest near the back yard). That will cook the rest of the day, and be ready for dinner. Here's a prep for barbecued pork ribs from a couple of years ago.

Dessert will be the lime sorbet I mentioned here last year. If you're at all into lemon or lime as a flavor, give that one a try - it's easy, and the results from fresh lime juice are spectacular. Two large-scale, tested preparations, then, for today - I just have to keep an eye on things to make sure that everything is going according to plan.

Comments (12) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

June 13, 2014

"In the Pipeline" Will Be Moving

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Everyone who's visited the blog in the last few weeks has noticed the ongoing server problems. I've been working on solutions, and I think that the time has come to move the blog. I've had offers over the years to do so, but for one reason or another, I haven't made the jump. But several very good situations have been offered to me recently, and one way or another, it looks like I'll be picking up stakes soon.

Corante.com has been this blog's home for over ten years now, and it's been quite a run. I am extremely grateful to Hylton Joliffe, the man behind it, for all the effort and for the space to do whatever I wanted to do here. Looking back, I can't believe how much I've written over that time (the archives will be moving too). But I plan to keep going without interruption, and I'll have more details soon about the new location.

Comments (17) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

June 2, 2014

More Server Problems

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

The server here continues to throw electric fits, so I ask everyone to bear with the site while things get fixed. Longer-term solutions are being investigated as well. . .

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

May 6, 2014

Technical Problems

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

The site has been glitching a lot recently, especially when it comes to displaying entries with comments. I hope to have this fixed shortly, but I wanted to let everyone know that I'm aware of the problem (and how), and that repairs are underway.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

April 22, 2014

Days Off

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I'm going to be traveling on Wednesday and Thursday, so blogging will resume again here for Friday morning. This means that something completely insane will no doubt occur in the chemistry/drug discovery world sometime Wednesday afternoon, but it can't be helped. The Pfizer/Disney merger will have to wait until Friday morning for comment from me!

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

April 1, 2014

Off To the Publishers

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I don't know if my publisher was pulling my leg by having the deadline for the manuscript of "The Chemistry Book" be April 1, but that's what the contract says. And I've sent the thing off, so it's now in the hands of the editors. There's more to be done - I have some more dates to track down, for one, and I'd like to insert some more references for further reading. And then there are the illustrations, for which I've sent along many suggestions, and I'll need to write the captions for those once we've settled on what pictures to use. But the bulk writing is done, I'm glad to say.

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

March 31, 2014

A Quick Clean-Up

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Well, while I wasn't watching over the weekend, the comments section to this post kind of veered off the road. I've deleted a number of trolling comments, and all the various replies to them, and further comments to that entry are now closed. I rarely do this sort of thing, but (ironically) I was just saying the other evening that pretty much the only time I delete comments is when they're nothing but ad hominem. There are plenty of other places on the web to trade insults and gibberish (some sites specialize in nothing but), so I don't think it's any great loss to the world if this site doesn't join in. We'll now resume our regularly scheduled programming.

Comments (11) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

March 20, 2014

For Some Folks, It's New Year's Day

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

A quick "eid-e shoma mubarak" to all those out there who are celebrating Norouz, the spring-equinox version of New Year's Day. My Iranian wife certainly is, and I will be pitching in by consuming large amounts of the home-made sweets that her mother has produced, and by frying a large quantity of fish for a big meal later on. For once, there's actually some blue sky and sunshine out there today (albeit with heaps of melting snow everywhere). But it sure beats a faceful of sleet, which has been the case several times in years past. (If you've ever seen the old W. C. Fields short, "The Fatal Glass of Beer", you'll get the idea of what my wife goes through on a typical New England Norouz!)

Comments (10) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

March 5, 2014

Traveling Interruption

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

My visit to Illinois went well, and I had a very good time talking to the students and faculty here in Champaign/Urbana. But American Airlines has decided not to fly anyone to Chicago today, so I've had to round up alternative transportation and reschedule flights, which isn't going to leave much time for blogging, from the looks of it. So normal service, or what passes for it around here, will resume on Thursday!

Update: traveling interruption is right. I was supposed to fly out of Champaign at 8 AM, go through O'Hare, and land in Boston at 1:45. As mentioned above, that 8 AM flight disappeared, so I took a shuttle bus up to Chicago - which, because of the snow and thick traffic, ended up taking over four hours to get to ORD. But I was still in time for my rebooked flight - if American hadn't rebooked me for that flight departing Thursday instead of Wednesday. The guy at the airport desk was as puzzled as I was about why anyone would do that, but got me on direct flight to Boston leaving at 1:20. Which was delayed. And delayed again. I did finally make it back to Logan close to 6 PM, feeling a bit as if I'd made the trip back on a pogo stick! I know that ORD is capable of far more than this, though, and I'm glad that I escaped any worse fate.

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

March 3, 2014

Out to Illinois

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I'll be visiting Illinois tomorrow to give a talk as part of the university's Chemistry-Biology Interface program. The first week of March is probably not the time to see the Champaign-Urbana landscape at its best, but then, I'm not leaving a lot of scenic grandeur behind in the Boston area this time of year, either. By March, winter's the guy who hasn't realized that everyone else at the party left a while ago. Fortunately, the snow that was forecast to mess with my flights today seems to have vanished, for once. . .

Comments (8) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

February 24, 2014

ACS Webinars on Drug Discovery

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I wanted to mention the ACS Webinar series on Drug Discovery, which will be going on every so often throughout the year. I'm going to be doing the introductory overview one, along with Rick Connell of Pfizer and Nick Meanwell of BMS, this Thursday, 2PM to 3PM EST. As you'll note from the schedule, there are plenty more of these coming up that go into more detail, so we're going to be setting the stage and taking questions from the audience.

Comments (10) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

January 2, 2014

Back Blogging (Bonus Biographical Begging)

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Blogging is now resuming at the usual pace around here, even though I'm actually still off work today and tomorrow, for various reasons. It's snowing merrily out there, anyway, so I'm just as glad not to be doing the commute. We look to get a foot or so of the stuff during the day and tonight, and tomorrow night we're supposed to get down to -11 F (-24 C), which means the only reason I'm going out is to fill the bird feeder.

I spent the holidays lounging around with family, cooking various unhealthy foods, reading a stack of books given to me for Christmas, and writing away on The Chemistry Book. I'm now up to about 140-odd entries of the 250 I need, and I'm on a pace to finish well before my deadline. I still have a dozen or so open slots to fill as new topics occur to me or turn out to need to exist.

For each topic I'm trying to give credit where it's due, and erring on the side of generosity. But each person mentioned has to have birthdates (and date of death, when applicable), and that's led me on a few research chases. There are still a few people I've been unable to run down, so I thought I'd put them out here to try to tap into sources of knowledge greater than my own. Here are my mystery people at the moment:

Hennig Brand (first isolation of phosphorus): I have c. 1630 to c. 1692, and I don't know if there are any better dates out there.

Eduard Simon fl. 1840, inadvertent discoverer of polystyrene

Carl Friedrich Claus, (1829 - ????) inventor of the Claus sulfur extraction process

Charles Watt, fl. 1850, first separated cell for the chlor-alkali process

Christian Dantsizen, one of the many people who helped come up with stainless steel

E. A. Prudhomme, helped develop the Houdry petroleum cracking process

Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett, polyethylene pioneers

Fred Joyner, with Harry Coover, developing cyanoacrylates at Eastman

Arthur Rosinger and Edward McLaughlin, developers of the magnetic stirrer

Peter L. Pauson, Thomas J. Kealy, John F. Tremaine from the discovery of ferrocene (I have the other players dated).

William G. Eversole, synthetic diamond researcher (I have several others).

Denis L. Rousseau from the polywater story

Andreas Ludi Modern structure determination of Prussian Blue pigment

Those are my missing biographical dates at the moment, but there will probably be more as things go along. If anyone has any information on these people, I would be very happy to hear about it! Thanks very much. . .

Comments (24) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

December 31, 2013

Cold-Weather Chicken Soup

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Since the weather forecast around here is for snow, and temperatures down to -9 F (-22 C), I thought a recipe or two for some cold-weather food might be appropriate. Here's a chicken soup recipe adapted from Craig Claiborne that I've been making for twenty years now - that is, it's pretty reliable.

1 chicken (in the 3-to-4 pound or 1.5 kilo range)
Corn (fresh or frozen), about 2 cups or 500 mL volume (or more to taste)
Egg noodles (4 oz. / 0.15 kg or more, depending on taste)
Two hard-boiled eggs
Fresh parsley

Take the chicken, cover it in water, add a teaspoon of salt (6g) and some ground pepper, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook it this way until the meat begins to come off the bone a bit - that will take at least an hour, perhaps closer to 90 minutes. Take the chicken out of the broth and let it cool enough to shred the meat off by hand.

Skim some of the fat from the broth - depending on the chicken you started with, there will probably be more of that than you want. (If you have lots of time, such as making this soup for the next day, you can chill the whole thing and remove the fat that way). Either way, get things back to a low simmer and add the corn at this point - if you're using frozen corn kernels, give the soup about five or ten minutes to heat back up. Then add the egg noodles - the quantities of both of these can be adjusted to how thick you'd like the soup to be, but the amounts given are a good starting point. Simmer for 8 or 10 minutes to get the noodles cooked, then grate the hard-boiled eggs into the soup and add the reserved chicken meat. Serve with chopped fresh parsley in each bowl.

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

November 27, 2013

Russian Soured Cabbage

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Here's a recipe that I'm trying out this year from The Joy of Pickling, an excellent book full of all sorts of pickle recipes. I have a good-sized batch of this going right now, and samples so far confirm that it's good stuff.

1 2 1/2 pound cabbage (1 kilo), shredded
1 tablespoon salt (17 to 18 grams, table or pickling, not kosher, unless you want to adjust the amounts)
1 medium carrot, shredded
1 apple, sliced
1/2 cup cranberries (55g)
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (7g)

Cut the core from the cabbage, save a couple of outer leaves, and shred it. Add the salt to it in a large bowl, mixing it in well and pressing it together. Add the carrot, the apple (cored and sliced into 16th, the book says), the cranberries and the caraway seeds, and mix gently. Place this mixture in some sort of deep crock or jar (jars, if need be). Press the mixture in tight and lay some of the reserved cabbage leaves (or a piece thereof) on top. Weight this down with a small plastic bag (one that's OK for food) full of brine (made from 1.5 tablespoons of salt (24g) in one quart (950 mL) water) - this will keep the cabbage under the liquid layer. If your cabbage was fresh, it should make enough liquid to submerge itself. If not, you can check it after sitting overnight and add some brine (1 tablespoon of salt (18g) in one quart (950 mL) water) to just cover the shredded cabbage.

Leave the jar or jars at room temperature. Twice a day, you'll want to stick a wooden spoon handle down in there a few times to vent the carbon dioxide that will develop. If you don't, especially at first, you're like to have an overflow, so be warned. Four or five days, at a minimum, should do the trick - after that, you can keep it in a cold room or refrigerator. If you ferment it from the start in a cooler room, it'll take longer, but may have even better flavor. According to the Joy of Pickling, the initial burst of gas is from Leuconostoc mesenteroides, which produces good anaerobic conditions for Lactobacillus plantarum, among others, whose acid fermentation products give the sour flavor.

If you like sauerkraut, you'll be very much up for this. If you're not a big kraut fan, have no fear - this is a lot milder and more delicate than the store-bought stuff, and tastes something like rye bread with all that caraway in there. Enjoy!

Comments (14) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

Thanksgiving: Never Trust An Organic Chemist Who Can't Cook

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I wanted to note that I'm home today, and will soon be starting my traditional chocolate pecan pie. If you haven't seen it, that link will lead you to a detailed prep, with both US and metric measurements. It's based on Craig Claiborne's recipe, and he certainly knew what he was talking about when it came to Southern food (and much else besides). I've been making it for twenty years now, and if I didn't, there would be a mutiny around here.

I have a pumpkin pie to make as well, and I'd like to get the base of the gravy going, so it can be turkey-enhanced tomorrow. (As for the turkey, for some years now we've bought a kosher one, so it's already been brined. A 17-pound specimen is waiting for tomorrow efforts). I hope to also make some green beans with country ham, since that reheats just fine, and will save on stove space tomorrow. For country ham, I can recommend Burger's from the Ozarks, available through that Amazon link. Pan-fried country ham has been my traditional Christmas breakfast for my entire life, and my wife and kids now join in with me on that one, but I break it out for Thanksgiving with the green beans. For me, it's wintertime food - I wouldn't turn it down if someone served it to my in July, but it certainly would be a new experience. I grew up eating a brand called Mar-Tenn from west Tennessee, but I don't even know if they exist any more.

The rest of the Thanksgiving meal will include an Iranian basmati rice (with saffron, slivered almonds, sour dried zereshk berries, pistachios, and bits of orange zest), home-made mashed potatoes, creamed onions with sage, pan-roasted Brussels sprouts, and stuffing (my Iranian mother-in-law's own recipe, with bread cubes, cranberries, celery, onion, and pepperoni - how she thought that one up, I don't know, but it's excellent). And this year I'm trying out some Russian sour cabbage (with apples, cranberries, and caraway seeds), which is fermenting away in the basement right now. I'll post the recipe for that later on in the afternoon, after I've made some culinary headway. Update: forgot the stuffed mushrooms and the roasted acorn squash. It's hard to keep track of it all after a certain point!

Comments (28) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

November 22, 2013

Things People Won't Listen To?

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Here's a podcast interview I did recently for "Science For the People" (formerly known as "Skeptically Speaking", where they quizzed me about some of the "Things I Won't Work With" compounds. The whole show is worth listening to (there's Scicurious and ZeFrank in there, but I come in at about the 38 minutes mark.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

November 1, 2013

Chemist At Work

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

1113CW-In-the-pipeline_630m.jpg
Well, now I know the previously-obscured downside of writing a monthly column for Chemistry World. This month's entry is on emulating enzymes, and it's adorned by the illustration shown here (© "The Hit Man", so it says). I just emailed the link to my wife, and after she caught her breath from laughing, she noted the following for verisimilitude: "Tell them that you don't wear a tie. And that your height-to-width ratio is better. And that your beard isn't all that fearsome." Nothing, you'll note, about my tongue hanging out. That part is apparently true to life.

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

Chemistry Job Postings: Worth a Try

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Once in a while I've mentioned open chemistry positions here on the site, but I've decided that I really should make it a more regular feature. I've been worried about the extra workload that it might bring on here, but I think it might work. Chemjobber already does this, of course, and I'd recommend that everyone in the market keep an eye on his blog for information. But on a trial basis, I'll posting occasional notices that I get through e-mail, from people specifically trying to reach this blog's audience. I've created a new category ("Job Postings") for anyone wanting to put all of these together.

So here's an open call for anyone who has openings that the chemists around this site might be able to fill. Send along your details, with some sort of contact information, and I'll put them up as separate short notices here. No warranty is expressed or implied on either side, naturally - I'll just be serving as a middleman, and no money is changing hands. This is pro bono, and we'll see how it works out!

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping | Job Postings

October 28, 2013

Back to Hendrix

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

It was a very strange experience to speak to a crowd of students in the same room where I had my first college chemistry course. I could see the row of seats where I used to sit 34 years ago, and I was glad that I was speaking later in the morning than that old class used to start (7:40 AM, and no, my notes were not always coherent). I wasn't able to relive the experience of walking into the old labs, though, because they've been extensively renovated and are far nicer (and more functional) than they were back then. The building itself has been expanded, like many other parts of the campus - from some angles, the place looked almost exactly as it did in the early 1980s, but from others, it looked the way your old school does when you have a dream about it, with odd buildings somehow added to the landscape.

The students themselves were excellent hosts, and seemed more poised and on top of things than I remember us being back then. But I think that's a common impression that people have during such visits. My guess is that we simultaneously over- and under-rate our previous selves; the accurate picture is the hardest one to get into focus. I fielded a lot of good questions about chemistry and drug research, but I also had sympathy for the guy who was falling asleep during the first class I spoke to. I'd already done the math: here I was, thirty years after graduating, and what would I have made back then of some guy from the class of 1953? I'd have been sure that I was looking at a figure from the nearly unimaginable past. And he wouldn't have been able to tell my twenty-year-old self what I couldn't tell these students: that they'd be surprised how fast that amount of time can seem to pass, and that seeing the campus from some angles made it feel as if I'd been gone for maybe six months. Not so.

Tom Goodwin, who launched me on my own chemical career, turns up everywhere when you look into the literature on mammalian chemical communication. If you'd told him back in 1981 that he'd be collaborating with people around the world and spending his time flying around to places like Rwanda and New Zealand, he might have had a little trouble believing you. He was the only organic professor when I was an undergraduate, but they've now added Chris Marvin, and talking with his students about ruthenium-catalyzed photochemistry, which I'd been doing recently in my own lab, was a lot of fun. I didn't try to tell them about how odd it felt to see a 400 MHz NMR in a building where the highest-field instrument used to be a 60 MHz EM-360. There was a 30 MHz machine in the teaching labs - it was a doorstop even when I was a student, and most people (fortunately) will have never seen an NMR with a field so puny. (At least it didn't look like this).

That picture in the upper right left is me when I was in one of the (now reworked) labs back in 1983. That's a collection of T. S. Eliot that I'm reading next to my gravity column, and I managed to quote him during one of the classes I spoke to, to keep up my liberal arts credentials. Thanks again to everyone there for having me!

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

October 24, 2013

Travel (Back to Arkansas)

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I'm writing this entry from my old school, Hendrix College, who are having me back for an awards ceremony. I'll be speaking to some of the classes while I'm here, and trying to find my way around after 30 years of building and renovation. But it's nice to see where I first learned chemistry, I have to say. . .

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

October 10, 2013

Cambridge Meetup Final Plans: Noon by Broad Canal Way

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

OK, after investigating several options, I think that we'll stick with the courtyard down by the kayaks/parking kiosk on Broad Canal Way. It'll be a bit on the cool and cloudy side, but it is October. I'll be there at noon, and everyone should just round up whatever lunch they like and bring it along with them. Looking forward to seeing what sort of crowd turns up!

Comments (20) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

October 7, 2013

Cambridge "In the Pipeline" Reader Meetup: October 10

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Update: we're on for noon Thursday, at the courtyard down by the kayaks/parking kiosk on Broad Canal Way.

Looking at the response, it looks like this Thursday the 10th would work out for a good number of people who've expressed interest, and the weather forecast looks good. So let's try for it then - say, 12 noon?

Now, the venue. I think the MIT food truck area makes sense for throughput and number of options, but there's not much seating around there, or even standing room. The indoor food court across the street is an option for rain, but it looks like we won't need it. Further down, the plaza near the kayak place on the canal has more seating and room in general, but I'd guess that we would overwhelm the burrito place's window there. So we could try to meet there, with each person bringing their food from wherever they like. Or if there's another option near the food truck area for people to gather, I'd be glad to hear about that. I'll update this post with more details

Comments (29) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

October 2, 2013

An "In the Pipeline" Meetup in Cambridge?

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Update: we're on for noon on Thursday, at the courtyard down by the kayaks/parking kiosk on Broad Canal Way.

I've been meaning to do this for some time, and more than one reader has mentioned the idea to me in e-mails. Would the local (Cambridge/Boston) readership be interested in an informal get-together at lunchtime next week (Oct 6 - Oct 12)? The only day that's out for me is Wednesday, October 9th, otherwise my schedule looks like can take whatever comes.

My guess for somewhere to congregate might be the line of food trucks near MIT, but other suggestions are welcome. This will depend on the weather, of course, which is unknowable at this point. But if you're interested and have a preference for which days might work, leave a note in the comments section. Thanks!

Comments (49) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

September 30, 2013

A War On Expertise?

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I see that Popular Science is shutting down the comments function on their web site. Like a lot of news organizations, I think that their signal/noise was pretty low in the comments. (And that prompts me to express, again, my appreciation for the commenters on this blog - one of the first questions I get when I talk to anyone else who runs a web site is how on Earth the comments section around here stays so readable and sane!)

They're citing some experiments that seem to show that fractious comments sections actually make the original posts above them seem less reliable, and that may be how it works. In reality, my impression is that if a site seems to have a lot of fist-waving in the comments section, that pretty soon most readers don't even bother with it, and the only ones that show up are there for the fights. I'll say this for the Popular Science folks - they're not doing this for monetary/traffic reasons, because wildly argumentative comments sections also drive traffic from the people who just can't stay away (and hit "Refresh" over and over in the process).

Here's the key quote from their article:

A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to "debate" on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.

I know where they're coming from, but I'm not so sure about that "again". My belief is that there hasn't been a time when evolution was not controversial with many people, nor climate change/global warming. The internet, it's true, gives everyone with a point of view a chance to ventilate, so it brings this sort of thing to the surface much more easily than in the past. (Look back a few decades, and ask yourself what was available to someone with a strong opinion. Letters to the editor? Soapbox in the park? Handling out flyers on the corner?)

And I don't think that there's been any big, coherent, "decades-long war on expertise". If there is, then there always has been. It makes a person feel better to believe these things, but that's the sort of self-congratulatory thinking that I believe one has to avoid. "I'm too smart for the crowd, the mob - a member of a persecuted minority just because I see the truth. . ." That doesn't do anything to help your own reasoning.

No, most people don't understand scientific topics, but most people never have. If anything, I'd be willing to bet that the population today is more literate in these matters than ever before. The sorts of people who go hunting through web sites looking for things to confirm their own opinions have always been with us. As have groups who'd rather obfuscate topics than debate them, for reasons of their own. We just have a better look at the whole process these days.

Comments (45) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping | General Scientific News

September 2, 2013

A Quick Recipe: Lime Sorbet

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

This is not a complicated thing to make, but it's terrific. My family and I polished off a large batch of it last night - it's still warm and humid enough around here to make it an excellent dessert. The only thing you need is some sort of stirring ice-cream freezer - we have one of those where you put the cylinder in the freezer for a day, and then turn a hand crank. But anything will work, as long as it's cold enough and allows you to keep mixing.

The ingredient list is short. Fresh lime juice really is essential, though, although if you have lemons around, lemon sorbet is (naturally) the same recipe, and is also excellent.

1 cup (250 mL) fresh-squeezed lime juice
1.5 cups granulated white sugar (300 grams)
Enough water to take the volume to 4 cups (1 liter)

Squeeze the lime juice. If you want a really smooth texture in the finished product, you can strain the pulp out, but I don't bother. Add the sugar, adjust to the final volume with water, and stir to dissolve. The sorbet will form more quickly, of course, if you chill this mixture beforehand. Add this solution to the ice-cream maker, and stir steadily until the mixture is very thick. Constant stirring will keep the sides from icing up, and make the finished product more homogeneous. I've found that you need to keep freezing things past when you think it looks ready, as the sorbet gets looser once it's being dished out. You'll also probably need to stir it again during that process; some syrup tends to pool up in it as it stands.

If you like the flavor of lemon or lime, this is probably going to be the best sorbet you've ever tasted. There's nothing like the fresh juice, and this will give you a cold, concentrated blast of it. These proportions are a little more sour than the ones given by Harold McGee for a "sweet fruit ice" in his book The Curious Cook, so if you find this a bit acidic, you can add four tablespoons more sugar (50g) to the mix next time. McGee's book has a chapter which includes tested recipes for doing this sort of thing with a huge variety of fruits, so it's worth seeking out if you find that this is your favorite route for self-administering vitamin C.

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

August 30, 2013

Totally Off Topic: My Appearance on Jeopardy!

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I've had several requests for details about the time I was a Jeopardy! contestant, since I mentioned it in passing the other day. So for the holiday weekend, I thought I'd provide the story. This was all back in 1995-1996, when I lived in New Jersey, and that's actually how I got into the entire business. Coworkers had told me about how the Merv Griffin production people would be administering the test to get on the show down at the Resort International casino in Atlantic City (also owned by the Griffin company), so I drove down to try it out.

The test was only a short one, meant to be done quickly as a screen, and none of the questions seemed particularly hard. I spent the rest of my time in AC working on my card-counting skills at the blackjack table, which was not too lucrative. In fact, under the rules then - and I'm sure they've gotten no better - the same amount of time and effort applied to almost any other activity would surely have provided a greater return. (But at least they couldn't throw you out, as opposed to Las Vegas).

Not too many days later I got the invite to come down for the longer test, which had many more questions, all of which, I think, were from the $1000 category on the show. This was at the same casino, and I knew that morning, on the drive down, that I was in trouble. I'd gotten a late start, it was rainy, and there was more traffic than I'd counted on. I pulled in a few minutes late, bounded up the escalators, and was met by a lady sitting at a long table in front of a closed door. "I'm sorry", she said, "the test has already started".

"But there's another one in a couple of hours", she said, to my surprise and relief, "so we'll just put you down for that". Just then, there was the sound of someone frantically taking the escalator steps two at a time. Into view came a guy who looked even more frantic than I had - shoes untied, shirt half tucked in, hair sticking up on one side. "Don't worry!" I called. "There's another test later!" He caught his breath while taking in this news, and it was then that I noticed that his hands were full of almanacs and trivia books and the like. We walked off together, and he said "Good, good. . .this will give me time to study up some more!"

"I'm pretty much done with it", I told him. I had been brushing up over the last week on things that I didn't have covered so well - opera, Academy Award winners, some sports records and American presidential trivia - but I wasn't lying to him at all. I figured that if I didn't know something by the day of the test, I was unlikely to remember it when I needed to. "No, I've got to read up on things," the guy said, then turned to me and said "For example, what's the capital of Uzbekistan?"

"Tashkent", I told him, with no hesitation. Science, literature, history, and geography were my strong areas. He looked startled. "Oh s$%&!" he said, and sped off for parts unknown, there to clarify his map of Central Asia. After lunch it was time to take the test (much more challenging), and to wait around while the staff graded our sheets. They then called everyone together and read off the names of the people who had passed. Mister Tashkent did not seem to be among them, and I wondered if I'd fatally psyched him out. We did some dry runs of the game at that point, which served (from what I could see) to weed out the people who kept going "Ah. . .ah. . .um. . ." whenever it came time to answer a question.

And that was that, for a few months. They'd told us that we were on the list as possible contestants, and there was no way of knowing when or if we'd be called. But one day I had a message from LA, with the day of a taping, and I flew out for it quite happily. (I should note that the show covered not one penny of expenses, at least for the regular daily contestants). I showed up at the studio nervous but ready to go.

I got to see a couple of shows taped with some of the other crop of contestants before my turn came, and that gave me a chance to see some of the workings. The key to the whole thing was the moment of picking and answering. You had a chance to read the clue off the monitor while Alex Trebek was reading it out loud, and that was the time to figure out if you knew it and to prepare to try to answer it in the form of a flippin' question. You could not press your contestant's button too early, though - as they explained in detail, that locked you out for a delay period if you tried it, which would almost surely leave you without a shot. Timing was crucial. You had to wait for Trebek to stop speaking, wait about a sixteenth note of time, and then hit your button.

With the other two guys in my taping, that generally meant that all of us sat there poised while Trebek read off an answer, and then suddenly clickityclickityclickclick we'd all hit the buttons, so close to simultaneously as seemed to make no difference. There were a few times that I knew I'd reached out and snatched the right to answer a question, but others where I thought I had (but hadn't), along with a couple where I was as surprised as anyone else when my light came on.

It all happened very quickly, and took a lot of concentration and fast thinking. The effort of reading answers and coming with questions, while simultaneously watching the timing, deciding which category to go for, and keeping up with the score of the game was plenty to deal with. I remember two parts of the game very clearly, though. At one point, the taping paused for the commercial break, and some staff members came out to reapply makeup. I needed quite a bit, and Trebek remarked to the guy "You don't spend that much time on my makeup". "You don't sweat this much, Alex" came the response.

The other part I recall clearly was the Daily Double, which I was actively prospecting for whenever I had control of the board in the second round. I'd lost out on a few questions, and needed it to get back in the game. To my happiness, it came up in Geography, and I bet most of what I could. Up came the answer: "Lake Nasser sits on the border of these two African countries". My brain immediately pictured a map, while I played for time. Nasser could only mean Egypt, but I was having trouble figuring out the second country. "What are Egypt and. . . ." I started, while thinking to myself that it couldn't be Libya, that was a total desert out there. . .and the other side of the country, that was a coastline, the Red Sea. Trebek was looking at me, eyebrows raising a bit in anticipation, as if to say "You're not going to blow this one, are you?", as I finished with ". . .Sudan!". He gave a quick smile, and we were off again.

By the end of the game, I was in second place by $200 or so, a close race. The final Jeopardy category was English Literature, which gave me great happiness. The clue was "Mellors is the gamekeeper in this novel", and I immediately wrote "Lady Chatterly's Lover" on the scraggly, time-delayed screen. My only hope was that the guy ahead of me didn't get it, but alas, we all did. I lost, $13,300 to $13,100. The sensation was exactly that of coming off a carnival ride; the first thing I wanted was to go around again.

What valuable prizes did I win? Furniture, which I decided later to decline. I believe that a lot of it gets turned down like this, and probably for similar reasons to mine. I didn't care for the style, and had no place to put it. I could have perhaps sold it to someone, but this was pre-Craigslist, and in the meantime I was going to be paying tax on the full retail value, both to the IRS and to the state of California (a state tax form had been included in my going-away packet). A couple of weeks after I got back home, a package showed up with some boxes of Miracle-Gro, various flavors of cough drops, and other "Some contestants may also receive. . ." items (but alas, no Rice-a-Roni, which my family never ate while I was growing up, and which I always associated solely with game shows).

So that was my Jeopardy! experience. I enjoyed it tremendously, and I told people when I got back that I would have liked to be a contestant on the show for a living. A diet of Miracle-Gro and cough drops might have eventually impaired my button-pressing response times, though.

Comments (22) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

July 23, 2013

A Chemical Biology Conference

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I wanted to mention that I'll be attending this conference ("Challenges in Chemical Biology") over the next few days, and hope to blog some from the sessions. It's not much of a trip - MIT is just down the street from my office - but it looks to be a good meeting. Any readers who might also be attending, feel free to get in touch!

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

July 12, 2013

Comment Troubles

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

As many of you have discovered, something is currently hosed up with the commenting function on the site. It's a glitch, and behind-the-scenes work is underway. So if you get some sort of error message when you try to leave a comment, hold those thoughts and try again later - thanks!

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

July 4, 2013

A Fourth of July Recipe: Pork Tenderloin and Sour Onion Salsa

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

In keeping with tradition around here, I wanted to put up a recipe for the holiday. It's pretty hot out there for standing next to a grill (but I'll be doing that later today anyway!) Here's one that gets made around here at Pipeline Headquarters fairly often. It's not something that can be whipped up quickly (it needs some marinating time), but maybe for the coming weekend. The pork tenderloin recipe is similar to many others floating around, and can be added to and adapted as needed. The onion salsa is adapted from a Steve Raichlen recipe in The Barbecue Bible, a book I've had a very high success rate with.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin
Here are the quantities for marinating one pork tenderloin (400 to 500 grams / circa one pound). You can adjust to suit your needs, of course:

40g salt (see Note 1)
50g brown sugar (or three tablespoons)
15g Dijon mustard (one tablespoon)
Two cups water
One pod of star anise
1g whole black peppercorns (1/2 teaspoon)
Two bay leaves

Dissolve the salt, sugar, and mustard in the water. Crush the anise pod and peppercorns (mortar and pestle if you have one, whacked in foil or plastic wrap if not) and add them and the bay leaves to the mix. Soak the pork tenderloin in this brine (plastic bag or covered bowl) for several hours in a refrigerator - overnight is good.

Remove the pork from the treatment vat and grill it over high heat for ten minutes, turning it to brown the surface. Then reduce the heat, or move it to a less directly heated part of your grill, and cook it there until its juices run clear. (See Note 2). Let the meat rest off the grill for a few minutes, then slice and serve.

Note 1: this is in the "2 or three tablespoons" range of something like Morton kosher salt, but salts vary tremendously in density. Notoriously, the two leading brands of kosher salt in the US, Morton's and Diamond Crystal, are off by nearly a factor of two, a conversion which has led many to grief. Table salt is denser still - see the link.

Note 2: These are not very scientific directions, but grilling is not a very scientific form of cooking - everyone's heat source is different, and things are hard to quantify. The brining treatment will generally keep this meat from drying out so quickly - a good think, since unbrined pork tenderloin can get that way quite easily. But you'll need to use your own judgment here. If you're not grilling this, you can brown the outside in a hot oiled pan and then bake it, or carefully broil it, with frequent turning, to achieve a similar effect.


Sour Onion Salsa

1 large red onion
125 mL fresh lime juice
125 mL orange juice
12 g salt (two teaspoons of table salt)

Peel the onion and cut a slice off the stem end. Place that flat side down and cut the onion into six or eight wedges. Grill these on both sides (the root end will hold them together as they cook) until they're somewhat charred. Remove them from the grill, let them cool a bit, then trim off the root ends and add the salt and citrus juices. Let these marinate at least a half hour at room temperature, stirring every so often.

Comments (10) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

July 2, 2013

A Quick Traffic Update

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I'm traveling today, and have no time for a blog post, but I wanted to thank everyone for another record month of traffic around here. Nearly 820,000 page views beats even the previous outlier, back in April when I was linked to by xkcd.com. And I owe that, of course, to those Eight Toxic Food Additives, a post that got picked up all over the place (and is still echoing around). But I also owe that figure, naturally, to everyone who's taken the time to stop by - so thanks!

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

July 1, 2013

Travel and Upcoming Posts

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I'm traveling for the next couple of days, and then we have the July 4th holiday coming up. So blogging will be a bit irregular around here this week. By popular demand, I am planning a couple of large posts that follow up on the "Eight Toxic Foods" craziness, though. One will look at why some of the allowed US ingredients are banned in some other countries, and the other will look at the reverse: ingredients and additives that are banned in the US, but allowed abroad. Those will start showing up next week.

Comments (9) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

June 18, 2013

New Photos, Same Blather

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I've been meaning for some time to put up some new photos on the site, what with the original one being over ten years old by now. So here we are - a progress through time. The beard remains a constant, and I still have the T. S. Eliot paperback that I'm reading in the 1983 shot. That's an old flash column next to me, drying out because I was too lazy to clean it out, and some TLC plates on the bench. I was doing carbohydrate chemistry, forming nitrones and doing cycloadditions, and I'm not at all sure that I've ever done a nitrone reaction since!

Comments (25) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

May 1, 2013

Best Sites for a Medicinal Chemist?

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I'm going to be traveling today, mostly through airports without good Wi-Fi (for which read "Wi-Fi that they don't want me to pay $10 for during my 90-minute layover"). But I wanted to put out a question sent in by a reader that I think would be worthwhile:

What are the best web sites for a medicinal chemist to have bookmarked? Resources for medicine and biology, organic chemistry, analytical chemist, and pharma development would be appropriate. There are shorter lists available here and there, but I don't think that there's One Big List that easily findable, and I think that there needs to be one. Suggestions in the comments - that should put together something pretty useful.

Comments (31) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

April 30, 2013

Travel (University of Wisconsin)

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I'm in Madison, Wisconsin, where I'll be giving the Organic Chemistry McElvain Seminar later on today. The title of my talk, which I'm not sure if I'll live up to or not, is "Medicinal Chemistry: Getting Old, Or Just Starting to Grow Up?". It's at 3:30 in the Seminar Hall, room 1315, if you're passing through (!)

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

April 19, 2013

Not the Usual Morning Around Here

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Things are a bit. . .unusual around here today. I'm home; my company (and others in Cambridge) called about 6 AM to tell all employees to stay put. What with mass transit shut down and everyone off the streets, I can see the point! And truth be told, I feel a bit odd, knowing that the gunfire, etc. last night started a few blocks from where I work. This is all happening miles to the east of where I live, but it still looks like a good day to stay off the roads. . .

Comments (30) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

April 15, 2013

Traffic and More Traffic

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Well, although this is only the 15th of the month, today I'll already break my monthly traffic record for the site. That's thanks to a link from xkcd's "What If" page, which led to a couple of mentions on Reddit, which led to a front-page link at ycombinator's Hacker News, and who knows what else. Update: such as a mention on Twitter from Adam Savage of Mythbusters! Many thanks to everyone who's stopped by, and especially to those who have been linking!

Comments (21) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

March 26, 2013

A Malfunctioning Spambot

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

A quick behind-the-scenes note: anyone who has a blog has to contend with comment spam. It seems like something that has no chance of leading to any clicks or any money, but it piles up anyway. Hundreds of junk comments sometimes show up in a single day around here, most all of which automatically go right into the bit-bucket and are never seen (by me or anyone else). As a side effect, that means legitimate comments that end up in the spam folder have to be rescued pretty quickly, or they'll scroll off into the void, pushed along by illiterate come-ons for replica sports jerseys and implausible money-making schemes.

A few of them make it in each day, though, and I noticed this morning while taking out the blog-trash that one spammer seems to have glitched up. Behold, pretty much every vague, oddly worded blogspam comment all at once, complete with Mad-Lib style word lists at every opportunity. I couldn't help but {laugh | cackle | snort} at the {stupidity | incompetence | cluelessness} of this {garbage | crap}.

Comments (11) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

March 23, 2013

Quick E-mail Housekeeping Note

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I wanted to mention that several e-mails sent to me last night and this morning (Friday night and Saturday AM, EST) got deleted inadvertently while I was fumbling through them early this morning. There were some that I'd like to respond to, so if you sent me something recently, please feel free to re-send it. Note: this request does not apply to the people who keep asking if I will be a speaker at the First World International Summit Congress of Everything for Everybody, to be held somewhere in southern China, or to anyone who starts off by saying "Dear Purchasing Manager".

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

March 20, 2013

Off Topic: Happy New Year, In March

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

For those of my readers who are celebrating it, eid-e shoma mubarak! That's "Happy New Year" for Iran, Afghanistan, and a number of nearby areas. It's a Zoroastrian-derived holiday, on the solar calendar, and thanks to my Iranian wife we celebrate it at home. I can fully endorse the emphasis on special holiday sweets (such as sohan, which I'd describe as a dark saffron-flavored almond brittle) and large quantities of other festive foods. We'll be having a traditional meal of spicy fried fish later on, which fits my Arkansan sensibilities just fine. So, happy new year!

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping

February 25, 2013

An Interview