24 favourite tweets from 24 hours of Real-Time Chemistry.

The above banner was by @squidring on twitter. Check out her art here. Multi-talented! 

Chemistry was tweeted in real-time on the 7th November. It seems from feedback I’ve received that it was enjoyed. Obviously there is some room for improvement, so please, if you were disappointed don’t hesitate to tell me what you’d like to see in the next RealTimeChem event. As promised I’ve written this post in order to showcase my observations of the day and my favourite-ist tweets and pictures from the day.

It’s been a reeeeeeeally difficult task, as there was a LOT of excellent #RealTimeChem, so if you don’t see yourself mentioned here, I apologise and still think you were wonderful. All tweets and your time were appreciated.

In keeping with the theme of the event here are 24 of my favourite tweets:

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RealTimeChem Day – All you need to know for the big day.

Hello everyone!

It is now just a week until #RealTimeChem hopefully takes over twitter. The response so far has been pretty enthusiastic and I’m looking forward to all the chemistry that’s going to be on show for the world to see!

Seeing as there isn’t long to go and a few people have been asking for more detail, I have produced an FAQ section so that you everyone knows the how, when, who, what and why of #RealTimeChem day.

So…what is RealTimeChem Day?

Real Time Chemistry day is a twitter based event where chemists from all over the world will be tweeting about their daily lives in chemistry… in real time.


Chemistry often gets short shrift when it comes to media exposure and that’s a bit sad. So Real Time Chem Day will be a day to celebrate chemistry and give the world an insight into the kinds of work and the science that we do as chemists every day. It will also hopefully help to connect the chemistry community and spark intriguing discussions and it’s just pretty darn fun to see what other chemists are up to!

Interesting! …When is it?

It’s on the 7th November 2012 and lasts for the whole 24 hours.

Who can take part?

Anybody in the world who works in the field we call “chemistry”. As long as you are tweeting about part of your everyday life that involves doing chemistry then it counts – lab work, journal reading, writing papers, teaching, demonstrating, field work, instrumental work etc.

This is an all inclusive event no matter what branch of chemistry that you partake in (including biochemistry! Geochemistry! Astrochemistry! Crystallography!) or what level of chemistry you are currently at (High school! Undergraduate! Postgraduate! Industrial! Person in shed!).

Please though only join in if you can spare the time. I understand that you’re all busy people – work commitments and getting our chemistry done must take priority.

What do I have to do to join in? What should I tweet?

To join in you simply have to tweet about your day in your particular field of chemistry using the hashtag #RealTimeChem to show that it is part of the event.

As for what you tweet, well that is entirely at your discretion so long as it’s got some link to doing chemistry. In my case, I will be tweeting about actual chemistry I am performing in the laboratory.

All things that happen on the day can be tweeted, good or bad. I’m sure the former shall outweigh the latter, but we should be giving everyone an accurate view of what happens.

Incidentally, pictures of your day (such as great looking experiments) are most welcome. Obviously, only take pictures of things you are allowed to show, we understand some chemistry must be shrouded in secrecy.

Please feel free to engage with other #RealTimeChem tweeters and start a conversation. This is a day for chemists to unite and enjoy what they do.

How much do I have to tweet?

As much or as little as you want to, even if it is just one tweet. So long as it includes the hashtag #RealTimeChem it’ll count.

So just feel free to randomly tweet your chemistry as you go along, this day is for you to share what you do with the rest of the world.

How can I follow the event?

Search for the hashtag #RealTimeChem on twitter or follow @RealTimeChem for highlights. I’ll be keeping an eye on twitter all day and re-tweeting every #RealTimeChem tweet I can (or as many as twitter will allow!) and commenting on the fabulous things you are doing.

Who invented #RealTimeChem?

Certainly not me. However, I have been participating for a while on an off in doing some #RealTimeChem tweets. I believe that the inventor was @azmanam who was trying to determine what was in Lemishine and happened to tweet his results using, and @JessTheChemist produced a storify page to follow all the RealTimeChem that happened. Since then it has caught on a many others have joined in to tweet their chemical reactions in real time using the same hash tag.

I think we all agreed that tweeting about laboratory chemistry was such fun that it would be nice to have a #RealTimeChem day to celebrate, and here we are!

Why is #RealTimeChem day on 7th November?

This is the birthday of Marie Curie, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize and the only to win it in two separate fields, chemistry and physics.

If you want to do something extra fantastic on the day please feel free to donate to Marie Curie Cancer Care.

Who is running #RealTimeChem?

Mainly the same person who runs this blog, “Doctor Galactic and The Lab Coat Cowboy” who can be found under the name @doctor_galactic on twitter and also @RealTimeChem. I’m a post doctoral researcher in the UK, who is just coming to the end of his contract. For me this is possibly one last hurrah before looking toward chemistry pastures new.

In addition to the @RealTimeChem feed, @JessTheChemist will be continuing to update her storify page and www.chemistry-blog.com will be showing #RealTimeChem tweets in their Chemistry twitterverse box.

Anyone else who wants to post anything about #RealTimeChem on their blog or anywhere else is most welcome to so long as they refer back to @RealTimeChem somewhere.

Can I help to promote #RealTimeChem day?

Sure thing, just retweet any information you want regarding the event and mention it to your chemistry friends on twitter. Even mention it to your chemistry friends outside of twitter. The more chemists we get to tweet, the more chemistry we get to enjoy!

There are a couple of posters that have been uploaded on @RealTimeChem with some more to come this week. So feel free to use these as you will or make your own!

What’s with the “24” theme?

It felt particularly relevant to the nature of the day. We are all Jack Bauer on #RealTimeChem Day, we just do chemistry.

I want to do something really spectacular, can I?

Yes, so long as you are safe. All the normal rules of chemistry apply, including the use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). We don’t want anybody to get hurt doing something on #RealTimeChem day.

I don’t want to tweet but I want to watch, can I?

Of course! If you don’t want to tweet you can still watch the rest of us on twitter. The best bet is to follow @RealTimeChem which will be re-tweeting as many highlights as possible.

What will happen afterwards?

I plan to sift through the tweets and make a series of blog posts highlighting my favourites here on this blog. The real point of the day is to have some fun and get chemistry out there for the world to see, so that will hopefully be its own reward.

Will there be future #RealTimeChem days?  

Everyday can be #RealTimeChem day if you so choose it. The hashtag is there to use whenever you are doing any chemistry. If the event itself is popular enough, then most certainly we’ll try to organise another full day in the future. I would like to make it an annual event and perhaps expand it to cover a whole week. The possibilities are endless.

Any other questions? Then drop me a line in the comments box on here or via twitter @RealTimeChem.

Enjoy the day, I’m looking forward to it!



-Doctor Galactic and The Lab Coat Cowboy-

The Chemistry of a 7-time liar…

“This is my body and I can do whatever I want to it: Everybody wants to know what I am on. What am I on? I’m on my bike busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?” – Lance Armstrong

That was a line spoken by Armstrong on a Nike advert shown on American TV in 2001. It wa screated in answer to his critics who believed that all of his successes in cycling had been due to doping and not, as he claimed, due to hard work and dogged determination after his recovery from cancer.

That there is the face of hard work…and bustin’ your ass.

As it would turn out, Lance lied. A lot.

Lance Armstrong.

Of course,  you don’t become 7 times Tour De France champion by drugs alone. Armstrong did spend innumerable hours in the saddle and was undoubtably a great cyclist. However, how much performance enhancing drugs helped to make him into the sporting superstar is hard to determine.

Armstrong had always denied the allegations, calling it a witch hunt, but finally gave up the fight earlier this year in a way that screamed “guilty”.

When you stop fighting against allegations of cheating that sully your good name, then its pretty clear you didn’t have a good name.

There was enough evidence against Armstrong for the USADA to produce a 202 page book about it. A lot of which came directly from 11 of his former team-mates and its pretty damning stuff. Not only had he been doping himself, but was the ringleader of one of the most sophisticated team wide doping operations in the history of  sport. Armstrong became such a massively powerful figure in the cycling world that he bullied and threatened any who stood against him.

Hey Jan, who’s your dealer? He’s clearly not as good as mine.

In truth on a personal level I’m not sure what to make of this whole debacle because that whole era of cycling had already become so tainted for me (an avid cycling fan since childhood) by the use of doping, that the fact Lance Armstrong won by the same method hasn’t come as a huge surprise. Watching him perform those audacious feats of “human endurance” on the TV screen and by the road side I always had my suspicions about the Texan. However that doesn’t mean I didn’t hope, for the sake of cycling as a sport, that the allegations weren’t true.

British hero Bradley Wiggins. After doing it the right way.

I think what is so disheartening, is that this should come out now, in the year that Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to pull on the maillot jaune in Paris. I had started to feel so much more positive about the future of this great endurance sport, but yet again the past must rear its ugly head. No doubt there are those casting suspcious eyes upon Bradley and the whole of the Sky and GB cycling teams that have done Britain proud in 2012.

Sorry Patrick, I’ll finish it soon I swear.

I was going to write a more jovial blog post about Star Trek, but this doping subject has been eating at me since it came out, so here is this one instead. It’s about the chemistry that can help a man lie his way to the top of a professional sport.

Chemistry for dope(r)s

Lance wasn’t just spending time with one of the seven dwarves.

Below is a selection of performance enhancing drugs that were reportedly used by Lance Armstrong, other members of the US Postal Service team and throughout cycling and other sports in general. It’s going to get a bit “horny” from here if you pardon the pun.

EPO (Erythropoietin)

Complex ain’t it?

EPO is a naturally occurring glycoprotein hormone that controls red blood cell production. Essentially it acts as a signalling agent that tells the bone marrow to produce new blood cells. It is a highly complex compound with a molecular weight around 34,000 and is largely secreted by the kidneys.

There are legitimate medical uses for EPO particularly in the treatment of anemia, however since the 1980s EPO has become a widespread blood doping agent, as quicker and less messy alternative to blood transfusions.

Its primary benefit is its ability to improve the hematocrit level of the blood, thus increasing blood capacity for carrying oxygen, increasing the volume of a heartbeat, and improving lung function. All the things you need for improving your performance in endurance sports such as cycling (also horse racing, boxing, rowing, distance running, skiing and triathlons.

Testing for EPO only became viable in 2000 when the French national anti-doping laboratory (LNDD) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) introduced a test that could detect pharmaceutical EPO and distinguish it from the natural version of the hormone normally present in an athlete’s urine.


The most well known hormone in the world thanks to its near ubiquitous usage when referring to anything particularly manly that happens (i.e. testosterone fuelled antics). While both sexes possess testosterone, men have about 7-8 times more of this sex hormone in their blood than women do.

While nearly everyone has heard about testosterone, a considerable amount less know what it looks like. It is a member of the steroid family, which all contain four cycloalkane rings joined together in the same arrangement (highlighted in blue) as shown above. Other examples of natural steroids include cholesterol (dietary fat) and the estrogens (female sex hormones).

So how can testosterone help you cheat your way to seven Tour De France titles?

Stewie demonstrates the powers of testosterone abuse.

The reason for use of testosterone is due to its anabolic (“building up”) effects that promote the growth of muscle mass, increase strength, improve recovery and endurance. The level of testosterone varies day by day, so it’s difficult to test for when synthetic testosterone is added and has to be based on evidence over the longer term. The natural variation means that testers often allow up to four times the normal baseline level of an athlete before alarm bells start ringing.

It should be noted that like all the drugs mentioned here there are many serious (and common) side effects from misuse of anabolic steroids. To know more, talk to Frank.

The USADA have alleged that Armstrong and the US Post team used a low-dose testosterone regime that allowed them to get through undetected. This was helped by doctors creating a new method of delivery for the steroid, via an olive oil formulation that riders dribbled under the tongue.


Corticosteroids are another series of hormones from the steroid family with the same general structural motif seen above in testosterone. Shown below is cortisone, which was named in the USADA report as a substance, seen to be taken by Armstrong.

They have a wide range of effects as they regulate many physiological processes including stress and immune response, metabolism for carbohydrate and proteins and the regulation of inflammation.

This won’t hurt a bit….

Application of the correct corticosteroid by injection can therefore be highly beneficial for an athlete’s performance, assisting in recovery, providing energy boosts and generally making you feel rather tip-top. Instead of the horrid gut wrenching guilt that you should be feeling about cheating against your fellow sportsmen.

Human Growth Hormone (hGH)

This is a peptide hormone that does what it says in the unimaginatively given name it possesses. hGH stimulates growth and the reproduction and regeneration of cells in humans. It’s generally used to treat growth disorders in children, but is highly complex (containing 191 amino acids with a molecular weight of 22,214 daltons) and most of its functions remain a bit…hand wavy.

About as hand wavy as your average Republican candidates policies…

Suffice to say it has anabolic properties that are ripe for abuse in the hands of the sports cheat. Detection wasn’t possible until the 2000s when blood tests were developed that allowed WADA to distinguish between natural and artificial hGH.

It was used to increase strength and lean muscle mass, to assist in weight loss and also promote recovery. Most of the riders from the US Postal team have admitted to taking hGH, which they were given by team doctors.


So what should be done now the truth is out? I think the answer for me that they should draw a line under what happened in the past and start cycling anew again.

Prudhomme ponders where to go from here for the sport of cycling.

We should leave those years blank as Chris Prudhomme (race director for the Tour De France) has suggested. It would be near impossible to just hand the victories of Armstrong to someone else further down the roster (especially when many of them also doped as well).

What of Armstrong himself? Despite all of this he has done a lot of positive work to raise money and awareness in the area of cancer research via his foundation and Livestrong. Should he be prosecuted for his crimes against sportsmanship? Or should they be largely overlooked because of the charitable works that he has done?

Livestrong should continue to be supported.

This unfortunate situation is not all that far removed from the recent allegations surrounding the late Jimmy Saville, although in that case the crimes are far more serious. Unfortunately, Saville can never answer for them.

Armstrong has many years ahead of him and will no doubt be hounded to give full disclosure on his cheating ways. Lance has already resigned as head of the Livestrong foundation and been dropped by sponsors left, right and centre. The damage to his reputation is now irrepairable and who knows what effect this will have upon his family. I feel the punishment has only just begun.

We’ll be seeing this face a lot in the years to come.

-Doctor Galactc & The Lab Coat Cowboy-

That pesky Madonna and her drug peddling…

First day of the new blog and I found a rather interesting and wholly relevant article in this mornings free Metro, regarding the previous unsavory behavior of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. Obviously, they decided that the banks were stealing all of the morally reprehensible spotlight and wanted to throw their lab coat into the pot for most publicly hated international corporation.

Here is a poor quality photo of the article in question:

Shall we go for generic laboratory picture #12? Nah. Madonna’s all people are going to care about.

The reason I started this blog is due to the encouragement I recieved through a Science Communication Workshop (it’s also somrthing I’ve wanted to try for a while), within which we were shown an Ipsos MORI poll on which were the most trusted professions. You can find the link here.

As you can see, doctors (M.D) come out on top as the single most trusted profession, while MPs are bathing in the shallow end of the dream pool with the journalists (shock! horror!). The general public might, in light of the case shown above, like to readjust their opinion on the trustworthiness of medical practitioners, who are far from above reproach and not immune to the cult of greed that seems to have pervaded almost every corner of our lives.

Pressure on doctors from big pharma for them to prescribe particular drugs is actually nothing new, it happens all the time (big pharma spends more on marketing than research which is a little annoying). The line that’s been crossed here is similar to that crossed by certain high ranking bankers. Taking bribes be it in the form of holidays, pheasant hunts and (of all things) Madonna concert tickets is repugnant.

Returning to the poll, “Scientists” (I love it when we’re all clubbed together) don’t come off too badly in the poll, although it doesn’t show the divide between academia and industry. Sadly, I can’t get hold of the exact information we were shown at the workshop, but suffice to say about 68% of the public trusted scientists in academia/universities compared to about 41% for the chemical industry scientists. The article above being a perfect illustration of why this is so.

The only thing going for GSK is that they pleaded guilty to the illegal practice, which is  known euphemistically as “off-label marketing”.

Just how dangerous was this practice exactly? How morally dubious are we talking about? Well one of the drugs GSK were bribing doctors to prescribe is Paroxetine (aka Aropax, Paxil, Seroxat and Sereupin) – which is drawn below.

Look! Some kind of organic compound! Pretty!

Paroxetine is a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) type antidepressant which is widely used to treat major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, post traumatic stress and anxiety disorder in adults. GSK (at the time SmithKline Beecham) have been marketing it since 1992, although the patent ran out in 2003, so generic brands have now flooded the market.

You can read more about Paroxetine and SSRI‘s in general on Wikipedia, which has some pretty decent looking entries for both and covers a lot of the controversy that has occurred over the years (although it’s wikipedia, so pinch of salt territory time). Some interesting reading to be sure. Suffice to say GSK had been pushing doctors to give paroxetine to adolescents in whom the drug may increase the risk of suicidal tendencies. They have also in the past consistently marketed the drug as “not habit forming”, which it turns out is complete and utter baloney of the highest order.

GSK’s CEO Sir Andrew Witty (only knighted in the 2012 honours list for services to the economy and the UK pharmaceutical industry – it should be noted that he is not a chemist) gave the following statement on the matter:

“Today brings to resolution difficult, long-standing matters for GSK. Whilst these originate in a different era for the company, they cannot and will not be ignored. On behalf of GSK, I want to express our regret and reiterate that we have learnt from the mistakes that were made.

“We are deeply committed to doing everything we can to live up to and exceed the expectations of those we work with and serve. Since I became CEO, we have had a clear priority to ingrain a culture of putting patients first, acting transparently, respecting people inside and outside the organisation and displaying integrity in everything we do.

“In the US, we have taken action at all levels in the company. We have fundamentally changed our procedures for compliance, marketing and selling. When necessary, we have removed employees who have engaged in misconduct. In the last two years, we have reformed the basis on which we pay our sales representatives and we have enhanced our ability to ‘claw back’ remuneration of our senior management.

“We have a vital role to play in bringing innovative medicines to patients and we understand how important it is that our medicines are appropriately promoted to healthcare professionals and that we adhere to the standards rightly expected by the US Government.”

So I guess that’ll be that. It’s cost them a staggering £2 billion or  $3 billion (the biggest in US history for such a case) at a time when almost all big pharma are struggling to come to terms with the fast approaching patent cliff. “Sailing into troubled waters” doesn’t really cover it.

I love chemistry. I love responsible chemistry even more, so it saddens me a little that GSK thought this kind of behaviour was acceptable in the first place. Hopefully, this sort of thing will be stamped out in the long term and chemistry can continue to enhance and enrich people’s lives as it ought to.

Having now said all the serious stuff, I’d also like to point out the other reason I highlighted this article today and that is…that it’s some slightly sloppy journalism. I think the first rule of good journalism should be to check you’ve spelled your headline correctly. They probably should have stuck to the the official company abbreviation, GSK (which they do later with no problem). The second rule should be to get your mathematics correct. I’m not sure £637 billion goes into £2 billion with much in the way of change.

The third rule should be that, just because a celebrity is mentioned, doesn’t mean a picture of them is AT ALL relevant to the story. Why should it matter that doctors were bribed with Madonna concert tickets? What if it were Coldplay, Justin Bieber or Elton John? Would they have equally adorned this piece? I’m pretty sure most of these artists are not drug peddling fraudsters in their spare time.  Are we so obsessed by celebrity that the only way to sell any other news is to put one in every article?

Surely a generic picture of a laboratory, or GSK’s logo or some brightly coloured drug capsules would have been more appropriate? I just looked up “drugs” on google images and found a whole host of suitable images.…Oh hang on…I take it all back.

Look who I found! Turns out she’s entirely relevant.

The Metro’s logic clearly links back to Madonna’s recent album MDNA, which sounds suspiciously like MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine) or “Ecstasy”.

Journalists. Where were they in that “most trusted profession” poll again? Oh yes just above this guy:

David Cameron also turns up when you google image search for drugs. He took some at Eton, dontcha know?

-The Lab Coat Cowboy-