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Guest post from Lauren Tedaldi, Sense About Science

Have you noticed plastic products labelled as ‘BPA-free’*, heard that Coca-Cola recently removed a specific vegetable oil from its US products** or do you remember the time when there were no blue smarties***? When companies change the way they produce common, long-standing products, we reasonably assume that they have good reasons for doing so: we all know the adage ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ right? In reality, companies can be forced to act on the modified version: ‘If enough people think it’s broken— even if there is no evidence that it is—then you’d better fix it if you want to keep selling it.’

Consumer pressure is a force to be reckoned with. Owing in large part to the internet, consumers now have more access to information than ever before. People can search almost every online discussion ever had about a particular product or additive before making a decision. While this has the potential benefit of making people better informed, the flip-side is that the internet and media are littered with misconceptions, myths and pure fallacies, which come up time and time again. For example, the idea that you can live a ‘chemical-free’ life is used by many food-producers; and ‘natural ingredients’ is used as a synonym for ‘good’ in cosmetics and toiletries. But every single thing you come into contact with is made from chemicals: your book, your iPad, yourself! What’s more, not all naturally occurring substances are good for you: the pesticide strychnine, the highly toxic poison for which there is no antidote, is entirely natural – it’s isolated from the strychnine tree. (more…)

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In the wake of AstraZeneca’s (AZ) stout rebuttal of Pfizer’s overtures to a takeover bid, media all over the place are reporting the ‘disappointing’ news that AZ’s share price has ‘tumbled’. In my opinion this is typical of the short-memory effect that looking at share prices seems to somehow bestow on even some quite sensible people.

Look at the facts and circumstances – AZ has just been subject of speculation over a possible takeover. This inevitably leads to an increase in the share price as speculators look to take advantage of the premium price that any bid is bound to offer, or the rising price in the build-up (partly caused by demand arising from their own speculation).

Once the possibility of that short-term gain is removed – in this case by AZ shutting the door in Pfizer’s face – the price will inevitably go down, as those short-term investors seek to cash in their holdings and go off elsewhere in search of another stock that’s on the rise.

But here’s the important bit. AZ’s share price is still significantly higher than it was in the middle of April, before all this talk started. The only people who have actually lost money are the ones who bought their shares after 25 April, and sold them yesterday or today.

Pfizer (red) and AZ (blue) over the last month (from Google finance)

It is slightly more revealing to look at Pfizer’s share price over the last couple of months, which overall is significantly down. This wasn’t helped by some decidedly mediocre sales figures in the company’s quarterly announcement at the beginning of May. And the further Pfizer’s price falls, the less valuable that combined cash-and-stock offer becomes.

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As well as sponsoring the prize for the best poster at ISACS13, this July, Chemistry World is also sponsoring prizes at two more events in the series, ISACS14 and ISACS15!

Challenges in Organic Chemistry, ISACS14, to be held in Shanghai, China, this August, follows the success of ISACS1, in 2010, and ISACS7, in 2012, and will feature experts in the field of organic chemistry and synthesis.

Two weeks after ISACS14, Challenges in Nanoscience, ISACS15, is taking place in San Diego in the US. It will bring together scientists from across the world to discuss the latest advances in nanoscience and will encompass a broad range of disciplines, including chemistry, biology, physics and engineering.

Talks from leading experts in both fields are complimented by extensive poster sessions that will provide many networking opportunities.  To take advantage of this opportunity to showcase your latest research alongside leading scientists submit your poster abstract by 2 June for ISACS 14 and by 9 June for ISACS15. The winning poster will be chosen by the ISACS scientific committee and each winner will be awarded a prize of £250 and a Chemistry World mug .

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It’s spring. It’s the end of the financial year for many companies. And it’s the time of year when a lot of them hold annual shareholders’ meetings, so there’s a certain temptation to make announcements that will excite shareholders (or maybe that’s just me being cynical). Some or all of those things may be contributing to the media and rumour mills working overtime about mergers and acquisitions in the pharmaceutical and chemical sectors.

Its a deal

It seems to be open season for pharma deals, but how many of them will actually go through?

For the last few years, things have been rather quiet in terms of pharma megamergers – in which already large companies crash together in the hope of finding ‘efficiency savings’ and ‘synergies’. Most of the more recent deals have been big companies snapping up smaller startups to acquire specific products or technologies that fit with their priorities. A lot of analysts and industry commentators have been making noises along the lines of ‘pharma has learned its lesson: megamergers cause a lot of disruption for not much overall gain’.

But then, in February, consultancy firm McKinsey put out a report that essentially said, ‘you know what, those mergers did actually do something positive, they “resulted in positive returns for shareholders”’. Whether or not this is a good thing for the overall health of the firms, and of their R&D pipelines is another discussion entirely.

(more…)

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On the 24th of June this year, Chemistry World will be presenting a prize for an outstanding poster during the 3rd Royal Society of Chemistry Younger Members Symposium (YMS2014) at the University of Birmingham in the UK.

YMS2014 is a one-day event organised by the RSC Younger Members Network. This interdisciplinary symposium aims to provide young chemists with the opportunity to present at a major national conference, as well as the chance to network with their peers and to find out about the latest advances across the chemical sciences. Professor Lesley Yellowlees (President of the Royal Society of Chemistry) and Professor Alice Roberts (Head of Public Engagement at the University of Birmingham) will be giving keynote lectures at the conference.

Early-career chemists from all disciplines are invited to register and submit abstracts for oral and poster presentations. Posters should have a clear scientific rationale and present the author’s latest work. They will be judged on the quality and originality of the work as well the presentation skills of the author, with special emphasis on their ability to communicate their work to non-experts from other disciplines.

There will be four parallel sessions: Education & Outreach, Organic & Biochemistry, Physical & Analytical and Inorganic & Materials. Chemistry World is proud to be sponsoring the poster prize for the Inorganic & Materials category. I’ll be judging the prize alongside a select committee and the winner will receive £150, with £100 and £50 going to the runners up. Winners in this category will also receive a Chemistry World mug and a copy of The case of the poisonous socks by William H Brock.

To register for the conference, visit this page: rsc.li/NzUB06 

We look forward to reviewing your posters.

Jennifer Newton

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Mid-March is one of my favourite times of the year: the days are getting longer, I can start hanging my washing outside and Cambridge is buzzing from its annual science festival.

With over 250 events across the two weeks, it was difficult to decide what to attend but I tried to squeeze in as much as I could. Here are some of my highlights from the first week:

On Monday, Tim Radford chaired a discussion between Patrica Fara, Rosie Bolton and Gerry Gilmore asking ‘What’s new in space?’ The answer? A 1 billion pixel camera aboard the Gaia satellite, which was launched at the end of last year. Back on the ground, there’s the Square Kilometre Array, a project that is set to start building thousands of 15m wide radio dishes across two sites in the southern hemisphere from 2018. So we’ll be obtaining a lot of data – big data – but rather than answering questions, the panel said that scientists first need to figure out the right questions to ask.

Wednesday saw Molly Stevens, of Imperial College London, deliver the annual WiSETI lecture. She combined a fascinating account of her unusual career path, which she described as a series of lucky events and accidents, with an overview of the exciting research going on in her group. Rather than a general call for science to improve the way it approaches women with children, Stevens explained the practicalities of how she actually did it. Her group must be the epitomy of multidisciplinary research, containing engineers, surgeons, chemists and mathematicians. She described some interesting work they published last year where they used nano-analytical electron microscopy techniques to visualise calcific lesions around heart valves, aortae and coronary arteries to better understand the pathophysiological processes underlying cardiovascular disease.

A penguin made from crystals on the Royal Society of Chemistry stand

It was an early start on Saturday to fit in a couple of hours on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s stand in the chemistry department. We had some fantastic experiments this year. One was based on a scenario where a famous painting has been stolen from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The ‘thief’ had left a note at the scene saying that they plan to strike again, so the children were tasked with using chromatography to analyse pens from the top three suspects and match it to the ink in the note. It turns out the culprit was Leonardo da Pinchi (teehee).

 The festival is still running this weekend so do go and check it out.

Jennifer Newton

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Earlier this month the 2013 Chemistry World science communication competition reached its conclusion. Now in its second year, the competition attracted around 100 entries from every corner of the world. The quality of the entries was outstanding and we are delighted that so many chose to take part and share their interpretations of openness in science. Thanks to everyone who submitted an entry.

We whittled the entries down to a shortlist of 10, and these finalists were invited along to the Royal Society of Chemistry’s London office, Burlington House, to attend a prize giving event organised by one of our sponsors (AkzoNobel). They were also asked to pitch their stories to the audience, which included members of the press, representatives of industry and a selection of academics.

I was one of the judges, along with some very illustrious names: Adam Hart Davis, Quentin Cooper, Lesley Yellowlees, Philip Ball, Samantha Tang, David Jakubovic (chair).

After much deliberation the decision was as follows: (more…)

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The Pittsburgh Conference, or PittCon as it’s affectionately known, is one of the biggest lab equipment trade fairs on the planet. There are hundreds of exhibitors dazzling audiences with their latest shiny new instruments.

Everything is that little bit better, faster, more reliable than the competition in some way or another, and as a self-confessed amateur when it comes to most of this kit, it can be hard to see through the spiel to find out what’s really groundbreaking. But a few little things have caught my eye on my wander around the exhibition hall. (more…)

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We’re running a series of guest posts from the judges of the 2013 Chemistry World science communication competition. In this, the first of the series, we hear from Sam Tang, public awareness scientist at the University of Nottingham.

 

The phrase ‘openness in science’ offers a variety of meanings. For me, as a science communicator, I feel openness describes how we communicate science to the public and the media.

I like to think we’ve come a long way in making science more open and accessible, and over the last nine years, I’ve seen science communication evolve from being a fringe activity that only a handful of volunteers gave their time to do (and, dare I say it, were looked down upon for partaking), to becoming an embedded activity in universities across the UK. Type ‘science communication’ into Google and it becomes apparent that it is now a discipline in its own right: a wealth of pages appear, from masters courses to conferences, jobs in the field, even a Wikipedia entry. (more…)

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It takes a certain type of person to take an idea and turn it into a successful company, and this is as true in the chemical sciences as in any other endeavour. In fact, a successful chemistry spin-out may be even more special – most inventions and new technologies don’t face the ‘valley of death’ that often separates the university lab bench from the commercial marketplace. The dragons of the den may understand the appeal of a well-branded and marketed jerk chicken sauce, but far fewer people have the insight to see the potential in chromatin modifying enzymes, haemolysin nanopores or spherical nucleic acids.

To celebrate those people who do see this potential (and whose vision so contagious they can get the support they need), we have the Chemistry World Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

The award recognises an individual’s contribution to the commercialisation of research, and so is open to anyone who has started or contributed to the growth of a start-up company. We’re looking for someone who has built a collection of intellectual property for the company and has developed new products that have reached the market recently or will do in the near future. The prize includes £4000, a trophy and a feature in Chemistry World. (more…)

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