musings on music and life

February 25, 2013

Ca-grignard reagents

Filed under: Chemistry — Tags: — sankirnam @ 9:58 am

There was an article in Angewandte Chemie a few weeks ago on the isolation of the phenylcalcium cation. This is the calcium analogue of the popular Grignard reagent phenylmagnesium halide. Grignard reagents are well known in organic chemistry, and organomagnesium chemistry has been very well developed for the past 100 years or so. On the other hand, the organic chemistry of calcium has hardly been explored. This is surprising given the relative abundance of calcium on the planet. On the other hand, the reactivity of “calcium grignards” is much greater than their magnesium counterparts. As this 2010 review states,

“Only very recently, have the first well-defined arylcalcium “Grignard’s” been prepared. The synthetic route is so far limited to aryl groups, which are much less sensitive to Wurtz-coupling than alkyl halide substrates. Highly reactive arylcalcium “Grignard’s” cleave ethers at -35 °C. This demonstrates the enormous difference in reactivity with the closely related organomagnesium complexes, which are often prepared in refluxing ether solvents.”

Given this information, it is impressive that the authors in the first paper have managed to isolate crystals of phenylcalcium iodide at all! They even crystallized the compound in an ethereal solvent (DME). These kinds of studies are nice since they push the boundaries of fundamental science, rather than finding the 3249876382796th way to transform A to B or make an amide bond. If it turns out that the calcium reagents have complementary or orthogonal reactivity to the traditional Grignard reagents, then these studies could usher in a new field of chemistry.

February 22, 2013

Saturday’s concert

Filed under: Carnatic Music — Tags: — sankirnam @ 9:17 am

Shyamala presented a nice concert last Saturday. Very fun experience.

The list:

1. Shri Mahaganapathi – Gaula – Misra Chapu – Muthuswami Dikshitar

2. Parvathi Kumaram – Natakurunji – Rupakam – Muthuswami Dikshitar

3. Gaanaamudapaanam – Jyothiswaroopini – Misra Chapu – Koteeswara Iyer

4. Saraguna Paalimpa – Kedaragaula – Adi – Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar

5. Nambikettavar – Hindolam – Adi – Papanasam Sivan

6. RTP – Kapi – Chatusra Jampa, Khanda nadai (featuring gana raga thanam)

EDIT: RTP Video:

7. Varuvaaro – Sama – Adi – Gopalakrishna Bharathi

8. Thillana – Sivaranjani – Adi – Maharajapuram Santhanam

9. Ni Namarupamulaku – Saurashtram – Adi – Thyagaraja


Indu Nagarajan and her family deserve much recognition for organizing these concerts. She is the only person in Southern California (apart from Prof. K. R. Subrahmanyam) taking the initiative to organize concerts by young artists and I believe she is financing these programs out of her own pocket! It would be wonderful if she can get further support from the community or other organizations; this is a worthy endeavor, after all.

February 8, 2013

On the DREAM Act

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — sankirnam @ 4:37 pm

I have been reading a lot about the DREAM act lately in the news, specifically about Barack Obama’s latest proposal to “staple a greencard to the diploma of every immigrant who gets a college degree or higher in the US”. This makes me highly uneasy for a number of reasons. I have written before about the dysfuntional educational system in this country (as it pertains to science), and how there is a severe disconnect between industry and academia.

The Higher Education Bubble is getting a lot of press now due to it’s increasing severity as time passes. Day by day, increasing numbers of students are unable to pay their hefty student loans taken out to get an undergraduate degree; this is simply due to the fact that we have too many colleges and too many students attending college today, as I have mentioned earlier. In the early days (of my grandparents), having a high school education was considered a major achievement and set you apart from everyone else when it came to employment. In those days, college degrees were a rarity reserved for the economic elites. With increasing economic liberalization, education also became available for the masses, making high school education much more common, and lowering it’s relative value among the population. With high school graduation becoming commonplace, a bachelor’s degree became the minimum requirement to distinguish oneself for employment. Nowadays, with banks handing out student loans willy nilly and the proliferation of colleges across the US and online, bachelor’s degrees have also become commonplace, rendering undergraduate education meaningless. The attaining of a bachelor’s degree is no longer seen as an achievement; rather, it is another stepping stone in the process of getting the real degree that will distinguish you (an MS, MBA, MFE, MD, JD, MA, MFA, or PhD). Thus, college has become an “experience” that every young adult goes through, with drinking, partying, and socializing being the main focus rather than education. In the older days, most people graduating from high school would be well-adjusted adults, able to take on the world. Then, it became the norm to mature during the college years. Nowadays, college education in the US has become almost like an extension of high school – note the number of people taking remedial courses during their first two years of college! A lot of people, myself included, end up maturing to become “adults” during graduate studies.

How does this tie in with immigration? Well, in the context of education, we have taken liberalism a bit too far, and are now seeing the consequences. The notion of an egalitarian education system is very noble, but we can see that it does not work, at least within the constraints of our economic system. In a time like this, we should be reeling things in, being a little more protective (increasingly, as I have become more educated, I have found myself becoming more conservative with regards to education; this may be a subconscious expression of self-preservation). I can use chemistry as an example since that is the field that I know best – some of what I mention is going to be a rehash of what I have mentioned previously. With the recession, the number of jobs available for chemists in this country has dramatically decreased in both industry and academia. The slow increase in the number of chemistry graduates year after year is doing nothing but exacerbating the situtation, since laid-off midcareer chemists are now competing with fresh graduates in an ever-shrinking job market. If the government is truly concerned with reducing unemployment, then there should be some level of federal control over student enrollment in universities and colleges.

The federal government already has systems in place to protect American jobs – whether they are effective or not is a totally different discussion. When it comes to H-1 visas, companies are required to justify why they need to bring in talent from abroad and demonstrate that they cannot find someone to fill the position within the available labor pool. University professors should be required to do the same thing when it comes to graduate education. They should justify why they need to bring in foreign students when there ARE domestic people willing to do the work! By continuously bringing in foreigners and making “masters/Phd mills”, they are also responsible for slowly eroding the value of graduate education. It used to be that in order to obtain a faculty position at a university, having a PhD was sufficient. Now, 2 postdocs has become the bare minimum requirement to be competitive, thus signing away about 13-15 years for post-secondary education. Grant proposals and funding requirements by federal agencies should be restructured to favor the hiring of domestic workers, either as technicians, students, or senior scientists, depending on their level of education. Federal funding agencies and universities should also be aware of employment issues and adjust their programs accordingly; it makes no sense to flood the market with chemistry graduates when there are few jobs for them, for example. This is what the DREAM act threatens to do, and this is why it makes me worried for my own future.

EDIT: Chemjobber’s comments on the NYT article on this topic gives me hope! There is skepticism on this topic, and rightfully so.

2nd EDIT: Derek Lowe has some interesting thoughts on this topic, which are worth reading.

February 4, 2013

Pics from Florida!

Filed under: Chemistry — Tags: — sankirnam @ 10:26 am

This is belated, but here are some pictures from the Winter Fluorine Conference in Tampa last month:


You KNOW you’re living it up when your hotel has a river with swans in it! These guys are pretty vicious too – I was paddleboating in the river and tried to pet one of them, and it tried to bite my hand!


 Every night, there was a social mixer in one of the hotel suites. Everyone went there to unwind and chat; it was a fantastic opportunity to network and make connections.


Did I mention fluorine chemists can drink?!?!?


View of the resort from a hammock on the beach. There is nothing quite as relaxing as sitting in one of these in the warm tropical weather, cocktail in hand, feeling the ocean breeze.


Seagulls are awesome.


 Of course, this was a chemistry conference, so there were poster sessions and presentations. This is a slide from a presentation from one of the senior scientists in our group.

Blog at