Monday, August 24, 2009

BASF as a hostile takeover target?

To have BASF as a takeover candidate certainly surprised me, but then I suppose nothing should anymore. (Maybe it's a sign that I'm not really that old after all. Maybe not.)

This would be a huge entity to acquire, run and try and improve upon. € 62 billion in annual sales is quite an bit of change, and while the profits, € 2.9 billion, are modest even by chemical industry standards, I think anyone hoping to scoop it up, make cuts (they always make cuts, don't they?) and improve on the picture is a pretty good candidate for the loony bin despite the size of their wallets. Money can't buy happiness and it can't by sanity or good business sense.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Polymers: Meet High Energy Physics

Ever get the feeling that physicists get to work on all the really cool equipment smashing atoms together and working with subatomic particles, while us polymer people have to work with mundane plastics and rubbers? Well now you can do both. "Muon-fluorine entanglements in fluoropolymers" (J. Phys.: Condens. Matter 21 (2009) 346004 - doi:10.1088/0953*8984/21/34/346004 ) Muons are the first subatomic particle discovered[1] beyond that three (proton, neutron, electron) that chemists generally limit their concern to, having a mass 200 times greater than an electron but the same charge.

I admit I know nearly nothing of subatmoic physics, so it may not be surprising that I'm not sure that I actually took much away from the article. The conclusions seem to be saying that this technique can be used to probe the environment near the fluorine atoms, but there doesn't seem to be any expression of what was learned. But it is another example of how subatomic particles can be put to use for applications other than just keeping a bunch of physicists employed. (Yes, I am well aware of PET scans - with PET standing for positron emission tomography instead of polyethylene terephthalate as might be expected in a polymer blog.)

[1] The Nobel Laureate I.I. Rabi, when told of the discovery stated: "Who ordered that?"

Thursday, August 20, 2009


1) We had strange weather here in the Twin Cities yesterday - tornadoes.

Now tornadoes in August are not unusual at all. They are not uncommon in April through September, and on rare occasions can extend that range a month in each direction, but in most cases, they happen on hot humid days. If you live here for even a few years, you quickly can recognize the days that can breed them just by stepping outdoors and looking at the haze in the sky.

Yesterday was not one of those days. It was cold and rainy the entire day. Suddenly just after 2 there were tornadoes dropping out of the sky all over the metro - downtown Minneapolis and both north and south of there. I think with the cooler weather that they were not as powerful as they normally are, but it was still a very strange day for anything like this.

2) I've always had some unresolved issues regarding the role of the conductor in classical music. Here's some of the situations that I've seen:

a) I've seen guest conductors come in and lead the Minnesota Orchestra and the sound is noticeably better, despite the orchestra being the same as the week before. Clearly a case where the conductor does have a major role. (I've also seen the same level of improvement when there is a guest soloist. Go see Yo Yo Ma perform before you die. He is incredible and he brings out the best of any orchestra.)

b) I've seen conductors lead orchestras from the keyboard during a piano concerto or similar such piece. They start the orchestra and continue to conduct it during times when the piano is not being used. That this can be done suggests that the conductor has only a minor role.

c) I've seen conductors start the piece (usually a jazz piece) and then just walk off the stage, only to come back at the end. Obviously the conductor has no role here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What I did for my summer vacation

Well it certainly wasn't a summer vacation, but it has been an extremely busy but productive one. One major project is winding down and there have been others at the same time, always with their most inappropriate timing for meetings and updates.

This is nothing new, but formulation work is long, difficult and full of failure. Every single formulation that fails is a kick in the teeth, since you obviously thought it would have worked or you wouldn't have tried it in the first place. (The exception is when management said to try it, but that's a whole other issue...) But this just makes success all that much sweeter.

While there still is room for improvement, we know so much more about chemistry and have much greater analytical techniques that 100 years ago when many of the foundations were being laid down. I always wonder how those pioneers did it, as they were half-blind at best. But they certainly did not see it that way, and 100 years from now, we will look similarly ancient and quaint.

As you can gather, I can't tell you exactly what I was working on. To paraphrase the overworked line, "I could tell you, but then you'd have to start working here". But hopefully the excessive work load is past and I can find a few minutes here and their to regularly blog.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

More fun from the New England Journal of Medicine

The Supidity! It Burns!

Everybody join me: "I know an old lady who swallowed a fly..."

Update, 8/13/2014: I fixed the link