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The Gossip Approach to Scientific Writing

Communication of scientific findings is an essential skill for any scientist, yet it’s one of those things some students are reluctant to do partially because of the infamous blank page scare. Once they are confronted to writing their thesis or papers they make some common mistakes like for instance not thinking who their audience is or not adhering to the main points. One of the the highest form of communication, believe it or not, is gossip, because gossip goes straight to the point, is juicy (i.e. interesting) and seldom needs contextualization i.e. you deliver it just to the right audience (that’s why gossiping about friends to your relatives is almost never fun) and you do it at the right time (that’s the difference between gossips and anecdotes). Therefore, I tell my students to write as if they were gossiping; treat your research in a good narrative way, because a poor narrative can make your results be overlooked.

I’ve read too many theses in which conclusions are about how well the methods work, and unless your thesis has to do with developing a new method, that is a terrible mistake. Methods work well, that is why they are established methods.

Take the following example for a piece of gossip: Say you are in a committed monogamous relationship and you have the feeling your significant other is cheating on you. This is your hypothesis. This hypothesis is supported by their strange behavior, that would be the evidence supporting your hypothesis; but be careful because there could also be anecdotal evidence which isn’t significant to your own as in the spouse of a friend had this behavior when cheating ergo mine is cheating too. The use of anecdotal evidence to support a hypothesis should be avoided like the plague. Then, you need an experimental setup to prove, or even better disprove, your hypothesis. To that end you could hack into your better half’s email, have them followed either by yourself or a third party, confronting their friends, snooping their phone, just basically about anything that might give you some information. This is the core of your research: your data. But data is meaningless without a conclusion, some people think data should speak for itself and let each reader come up with their own conclusions so they don’t get biased by your own vision and while there is some truth to that, your data makes sense in a context that you helped develop so providing your own conclusions is needed or we aren’t scientists but stamp collectors.

This is when most students make a terrible mistake because here is where gossip skills come in handy: When asked by friends (peers) what was it that you found out, most students will try to convince them that they knew the best algorithms for hacking a phone or that they were super conspicuous when following their partners or even how important was the new method for installing a third party app on their phones to have a text message sent every time their phone when outside a certain area, and yeah, by the way, I found them in bed together. Ultimately their question is left unanswered and the true conclusion lies buried in a lengthy boring description of the work performed; remember, you performed all that work to reach an ultimate goal not just for the sake of performing it.

Writers say that every sentence in a book should either move the story forward or show character; in the same way, every section of your scientific written piece should help make the point of your research, keep the why and the what distinct from the how, and don’t be afraid about treating your research as the best piece of gossip you’ve had in years because if you are a science student it is.


A New Graduate Student

With pleasure I announce that last week our very own Gustavo “Gus” Mondragón became the fifth undergraduate student from my lab to defend his BSc thesis and it has to be said that he did it admirably so.

Gus has been working with us for about a year now and during this time he not only worked on his thesis calculating excited states for bacteriochlorophyl pigments but also helped us finishing some series of calculations on calix[n]arene complexes of Arsenic (V) acids, which granted him the possibility to apear as a co-author of the manuscript recently published in JIPH. Back in that study he calculated the interaction energies between a family of calix macrocycles and arsenic acid derivatives in order to develop a suitable extracting agent.

For his BSc thesis, Gus reproduced the UV-Vis absorption spectra of bacteriochlorophyll-a pigments found in the Fenna-Matthews-Olson complex of photosynthetic purple bacteria using Time Dependent Density Functional Theory (TD-DFT) with various levels of theory, with PBEPBE yielding the best results among the tried set. These calculations were performed at the crystallographic conformation and at the optimized structure, also, in vacuo results were compared to those in implicit solvent (SMD, MeOH). He will now move towards his masters where he will further continue our research on photosynthesis.

Thank you, Gustavo, for your hard work and your sense of humor. Congratulations on this step and may many more successes come your way.


A new chemist is graduated

It is with great pleasure that I announce the graduation of another member of our research group: Luis Enrique “Kike” Aguilar defended his BSc thesis yesterday and is now counting the days left for the Autumn when he’ll move to the Netherlands for a masters in computational chemistry.

Luis Enrique, Kike, calculated the interaction energies of 144 different inclusion complexes where calix and thia-calix[n]arenes were once again the chosen hosts (36 of them) and two drugs for the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), namely Sorafenib and Bosutinib, were the guests.

The publication of the corresponding article in which we once again were fortunate enough to count with the collaboration of Dr. Rodrigo Galindo from Utah University in the molecular dynamics section, is still pending but we’re confident enough that it wont take much longer until it’s out there.

Kike is a very diligent student with great learning skills, I’m sure he’ll succeed in any enterprise he sets himself off.  Congratulations, Kike! Thanks for being a part of our research but more importantly for being a part of our community.


Two more students graduated!

It is with great pleasure that I’d like to announce the thesis defense of Guillermo “Memo” Caballero and Howard Diaz who in past days became the second and third students, respectively, to get their B.Sc. degrees with theses completed at our lab. I want to publicly thank them for their hard work which hasn’t only contributed with a thesis to our library but will soon contribute with research papers to our count.

Guillermo “Memo” Caballero worked on the calculation of a reaction mechanism that cannot happen. He started as a synthetic chemist and when he hit a wall at the lab he thought computational chemistry might help him get synthesis on the right direction. He has proven now that the aromatization process of a substituted glutarimide into the corresponding pyridine can only proceed only if substituents with a very strong electron withdrawing effect are used. For two reaction mechanisms proposed, both of them intramolecular rearrangements and only one of them concerted, the calculated energy barriers to reach for the corresponding transition states (QST2 and QST3 methods used) are higher than a pyrolitic decomposition. Memo found also that the delocalization of the pi electron system and its extent goes a long way into the stabilization of the non-aromatic analogue. At first we wanted to treat this problem as a tautomeric equilibrium but since we cannot observe the aromatic tautomer there is no equilibrium and hence no tautomerism. We are still thinking how to name this correspondence between the two compounds when we submit the corresponding paper. It must be said that Guillermo graduated with the highest honors in a most deserved way.

Howard Diaz worked on the design of molecular blockers for the entrance process of the HIV-1 virus into lymphocytes through the GP120 protein. Six known blockers based on phenyl-indoyl-urea were assessed through docking, the binding site of the GP120 protein was described in terms of the interactions formed with each on these compounds and that served as the basis for what in the end came up to be a 36 compound library of blockers, whose structures were first optimized at the B3LYP/6-31G** level of theory. All the 42 blockers were docked in the binding site of the protein and a thorough conformational search was performed. From this set, lead compounds were selected in terms of their binding energies (first calculated heuristically) and further studied at the Density Functional Theory, B97D/cc-pVTZ in order to study the electronic structure of the blocker when interacting with a selection of residues at the binding site. Interaction energies calculated at the quantum level are consistent with the complex formation but since we had to cut the protein to only a few residues little correlation is found with the first calculation; this is fine and still publishable, I just wish we had a more seamless transition between heuristics and quantum chemical calculations. Wiberg indexes were very low, as consistent with a hydrophobic cavity, and delocalization energies calculated with second order perturbation theory analysis on the Natural Bond Orbitals revealed that the two most important interactions are C-H…π and Cl…π, these two were selected as key parameters in our design of new drugs for preventing the HIV-1 virus to bind lymphocytes-T; now we only need to have them synthesized and tested (anyone interested?).

Thank you guys for all your hard work, it has truly payed off. I’m completely certain that no matter what you do and where you go you will be very successful in your careers and I wish you nothing but the very best. This lab’s doors will always remain open for you.


First graduated student!

Today is truly a landmark in our lab because on this day, María Eugenia “Maru” Sandoval-Salinas has defended her thesis and has thus obtained her B. Sc. in Chemistry. She is the first student under my supervision to achieve this goal, and I hope it won’t be long until we get some more, although now the bar has been set quite high. For the time being, Maru is pursuing a career in the pharmaceutical industry but has every intention of coming back to the lab for her Masters degree; she has a reserved spot here with us at CCIQS.

Hard work pays off - We wait for you to come back for your Masters Degree!

Hard work pays off – We wait for you to come back for your Masters Degree!

Maru’s thesis deals mainly, but not exclusively, with calculating the interaction energies of calix- and thia-calix[n]arenes with the tyrosine kinase inhibitor Imatinib, which is widely used in the treatment of Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML), in order to rationally design a drug delivery agent for this drug. Her work is (a huge) part of an article currently under revision that I only wish had been published before her defense. Still, we await for that paper to be published in the next few weeks.

Throughout her stay at our lab, Maru was a dedicated student willing to learn new skills every time. As she replied today to one of the questions: “it’s not so much how many calculations I got right, but how many I got wrong!“. I find deep meaning in this sentence, perhaps deep enough as to consider it an aphorism, because indeed the more we try the more we fail, and the more we fail the more we learn and the closer we get to success.

Congratulations, Maru! I personally thank you for all the hard work invested in your thesis, all the long hours in front of the computer and your disposition to learn and work during the last 1.5 years. I’m certain you’ll find success in any venture you undertake; and I’m certain of it because you never stop trying.

Taking the Oath after being unanimously approved

Taking the Oath after being unanimously approved

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