My Advanced Materials paper, describing the synthesis and application of a step-growth PEG hydrogel crosslinked by hydrazone bonds, was awarded the front cover of issue Volume 26, Issue 6. Michael Brasino, a colleague in the Cha Lab, designed the cover for us in Maya, trying to show a cell pushing through the hydrogel. I think it looks great and I’m thrilled that a prestigious journal is recognizing our work through a front cover. Check it out at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adma.201470033/abstract.
My first paper, published in Biomaterials Science, was one of 2013′s most-accessed papers. In that work, I showed a synthetic niche capable of supported the viability and axon extension of embryonic stem cell-derived motor neurons and demonstrated the importance of matrix biochemical functionalization and mechanics. The full list can be seen at http://pubs.rsc.org/en/journals/articlecollectionlanding?sercode=bm&themeid=993f9821-cb39-4208-91fe-b41c0fc25970.
I recently came into possession of a pair of Zeal Optics HD Camera Goggles (http://www.zealoptics.com/hdcameragoggle.html). This is an amazing product that combines a top-notch goggle with the electronics inside a GoPro for around $400. The buttons are easy to use wearing mittens, the quality is incredible, and you take amazing ski videos without looking like a fool with a GoPro strapped to your head.
I filmed six of us skiing together over New Year’s Day at Winter Park after a storm that dropped 6″ of fresh powder rolled through and managed to edit the video into a 2 minute highlight reel while watching the Broncos dismantle the Chargers. Check out the finished product below:
Several weeks ago the C&EN (http://cen.acs.org/index.html) cover story profiled a number of low-growth specialty chemical business units that have been spun off into the hands of PE firms or to shareholders (http://cen.acs.org/articles/91/i45/New-Ways-Grow.html). Particularly surprising for me was DuPont’s decision to spin off its performance chemicals division, the division responsible for Teflon, refrigerants, and titanium dioxide pigments, to shareholders. When I think of DuPont, I think of fluorinated polymers and was pretty surprised to read a few months ago that this unit was on the auction block. It looks like no buyer emerged and the current DuPont shareholders will retain ownership over the new company, but between this and the sale of DuPont’s performance coatings business to the Carlyle Group for $4.9B earlier this year, it seems like DuPont might be faced with some mission drift. I recognize companies need to continually reinvent themselves and their products, but the performance chemical division made made $1.8B on $7.2B in revenue last year netting a nice 25% profit margin and representing 21% of DuPont’s total revenues. It was not a dog by any means and was jettisoned to focus on industrial and agricultural biotechnology, a division fives times larger in revenue than currently operates at an 18% margin. Products certainly have different life cycles and industrial and agricultural biotechnology are both hot areas at the moment, but DuPont has spent the last 215 years cultivating a core competency in the chemicals business and it seems unwise to abandon that. Similar mistakes were made with traditional pharmaceutical companies trying to move into the biologic space with Roche emerging as the clear winner by simply acquiring Genentech so perhaps it might be wise for DuPont to consider a similar strategy.
The Telegraph recently published a short interview with Dr. Schekman (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/10507434/Nobel-prize-winner-accuses-scientific-journals-of-tyranny.html) on the publishing process and enormous pressure on graduate students, especially in biology, to publish in the top journals. He rightfully claims that research efforts are driven more by the desire to publish in Science, Nature, or Cell than ration decision-making, something which I have seen with my own eyes. We are lucky in the Anseth lab that Kristi, our adviser, is willing to publish quality work in any reputable journal, but I have heard from many graduate students whose advisers refuse to submit to lower-impact publications. This results in either good science going unpublished or the research being directed towards a path with the potential to generate the highest impact rather than the one most likely to be successful.
However, this idea of tyranny is a double-edged sword. Someone has to curate scientific knowledge. For better or for worse, even young scientists are judged by their quality and quantity of publications leading to a strong motivation to publish frequently. This leads to an enormous volume of published science and some entity needs to separate the wheat from the chaff, allowing easy dissemination of ground-breaking science to journalists and industry. I agree with Dr. Schekman in the sense that the current system could use a tune-up and have frequent conversations with other graduate students about publishing, but I’m not sure how a better system would work. Aside from withholding research that does not fit into one of the top journals, which I believe is always a travesty, the current system does a reasonable job of ensuring top work of general interest is published in top journals and field-specific work is published in lower-impact journals. Mistakes certainly get made and researchers probably get too wound up with impact, but any industry faces similar problems and science is no different.
My recent Advanced Materials paper was selected for the front cover of an upcoming issue. The art is in the works, but we are showing a 3D rendering of a cell spreading through the material. This is a tremendous honor for my work to appear on the cover of this top materials science journal and I look forward to posting the finished product.
CU Physics Professor Steve Pollock, who I had the pleasure of learning from as an undergraduate, was named a 2013 U.S. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. This a great honor for CU and Steve, but Boulder Weekly use the occasion to write several articles hammering CU for nearly not granting Steve tenure because of his lack of physics research productivity (http://www.boulderweekly.com/article-11944-two-cu-articles-on-pollock-mysteriously-disappear.html, http://www.boulderweekly.com/article-11943-curss-professor-of-the-year-traveled-a-rocky-academic-road.html). While I will be the first to admit that teaching should be re-prioritized at big research universities, these article struck a chord with me as they highlighted Steve and his colleagues’ research in physics education. Since Carl Weimann won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2001, he devoted most of his time to building CU into a world-class center for teaching undergraduate physics and many other professors have followed suit. While I applaud efforts to modernize physics education and believe the PhET applets (http://phet.colorado.edu/) are a spectacular teaching tool, I’m feel strongly that physics research should be done in the physics department and education research should be done in the education department. It is now possible to get a doctorate in Physics researching physics education at CU (http://phys.colorado.edu/research/physics-education-research) and many professors in the physics department now only perform physics education research. I strongly believe that a degree in Physics is the most fundamental quantitative background one can achieve and, while education research is extremely valuable, it devalues the quantitative Physics brand established through centuries of discovery.
While the seeds of a lot of customer relations were already planted prior to launching the Agribotix website (http://www.agribotix.com/), nearly every day since launching we’ve had a potential customer or investor call. From Think Tanks in San Francisco to enormous ranches in Colorado, our online presence has been attracting a lot of attention and it’s nice to see some strong validation of our concept and business plan. Significant pent-up demand exists for UAV-based services and our agricultural surveillance model only scratches the surface of this space. As soon as the FAA approves regulations for commercial use of UAVs, we expect this market to explode and believe we are well positioned as a first mover. This is an exciting time to develop expertise in such a nascent industry and we look forward to continuing to talk to to excited customers.
I’ve always been a fan of the Martha Stewart grocery bags (http://www.marthastewart.com/dap/term/3574). If you’re not familiar with the concept, Martha has a five themed recipes bundled with a shopping list so she takes all the thinking out of meal planning. The web user just selects a theme, prints out the shopping lists, and has ingredients to cook five excellent meals for the week. However, Martha has no way of knowing what’s in season or on sale. I had an idea a few years ago that I thought would revolutionize the way I shopped, but would be extremely hard to implement from my position. The idea is to build an app in partnership with a grocery store promoting sales through a grocery bag-like interface that would provide a weekly meal plan and populate a shopping list. Such an app would drive sales towards the store, raise awareness of weekly sales, and probably engender serious customer loyalty. For a total coup de force, the app would communicate the shopping list to existing home shop services.
Given my programming knowledge is limited to analyzing scientific data and I have no contacts in the grocery industry, I never seriously pursued the idea, but I am absolutely thrilled that Food on the Table (http://www.foodonthetable.com/preset) did all the work for me. The app functions almost exactly as I imagined mine would have and really takes the headache out of shopping and meal planning. While shopping yesterday, I actually showed the interface to the general manager at King Soopers and he was so impressed he called a Monday meeting to discuss King Soopers pursuing a similar strategy (and have me some $2 off coupons to boot). I genuinely believe apps like this will transform the grocery industry and I’m excited to see how King Soopers will capitalize.
I attended AIChE (American Institute of Chemical Engineers) from Sunday to Wednesday to give a paper. I attended some great talks, met some great people, and got some great new collaborators. My talk was very well received and I had a wonderful time talking science for a few days. That may be my last AIChE Meeting, but I highly recommend that any younger students attend every year. For some reason, the annual meeting has a poor reputation, but, after attending for the first time, I would strongly suggest any young chemical engineers attend. It is a great way to meet others in the field, relax with professors, and make excellent industry contacts.