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Stereo Chemistry

Stereo Chemistry shares voices and stories from the world of chemistry. The show is created by the reporters and editors at Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), an independent news outlet published by the American Chemical Society.

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Ep. 30: The chemical culprit in 2019's mysterious vaping illnesses—what we still don't know

Months before the novel coronavirus took hold of the globe in late 2019, clusters of patients began appearing in emergency rooms throughout the US with a mysterious lung disease. Investigators quickly linked the illnesses not to a pathogen, but to patients’ use of vaping products. By examining the chemicals in these products, they eventually found a chief suspect: vitamin E acetate. The compound was being used as a cutting agent in some counterfeit or illicit cannabis-based vaping products. Still, many questions remain about how vitamin E acetate could have caused those injuries and whether it was acting alone. In this episode of Stereo Chemistry, host Kerri Jansen and C&EN senior reporter Britt Erickson sift through the complicated chemistry of vaping and explore some new evidence in the investigation. They’ll also discuss how the tragic events of last summer could prove to be a wake-up call for chemical regulators as they evaluate vaping products. A script of this episode is available at bit.ly/2ZJ1JjW. Find all of C&EN’s COVID-19 coverage at cenm.ag/coronavirus. Make a donation to support C&EN’s nonprofit science journalism at donate.acs.org. Image credit: Fedorovacz/Shutterstock


27 May 2020

Rank #1

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Ep. 29: This virus is here now, it's going to stay with us

As COVID-19 continues to spread, so does the effort to treat and vaccinate against the novel coronavirus that causes the disease. Around the world, scientists are working nonstop on the different therapies that they hope will quell the loss of life during this pandemic while, at the same time, setting us up to prevent future outbreaks. What’s not clear is which, if any, of these treatments will work. Much about SARS-CoV-2 remains unknown. In this episode of Stereo Chemistry, we dig into the efforts to beat the novel coronavirus and why, in some cases, it’s like throwing spaghetti up against the wall to see what sticks. Image credit: NIAID-RML


1 May 2020

Rank #2

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Ep. 2: Chemistry is not immune from sexual harassment

In September, C&EN published a cover story on sexual harassment in chemistry. In the second episode of Stereo Chemistry, host Kerri Jansen talks with sexual harassment survivors and the C&EN reporters behind that cover story to learn what has changed—and what hasn’t—in the months since we released that story. Listener discretion is advised. Read C&EN’s cover story Confronting Sexual Harassment in Chemistry at cenm.ag/harassment Information on the Science of Sexual Harassment symposium and harassment response workshop can be found at http://bit.ly/ACSNOLAworkshop Stereo Chemistry is published by C&EN, the newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society. Contact us at cen_multimedia@acs.org Written, hosted, and produced by Kerri Jansen Music credit: AudioBlocks/Footage Firm


5 Mar 2018

Rank #3

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Ep. 23: That’s a hell of a lot of explosive material

Rocket propellant research had its heyday in the mid-20th century, when the space race and the Cold War meant chemists had plenty of money and long leashes. Few of their most interesting ideas ended up in working rockets, but they charted new areas of chemical space, some of which, like boron chemistry, have proved useful in other fields. Geopolitical shifts, along with a growing emphasis on health, safety, and the environment, dampened propellant chemistry in the last decades of the 1900s. But the need for high-performance propellants hasn’t gone away, and neither has chemists’ interest in pushing the envelope. In this episode of Stereo Chemistry, we hear from chemists who lived through the heady days of the ’50s and ’60s and the ones carrying rocket chemistry’s torch today. A script of this episode is available here.  Music credits: “Leaving Earth” by Stanley Gurvich  “Plain Loafer” by Kevin MacLeod Rocket launch sound illustration adapted from NASA audio Image credit: NASA


18 Oct 2019

Rank #4

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Ep. 21: Culture always starts at the top, but it also starts from the bottom

In our last episode of Stereo Chemistry, we talked to chemists who had survived accidents at the bench to learn what went wrong and what lessons we could share to improve lab safety. In this episode, we’re looking at what it takes to build a culture of safety. That is, what can organizations do to let researchers know that their safety is not only valued, but expected? Hosts Jyllian Kemsley and Matt Davenport talk to experts about the importance of leadership, commitment, and education to transform lab safety from an exercise in compliance to a core element of the central science. Find the transcript for this episode on our webiste. Visit ACS Webinars to learn more about their excellent programming.  Music credits: “Played by Ear” by Unheard Music Concepts is licensed under CC BY 4.0. “Compassion (keys version),” “Let That Sink In,” and “Thought Bubbles” by Lee Rosevere are licensed under CC BY 4.0. Image credit: Shutterstock/C&EN


9 Aug 2019

Rank #5

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Ep. 6: Everything will be druggable

Although genome sequencing has helped scientists reveal proteins wreaking havoc in our bodies, that doesn’t guarantee scientists can invent the drugs to take them down. Depending on who you talk to, up to 85% of the human proteome is currently “undruggable,” meaning these proteins lack easy-to-find pockets where therapeutics, such as small molecules, can bind. But a wave of biotech companies, each one armed with new technology, has arrived to tackle the problem. Industry and academic scientists explain why they think the business and scientific environment is ripe for finally overcoming the most elusive drug targets. For a full transcript and more links, visit https://cen.acs.org/pharmaceuticals/drug-discovery/quest-drug-undruggable/96/i26 Subscribe to Stereo Chemistry now on iTunes, Google Play, or TuneIn. “Soundboy” by 4bstr4ck3r is licensed under CC BY-4.0. http://freemusicarchive.org/music/4bstr4ck3r/4bstr4ck3r/4bstr4ck3r_-_4bstr4ck3r_-_01_Soundboy_CC-BY-NC “The Ascent” by A. A. Aalto is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0. http://freemusicarchive.org/music/A_A_Aalto/Bright_Corners/The_Ascent “The Confrontation” by Podington Bear is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0. http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Podington_Bear/Passages/The_Confrontation


17 Jun 2018

Rank #6

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Ep. 22: I didn’t know they were going to be worth billions—A conversation with John Goodenough

Without fail, the name John Goodenough crops up during Nobel Prize season. Many scientists believe he’s deserving of chemistry’s top honor. The University of Texas at Austin materials scientist is credited with developing a material that led to mass commercialization of lithium-ion batteries, the technology that powers our smartphones, laptops, electric vehicles, and other gadgets big and small. Though Goodenough, aged 97, hasn’t yet won a Nobel Prize, he’s not mired down by what could have been. He is renowned for his scientific accomplishments, warm personality, and infectious laugh. In this episode of Stereo Chemistry, C&EN reporter Mitch Jacoby joins cohost Kerri Jansen to tell the story of how a former meteorologist with a background in physics came up with a key material that enabled an electronics revolution and how he continues to pursue big questions in electrochemistry today. Register for C&EN’s Nobel Prize predictions webinar at bit.ly/nobelwebinar19. UPDATE: We're happy to announce that Goodenough, along with fellow battery pioneers M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino, has won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Read our coverage of the award and these scientists' contributions to lithium-ion batteries at C&EN. CORRECTION 10/23/19: The material Akira Yoshino used for his seminal battery anode was petroleum coke, a graphite-like material derived from petroleum. Researchers, including Samar Basu, had previously worked with graphite but found that it broke down in the battery’s electrolyte. Also, estimates for the voltage of Stan Whittingham’s TiS2 battery vary. This podcast episode refers to a 2.4-volt battery; some sources estimate the voltage at 2.5 V. A script of this podcast is available here. "Shir Hama’alos” is by Even Sh’siyah, provided courtesy of Mitch Jacoby.  “Plain Loafer” by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under CC BY 3.0.  Image credit: Mitch Jacoby/C&EN


29 Aug 2019

Rank #7

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Ep. 3: The authors declined to discuss the work with C&EN for this story

C&EN reporter Tien Nguyen takes us inside her months-long dealings with ChemRxiv, one of chemistry’s new preprints servers. She examines the benefits, questions, and frustrations presented by the server—not the least of which was chemists unwilling to discuss their own work with us. But it’s not all doom and gloom. We kinda got a Science publication out of this story. UPDATE: On March 16, 2018, Angewandte Chemie announced on Twitter that its editorial board voted to allow submissions of papers posted as preprints on ChemRxiv. https://twitter.com/angew_chem/status/974603394219462656?s=20 Nominate chemists for C&EN’s Talented 12 Class of 2018: http://talented12.cenmag.org/nominate-candidates-for-2018/ All music in this podcast is by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC BY 4.0. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ The music you heard first and most often was “Puzzle Pieces.” http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lee_Rosevere/Music_For_Podcasts_2/Lee_Rosevere_-_Music_for_Podcasts_2_-_10_Puzzle_Pieces The music just before the break was “Sad Marimba Planet,” and the music playing during the call for T12 nominations was “Southside.” http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lee_Rosevere/Music_for_Podcasts_4/Lee_Rosevere_-_Music_for_Podcasts_4_-_02_Sad_Marimba_Planet http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lee_Rosevere/Music_for_Podcasts_4/Lee_Rosevere_-_Music_for_Podcasts_4_-_09_Southside And the music at the end of the episode is “Credit Roll.” http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lee_Rosevere/Music_For_Podcasts/Lee_Rosevere_-_Music_For_Podcasts_-_13_Credit_Roll Hosted by Tien Nguyen, Matt Davenport, and Kerri Jansen Written by Tien Nguyen Produced by Matt Davenport


6 Mar 2018

Rank #8

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Ep. 4: Wow. This is a big meeting.

Stereo Chemistry had its recorders rolling for four days during the ACS national meeting in New Orleans in March. Listen to our latest episode to hear what brought a wide range of chemists to the meeting, including a Priestley Medal winner, a hurricane survivor, and an (in)famous duck. Find the full transcript and links to the stories we talk about here: https://cen.acs.org/acs-news/acs-meeting-news/Lets-hear-ACS-national-meeting/96/web/2018/04 “The Confrontation” by Podington Bear is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0. http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Podington_Bear/Passages/The_Confrontation “Analog” by Jon Luc Hefferman is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0. http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Jon_Luc_Hefferman/20170730112628534/Analog_1208


26 Apr 2018

Rank #9

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Ep. 20: What happens when you take risks?

Research science is full of hazards. Chemists and safety professionals do their best to minimize the danger, but accidents do happen and the stakes can be extremely high. So how can chemists ensure that when things do go wrong—or when they nearly go wrong—that we learn from those experiences to work toward a safer future? Communication is key. In this episode of Stereo Chemistry, we talk with four chemists who have survived accidents and shared their stories so others can learn from them. Read the full transcript of this episode here.  Nominate a Start-Up to Watch by August 1!  Music credits: "Pure Water" and "Interplanetary Forest" by Meydän are licensed under CC BY 4.0. "Let That Sink In" and "We Don't Know How it Ends" by Lee Rosevere are licensed under CC BY 4.0. "Blue Lobster" by Daniel Birch is licensed under CC BY 4.0.  Image credit: Shutterstock/C&EN


24 Jul 2019

Rank #10

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Ep. 14: On the face of it, RNA is a terrible drug target

RNA should be a terrible drug target. It’s long, noodle-like structure lacks the nooks and crannies that small molecule drugs use to grab onto proteins and thereby control them. But a decades-old disregard for RNA is starting to change. In August 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first-ever RNA interference (RNAi) drug, which uses a double-stranded RNA molecule to prevent the production of disease-related proteins. In the past two years, several startups have launched to show that some RNAs can, just like proteins, be drugged with small molecules. And a third group of companies recently emerged with plans to drug proteins that make modifications to RNA, part of the budding field of epitranscriptomics. In this episode, C&EN visits Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Novartis, and Accent Therapeutics to discuss these three strategies, and to understand how RNA-modulating therapies will compete in the wider world of drug discovery. Visit our website for a script of this podcast. Music credits: “And...(Insert Problem Here)” by GR∑Y is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.  “Raccoon Family Robinson”, “Robot Park”, and "The Confrontation" by Podington Bear are licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0.  “Wireless” by Lee Rosevere is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.  Image credit: J. Am. Chem. Soc.


3 Jan 2019

Rank #11

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Ep. 16: It’s all of these things that none of us get trained for

Being a chemistry professor is Jen Heemstra’s dream job. How she got there was a bit of a nightmare. But now she’s running her own team at Emory University and has become a social media celebrity by sharing her experiences and leadership advice on Twitter. She credits her personal tragedy and professional setbacks for making her who she is today. In the latest episode of C&EN’s Stereo Chemistry podcast, we spent two days with Heemstra and her team to learn more about her and her approach to graduate education. Heemstra’s adversity has not only shaped her attitude but also how she runs her lab. She’s helping her students develop skills that go beyond the bench—things like how to manage motivation, how to develop research ideas, and how to write grants. Listen now to hear more about Heemstra’s journey and philosophy. Here's a link to Jen’s PhD Balance post on Instagram (PhD Balance was formerly The PhDepression).  Ask Jen a question for her Office Hours column!  Nominate an early-career chemist for this year’s Talented 12 feature.  Music credits: “School” and “Mall” by Komiku are licensed under CC0 1.0.  “Blind” by Meydän is licensed under CC BY 4.0. “The Confrontation” by Podington Bear is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0.  “May the Chords Be with You” by Computer Music All-stars is licensed under CC BY 4.0.  Image credit: Jessica Lily (Jen Heemtra's headshot); Matt Davenport/C&EN (Photo collage)


17 Mar 2019

Rank #12

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Ep. 5: A story told in bones

Our bones contain chemical information about our diet, our behavior, and even our geographic origin. With the right tools, scientists can decode that information to learn about the past lives behind skeletal remains. Christine France of the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute uses stable isotope ratio analysis to help anthropologists answer questions about possible 18th-century pirates and more. Sign up for C&EN’s newsletter at bit.ly/chemnewsletter. Find a full transcript of the episode at http://cenm.ag/storyinbones. Stereo Chemistry is published by C&EN, the newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society. Contact us at cen_multimedia@acs.org. This episode was written, hosted, and produced by Kerri Jansen. Music: “Shoe Glaze” by Jesse Spillane is licensed under CC BY 4.0


10 May 2018

Rank #13

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Bonus episode: That just isn’t how you land on the moon without crashing

Fifty years ago this week, an explosion on the Apollo 13 moon mission stranded three astronauts hundreds of thousands of miles from home. You probably know that Fred Haise, Jim Lovell, and Jack Swigert made it home safely (water landing shown, with two of the astronauts in white). You may not know the chemist behind the rocket engine that saved them, which began its life as an apparatus for measuring chemical reaction rates. This bonus episode of Stereo Chemistry tells the story of the engine’s design with help from two of the people who created it. Listen now to a tale that starts with an explosion and ends with SpaceX’s pioneering reusable rockets, with one small step for a man along the way. CORRECTIONS: This episode was updated on April 15, 2020, to reflect that Fred Haise, not Ken Mattingly, flew aboard Apollo 13. On April 22, 2020, this podcast description was also corrected to reflect Haise's role and clarify that the photo shows only two of the astronauts. To learn more about the chemistry of rocket fuel, check out Ep. 23 of Stereo Chemistry: https://cen.acs.org/physical-chemistry/astrochemistry/Podcast-rocket-chemistry-blasted-off/97/i42 Image credit: NASA


10 Apr 2020

Rank #14

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Ep. 25: It was like, bam, half the ozone layer over Antarctica is gone

The discovery of the ozone hole in the mid-1980s sent shock waves through the scientific community and society at large. As scientists scrambled to make sense of the unprecedented phenomenon, a clear culprit emerged. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)—once thought of as near-miraculous compounds that revolutionized refrigeration—were suddenly revealed to be one of the biggest environmental dangers known to humankind. What followed was an international push by scientists, media, and policy makers to ban CFCs. In October 2019, NASA announced the ozone hole is the smallest recorded since 1982. In this episode of Stereo Chemistry, we hear from some of the scientists who were instrumental in discovering—and helping heal—the ozone hole and who think lessons learned could help us fight climate change. A script of this episode is available here. To read more from C&EN on hot trends in chemistry, check out our 2019 Year in Chemistry issue at cenm.ag/yic2019. Image credit: D. Murphy/NOAA


20 Dec 2019

Rank #15

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Ep. 7: The good ones don’t dare to touch

The European X-ray Free Electron Laser recently came online as the biggest and brightest source of X-rays on planet Earth. This will allow chemists to do groundbreaking research, but with great science comes great responsibility. In our latest Stereo Chemistry podcast, C&EN contributing editor Mark Peplow visits the X-ray facility to learn about its growing pains, its staff’s unique approach to keeping it running, and some of its early successes. “Kitty In The Window” by Podington Bear is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License. http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Podington_Bear/Said_Lion_To_Lamb_Box_Set_Disc_3/Kitty_In_The_Window “The Confrontation” by Podington Bear is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0. http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Podington_Bear/Passages/The_Confrontation “Gerald's Place” by Raleigh Moncrief is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0. http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Raleigh_Moncrief/Vitamins_EP/Raleigh_Moncrief_-_Vitamins_EP_-_06_Geralds_Place Matt stands by his awful William Lawrence Bragg pun, but does feel conflicted over not including William Henry Bragg, Max von Laue, photographic plates, and other important players in the history of X-ray crystallography.


26 Jul 2018

Rank #16

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Stereo Chemistry Promo IV: It’s basically a trailer

There’s just one week to go until the full-fledged premiere of C&EN’s new podcast, Stereo Chemistry. And we realized we haven’t bothered to let you in on what we’re doing or how we’re doing it. That changes now with our latest—and last—mini-episode. Stereo Chemistry is published by C&EN, the newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society. Contact us at cen_multimedia@acs.org


21 Feb 2018

Rank #17

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Ep. 9: I’m ready for the world

Graduate students handle myriad challenges, including a labmate’s annoying habit and loneliness when transplanted into a foreign country. C&EN reporters Kerri Jansen, Matt Davenport, and Linda Wang spoke to several international Ph.D. candidates to learn how they stay motivated, productive, and find balance amid the chaos. Find a transcript of this episode and even more thoughts from grad students around the world at https://cen.acs.org/education/graduate-education/Hear-stories-grad-students-around/96/web/2018/09 Register for the Nobel Prize predictions webinar at https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/acs-webinars/popular-chemistry/predicting-nobel-4.html This episode was written and produced by Kerri Jansen. “The Zeppelin” by Blue Dot Sessions is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0 http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Blue_Dot_Sessions/Aeronaut/The_Zeppelin_1908 “The Confrontation” by Podington Bear is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0 freemusicarchive.org/music/Podingto…_Confrontation


9 Sep 2018

Rank #18

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Ep. 17: If you want to change the element, you have to change the nucleus

In honor of the International Year of the Periodic Table, Stereo Chemistry explores the stories behind some of the elements in this episode. C&EN and ACS on Campus hosted periodic table pub trivia during the ACS Spring 2019 National Meeting in Orlando, Florida. Inspired by the event, its participants, and its questions, host Kerri Jansen investigated what it takes to make a new superheavy element, starting a half century ago and tracking the making of new elements through time. She tells the tales of scientists commonly associated with shaping the periodic table but also of the unsung heroes behind the scenes. A script of this podcast is available at our website.  Read all of C&EN's International Year of the Periodic Table stories. Sign up for C&EN’s weekly newsletter at bit.ly/chemnewsletter. Music credits: “Rewound” by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under CC BY 4.0. “Plain Loafer” by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under CC BY 3.0. Image credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory/The Regents of the University of California


21 Apr 2019

Rank #19

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Ep. 24: Kids are happy to get to ask whatever they want

For its latest episode, Stereo Chemistry handed its recorders over to kid journalists interviewing grown-up chemists about cutting-edge research. Listen in as the children get answers to questions about DNA, environmental clean-up, and even C-H activation. The kids’ reporting was part of an outreach event called Science Storytellers that took place during the American Chemical Society National Meeting in San Diego in August. Science Storytellers empowers kids to ask questions as they interact, one-on-one, with real scientists. In this episode, you’ll hear from the creator of the Science Storytellers program, Jenny Cutraro, to learn how this outreach activity is designed to break down barriers between scientists and the public. For a full transcript and additional resources, visit our website.  And here's our Facebook Live event from the ACS Kid Zone. 


26 Nov 2019

Rank #20