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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: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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December 4, 2014

Science Gifts 2014: Books on Drug Discovery and Medicinal Chemistry

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Posted by Derek

Today I wanted to highlight books specifically on medicinal chemistry and drug discovery. Those are always festive additions to the holiday season, right? This list builds on last year's recommendations, with updated editions of some titles, and adds a number of suggestions from readers.

I'll start out with a recent history of our whole field: The Evolution of Drug Discovery. There are a lot of good books written at various levels about the discovery of particular drugs or therapies, but it's rare to see the entire business of drug discovery looked at in this way.

For general medicinal chemistry, you have Bob Rydzewski's Real World Drug Discovery: A Chemist's Guide to Biotech and Pharmaceutical Research. A recent addition to this area is Drug Discovery: Practices, Processes, and Perspectives, by Jack Li and E. J. Corey. Another recommendation is Textbook of Drug Design and Discovery by Krogsgaard-Larsen et al. Several readers here have recommended earlier verions of Silverman's medicinal chemistry book, and there's now a third edition: The Organic Chemistry of Drug Design and Drug Action. Readers have also recommended Camille Wermuth's The Practice of Medicinal Chemistry. For getting up to speed, several readers recommend Graham Patrick's An Introduction to Medicinal Chemistry. Similarly, Medicinal Chemistry: The Modern Drug Discovery Process is a recent introductory textbook that I thought was well done.

Process chemistry is its own world with its own issues. Recommended texts here are Practical Process Research & Development by Neal Anderson, Repic's Principles of Process Research and Chemical Development in the Pharmaceutical Industry, and Process Development: Fine Chemicals from Grams to Kilograms by Stan Lee (no, not that Stan Lee) and Graham Robinson. On an even larger scale, McConville's The Pilot Plant Real Book comes recommended by readers here, too.

Case histories of successful past projects can be found in Drugs: From Discovery to Approval by Rick Ng and also in Walter Sneader's Drug Discovery: A History.

Another book that focuses on a particular (important) area of drug discovery is Robert Copeland's Evaluation of Enzyme Inhibitors in Drug Discovery. Other recent books on particular areas of med-chem are Bioisosteres in Medicinal Chemistry by Brown et al., recommended by several readers, Scaffold Hopping in Medicinal Chemistry, and Protein-Protein Interactions in Drug Discovery, Volume 56

For chemists who want to brush up on their biology, readers recommended an earlier edition of this now updated Terrence Kenakin book: A Pharmacology Primer: Techniques for More Effective and Strategic Drug Discovery , as well as Pharmacology in Drug Discovery: Understanding Drug Response. Cannon's Pharmacology for Chemists, and Molecular Biology in Medicinal Chemistry by Nogrady and Weaver have also been recommended.

Overall, one of the most highly recommended books across the board comes from the PK end of things: Drug-like Properties: Concepts, Structure Design and Methods: from ADME to Toxicity Optimization by Kerns and Di. This one is from 2008, but the same authors have another book coming out in February: Blood-Brain Barrier in Drug Discovery: Optimizing Brain Exposure of CNS Drugs and Minimizing Brain Side Effects for Peripheral Drugs. Another recent PK-centric book is Lead Optimization for Medicinal Chemists. For getting up to speed in this area, there's Pharmacokinetics Made Easy by Donald Birkett, and the Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics Quick Guide has also been recommended.

In a related field, standard desk references for toxicology seems to be Casarett & Doull's Toxicology: The Basic Science of Poisons and Hayes' Principles and Methods of Toxicology Every medicinal chemist will end up learning a good amount toxicology, too often the hard way.

And a recently mentioned book here might prove useful as well: Navigating the Path to Industry, aimed at academic scientists (not just entry-level ones, either) who are looking at industrial research positions and wondering how to get from here to there.

As always, suggestions for more titles to add to the list are welcome.

Comments (10) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Science Gifts

December 2, 2014

Science Gifts 2014: General Books (and More) on Chemistry

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Posted by Derek

It's that time of year again! I wanted to go ahead and put up a few posts over the next few days with science- and chemistry-themed gift recommendations. Today will be books in the general chemistry category.

I've mentioned Theodore Gray's book The Elements before as an fine gift for anyone's who's interested in science or chemistry. I have a copy at home, although I still don't have the follow-up, the Elements Vault, which has some chemical samples in it (doubtless some of the more obtainable and less offensive elements!)

This year, Gray has a second volume out in what he says will be a trilogy: Molecules. I haven't seen this one yet in person, but it looks like it has high production values, and Chemjobber enjoyed the accompanying iPad and iPhone app.

Two years ago I ordered the companion Elements Jigsaw Puzzle, which I did with the kids during January and February, to produce a three-foot-wide periodic table with information and photographs of each element. Being the sort of person I am, I didn't miss the chance to teach a bit of chemistry along the way, based on personal experiences with quite a few of the elements themselves. Gray also has a deck of element cards and a calendar, for your decorating needs.

There are other good entries in this area. The Disappearing Spoon is an entertaining book on various odd properties of the elements (chemists will have said "Gallium!" by now just after having seen the title). I haven't seen Periodic Tales myself, but it comes well recommended. Readers here have also recommended Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History and the (out of print) 1959 The Romance of Chemistry by Keith Irwin.

Update: Stuart Cantrill has a very good list of popular-level science books here, and from that I'd like to add two by Thomas Hager that I've also heard good things about: The Alchemy of Air, on the Haber-Bosch process and its effects on everything from feeding the world to the rise of Hitler, and The Demon Under the Microscope, on the discovery of sulfanilamide. And fellow chem-blogger Wavefunction recommends Stuff Matters, a new book on materials science.

An inevitable subset of books on chemistry concentrates on the poisons. Readers here have recommended books by John Emsley, Molecules of Murder and The Elements of Murder. Deborah Blum's The Poisoner's Handbook has done very well since its publication. It originally had a number of errors in its chemistry, but looking at the current paperback, I see that things have been fixed in many cases.

A slightly different note is struck by another book I've long recommended, Oliver Sacks' Uncle Tungsten, which is a memoir as well as a meditation on chemistry (and the love of chemistry). Another memoir, an episodic one, is of course the late Primo Levi's The Periodic Table. It's somber at times, but also amusing, and when I read in it the phrase "Chlorides are rabble", I knew I was in the presence of a good writer, a good chemist, and a good translator. (As Wavefunction noted last year when I mentioned this book, Levi's text is not without mistakes, either, such as stating that Neil Bartlett won the Nobel for his noble gas fluoride discovery. He should have, and I'd bet that most people who know about it think that he did, but. . .)

I should note here that the links above are affiliate links to Amazon and iTunes, meaning that although your price per item will be the same, I'll receive a percentage of the sales through them. I promise to use it wisely. Mostly.

Comments (12) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Science Gifts

December 12, 2013

Science Gifts: Telescopes, Etc.

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Posted by Derek

As longtime readers know, one of my spare-time occupations is amateur astronomy. I often get asked by friends and colleagues for telescope recommendations, so (just as I did last year), I'd like to provide some, along with some background on the whole topic..

The key thing to remember with a telescope is that other things being equal, aperture wins. More aperture means that you will be able to see more objects and more details. It's only fair to note that not all amateur astronomers agree with this, or about which kind of scope is best. As you'll see, larger apertures involve some compromises. And keep in mind that while a bigger scope can show you more, the best telescope is the one that you'll actually haul out and use. Overbuying has not been my problem, dang it all, but it has been known to happen. These days, eight-inch reflectors are a good solid entry point, but smaller ones will be cheaper (and perhaps worth it to see if this is something you really want to get into).

There, I've mentioned reflectors. Those are one of the three main kinds of scopes to consider: the other two are refractors, and folded-path. The refractors are the classic lens-in-the-front types. They can provide very nice views, especially of the planets and other brighter objects, and many planetary observers swear by them. But per inch of aperture, they're the most expensive, especially since for good views you have to spring for high-end optics to keep from having rainbow fringes around everything. I can't recommend a refractor for a first scope, for these reasons. A cheap one is not going to be a good one. That's especially true since a lot of the refractors you see for sale out there are nearly worthless - a casual buyer would be appalled at the price tag for a decent one. (Scroll down on that link to see what I mean). No large refractors have been built for astronomical research for nearly a hundred years.

That said, refractors have very, very devoted fans. If your vision is discerning enough, you'll enjoy the views through a really good one more than through any other kind of scope. But if you're just starting out, your vision is almost certainly not good enough yet (see below), so I continue to steer people away at first.

The next type, Reflectors are all variations on Isaac Newton's design: open tube at the top, mirror at the bottom, and an angled secondary mirror back near the top to reflect the light out to the eyepiece in the side. All modern large-aperture research telescopes are some variety of reflector. They provide the most aperture per dollar, especially with a simple Dobsonian mount (more on mounts below). One disadvantage compared to the other two types is that reflectors have to be aligned (collimated) when you first get them (and every so often afterwards) to make sure the mirrors are all working together. A badly collimated reflector will provide ugly views indeed, but it's at least easy to fix. It's also true that if the primary mirror is of poor quality, you're also in trouble, but the average these days is actually quite good, and this really isn't much of a problem any more.

Finally, the folded-path (catadioptric) types (Schmidt-Cassegrain and Maksutov designs, mostly) are a hybrid. They have mirror in the back, but also a thin corrector plate covering the front, which also has a small secondary mirror in the middle of it. The light path ends up coming out the back of the tube, through a hole in the primary mirror. Like refractors, these basically never have to be aligned. They're more expensive per aperture unit than reflectors, but a lot less than refractors. Their views are pretty good, although purists argue about how they compare to a reflector of equal size. (Refractor owners would probably win that argument, but they have to drop out at about the five or six-inch mark, when the other two telescope designs are just getting started). These designs are also compact (all that light folding), which makes the more portable and easier to mount.

And that brings up the next topic: what you do mount one of these fine optical tubes on, so you can use them to actually look at things? An equatorial or a fork mount will let you follow the motion of the objects in the sky easily, especially with a motor drive - the Earth's rotation is always sweeping things out of your view, otherwise. A decent mount of this kind will definitely add to your costs, though. The "Dobsonian" mount is a favorite of reflector owners, since it's quite simple and allows you to put more of your money into the optics. You do have to manually grab the telescope tube and move it, though, which takes some practice (and often some home-brew messing around with the mount). Some people don't mind this, others are driven nuts by it. You can put a motorized platform under a Dobsonian (my own setup) to motor-drive it, which some consider the best of both worlds. This is, though, suitable only for visual observing; a platform is almost never good enough for real astrophotography (see below for more).

On the topic of motorized telescope mounts, I should say something about "Go-to" models. These are not only motorized to track objects, they will slew the scope around to find them from a database or by manual entry. I'm very much of two minds on these. For an experienced observer, an astrophotographer, or a researcher, they can be an indispensable tool to spend more time observing and less time hunting around. For a total beginner, they can ease a lot of frustration when first learning the sky. But at the same time, they also can keep you from learning the sky at all, and they can very definitely encourage hopping around too quickly from one object to another. If you do that, you can "see" all sorts of stuff in one evening, while at the same time hardly seeing anything at all.

That's because visual observing is all about training yourself to see things. One thing every new telescope owner should know is that Very Little Ever Looks Like the Photographs. Especially since the photos are long exposures on wildly sensitive CCD chips, usually through big instruments, and under excellent conditions. Through the eyepiece, I am very sad to report, nebulae are not tapestries of red, pink, green, and purple: they range from greenish grey to bluish grey. And although with practice you'll pick up really surprising and beautiful amounts of detail in deep-sky objects, at first, everything can look like a blob. Or a smear. Or not appear to even be there at all, even when a practiced observer can see it right smack in the center of the eyepiece field. I really enjoy seeing these things with my own eyes, and trying to find out just how much detail I can pick out and how faint I can go, but it's not for everyone. This is one of the single biggest things that needs to be emphasize to anyone planning to buy a telescope. Even the planets need practice: you'd be surprised how small Saturn is in a budget eyepiece, although it's striking at almost any magnification. If conditions are bad, Mars and Jupiter can look like they're at the bottom of a pot of boiling water. And you need time and patience to see all the details there are to see on them.

Now, photography is another story. Astrophotography is an expensive word, although thanks to webcams and the like, getting into it is not quite as bad as it used to be. But for most purposes, you'll need one of those motorized mounts that'll track objects across the sky. That's very convenient for visual observing, too, naturally, but a really good one for long-exposure photography can cost more than the telescope itself! I'm not an astrophotographer myself, so I won't go into great detail, but if you want to try this part of the hobby, prepare to think about the telescope mount as much as you think about the optics. Imaging equipment ranges from simple webcams all the way up to wonderful stuff that easily costs as much as a new car, or perhaps a small house. And you'll also need to be prepared to learn a lot about digital post-processing. That's another thing that all those great astrophotos have in common: someone spent a lot of time working on them, after they spent a lot of time gathering the data in the first place.

So, what to buy? I've scattered some Amazon links in the above to representative scopes. In general, Meade and Celestron are the two brands you'll see the most, and if you stay away from their cheap refractors, you should be fine. And Orion also sells good stuff of their own brand, (on Amazon and from their own site). (Again, I'd stay away from inexpensive refractors there, too). Other good sources are Astronomics and Anacortes.

There are a lot of excellent resources for specific opinions on different models, and on telescopes in general, at Scopereviews. Cloudy Nights is also a huge resource, full of message boards on every amateur astronomy topic you can think of (and classified ads for used equipment as well). Rod Mollise has a lot of good stuff, if you can handle his folksy dialect style. For the truly hard-core visual observer, Alvin Huey at Faint Fuzzies is a great source for downloadable observing guides (many of them free). I use them, although there are plenty of objects in them that are outside my range (I use an 11-inch Dobsonian reflector). He has observing guides for sale, too, but every single thing in every one of them is outside my observing range. Dang it all. And I can recommend the free software Cartes du Ciel (Sky Charts) for printing out charts of your own.

Comments (22) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Science Gifts

December 10, 2013

Science Gifts: Elements and More

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Posted by Derek

I've mentioned Theodore Gray's book The Elements before as an fine gift for anyone's who's interested in science or chemistry. I have a copy at home, although I don't have the follow-up, the Elements Vault, which apparently also has some chemical samples in it (doubtless of some of the less offensive elements!)

Last year I ordered the companion Elements Jigsaw Puzzle, which I did with the kids during January and February, to produce a three-foot-wide periodic table with information and photographs of each element. I did not miss the opportunity to mention some of the ones that I'd worked with (and I'm soon to add a couple of new ones to that list - more later). Gray also has a deck of element cards and a calendar, for your decorating needs.

There are other good entries in this area. The Disappearing Spoon is an entertaining book on various odd properties of the elements (chemists will have said "Gallium!" by now for the spoon of the title). I haven't seen Periodic Tales, but it comes well recommended.

A slightly different note is struck by another book I've long recommended, Oliver Sacks' Uncle Tungsten, which is a memoir as well as a meditation on chemistry (and the love of chemistry). Another memoir, an episodic one, is of course the late Primo Levi's The Periodic Table. It's somber at times, but also amusing, and when I read in it the phrase "Chlorides are rabble", I knew I was in the presence of a good writer, a good chemist, and a good translator.

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Science Gifts

December 3, 2013

Science Gifts: Running Experiments at Home

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Posted by Derek

Interesting science-gift ideas can be found in the "home experiments" area. There's been a small boom in this sort of book in recent years, which I think is a good thing all the way around. I believe that there's a good audience out there of people who are interested in science, but have no particular training in it, either because they're young enough not to have encountered much (or much that was any good), or because they missed out on it while they were in school themselves.

Last year I mentioned Robert Bruce (and Barbara) Thompson's Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments along with its sequels, the Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments and the Illustrated Guide to Home Forensic Science Experiments. Similar books are Hands-On Chemistry Activities and its companion Hands-On Physics Activities.

Related to these are two from Theodore Gray: Theo Gray's Mad Science, and its new sequel, Mad Science 2. Both of these are subtitles "Experiments that you can do at home - but probably shouldn't", and I'd say that's pretty accurate. Many of these use equipment and materials that most people probably won't have sitting around, and some of the experiments are on the hazardous side (which, I should mention, is something that's fully noted in the book). But they're well-illustrated from Gray's own demonstration runs, so you can at least see what they look like, and learn about the concepts behind them.

And there's copious chemistry available in a series of books by Bassam Shakhashiri, whose web site is here. These are aimed at people teaching chemistry who would like clear, tested demonstrations for their students, but if you know someone who's seriously into home science experimentation, they'll find a lot here. The most recent, Chemical Demonstrations, Volume 5, concentrates on colors and light. The previous ones are also available, and cover a range of topics in each book: Volume 4, Volume 3, Volume 2, and Volume 1.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Book Recommendations | Science Gifts

November 29, 2013

Science Gifts: Medicinal Chemistry Books

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Posted by Derek

I hope my readers who celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday had a good one. Everything went well here, and there are plenty of turkey leftovers today. My wife always looks forward to a sandwich of turkey in a flour tortilla with hoisin sauce and fresh scallions. I can endorse that one, and I'm also a fan of turkey on pumpernickel with mayonnaise and horseradish. But to each their own! It's a big country, and can accommodate turkey quesadillas, turkey with mango pickle and naan, turkey with barbecue sauce, and who knows what else.

Over the next week or two, as I did last year, I'll be posting some science-themed gift ideas along with my regular postings. I should mention, as I do from time to time, that this blog is an Amazon affiliate, so links to Amazon from here will earn a small commission, at no change in the price on the buyer's end. So if you have some big online shopping to do, I encourage you to pick a blog or site that you've enjoyed during the year and use their affiliate links if they have them - everything that's ordered after such a redirect will send some money back to the site's owner. In my own case, I pledge to use a significant part of any proceeds to buy still more books, thereby stuffing my head with even more marginally useful knowledge.

I'll start off with gifts that you might well be ordering for yourself - books on medicinal chemistry and related fields. This is an updated version of the list I posted last year, with some additions.

At various times, I've asked the readership for the best books on the practice of medicinal chemistry and drug discovery. Here are the favorites mentioned by readers over the last few years (nominations for others are welcome):

For general medicinal chemistry, you have Bob Rydzewski's Real World Drug Discovery: A Chemist's Guide to Biotech and Pharmaceutical Research. Another recommendation is Textbook of Drug Design and Discovery by Krogsgaard-Larsen et al. Many votes also were cast for Camille Wermuth's The Practice of Medicinal Chemistry. For getting up to speed, several readers recommend Graham Patrick's An Introduction to Medicinal Chemistry. And an older text that has some fans is Richard Silverman's The Organic Chemistry of Drug Design and Drug Action.

Process chemistry is its own world with its own issues. Recommended texts here are Practical Process Research & Development by Neal Anderson, Repic's Principles of Process Research and Chemical Development in the Pharmaceutical Industry, and Process Development: Fine Chemicals from Grams to Kilograms by Stan Lee (no, not that Stan Lee) and Graham Robinson. On an even larger scale, McConville's The Pilot Plant Real Book comes recommended by readers here, too.

Case histories of successful past projects can be found in Drugs: From Discovery to Approval by Rick Ng and also in Walter Sneader's Drug Discovery: A History.

Another book that focuses on a particular (important) area of drug discovery is Robert Copeland's Evaluation of Enzyme Inhibitors in Drug Discovery. This is a new edition of the book recommended in this post last year.

Another newer book on a particular area of med-chem is Bioisosteres in Medicinal Chemistry by Brown et al., which also comes recommended by several readers.

For chemists who want to brush up on their biology, readers recommend Terrence Kenakin's A Pharmacology Primer, Third Edition: Theory, Application and Methods, Cannon's Pharmacology for Chemists, and Molecular Biology in Medicinal Chemistry by Nogrady and Weaver.

Overall, one of the most highly recommended books across the board comes from the PK end of things: Drug-like Properties: Concepts, Structure Design and Methods: from ADME to Toxicity Optimization by Kerns and Di. Another recent PK-centric book is Lead Optimization for Medicinal Chemists. For getting up to speed in this area, there's Pharmacokinetics Made Easy by Donald Birkett.

In a related field, standard desk references for toxicology seems to be Casarett & Doull's Toxicology: The Basic Science of Poisons and Hayes' Principles and Methods of Toxicology Every medicinal chemist will end up learning a good amount toxicology, too often the hard way.

As mentioned, titles to add to the list are welcome. I'll be doing a post later on less technical general interest science books as well.

Comments (19) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Science Gifts

November 15, 2013

The Heirloom Chemistry Set

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Posted by Derek

I wrote here about chemistry sets as gifts for science-minded youngsters, and at the time, the only recommendation I could make was the Thames and Kosmos line (which are definitely still worth a look). A reader sends along another possibility, though: the Heirloom Chemistry Set, a deliberate attempt to recreate the classic sets of 50 or 60 years ago. It's not cheap, but it certainly looks like the real deal. This part, though, is cause for concern:

Regarding equipment, while we have shipped custom chemistry sets (both chemicals and equipment) to customers in each of the 50 states for the past 10 years it needs to be noted that some states do frown on its citizens owning chemical glassware. We recommend that if this is a concern to you that you contact your state and/or local authorities to ascertain what may be allowed.

Does anyone have more detail on this? Can you really get in trouble for owning Erlenmeyer flasks, beakers, and graduated cylinders, the kind of everyday chemical glassware sold with this set? I'm pretty sure that most backyard methamphetamine jockeys don't bother with decent glassware, you know?

Comments (38) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Science Gifts

December 6, 2012

Science Gifts: Microscopes

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Posted by Derek

Well, in that post on telescopes I put up the other day, there were plenty of manufacturers, web sites, and commercial sources that I could recommend. Microscopes, though, are another matter. There's no equivalent to the amateur telescope making/modifying community. One reason for that is that we're talking about lenses for magnification, rather than big mirrors for light-gathering, and mirrors are a lot easier to make (and test) than lenses, particularly combinations of lenses. Microscopes can also have more mechanical parts than telescopes do, and these parts are less modular, which can make the used equipment market rather tricky. The new equipment market tends to divide into "Wonderful, really expensive equipment for research" and "Cheap crap". (More thoughts on the similarities and differences between the amateur astronomers and microscopists here and here).

But not always. Here's a good site with a lot of buying advice, and here are more good sets of recommendations. You'll have heard of the brands of the most common laboratory microscopes (Nikon, Olympus, Leica, Zeiss), and there are a number of lesser-known brands, which I would assume all use Chinese optics (Omano, Motic, Accuscope, Labomed). The advice, as with telescopes is to Avoid Department Store Models, but beyond that, I'm not sure where to send people. Reputable dealers seem to include Lab Essentials and Microscope Depot, but be sure to read up on those recommendations before purchasing. An older microscope in good shape probably has the best price/performance of all, but that's not a casual purchase, for the most part. For what it's worth, I use an old "grey metal" Bausch and Lomb, purchased back in the 1970s used from around the University of Tennessee medical school.

Update: as those recommendation links say, there are two big choices: a stereo microscope or a compound one. The former is good for looking at whatever (larger) object you can put under it, while the latter is higher-magnification and needs, in most cases, to have something that light can pass through. I'm partial to protozoa and algae myself, so I have the latter, but the former is a very useful instrument, too. A great general reference for someone getting into microscopy is Exploring With the Microscope.

If you're into pond life as well, two excellent references are How to Know the Protozoa and How to Know the Freshwater Algae. I own both, but then, I'm a lunatic, so keep that in mind.

Comments (9) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Science Gifts

December 4, 2012

Science Gifts: Telescopes

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Posted by Derek

As I mention around here from time to time, one of my sidelines is amateur astronomy. I often get asked for telescope recommendations, so in that spirit, I wanted to put up some details in case anyone out there is thinking about one as a gift this year.

The key thing to remember with telescopes is that other things being equal, aperture wins out, because you will be able to see more objects and more details. Other things are not always equal, naturally, but that's the background of the various disputes between amateur astronomers about which kind of scope is best. And keep in mind that while a bigger scope can show you more, the best telescope is the one that you'll actually haul out and use. Overbuying has not been my problem, dang it all, but it has been known to happen. Overall, I'd say a six-inch aperture should be the starting point, although opinions vary on that, too.

You've basically got three kinds of scopes to consider: refractors, reflectors, and folded-path. The refractors are the classic lens-in-the-front types. They can provide very nice views, especially of the planets and other brighter objects. Many planetary observers swear by them. But per inch of aperture, they're the most expensive, especially since for good views you have to spring for high-end optics to keep from having rainbow fringes around everything. I can't recommend a refractor for a first scope, for these reasons. That's especially true since a lot of the refractors you see for sale out there are of the cheap/nearly worthless variety - a casual buyer would be appalled at the price tag for a decent one. No large refractors have been built for astronomical research since well before World War II.

Reflectors are variations on Isaac Newton's design, which was: open tube at the top, mirror at the bottom, and you look through the eyepiece in the side, after the light reflects back off an angled secondary mirror. All modern large-aperture research telescopes are some variety of reflector. They provide the most aperture per dollar, especially with a simple "Dobsonian" mount (more on mounts in a minute). They do have to be aligned (collimated) when you first get them, and every so often afterwards, to make sure the mirrors are all working together. A badly collimated reflector will provide ugly views indeed, but it's at least easy to fix. And if the primary mirror is of poor quality, you're also in trouble, but the average these days is actually quite good.

Finally, the folded-path (catadioptric) types (Schmidt-Cassegrain
and Maksutov designs, mostly) are a hybrid. There's a mirror in the back, but also a corrector lens plate covering the front. The light path ends up coming out the back of the tube, through a hole in the primary mirror. Like refractors, these basically never have to be aligned, but they're fairly expensive (although nowhere near as bad as refractors when you start going up in size). And their views are pretty good, although purists argue about how they compare to a reflector of equal size. (Refractor owners would probably win that argument, but they have to drop out at about the five or six-inch mark, when the other two telescope designs are just getting started). One nice thing about a scope of this kind is that it's more compact, making it an easier design to mount.

And that brings up the next topic: what you do mount one of these fine optical tubes on, so you can use them to actually look at things? An equatorial or a fork mount will let you follow the motion of the objects in the sky easily, especially with a motor drive - the Earth's rotation is always sweeping things out of your view, otherwise. A decent mount of this kind will definitely add to your costs, though. The "Dobsonian" mount is a favorite of reflector owners, since it's quite simple and allows you to put more of your money into the optics. You do have to manually grab the telescope tube and move it, though, which takes some practice (and sometimes some home-brew messing around with the mount). Some people don't mind this, others are driven nuts by it. You can put a motorized platform under a Dobsonian (my own setup) to motor-drive it, which some consider the best of both worlds.

On the topic of motorized telescope mounts, I should say something about "Go-to" models. These are not only motorized to track objects, they will slew the scope around to find objects from a database. I'm very much of two minds on these. For an experienced observer, an astrophotographer, or a researcher, they can be an indispensable tool to spend more time observing and less time hunting around. For a total beginner, they can ease a lot of frustration when first learning the sky. But at the same time, they also can keep someone from learning the sky at all, and they can also encourage hopping too quickly from one object to another. If you do that, you can see all sorts of stuff in one evening, while at the same time hardly seeing anything at all.

Visual observing is all about training yourself to see things. One thing every new telescope owner should know is that Very Little Ever Looks Like the Photographs. Especially since the photos are long exposures on wildly sensitive CCD chips, through huge instruments, and under excellent conditions. Through the eyepiece, nebulae are not tapestries of red, pink, green, and purple: they range from greenish grey to bluish grey. And although with practice you'll pick up really surprising and beautiful amounts of detail in deep-sky objects, at first, everything can look like a blob. Or a smear. Or not appear to even be there at all, even when a practiced observer can see it right smack in the center of the eyepiece field. I really enjoy seeing these things with my own eyes, and trying to find out just how much detail I can pick out and how faint I can go, but it's not for everyone.

Now, photography is another story. Astrophotography is an expensive word, although thanks to webcams and the like, getting into it is not quite as bad as it used to be. But for most purposes, you'll need one of those motorized mounts that'll track objects across the sky. That's very convenient for visual observing, too, naturally, but a really good one for long-exposure photography can cost more than the telescope itself! A motorized platform is almost never accurate enough for these purposes, I should add. I'm not an astrophotographer myself, so I won't go into great detail, but if you want to try this part of the hobby out (or know someone who does), prepare to think about the telescope mount as much as you think about the optics. As you'd imagine, all astrophotography these days is digital, with equipment ranging from simple webcams all the way up to stuff that easily costs as much as a new car, or perhaps a small house.

So, what to buy? I've scattered some Amazon links in the above to representative scopes. In general, Meade and Celestron are the two brands you'll see the most, and if you stay away from their cheap refractors, you should be fine. And Orion also sells good stuff of their own brand (On Amazonand from their own site). (Again, I'd stay away from inexpensive refractors there, too). Other good sources are Astronomics and Anacortes.

Update: as pointed out in the comments, an excellent resource for specific opinions on different models, and telescope advice in general, is Scopereviews. Cloudy Nights is also a huge resource.

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November 30, 2012

Science Gifts: Actual Med-Chem Books

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Posted by Derek

A few years ago, I asked the readership for the best books on the practice of medicinal chemistry and drug discovery itself. These may not be exactly stocking stuffers, at least not for most people, but I wanted to mention these again, and to solicit nominations for more recent titles to add to the list. So, here's what I have at the moment:

For general medicinal chemistry, you have Bob Rydzewski's Real World Drug Discovery: A Chemist's Guide to Biotech and Pharmaceutical Research. Many votes also were cast for Camille Wermuth's The Practice of Medicinal Chemistry. For getting up to speed, several readers recommend Graham Patrick's An Introduction to Medicinal Chemistry. And an older text that has some fans is Richard Silverman's The Organic Chemistry of Drug Design and Drug Action.

Process chemistry is its own world with its own issues. Recommended texts here are Practical Process Research & Development by Neal Anderson and Process Development: Fine Chemicals from Grams to Kilograms by Stan Lee (no, not that Stan Lee) and Graham Robinson.

Case histories of successful past projects are found in Drugs: From Discovery to Approval by Rick Ng and also in Walter Sneader's Drug Discovery: A History.

Another book that focuses on a particular (important) area of drug discovery is Robert Copeland's Evaluation of Enzyme Inhibitors in Drug Discovery.

For chemists who want to brush up on their biology, readers recommend Terrence Kenakin's A Pharmacology Primer, Third Edition: Theory, Application and Methods and Molecular Biology in Medicinal Chemistry by Nogrady and Weaver.

Overall, one of the most highly recommended books across the board comes from the PK end of things: Drug-like Properties: Concepts, Structure Design and Methods: from ADME to Toxicity Optimization by Kerns and Di. For getting up to speed in this area, there's Pharmacokinetics Made Easy by Donald Birkett.

In a related field, the standard desk reference for toxicology seems to be Casarett & Doull's Toxicology: The Basic Science of Poisons. Since all of us make a fair number of poisons (as we eventually discover), it's worth a look.

As mentioned, titles to add to the list are welcome - I'll watch the comments for ideas!

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November 29, 2012

Science Gifts: The Elements

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Posted by Derek

In my post the other day on do-it-at-home science experiments and demonstrations, I left out Theo Gray's Mad Science. That's because, although it looks like a very fun book, it seems to require a number of things that most people don't have lying around the house, like a Van der Graaf generator. (If you're in the market, though, you can get one here - I'm starting to wonder what it is that Amazon doesn't sell).

But Gray's The Elements, which I've recommended before, is an excellent thing to have for anyone who's curious about the periodic table or chemistry in general. I remember as a child browsing through the old Time-Life book on the elements (my grandparents had a copy; I'd read it every time we visited them). This is the 21st century version. He's done a follow-up, the Elements Vault, which is more of a tour of the Periodic Table by columns, rather than by rows.

And I'm ordering The Elements Puzzle for the rest of the family for Christmas. (My kids don't read my site, or at least not yet). It's a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle that produces a three-foot-wide periodic table, with information and photographs of each element. They're bound to learn something by putting it together!

This is a good time to note that this blog is an Amazon affiliate. I get a small cut of whatever's ordered through these links (at no charge to the buyer). And yes, Amazon sends me a W-2 on the yearly total, so I do pay taxes on it!

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November 27, 2012

Science Gifts: Experiments At Home

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Posted by Derek

I've recommended Robert Bruce Thompson's Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments before, and I'd like to do so again as a science gift for anyone you know that would like to see what real chemistry is like (interested and capable middle- and high-school students are a particularly good audience). And I'm glad to report that Thompson has added to the series: you can now get his Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments and Illustrated Guide to Home Forensic Science Experiments, both of which also get excellent reviews. Other good resources in this area would be Hands-On Chemistry Activities and its companion Hands-On Physics Activities. Enjoy!

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November 26, 2012

Science Gifts: Chemistry Sets

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Posted by Derek

I've decided this year that I'll be posting some recommendations for science-themed gifts, since this is the season that people will be looking around for them. This article at Smithsonian has a look at the history of the good ol' chemistry set. As I mentioned in this old post, I had one as a boy, augmented by a number of extra reagents, some of which (potassium permanganate!) were in rather too high an oxidation state for a ten-year-old. I can't report that I did much in the way of systematic experiments with all my material, but I did have a good time with it. Once in a while some combination of reagents will remind me of the smell of those bottles, and I'm instantly transported back to the early 1970s, out in a corner of the shop building in back of our house. (Elemental sulfur is a component of that smell; the rest I'm not sure about).

The Smithsonian article mentions that Thames and Kosmos chemistry sets get good reviews from people who've seen them. So if you're in the market for a gift for the kids, that might be a line to try! The potassium permanganate I'll leave up to individual discretion. . .

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