Giving talks in the time of COVID

With the tenure decision seemingly right around the corner, I knew this would be an important year to give talks. I had even planned for a pre-tenure sabbatical to give me the freedom to travel for any talks. I already had plans to do a tour of Ohio and see most of the schools in NC….

Making the best of a bad situation, I’ve had the opportunity to give virtual versions of most of my talks. And thankfully, Zoom came through with a beta feature that has been fun and a bit more engaging. You can use your slides as a virtual background!

The virtual background feature uses software or a green screen to filter out the background and replaces it with a picture of your choosing. In this way, the slides become that background. You can switch slides by mashing the space bar or left/right just like usual, and you can resize and move yourself around the slides as appropriate. I really enjoyed it!

I specifically rebuilt my slides to give myself a small space in the lower righthand corner to sit and “face the audience.” Then the presentation starts, and I go to Share > Advanced > Slides as Virtual Background.

The pop up window in Zoom that allows you to select the Slides as Virtual Background option within the Share/Advanced tab.

I also opted for the green screen treatment instead of the software-enabled version. It was less likely to show unexpected glitches related to furniture that was behind me, especially as a moved and gestured. Additionally, Felix Carroll, fellow Chemistry professor here, shared two lamps with bulbs that replicate the spectrum of sunlight to help illuminate me in a more “natural” way.

A picture of my office with a green piece of fabric suspended on a bar behind me, creating a background for the camera that was filming me at my computer. there are also two lights on my desk shining light that replicates the spectrum of sunlight to make my appearance more "natural."

Here are some final shots of how that first talk looked. I’ve since done four of these kinds of talks, and it’s been very fun. If you’d like me to give a talk at your institution, please get in touch!

A person, making a goofy face, overlaid onto a slide that discusses how alternative energies can be integrated into the energy grid using storage.
A person, making a goofy face, overlaid on a slide discussing how a redox flow battery differs from a standard battery
A person, making a goofy face, overlaid on a slide featuring different molecular structures from a battery science chemistry program.
A person, making a goofy face, overlaid on a slide talking about the construction of the Tesla car's battery pack.

Mitch chats with Chemistry Cayk Online

At the ACS meeting in San Diego in 2019, I was starving for some coffee and happened to spot a chemistry Twitter celebrity. You know them as Chemistry Cayk, but I know them as… Cayk. Basically on a first name basis.

I couldn’t resist saying hey. One thing led to another, and here I am chatting with Cayk on the podcast!

We talk about helical molecular orbital, live-tweeting journal articles, and, of course, batteries! Please enjoy the all the episodes and not just this one though!

Two New Papers in IUCrData!

Despite the craziness of Summer 2020, it was probably the most productive time spent. We kept it simple, focused on what we knew we could do well, and got papers for Hannah and Ais! There is probably a life lesson in there that I’ll soon forget.

Check out these two cool structures! The second structure was chosen as the feature article on the cover of the September issue of IUCrData!

The solid state molecular structure of 10-Phenyl-10H-phenoxazine-4,6-diol tetrahydrofuran monosolvate with hydrogen-bonding indicated by dotted lines and connecting the atoms that are bonding with distances listed.

Whalen, A. C.; Hernandez Brito, C.; Choi, K. H.; Warner, E. J. T.; Thole, D. A.; Gau, M. R.; Carroll, P. J.; Anstey, M. R. “10-Phenyl-10H-phenoxazine-4,6-diol tetrahydrofuran monosolvate.” IUCrData 20205, x201276. link

The solid state molecular structure of 2,2'-Oxybis(1,3-bis(4-methoxyphenyl)-2,3-dihydro-1H-benzo[d][1,3,2]diazaborole) obtained from an X-ray crystal structure analysis.

Mallard, H. H.; Kennedy, N. D.; Rudman, N. A.; Greenwood, A. M.; Nicoleau, J.; Angle, C. E.; Torquato, N. A.; Gau, M. R.; Carroll, P. J.; Anstey, M. R. “2,2’-Oxybis[1,3-bis(4-methoxyphenyl)-2,3-dihydro-1H-benzo[d][1,3,2]diazaborole].” IUCrData20205, x201248. link

Time to go anisotropic on that structure…

Most surprising to me, but probably to you as well, is that this summer has been pretty productive. We’ve submitted two structures to the Cambridge Structural Database as CSD Communications, are working on two papers for IUCrData, and might finish a few more after our research time officially ends. But most importantly, all the structures in the Anstey Group Catalog are now done and ready for publishing!

Here’s a look at the structures we posted up on the CSD. Enjoy!

a molecular structure of a molecule viewed as a series of balls and sticks. The compound is a type of borane.
a molecular structure of a molecule viewed as a series of balls and sticks. The compound is a type of borane.

Hannah H. Mallard, Mitchell R. Anstey, Nicholas D. Kennedy, Nathan A. Rudman, Alexa M. Greenwood, Corey E. Angle, Jonathan Nicoleau, Nicole A. Torquato, Michael R. Gau, Patrick J. Carroll, CCDC 2015021: CSD Communication, 2020, DOI: 10.5517/ccdc.csd.cc25msp9 link

a molecular structure of a molecule viewed as a series of balls and sticks. The compound is a polymeric interlinked structure of phenoxazines and potassium cations.

Aislinn C. Whalen, Mitchell R. Anstey, Claudia Hernandez Brito, Kyoung Hun Choi, Ellen J. T. Warner, David Thole, Michael R. Gau, Patrick J. Carroll, CCDC 2018922: CSD Communication, 2020, DOI: 10.5517/ccdc.csd.cc25rvjb

a molecular structure of a molecule viewed as a series of balls and sticks. The compound has a 1,2-diaminobenzene structure.

Mitchell Anstey, CCDC 2018924: CSD Communication, 2020, DOI: 10.5517/ccdc.csd.cc25rvld

Out of the Fume Hood and Into the Computer

Undergrad in the Lab is a Twitter handle that you should get familiar with! They focus on making the experience of undergraduates in research as best as it can be.

When this whole COVID thing happened, they posted up asking what research mentors were planning as they went into the summer. I DMed with my plans, and we talked about all the conversations they’ve had with students reassuring them that the cancellations of research positions isn’t their fault.

I then jumped into writing my own little piece about what went into my decisions for this summer, and now you can see it on their site!

There’s smoke coming out of my computer!

a screenshot of the Olex2 work pane that shows the button for PLATON added in as well as "ShelXT" in the dropdown of the Solve list

I got a Mac back in 2002 to avoid just such a scenario. I had a PC for quite a while, but Shane Liesegang had turned me to the Mac-side of things. I loved the user-friendliness and the design, and iPods were just starting to come out.

While things have mostly changed, trying to do science on a Mac was never easy. Software was always built with Windows/Linus in mind. Fast forward to today, I’m often working with X-ray diffraction data, structure visualization software, and computations. Thankfully, most software is Mac-accessible, but sometimes I have to get my hands dirty. That means opening up a Terminal window and mucking around with things that I have no business mucking around with!

Or at least I used to. Shane and I are still close friends. He’s now a Jesuit but was a game designer in a previous life. His knowledge of Mac stuff is beyond parallel, so I asked him if he could help me with an installation that normally would happen in the Terminal on the command line.

He created two scripts for X-ray crystallography programs PLATON and SHELX to make them play nice with Olex2 (or to be run separately, if that’s your jam).

So if you’re a Mac person and you have need of Olex2 for solving your crystal structures, head to that link above and follow the instructions. In just a short while, you’ll be up and running with SHELX and PLATON without any confusing or intimidating Terminal work!

It’s time for me to get back in the lab

If you are living in this current time and not viewing this as some research project 100 years in the future, you probably expect getting back to work in the lab will be tricky. For me, this summer, it’s a little bit of yes and no.

I am closing in on the end of the pre-tenure phase of my career at Davidson. My tenure dossier will be due in the Fall of 2021, and I’ll want to wrap up as much work as possible in time for the evaluation. My plan for the next 15 months has been to reduce the number of student researchers to give myself time to focus on finishing what many previous students have started. During Fall 2019, I committed to two students with one winning a prestigious Davidson summer research grant. However, when everything ground to a halt in March, all our plans were thrown into the trash bin!

These two students were still very much interested in trying to make it work, and seeing that, I couldn’t deny them. But Davidson isn’t allowing on-campus research, so it’s going to be remote. We’ve agreed to try out X-ray crystallography and computational research as much as possible to give them skills while still keeping them connected to the projects we have in the group. That’s the tricky part.

The not-tricky part, I hope, is that I’m going to be working in my lab alone this summer. As I had planned, I want to finish up work that was started before, but now I’ll be focused on things that can be incorporated into the work that the remote students are doing. Here’s a picture of me on my first day back in lab (today!).

Person standing in a laboratory with safety goggles and a Disney-themed face mask for COVID-19 safety.

So wish us luck on this crazy summer. We’ll see where it takes us!

Present and Past of Davidson Chemistry Team Up!

Matt Whited is an inorganic chemistry professor at Carleton College, and he is also a Davidson College grad from 2004. I’ll be honest that we hadn’t crossed paths until I was looking through the for ideas to incorporate into my Organometallics course last Spring. I happened upon his migratory insertion laboratory lesson, which is a three-experiment series covering the synthesis of several organometallic moly complexes.

In those materials and among his papers, I noticed he was still expanding the set of phosphines that would induce migratory insertion. Having just read some papers about the PTA ligand, I was curious about whether it might work similarly. We exchanged a few emails, and we were off to the races.

The students did a bunch of work, I mailed out some crystals over the following summer, and we received some very high quality data that is presented in the paper (written by Matt).

Check out the paper here.

Two chemical structures displayed in both a Lewis dot structure style as well as a three-dimensional representation based on X-ray crystallography data

New paper out!

I have a feeling this is going to be a big year for our group for publishing. Several projects have started coalescing into their final stories, and I will have time away from teaching next academic year to push them the last mile.

And the one that might break the dam is this new paper out from Christopher Bejger’s group at UNC Charlotte. Christopher and I have been bouncing ideas off of one another, scrounging for funding, and looking for a way to collaborate. This is his idea entirely, but I had a hand in the data manipulation as well as a few other small aspects. I’m thankful I was able to help!

His table of contents graphic game is top tier!

a molecular structure with water splashing around it indicating it is water-soluble, while also noting that the molecule is redox-active