Not that Noble

From Justus Liebigs Annalen der Chemie in 1856…

Either this chap was publishing under a not-terribly-creative pseudonym, or someone at the editorial office got a bit confused…

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I did a Nobel thing…

It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future – so said Niels Bohr (or maybe Yogi Berra, or Mark Twain or… boy, it’s hard to track down who *really* said something…).

Anyway, @carmendrahl and @laurenkwolf from @cenmag were kind enough to invite me to join a Hangout with @NeilWithers from @ChemistryWorld, David Pendlebury from @ThomsonReuters and @lilaguterman from @ScienceNews. It was hugely enjoyable and here’s the end result:

In the lead-up to the Hangout I figured I should put some thought into who I was going to name as my 2014 pick for the prize – I ended up with two pages of notes… (the scribbled-out stuff at the bottom of page 2 are notes that I made in the few minutes prior to the Hangout going live).

IMG_6403  IMG_6404

As I was trying to whittle down my shortlist to one particular pick, I put asterisks next to the ones that I liked the look of more than the others (I didn’t bother putting one next to Goodenough because I knew that this would be Neil’s choice). And when put on the spot by Carmen, I plumped for Grätzel…

The Hangout prompted a number of questions and comments on Twitter (you can find them by searching for #chemnobel), but here’s my favourite response to the 2-page shortlist that I’d put together.

And as Nobel-week begins, Rudy Baum (@cenbaum) has penned an editorial that rounds-up everyone’s picks from the Hangout. Come Wednesday, we’ll know if any of us got lucky and picked the winner!

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100 chemists on Twitter

This is not a list of the top 100 chemists on Twitter. For a start, I’m not really comfortable defining ‘top’. Most followers? Most tweets? Shiniest avatar? Funniest bio? Most well-known in the real world? (Define ‘well-known’ and ‘real world’, go on, I dare you). Secondly, not everyone on this list is necessarily a card-carrying chemist, but they are all people who, more often than not, have something to say on Twitter about chemistry in all its many guises.

This is essentially a starter pack for those interested in hearing about some chemistry on Twitter (and was, perhaps obviously, inspired by the list that Science put out last week that didn’t have any chemists on it, amongst other problems…). I started writing down names and kept going until I got to 100. As with any list, its content is biased by the person who created it (me, so in this case you’ll find lots of journalists, editors and others that I regularly interact with on Twitter) and is woefully incomplete. I have no doubt that there are significant omissions; but 100 is a nice round number and so I stopped there (I also have a day job). Feel free to leave comments, including the names of your favourite chemtweeps that I have inevitably missed, and to criticize, analyze and deconstruct this list to your heart’s content. Also let me know if any links are wrong/broken.

There were some parameters though. I haven’t chosen any organizations, publications or research groups – I’ve tried to limit it to individuals. However, if you want to get lots of chemistry on Twitter, I do highly recommend @cenmag, @ChemistryWorld, @RealTimeChem, @periodicvideos and @NatureChemistry (FYI, I’m the editor of that last one, so might be a teeny bit biased). I also haven’t included any of the chemists who currently work on the journal, so apologies to @stephengdavey, @HansellThe, @RussJKJohnson, @NChemGav and @anneintokyo.

The list below is in alphabetical order of Twitter @names (well played @_byronmiller) and can be found as a list on Twitter here.

_byronmillerAndrew (@_byronmiller)
Follow for chemistry and bad puns. Retweets do not imply endorsement.

alexfgoldbergAlex Goldberg (@AlexFGoldberg)
Synthetic Chemist; Green Chem. @Queensu grad, @Caltech phd, @WeizmannScience postdoc. Who’s hiring?

annamappAnna Mapp (@AnnaMapp)
Chemical biologist

ashworthSHStephen H. Ashworth (@AshworthSH)
Works at a university. Teaches some chemistry.

awtaylor83Alasdair Taylor (@AWTaylor83)
Green chemist caring about the planet. Writes on chemistry, sustainability, policy & Higher Ed on my own blog, @medium & elsewhere

azaprinsFreda (@AzaPrins)
Every reaction needs a bit of TLC.

azmanamazmanam (@azmanam)
Earned my PhD from the UNC-Chapel Hill in synthetic organic chemistry. I am currently teaching organic chemistry at a midwestern Liberal Arts university.

barneygrubbsBarney Grubbs (@barneygrubbs)
Polymer Chemist at Stony Brook & Brookhaven National Lab.

bellatronicDr Bella (@bellatronic)
Organic chemist, expat, cat friend and reformed chocoholic. Patent attorney in training. President of Women in Chemistry. Views mine very own.

beth_halfordBethany Halford (@beth_halford)
Science writer. Expert pie maker.

bibianacamposBibiana (@BibianaCampos)
Magazines Publisher and Editor of @ChemistryWorld at the Royal Society of Chemistry

bstockwellBrent Stockwell (@bstockwell)
Professor of biology/chemistry at Columbia University, and author of The Quest for the Cure: The Science and Stories Behind the Next Generation of Medicines

carmendrahlCarmen Drahl (@carmendrahl)
Science reporter @cenmag. Chemistry PhD. Co-host of #speakingofchem chemistry show. Follow me for the latest in chemistry. Views my own.

carolynbertozziCarolyn Bertozzi (@CarolynBertozzi)
(No Twitter bio, but here’s a link Bertozzi’s faculty page)

caverkatKat Badiola (@CaverKat)
Another chemistry doer in @mattoddchem’s lab @Sydney_Uni

chembarkChemBark (@ChemBark)
News, Analysis, and Commentary for the World of Chemistry and Chemical Research. The site is maintained by Paul Bracher.

chemconnectorChemConnector (@ChemConnector)
I’m the ChemConnector – connecting chemists and curating data across the internet.

chemicalbiologyACS Chemical Biology (@ChemicalBiology)
ACS Chemical Biology Editor and UW-Madison Prof Chem Biochem

chemistinjapanJason Hoshikawa (@chemistinjapan)
Organometallic/Polymer Chemist – 1st year PhD student at Kyoto University. Tweets are my own. 有機金属・ポリマー化学、京都大学でのD1です。 ACS, CSJ, AXΣ (BH)

chemjobberChemjobber (@Chemjobber)
1. A blog to help chemists find jobs in a tough market. 2. Towards a quantitative understanding of the quality of the chemistry job market

chemprofcramerActivatedlyCömplex (@ChemProfCramer)
UMN Prof of Chemistry & Assoc Dean. Army vet. MOOC vet. Dad of 3. Downtown Minneapolitan. Singer/Whistler. Armed with a keyboard and eerily immune to shame.

chemtipsBrandon Findlay (@Chemtips)
I blog chemistry tips and career advice. Because chemistry is hard enough.

christhechangChris Chang (@christhechang)
(No Twitter bio, but here’s a link Chang’s faculty page)

chronicleflaskKat Day (@chronicleflask)
Chemist(ry teacher), writer and blogger (advancing), potter (dabbler), balloon modeller (this week) bookworm (total) and mum (just out of apprentice stage).

claireeeyersClaire Eyers (@ClaireEEyers)
Wondering about the world.

commonchemistJennifer Novotney (@CommonChemist)
Chemistry communicator interfacing science and society

curiouswavefnCurious Wavefunction (@curiouswavefn)
Ashutosh (Ash) Jogalekar: Chemist and drug discovery scientist interested in the history and philosophy of science. RTs not endorsements.

davidkrollDavid J Kroll (@davidkroll)
Pharmacologist, science & medicine freelance writer, speaker, educator. Drugs from nature, drug safety, interactions. Science & journalism diversity advocate.

deborahblumDeborah Blum (@deborahblum)
Book author (The Poisoner’s Handbook). Blogger (Wired Science). Journalist. Professor (The University of Wisconsin). Chemistry Geek (Total).

declanflemingDeclan Fleming (@declanfleming)
RSC School Teacher Fellow (Bath Uni), Chemistry Teacher, Science Communicator, Photographer, Paraglider

derekloweDerek Lowe (@Dereklowe)
Drug discovery chemist and blogger

devillesySylvain Deville (@DevilleSy)
Bioinspired #CNRS researcher. Serial-freezer. Coffee drinker.

dichtelWill Dichtel (@Dichtel)
Associate Professor of Chemistry at Cornell University.

docfreerideJanet D. Stemwedel (@docfreeride)
Philosopher, lapsed chemist. I also blog @

dr_ghillGrant Hill (@Dr_GHill)
Chemistry Lecturer at the University of Sheffield. My research is in the field of theoretical/computational chemistry.

drrubidiumRaychelle Burks (@DrRubidium)
Analytical chemist. Left Coaster in the No Coast Zone. Sarcastic & silly, abides social morays. Near meaningless disclaimer: tweets = personal ≠ professional.

drstellingDr. Allison Stelling (@DrStelling)
BA Chemistry (Reed College, OR) PhD Physical/Analytical Chemistry (Stony Brook University, NY) Research in brain tumor diagnostics (Germany)

emilyreactsEmily James (@emilyreacts)
‘Fun, lovable chemistry nerd.’ Formerly @chemistryworld, @RSC_Diversity. Tweets her PhD one day at a time via #TweetmyPhD. Plays roller derby. Eats vegan food.

emmastoyeEmma Stoye (@emmastoye)
Science correspondent at @ChemistryWorld. Journal-ising chem research & science policy. Views mine etc…

fluorogrolfluorogrol (@fluorogrol)
Organic chemist and editor. Enjoys pedantry, punctuation, and complex polycycles. European Chemical Sciences Correspondent for @CEN_Onion. Blogs intermittently.

free_radical1Free Radical (@Free_radical1)
Godless Commie Fur-ner Scientist

funsizesuzeDr Suze Kundu (@FunSizeSuze)
Nanochemist, literally and professionally. Teaching Fellow @IC_Materials. Science presenter. Love dancing / gigs / Muse / shoes. #BBCExpertWomen Tweets mine.

fxcoudertFX Coudert (@fxcoudert)
Physical chemist, experimentalist in silico & all-around hacker @ CNRS / Chimie ParisTech

innocentwalZoë Waller (@InnocentWal)
Lecturing. Chemistry. Pharmacy. DNA. Research. Cycling. Commuting. Molecule of the day. Legs. Shoes. Dresses. Cats. Dermatographia… Preferably all at once.

jakeyestonJake Yeston (@IJakeYeston)
Deputy editor at @sciencemagazine, shepherding chemistry papers (views here all my own)

jaspevacekJohn Spevacek (@jaspevacek)
Polymer Chemistry, Physics and Rheology.

jburiakJillian Buriak (@JBuriak)
Professor of Chemistry, University of Alberta and the National Institute for Nanotechnology, Editor-in-Chief of Chemistry of Materials (ACS), running addict

jendtweetingJen Dougan (@JenDtweeting)
Human being, PhD, Chemist. Formerly of @unistrathclyde, @nanometchem, @RSC_Roadmap & @imperialcollege. Not a fan of mornings.

jessthechemistJess (@JessTheChemist)
Ex-chemistry post doc. Doting auntie. Board gamer. Identical twin. Squash player. All opinions my own etc.

jesswynn93Jessica Wynn (@jesswynn93)
Fourth year chemistry student at York Uni. Aspiring science communicator. Radio person. Geek. Feminist. Bisexual. Activist. Lefty.

jkemsleyJyllian Kemsley (@jkemsley)
Science reporter @cenmag. Views my own.

kara_l_brenKara Bren (@Kara_L_Bren)
Chemistry Professor @ U of Rochester. Loves transition metals, dogs, and travel

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKarl D Collins (@karlDcollins)
Chemist/teacher/blogger-opinions my own

kateybirtcherKatey Birtcher (@KateyBirtcher)
Sr Books Editor for #Chemistry at Elsevier & Academic Press. Wannabe foodie, successful wine enthusiast, intermittent runner. Opinions mine.

kayakphilipPhilip Skinner (@KayakPhilip)
Recovering chemist, now promoting scientific software (@ChemDraw, #Spotfire, E-Notebook…) @PKI_Informatics. All opinions my own. WW kayak and MTB for kicks.

kjhaxtonKatherine Haxton (@kjhaxton)
Chemist Herder, Keele Slime Lady, and Polyhedral Oligomeric Silsesquioxane Wrangler. All views are my own and RTs are not endorsements.

l_howesLaura Howes (@L_Howes)
Editor of Science in School. Previously science correspondent for @ChemistryWorld. Musician and OU student in spare time.

l_wang_cenLinda Wang_C&EN (@l_wang_cen)
Multimedia journalist at C&EN who likes to help Chemists and Chem E’s find jobs & grow in their careers. Oh, I also like taking pictures; those are my views.

laurenwolfLauren Wolf (@laurenkwolf)
Science writer for @cenmag. Cohost of #speakingofchem web series. Lover of science quirk. Ocean pee-er. Follow me for #chemistry #neurosci news. Views my own.

leecroninProf. Lee Cronin (@leecronin)
Professor of Chemistry / Nanoscience / Chemical Complexity. Applied work in energy and life science… …aiming for IMPACT beyond the normal reach.

leighjkboernerLeighKrietschBoerner (@LeighJKBoerner)
Writer of sciency things. Chem PhD. Mommy. Science editor of The Sweethome. Wisher. Hoper. Magic bean buyer.

lisamjarvisLisa Jarvis (@lisamjarvis)
#biotech & #pharma reporter for @cenmag. bit ‘o #science, bit ‘o business. interests: drug discovery, evolving R&D models, pharma-academe collabos, #raredisease

marcel_swartMarcel Swart (Eng.) (@Marcel_Swart)
ICREA Research Professor (English version, see @marcelswart for my version en català)

mattoddchemMatthew Todd (@MatToddChem)
I teach and research organic chemistry at the University of Sydney. Open science, catalysis, chirality, tropical diseases. See also @O_S_M

mrjdexterJohn Dexter (@MrJDexter)
Chemistry teacher; SLT member; 11 18 secondary deputy; believer. Views here maybe my own, borrowed or belong to no one.

mustlovescienceTien Nguyen (@MustLoveScience)
Science writer. Communications specialist @Princetonchem. 2014 @Open_Notebook Fellow sponsored by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. Chemistry PhD.

NeilWithersNeil Withers (@NeilWithers)
Features Editor for @ChemistryWorld, so expect chemistry during working hours (views my own tho). Formerly assoc ed on @NatureChemistry.

organometallicaOrganometallica (@Organometallica)
I am a scientist, and I study chemistry. It might involve metals. Tweets might involve chemistry, quite possibly not, though.

pbn2auJohn Arnold (@pbn2au)
Dad, United supporter, chemist

pchirikPaul Chirik (@pchirik)
Edward Sanford Professor of Chemistry Princeton University

peonorPer-Ola Norrby (@PeONor)
Organic chemist; Modeller; Husband; Dad; Apple addict; Singer; Haven’t been in the lab myself since the 80’s… At @AstraZeneca, but opinions my own

perditabPerdita Barran (@PerditaB)
Prof. Mass Spectrometry, Director of the Michael Barber Centre for Collaborative MS, this is personal – or as much as allowed.

peterscott1965Peter Scott (@peterscott1965)
Chemistry prof @warwickuni: chirality, catalysis, bioinorganic. @SyntheticPages, cycling, guitar, golf

profarnoPolly L Arnold (@ProfArno)
Liberty, Equality, Chemistry. and beer.

professor_daveDavid K Smith (@professor_dave)
Academic in York, YouTube chemist, fabulous gay husband of @t_witteringsam & dad-in-waiting. Science, education, politics & general nonsense. Views personal!

rachelpepRachel Pepling (@rachelpep)
Online Editor (aka, overseer of all things digital) for Chemical & Engineering News magazine (@cenmag), but views are my own. For example, Go Gators!

rayschaakRay Schaak (@RaySchaak)
Chemistry Professor at Penn State, Associate Editor of ACS Nano. All views expressed are my own.

reneewebsRenée Webster (@reneewebs)
doing it periodically on the table | header photo ©Kristof Hegedus

robajacksonRob Jackson (@robajackson)
Chemistry/Forensics Academic (Reader), researcher in Computational Solid State Chemistry; blogs on science, politics, music & real ale. Trombone player.

rotwangsrobotKathryn Harkup (@RotwangsRobot)
Science communicator, chemist and vampirologist. Currently writing A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie for @sigmascience

S_J_LancasterSimon Lancaster (@S_J_Lancaster)
Professor of Chemical Education, National Teaching Fellow, MOOC facilitator and cyclist. My tweets are my personal views not those of my institution.

sarahevertssarah everts (@saraheverts)
I’m a journalist who writes about research on art and artifacts, chemistry, sweat science & history. I love photography. My views are mostly landscape.

sci_entsMark Lorch (@Sci_ents)
Chemistry lecturer @uniofhull, science communicator & beekeeper. Blogs at & Fundraising for @ChildrensUni

sciencegeistMatthew Hartings (@sciencegeist)
Chemistry Prof @ American U teaches Chemistry of Cooking & Inorganic. Blogs about chemistry in society & kitchen chemistry. Research site:

seearrohSee Arr Oh (@SeeArrOh)
Chemist interested in reaching out to the wider world about everything science!

SellaTheChemist Andrea Sella (@SellaTheChemist)
Often grumpy chemist at UCL with interests in new materials, showing people chemistry live, and life on a bicycle. Views all my own. Büchner filter is off.

seneskaCharlie (@Seneska)
Scientist, chemistry PhD, knitter, geek. Currently working in academic-industry relations as Impact Co-ordinator. Hilarity still ensues.

serindabbSerin Dabb (@SerinDabb)
Editor at the Royal Society of Chemistry – interested in all things related to scientific data and publishing. And some generic life stuff too. Views my own.

SimonHigginsSimon Higgins (@SimonHiggins_60)
Synthetic chemist, electrochemist, teacher and researcher at Liverpool Uni. All tweets made are personal opinion and have nothing to do with my employer.

spscheungSamantha Cheung (@spscheung)
PhD chemist working in R&D Communications for @Syngenta. Tweeting about #science, #photography, #space, #design, and my life. Views are my own.

supersciencegrlSuperScienceGrl (@SuperScienceGrl)
IIIIIIII’m back, crazy lady. …Let’s get this show on the rhodium!

susanmvickersSusan Vickers (@susanmvickers)
Inorganic materials chemist with a passion for science communication, cooking, buttons & cheese.

syntheticadamAdam (@syntheticadam)
Just another tweeting, soon to be totally synthesising organic chemist. Views my own, the fluffy face isn’t. Apologies for the diversions from Chemistry.

tehshikyoonTehshik Yoon (@TehshikYoon)
Professor of Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison

thecollapsedpsiChad Jones (@TheCollapsedPsi)
Physical Chemist. Podcaster for @Brachiolope. I brag about my kids, deal with it. Tweets are my own (I’m supposed to say that, right?)

tolma001William Tolman (@Tolma001)
Professor and Chair of Department of Chemistry at the University of Minnesota; Editor-in-Chief of Inorganic Chemistry; Dad; bicyclist; fan of Mpls

unstableisotopeUnstable Isotope (@UnstableIsotope)
Easily distracted by shiny objects. Eater of food. Chemist. Cat lap on demand.

v_saggiomoVittorio Saggiomo (@V_Saggiomo)
Holistic Chemist, Nerd, Ukulelist and Gamer, love for complex systems and stupid stuff

wbturnbullBruce Turnbull (@wbturnbull)
Synthetic Chemist – Synthetic Biologist – Scottish Borderer – Delighted to be United – Lots of Cake – Tweeting for myself

wpiburdetteShawn Burdette (@WPIBurdette)
CWRU B.S. ’97 – MIT Ph.D. ’03 – UC Berkeley postdoc 2003-05 – UConn Prof. 2005-11 – NSF CAREER award 2010 – WPI Prof. 2011- Bioinorganic chemist & photochemist

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Animal authors

Earlier today, I noticed that Sylvain Deville had taken to Twitter to point out an unusual canine co-author on a scientific paper:

This, of course, reminded me of the paper published by Andre Geim (in his pre-Nobel days) and H. A. M. S. ter Tisha. Spot anything odd about that last author? Well, it’s a hamster. Called Tisha.

Steph Kerr then followed up on Twitter with this:

So, that’s a dog, a hamster and a cat. Anybody know of any other non-human co-authors on scientific papers?!

UPDATE: Here’s Sylvain’s post on the same topic.

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The heaviest naturally occurring element on Earth?

OK, let’s make sure that we’re clear on the question first. By ‘heaviest’, I mean the element with the largest atomic number. By ‘naturally occurring’, I mean pretend that humans have never existed on this planet (probably would have turned out much nicer, eh?). Right, you can’t argue about the question anymore, and if you still want to, go and do it somewhere else – all I want now are arguments about the answer.

A lot of people (well, science-y types I guess) when posed with this question will say ‘uranium’.

But hang on, naturally occurring uranium can apparently undergo neutron capture reactions followed by beta decay to produce transuranium elements… but I’m struggling to find (primary) literature sources confirming just how far this process goes. Also note that plutonium is thought to be a primordial element (there might be some on Earth that has been around longer than the Earth itself) – the Nature paper is here and a potential rebuttal is here (thanks to Brett Thornton for pointing this out on Twitter).

After digging around Wikipedia for a while (and lots of the sources it links to), I’m fairly convinced that it is safe to say that neptunium and plutonium are found in nature – in naturally occurring uranium deposits and natural nuclear reactors such as the one found at Oklo in Gabon.

What about the next few elements though? Well, here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Am: A few atoms of americium can be produced by neutron capture reactions and beta decay in very highly concentrated uranium-bearing deposits. [link]

Cm: A few atoms of curium can be produced by neutron capture reactions and beta decay in very highly concentrated uranium-bearing deposits. [link]

Bk: A few atoms of berkelium can be produced by neutron capture reactions and beta decay in very highly concentrated uranium-bearing deposits, thus making it the rarest naturally occurring element. [link]

Cf: Very minute amounts of californium have been found to exist on Earth due to neutron capture reactions and beta decay in very highly-concentrated uranium-bearing deposits. [link]

The Wikipedia page on californium also states that: It is the heaviest element to occur naturally on Earth; heavier elements can only be produced by synthesis.

Notice that the wording for all of these elements is very similar. And they all cite the same (and only) source – John Emsley’s book Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements. I don’t have a copy of Emsley’s book to hand and so I’m still in the dark about primary literature sources to back up these claims (I’m not doubting the book, I’d just like to find the original sources).

When it comes to the next two elements, einsteinium and fermium, Wikipedia notes that: Einsteinium and fermium did occur naturally in the natural nuclear fission reactor at Oklo, but no longer do so.

The source of that claim? Emsley’s book. I really need to get my hands on a copy.

In fact, the Wikipedia articles kinda contradict themselves (I think). They say that einsteinium and fermium did occur in the Oklo reactor at some point, but each article also states that: Synthesis of einsteinium/fermium from naturally occurring actinides uranium and thorium in the Earth crust (sic) requires multiple neutron capture, which is an extremely unlikely event.

So, how far does neutron capture get you in nature? As far as fermium or not past plutonium?

I’ve kinda had this debate before (see here and here), but it was focused more on the number of naturally occurring elements, not the heaviest. Looking back at those posts does remind me to point out this link that states: All six of these elements (93-98) have been found in very small amounts in samples of uranium-rich pitchblende. Alas, there is no primary source to back up that claim either.

So, what is the heaviest element that has shown up on this notional human-free Earth that I’ve dreamed up? I think I’m sticking with plutonium for now, until someone points me in the direction of a literature source that says otherwise.

UPDATE: this pdf prepared by Argonne National Lab a few years back seems to suggest that anything above uranium does not occur naturally… but includes confusing phrases such as:

Although neptunium is essentially not naturally present in the environment, very minute amounts may be associated with uranium ores (huh, so does it occur naturally or not?!)


Essentially all the plutonium on earth has been created within the past six decades by human activities involving fissionable materials (but it does mention the Oklo reactor…)

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The molecular TIE fighter

Where did the inspiration for the TIE fighters in Star Wars come from? Well, we surely can’t rule out that George Lucas read this Zeitschrift für anorganische und allgemeine Chemie paper from 1953 and was particularly struck by the following figure…


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How the job market used to work…

For reasons that will become apparent in a few months (it’s not that exciting), I have spent a lot of today looking at papers associated with the discovery and early structural studies of ferrocene. I have come across wonderful footnotes (and notices) in some journals. Below is one from the Journal of Organometallic Chemistry that I thought I’d share. It’s from an article by Peter Pauson recounting how the story of ferrocene all began. If only it was so easy to get a job these days…! I’ll try and share a few more of these footnotes/notices if I get a chance.


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