Monday, April 30, 2012

Another Set of Rants About a Rejected SBIR Grant

Another SBIR grant proposal of mine has been shot down. As I said before, I understand these are very competitive grants and so while I am disappointed that I wasn't awarded one, that is not the point of this post (or the earlier post where I railed on the reviewer with chemophobia). This is just to vent about the qualifications and the inabilities of the reviewers to provide any meaningful feedback.

For this proposal, we wanted to take an agricultural waste product and combine in a reactive extrusion process using a twin-screw extruder (TSE), the details of which are still proprietary. This is something that is our bread-and-butter here at Aspen Research. We were pioneers in the wood-polymer composite (WPC) area and most of the patents assigned to Andersen Windows involving WPC's had Aspen Research personnel as inventors. In other words, we do know what we are doing in this subject matter.

Here's some of the feedback:
"Rheological control of bio-based materials is challenging for molders. The polymers contain moisture, so special equipment will be needed for polyethylene and/or polypropylene molding shops"
Polyethylene? Polypropylene? Where did those materials come from? We didn't mention them other than as materials we might displace. PE and PP cannot be prepared in a reactive extrusion process. If we had suggested reactive extrusion of PE or PP, that alone would be worthy of multiple SBIR grants as that would revolutionize the entire industry, completely overlooking the incorporation of ag waste into it. Also, ag waste materials can contain moisture (not "polymers"), but since this process is performed entirely in a twin screw extruder, the moisture can be removed through the vents, something we do all the time. But let's just go along with the reviewer and agree that we cannot remove the moisture. Since when is moisture such a heartache requiring "special equipment"? Show me an injection molder without a resin dryer and I'll show you an injection molder shop that is owned by their bank and being auctioned off. Resin dryers are not special equipment.
"However, the use of reactive extrusion in this proposal will not be enough to homogenize the feed material due to the fact that such a process is only good for processing times of 100-1000 seconds. With [ag-waste particles] at a size scale of 1 mm and highest mass diffusivity of 0.00000001 sq cm/s for [these] materials, we are looking at processing times in the order of 1000000 seconds...If experiments were done, the above difficulties will be made evident, and that the 4 hr processing time facilitated by the use of small molecule reactive components will still be needed."
This reviewer is too clever by half. I haven't bothered to see if the diffusivity numbers are correct (I'll assume they are), BUT THEY ARE ONLY VALID FOR NON-CONVECTIVE FLOW CONDITIONS, something completely remote from the inside of a twin screw extruder. Nobody ever models the flow inside a TSE because there is just too much going one - melting, mixing, conveying, venting (which requires increasing and then decreasing the pressure), all in very small, thin films moving in three different directions. Furthermore, the ag-waste particles don't need to diffuse anywhere - the reactive monomers diffuse to them (actually, the monomers are convected to the ag waste), and quite easily at that. And lastly, if the reviewers arguments are correct, then WPCs would not be possible, since WPCs are made by combining wood particles with high molecular weight polymer which really is impossible in quiescient diffusivity. Not only do experiments show that 4 hours processing times are not needed (even 4 minutes is too long), but the commercial success of Fibrex, Trex, Timber Tech and dozen of other products show the economic viability of this process.

Feedback like this provides no insight as to how to improve the proposal. I really question whether these reviewers have much or any industrial experience. Certainly whatever experience they do have is not enough, as the comments shown here are not helpful at all, and in fact are just plain wrong. Why can't these reviewers just say something like "neat idea, but we liked some other ideas better"?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Salting Out a Carbomer Gel

A very common example of a rheologically interesting material are the hand sanitizer gels that are becoming ubiquitous even outside of healthcare settings. I've visited clients that have had tubes in conference rooms, for example. The gels are mostly ethanol (~ 60%), some carbomer (a generic term for lightly crosslinked polyacrylic acid) and some other entities. The ones we have at home have some water, isopropyl alcohol, tocopheryl acetate (an antioxidant based on vitamin E), glycerin, propylene glycol, isopropyl myrisate, and some fragrance.

Carbomers are very effective gelling agents. You only need a few percent to get a nice thick gel and they are reasonably insensitive to pH. But if you've ever worked with them, you very quickly realize their Achilles Heel: salt. Salt will very quickly collapse a gel, so you usually either need to work with purified water or you add more carbomer to compensate, an expensive proposition as they are not cheap.

Salting out a gel is so easy that even a dumb, drunk teenager could do that, and that is exactly what is happening. Teenagers are salting out hand sanitizer gels in order to make them more drinkable. Drinkable? That's probably not the right word. I certainly wouldn't consider salty, denatured ethanol to be drinkable. But in this case, by drinkable I mean less viscous and more fluidic.

Being 120 proof, the liquid will certainly pack quite a punch, and kids are starting to show up at emergency rooms rather ill (probably from all the adulterants more than the ethanol itself). But as one columnist observed, this all goes to show that "Hand Sanitizer Chugging Proves American Teens may the World's Stupidest".

Monday, April 23, 2012

Can You Lift a Polymer from One End?

Neil Withers posed an interesting question at The Sceptical Chymist blog

"A question struck me yesterday afternoon (editorial discretion prevents me revealing exactly why): what weight could you hang from a chemical bond before it broke? How many atoms? I asked the rest of the team if they had any ideas, but got no answers I would be comfortable publishing! Still intrigued, I thought about it more while it was my turn on the tea rota. It’s relatively easy to work out, with a little digging, but might surprise you. I’ll let you all stew on the question over the weekend – and suggest your own answers below – and return with my Fermi-style calculation on Monday!"(Emphasis added)
How many atoms? Doesn't that suggest a polymer hung from one end? Since this is a polymer blog, I decided to look at it from that polymer perspective: what is the longest polyethylene molecule that you could pick up from one end without having the chain break? A quick Google search produced 1600 pN as the force needed to break a typical C-C bond. The force exerted by a suspended mass is mg. For a methylene (-CH2-) unit, that is 14 g/(6.02 x 1023) x 9.8 m/s2 = 22.8 x 10-26 N. To reach a force of 1600 pN, 1.43 x 1012 methylene units would be needed [*], a tremendously large degree of polymerization that is not currently obtainable in linear polymers. Ultrahigh molecular weight HDPE has a molecular weight of about 4 - 5 million g/mole, so the degree of polymerization in that polymer is about 300,000, 7 orders of magnitude less than the number I found. The average length of C-C bond is 1.54 Angstroms, so a polymer of such high degree of polymerization would have a contour length of about 220 m!

Or looking at it another way, 1.43 x 1012 methylene units would have a mass of about 2 x 10-12 g, - 2 picograms. So while the strength of the C-C bond is relatively high, it's not as if you could drag a freight train with it.

The (relatively) large value for the strength of C-C bond seems intuitively correct, as we know polymer molecules don't break during reptation, although the resistance to that longitudinal motion is different than that provided by a suspended mass. But this also suggests that the long hoped-for sky elevator is not impossible if (perfect!) polymers are involved.

[*] I hope the Monday-morning math is correct, but given what I'm finding, being off by a factor of a billion or so isn't going to matter at all, is it?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Follow Up on Rubber Glove Safety

Early last month I wrote about rubber gloves and how different gloves are better/worse in some situations than others. I received a direct email from an retired industrial hygienist, which (with her permission) I now present:
"Hello Dr. Spevacek

I have been browsing your blog and read with interest your note about glove performance. Your identifying access to glove chemical resistance is sure to be helpful to readers.

I am a retired industrial hygienist, with most of my career practice for laboratories. I can supplement your column with some notes.

1). Ethylene vinyl alcohol copolymer gloves have a resistance profile across most of any lab's chemical profile. They can be worn singly or over another, better fitting glove. The issue with these gloves is their fit and stiffness. It is very difficult to do fine movements in these gloves which precludes wearing them for some laboratory procedures. But, because of their excellent resistance profile you may find it useful to add them for some tasks.

2.). If you have a safety officer who is not involved in hazard identification and glove selection then s/he is not qualified for the job. (I was going to say that they are a bonehead.). Glove performance and task links should be established for all labs and other job settings that require a safety glove. There should be no need for you to keep a stash of different gloves and protect them from raids by people in other labs. Each lab should be collaborating with the safety officer for glove selection and be able to get the right glove(s) for their lab people.

3.). If your safety officer's product is safety by walking around looking at things, you should meet with executive management about the safety model. A safety officer should be something of an extra pair of hands for each laboratory and department, not a guardian angel. The safety officer should be working with you to identify hazards of the work done in your lab and strategies to reduce the potential for injury and/or property loss. Metrics should be identified and tracked, beyond the usual, number of OSHA recordable injuries per unit time. The old model of safety by clipboard inspection should be blown up and discarded.

4.). This means that the safety officer must have a substantial fund of knowledge beyond regulatory compliance basics. They should be able to be a true resource for you, in establishing and modifying lab operations and procedures. You deserve more than a clipboard person looking for "gotcha"s.

Best wishes for high yields and purity--

Liz Aton"

Those points all speak for themselves.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Critical Application of Ring Opening Polymerization

Between the ring-opening polymerization post I guest blogged and yesterday's clever ring-opening/vinyl copolymerization , ring-opening polymerization is now the hot topic around here and today is no different. Nylon-12, a polyamide prepared by the ring-opening polymerization of laurolactam is in very short supply following a fire/explosion at a key manufacturing plant. The Evonik plant involved doesn't actually make the laurolactam, but an unsaturated precursor, cyclododecatriene (a trimer of butadiene). Nylon-12 is critical to auto makers as they use it for such critical components as fuel and brake lines. Alternative materials could be used, but as conservative as auto makers are, and as important as these applications are to driver safety, approving the new materials will take quite a bit of time.

So how bad is the shortage? Well judging by the coverage in blogs (Plastics New, The New York Times , and even The Huffington Post (that normally is extremely chemophobic)) as well as mainstream media (Bloomberg News , USA Today , and The Financial Times ), this story has caught the attention of people around the world.

Interestingly, the Auto News has a blog post from someone who isn't overly concerned about the matter, thinking that the supply chain experts will work things out. Such efforts are already in process. There was an emergency meeting in Detroit yesterday to discuss just this shortage (a rare case when the automakers can get together and discuss supply issues without worrying about anti-trust actions). Among this all, there are hints and rumors that this could even lead to production stoppages, but hopefully it won't go that far.

It's rather shocking to find out the world is so dependent on ring-opening polymerization, isn't it?




Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Some Novel Polymer Chemistry Reactions

I recently ran across a couple of neat tricks in polymer chemistry that I've not seen before. The first is this reaction:
It's a combination of a ring-opening polymerization with a normal addition reaction. I've not read the full article yet ($) so I'm not quite sure how versatile it is - can something beside a lactone be copolymerized, such as a lactam? No matter the exact robustness of the reaction, this does open up (sorry about that pun) the possibilities for a number of new polymers that could be pretty simple to make.

The other reaction involves the crosslinking a chain with copolymerized catechol moieties. Copolymerizing a substituted catechol (aka dihydroxybenzene)[*] is a little bit tricky as the hydroxy groups need to be protected during the polymerization, but the authors report ($) a fairly straightforward process for accomplishing this. The magic though, is in the crosslinking. Two options are available. An irreversible one directly between two catechol groups, and a reversible one between a multivalent metal, in this case Fe3+.
While I really love the dual approaches to crosslinking, the monomer used for the bulk of the polymer is styrene, meaning that the final polymer is not water soluble. That makes is much more difficult to achieve the ionic crosslinking, since you need a solvent that will both dissolve the styrene and also ionize the ferric salt. Water soluble monomer/polymers would be desirable, but I think that a different protection scheme for the catechol's hydroxyl groups would be needed. (I suspect the triethylsilane protecting groups would hydrolyze.) Regardless, designing a polymer with two different crosslinking schemes (and two levels of reversibility) is quite novel.

[*] If you do decide to try this reaction, remember that catechol is a nice little skin irritant. The active ingredient in poison ivy/oak/sumac is urushiol, a catechol derivative.

Monday, April 16, 2012

An Unusual Source for Competitive Intelligence

I stumbled upon a new way to gather information about manufacturing processes. In this particular example, the information is about a number of Dow Chemical's processes - actually Union Carbide's processes, who is owned by Dow. Want details? Well it appears that they
  • looked at using an Amoco anticoking process in one of their steam crackers
  • injected sodium borohydride into their caustic scrubber to reduce acetaldehyde in their butadiene which they sold to Shell
  • and used phenylenediamine as a inhibitor in their C3 column.
And where does all this information come from? The proceedings of a trial before the Federal Tax Court. The missing link between a trial over taxes and this technology disclosure is that US corporations can take a tax credit for R & D efforts (only the IRS calls it R & E, with the E being for experimentation). Dow/Union Carbide claimed some R & E credits over this work and the IRS didn't think there was enough "researchiness" to the effort so they denied the claimed credit, which then led to the courtroom battle. Dow lost the case and is now appealing the decision. A news story about the appeal sent me looking for the original case (just so you don't think that I routinely prowl over the Federal Tax Court records.)

There are some caveats with the information provided above. It's all from the mid- and late-90's (yes, the hands of justice move quite slowly) and you have to cull through a 299-page document to find some of this. These items noted above were from the background section of the court's decision, so you know that transcripts from the trial would have even more details. However, I seriously doubt that much of this information is too proprietary, but nonetheless, it still makes for some curious and somewhat revealing reading. I'm just surprised that all these details were needed in the trial, as I would think that the judges would only be interested in a high level view of the research, not specific chemical entities and customer's names. I don't recall running across any of the technical details that were wrong, something that the Supreme Court could use a few lessons in (2 + 2 is somewhere between 3 and 5.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

No More Minnesota Nice

I live in the state of Minnesota, a place where we have the phrase "Minnesota Nice", a phrase that refers to the way that people here avoid confrontation. See or hear something you don't agree with? Simply say "That's different!", and there you go - you avoided the confrontation without agreeing with the other person. That's how come we've elected Michelle Bachman, Al Franken, and Jesse Ventura to political office. We say, "They're different!", and they get elected in because we don't confront them to tell them how weird they are.

But Minnesota nice is not what's going on right now between two of our fine corporate citizens headquartered here - Medtronic and St. Jude. Both are giants in the medical device industry, particularly in the implantable cardiac device industry and right now, there is an intense barrage of Minnesota non-niceness occurring. As heated as things are, I'm surprised the recent weather has been so cold here this past week.

It all started when a paper in the journal Heart Rhythm, authored by a prominent cardiologist stated that 22 deaths had been reported associated with St. Jude's defibrillator leads, but only 5 with the Medtronic product. (If the leads short out, then the defibrillator will not work and the patient dies instead of getting the defibrillation that they needed, or in other cases, cause it to fire when it is not needed.) Well St. Jude shot back by asking that the paper be retracted as it was incorrect. St. Jude also looked at records from the FDA's database and found 377 deaths associated with Medtronic's defibrillor leads (all their leads, not just the one lead that was in the Heart Rhythm paper), but they didn't just stop with touting that number - they went ahead and put all 377 records on their website and then sent out a press release to let everyone know what they thought the numbers should be.

In the mean time, the request from St. Jude for retraction of the paper that started this brouhaha has been denied. I'm not sure how this is all going to exactly end, but let's just note that the lawyers have not been involved. Yet.

Publishing Research and Music

So what if publishing research articles became more like publishing music?

When a garage band is first starting, they are desperate for anyone to listen to them, so they perform for free and give their music away. Once things start to click, then they start to think about money. They sign the coveted record contract where they assign copyright to the label and get a royalty payment for each CD sold. They also start charging admissions for shows. And if they hit the big time, then their music is pirated and they make all their money by selling out arenas for hundreds of dollars per ticket.

What if a similar business model existed for researchers? You wouldn't have the long-term record/publishing contract, but you would still have (as we currently do) assignment of copyright to the publisher. Just like a garage band, young researchers are desperate for anyone to read (and cite) their work, so they would be content with making no royalties. When they get established, then they could consider getting a royalty for copies of their papers. And if they win the Nobel prize, their papers would be pirated and they could charge admission to their talks. (Ever tried to squeeze into the room where a Nobel Laureate is about to talk? They could charge admission and still have a packed room.)

Now where to roadies and groupies fit into this scheme?



Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Freeing Science from Politics - Nice Idea, but...

Chemical and Engineering News is reporting that 17 different US government agencies are releasing policies designed to protect the research within their agencies from political tampering.
"Policies aimed at protecting science from political interference have been finalized by 17 federal agencies three years after President Barack Obama called for reforms 'to restore science to its rightful place.'"
I am fully in support of such efforts, but I don't believe for a second that this will prevent any politician from politicizing science.

Science is a human effort. The experiments are designed by humans, executed by humans, analyzed by humans and interpreted by humans. After all this, the results are used by humans to achieve certain ends. And as well all know too well, humans are completely infallible beings of superior intelligence that are able to remove all irrational behavior from their beings, or at least when they are doing science [*].

While that last sentence is completely false, that is how much of the public views science - as a flawless activity that is never wrong. Yet we all know otherwise. The biggest weakness of science is near the end of the design/execute/analyze/interpret sequence is at the very end: interpretation of an experiment. Much effort has been devoted to removing human flaws from the first 3 steps, but that last step - interpretation - is, has been and probably always will be the weak link. Different people can honestly look at results in completely different ways. The peer-review process understands this. Reviewers seldom look at a paper with an eye towards questioning the integrity of the researcher - they are instead largely attempting to make sure that the interpretation provided can be supported by the evidence and that other interpretations are ruled out or at least considered.

Further, I also see the view of infallibility in science as an underlying assumption for these new regulations. "If only we would leave the scientists alone, then they could work without any external influence, and we would get the TRUE answers we seek." No. Such an environment will change nothing. Even after an un-influenced report is issued, the results can and will be rightfully challenged by any and all parties on the outside. This is how is how science works. This is how it should be.

While I generally am suspicious of the ability of politicians to legitimately questions scientific results, they will still be free to do so, and it really won't stop them from politicizing the results. Unlike scientists, politicians (at least at the national level) have little regards for facts and instead are looking to score points with constituents, voters and supporters so that they can get reelected. Sure that sounds like nothing more than over-the-top cynicism, but there is research to support it . With the internet, fact checking is easier than ever, but has that ever really stopped politicians from saying anything to get reelected? If anything, there are more lies being told than ever before. Politicians are going to keep politicizing science as long as there is something to be gained from it. The only way to prevent it is to keep the results secret and out of their hands, and that is completely unacceptable to all.

So while I support the new rules, the only positive outcome that I see will be that it should make life a little easier for the researchers as they shouldn't have such direct "concern" and "interest" and "tacit influence" over their work. Being a researcher myself, I can sympathize with them. But "restoring science to its rightful place"? Nope, ain't gonna happen.


[*]And since I'm laying it on really thick, let me further state that chemical engineers are paragons of this level of perfection, achieving levels that all others can't even dream of.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Potpurri

Some random musings:
  • Nylons were originally inspired by proteins - both have polyamide linkages along their backbones which are made during the polymerization steps either biologically or synthetically. Most nylons have straight hydrocarbons between these linkages while the proteins have 20 different side arms, one for each of the 20 essential amino acids. If you were to prepare a nylon using α-amino carboxylic acids, you would end up with a nylon-2, a very rare entity indeed. Here's the structure of protein and nylon-6 for comparison:
    The Rx are the various moieties in the amino acids that are tabulated elsewhere.
  • 50+% market share is pretty rare, but does occur if you have a really good product. Two examples that I ran across recently were toothbrushes and sunscreen. In both cases, the 50+% market share was actually that of suppliers to the end product, rather than the end products themselves. Specifically, half the tooth brushes are made on machines made by the Zahoransky Group in Germany and half the sunscreens sold have UV absorbers made by BASF.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Poorly Posed Concerns about Chemical Safety

The Easter weekend is over and I'm still full of thoughts about that lousy review that my latest SBIR grant received. Lousy not because it was rejected, as I know that these are very competitive grants. I'm still ticked about the chemophobia that was on display, but that's already been discussed . What still has me upset are the comments made about safety [*], but I'm beginning to recognize that these comments reflect a larger concern that I've discussed in the recent past.

What I find in the reviewers comments is the common thought that it is only the toxicity of chemicals that makes them dangerous and all other aspects do not.

Look at it this way: Suppose we had only proposed working with flammable solvents instead of isocyanates. I can't imagine that there would have been any comments made from the review about safety concerns, yet we all know that a 4-liter bottle of toluene can easily ignite a large fire that could destroy the building, possibly leading to injuries and deaths among the employees here. Isocyanates can't do that, as they are not that flammable. Would a reviewer ever express safety concerns that we were using toluene? No. So then does that mean we can then ignore flammability?

Or let's dispense with the liquid chemicals entirely and imagine that we were only working with pre-existing polymers such as polyethylene. No one is concerned about the toxicity of a handful of polyethylene pellets, but when you have Gaylords (1100 lb boxes) stacked 4 high, you have a real concern. Why? Because 3-high is the limit. But even that is overly simplistic as the 3-high rule only applies when the containers are in good condition, which means that you trust the operators and fork lift drivers to have good judgement.
An employee crushed by a falling gaylord is just as dead as one that sucked in a toxic amount of cyanide gas. But would any reviewer would ever express concerns along those lines of making sure that we stacked gaylords correctly? Why not?

Chemical safety is multifaceted. You cannot just focus on toxicity. You cannot just focus on flammability. You have to look at all aspects of a material and be concerned about all the potential hazards which in many cases, particularly on an industrial scale, can be physical. As such, the reviewer has entirely misplaced concerns about our proposal.

A few weeks back, I was upset about the question that was proposed on the Safety Zone blog: "What is the most dangerous chemical you've handled?". That question reinforces this notion that acute toxicity is the only aspect of danger associated with chemicals. The review of our grant showed the pervasiveness of that attitude. As scientists and engineers, we can and should know better.

This is more than just a concern for technical people however, for if we can't look at and intelligently discuss the multifaceted nature of safety, can we really expect the general public to be any better? Can we really be disappointed in them when they express irrational fear of minute aspects of a certain chemicals and completely overlook more common dangers? We need to do better before we can expect better from the public.



[*] I proposed working with isocynates to created some novel polyurethanes, a material that we as a company work with on both a lab and production scale. One reviewer was greatly concerned about their toxicity and that "no safety precautions are mention [sic]"

Friday, April 06, 2012

Chemophobia - from a grant reviewer?

My latest SBIR grant got shot down. Fine, it happens, there will be more opportunities in the future, but I received the reviewers comments yesterday and am still pulling my hair out when I read this:
"Isocyanates are very air sensitive and very toxic. No safety precautions are mentions [sic]."
Isocyanates are air sensitive?!?!?!?!?!?!? No wait, they are very air sensitive. Where did that come from? Sure I can imagine an air sensitive isocyanate (just tack an -NCO group onto an existing air-sensitive material), but the statement is a broad generalization that is completely wrong. Worse, I can't imagine where someone got that idea from other than straight out chemophobia.

As for the second statement, toxicity cannot ever be described across a group of chemicals as broad as isocyanates, and the usual concern with them is the irritation that they cause to the eye and lungs, not their ability to kill someone (unless the irritation becomes extreme). TDI (toluene diisocyanate) has a particularly bad safety profile, but it is not the only isocyanate out there. The very existence of billions of pounds of polyurethanes in all aspects of our lives (foams, coatings, sponges, bowling balls and more) shows that these chemicals can be handled safely for the benefit of all.

As for the last sentence, ("no safety precautions are mentions [sic]"), the proposals are not requested to discuss safety. I could see doing so if we were working with unusually hazardous materials (explosives, nerve gases...) but that is not the case here unless chemophobia is kicking in and isocyanates are now considered as such. But furthermore, the reviews stated that the "PI has adequate qualifications" and that Aspen Research "has worked on worked on similar projects previously" [*] and "have sufficient expertise to conduct the research" contradicts all that.

I am aghast that someone with such ignorance and chemophobia would be reviewing chemistry proposals. Has anyone else ever seen this?

[*] We work with isocyanates several times a year manufacturing materials for outside clients on a production scale, not just a labs scale.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Bicycles and Bicyclic Molecules

Long time readers will know that I passionately follow bicycle racing [*]. Today over at The Chemistry Blog, I have a guest post there where you get to see what I think about when I see a bicyclic molecule. Just a hint of what you'll find: when I raced bicycles, I was involved in lots of crashes that busted open lots of wheels. I'm not racing anymore, but I'm still thinking about busting open wheels and other circular objects.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

BPA lives to fight another day

Late last week, the FDA rejected a petition from the Natural Resource Defense Council to ban the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics and food can coatings. The long and short of it was that the petition was not convincing enough for the FDA to reverse its current position (one that is also consistent with European Food Safety Authority).

The decision was controversial, but such is the age we live in where science and technology is so highly politicized. Reaction from some quarters has been pretty extreme. Consider this headline from the Environmental Working Group (EWG): "FDA Keeps Toxic Plastic Chemical in Food, Infant Formula" Toxic? Really? I've seen lots of charges made about potential unhealthy aspects of BPA, including cancer, diabetes, endocrine disruption, obesity, and more, but not death, especially with oral LD50 values in the g/kg range. So how is it now considered toxic? Or is this an attempt to alter the meaning of toxic?

The bottom line is that BPA, and polycarbonate and BPA-glycidyl epoxies and a whole host of other polymers are going to be here for quite a while. The business community is certainly not giving up on it. Sabic and Sinopec announced today that they are forming a joint venture for a new polycarbonate plant in China, one that is going to cost $1.7 billion dollars, a pretty serious investment for the future.



Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Rule 34 of Polymer Chemistry

There was a brief mention this past weekend [1] on Twitter of Rule 34 of the Internet [2], but in this case, it was Rule 34 of (Polymer) Chemistry: "If it exists, there's a polymer of it." Pretty funny, with obvious limitations. Just glad that I don't have to try and polymerize 2-butene.

[1] Hasan Arslan
[2] Not familiar with Rule 34 of the Internet? Yeah, I had to Google it as well. "If it exists, porn has been made about it."

Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Trump Journal of Science

The ongoing battle over open access vs. journal subscriptions took an unexpected turn today with the announcement of an new, extremely-exclusive, scientific journal. "Trump, An Elite Science Journal" released issue number 1 today, the cover of which is seen here.

Standing in front of the newly established Trump Institute for Advanced Studies located in Trump City, Mr. Trump stated, "There is no way in the world that this journal would ever do anything as trashy as being open access. The name "Trump" has always implied the best of everything, whether it is Trump water, Trump vodka or Trump Bull Manure. No, this journal will be the most exclusive in the world. You must be a Nobel Prize winner to be authorized as either an author or a subscriber. The best always is exclusive."

The Donald is the Editor-in-Chief of the new journal. He stated "I tried to find someone else to run it, but I couldn't find another editor that was willing to kowtow to me in the manner that I am accustomed to. You know how on my #1 TV show, "The Apprentice" everyone calls me "Mr. Trump" and never Donald? Well, I insisted that the editor call me "Doctor Trump" since I now have an Honorary Doctorate from some little school in Scotland or somewhere like that, but I couldn't find anyone willing to do that. Not even Stuart Cantrill or Neil Withers from Nature Chemistry. The nerve of those guys. Why they can go pound vegemite scones up their haggis for all I care! And that no-good Chemjobber is more useless than a perforated Schlenk line in helping to find someone for the job. What an awful recruiter he is." When reminded that CJ is not a recruiter, but in fact a working chemist, Mr. Trump stated, "Well that settles it. He's fired!", while performing his characteristic snake-strike hand gesture.

Donald Doc finished by stating, "To those of you who think open access is the wave of the future, all I can say is 'Aw Phooey'", before waddling off the stage.