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Chemical twists on gardening and portraiture

by Linda Wang
September 23, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 37


Succulents for stress relief

Photo of a succulent growing in a beaker.
Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN
Gone to pot: Beakers make good succulent containers.

Jenna Franke got her first succulent plant in 2015 when she was in her second year of graduate school in chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. Then she got a few more.

It turns out that the drought-resistant plants make perfect housemates. “They are low maintenance compared to other plants, and even a busy graduate student can keep them alive,” Franke tells Newscripts. “It gave me a lot of satisfaction to see them growing and thriving.”

One day, she decided to plant one of her succulents in a beaker, and her fledgling business, Science & Succulents, was born. “It really started with me giving them as gifts to friends. And then people at Berkeley would come up to me and be like, ‘Hey, I really want one!’ ”

Since creating the Twitter account @SciSucculents this past May, Franke has sold about three dozen succulent beaker kits. She says that nurturing a small business while she was in graduate school was not only a creative outlet, but also a stress reliever.

“When I was writing my dissertation, there would be times where I just needed a break after 4 or 5 straight hours of writing,” she says. “So that was the perfect time to do a quick trip to the nursery, pick out some new plants, and assemble a kit or two.”

Franke recently started a job as a research scientist at Gilead Sciences and has begun spreading her passion for succulents among her coworkers. They now have a small collection of the decorative plants, but one holds a special place in Franke’s heart. That’s her succulent Chad, which she says “has given me a lot of joy through some pretty trying times” in graduate school. Reach Science & Succulents at


Photo of Jenna Franke with her succulent collection.
Credit: James Judge
Green thumb: Jenna Franke shows off her succulent collection.


ChemDraw as a creative outlet

Photo and image of Katie Doran.
Credit: Courtesy of Katie Doran
ChemDraw doodle: Katie Doran's self-portrait

Some chemists doodle in a lab notebook. Others doodle in ChemDraw. Katie Doran, an undergraduate chemical biology major at McMaster University, recently gained attention on Twitter when her ChemDraw self-portrait went viral, picking up nearly 2,000 likes within days.

Doran says she uses ChemDraw, the chemical drawing application by PerkinElmer, daily in her co-op placement.

Image of colorized molecules.
Credit: PerkinElmer
Color me ChemDraw: The latest version really pops.

“It just kind of came to me,” Doran tells Newscripts of the inspiration to create her self-portrait, which took about 1 hour to complete. “I had ChemDraw open one day and I thought, ‘I haven’t drawn in a while. I wonder if it would be possible to do something like that with ChemDraw.’ I guess it turned out pretty well.”

“Katie’s portrait is quite impressive,” comments Pierre Morieux, ChemDraw global marketing manager at PerkinElmer. “Scientists do intense work, so any sort of stress relief is a good thing,” he says.

Doran says she hopes she will one day be able to colorize her self-portrait. She’s in luck because ChemDraw’s newest version, which releases in October, offers new coloring options.

Linda Wang wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to


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