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August 24, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 34


Letters to the editor

Spectrometry versus spectroscopy

The cover of C&EN's May 28, 2018, issue, which shows a mini mass spectrometer in the palm of someone's hand.
Credit: PerkinElmer

I carefully read all the articles on shrinking mass spectrometers and think they were very good and well presented.

However, what ruined it for me was the announcement for the cover story (C&EN, May 28, page 36) in the table of contents. Irregardless [sic] of what the confused minds of the C&EN production staff may think, there ain’t [sic] no such thing as mass spectroscopy. As you well know, spectroscopy involves the study of the absorption or transmission of energy associated with the electromagnetic spectrum. There is no such thing associated with mass spectrometry. All spectroscopies are spectrometries, but all spectrometries are not spectroscopies.

The reason I make an issue of this is that I feel it is important to use good communication in science and correct terms. This is why you would never see a scientific peer-reviewed article with “ain’t” or “irregardless” in it.

O. David Sparkman
Antioch, Calif.

Editor’s note: Brackets in original.

Plastic in biomanufacturing

Your report of the work by Jonathan Bones and colleagues concerning compounds released from plastic bags treated with solvent (C&EN, July 16, page 8) reminded me of an experience with plasticizers released from plastic bags by water.

I was a member of a group examining peptides in the dermal glands of Australian frogs. Freshly caught frogs were put into new plastic bags and about 10 mL of water added to prevent dehydration. The bag was inflated with exhaled air and then sealed.

In the lab, peptides were released from the dermal glands by weak electrical stimulation applied to the surface. Fast atom bombardment mass spectrometry revealed contaminants identified as the plasticizers dioctyl phthalate and dioctyl adipate. This experience caused us to discontinue the use of plastic bags and use linen bags as a substitute.

Michael J. Tyler
Adelaide, Australia

Discrimination against women

Shame on the authors [of this study]. The solution is not to continue to teach women how to navigate a hostile work environment (C&EN, July 30, page 20). The solution is to change the environment.

Everyone in every department knows who the offenders are. However, if they are awarded significant grant money and are tenured, there is nothing anyone in the institution will do. People at the top will have to agree that the guilty folks will lose grant money and that their institutions will lose grant money and prestige once the offenders are outed.

I am a 60-year-old female chemical engineer. It pains me that nothing has changed since I was at Carnegie Mellon in 1980 earning my master’s degree.

Many of us left the profession with scars on our backs. Don’t pretend you’re going to make a change, do not issue one more survey, unless someone is willing to make change happen. Until the perpetrators of the discrimination are held accountable and lose tenure and lose funding, there is no impetus to change the status quo. Training women chemists to deal with the power brokers on an unfair battlefield will get you nowhere, as has been reproducibly demonstrated.

Revoke tenure, pull grant money, and then see what happens.

Shari Roberts
Renton, Wash.


Problematic advances in chemistry

As a retired chemist, I have noted that some of the great successes of chemists have been converted to defeats by the public and regulatory agencies. An obvious example has been polystyrene foam cups serving as insulated containers so that cold liquids remain cold and hot ones hot. Certainly this invention was met with much praise but now rebuke. A more esoteric example, as cited, is glyphosate, where there was an essential intermediate required to produce the final herbicide. At that time in the late 1960s, a viable commercial process for making the material was not available.

However, while working with similar materials, a chemist under my supervision because of management requirements invented a commercially attractive route to this important intermediate eventually produced in literally billion-pound quantities. Did he deserve credit or did the chemists and engineers deserve condemnation for bringing the product to market as an essential herbicide, now being questioned as harmful to humans? Let the consumer be the judge.

Nelson Marans
New York City


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