A Mania for Melchers

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Credibility Gaps

I have been puzzling over this for some time. When a manager tells an external party that one of his direct reports is an “expert” in a given area, which expertise the direct report would not claim for himself, does this make the direct report an “expert”?
Can the same manager, after the report retires, tell the direct report that the report is not a great scientist, which mantle the direct report has never claimed, and still be a credible manager?

I get by with a little help from my friends

I’m taking a watercolor class with Johnny P. Johnson of Fredericksburg. I did a few watercolors in my misspent youth, but when a reasonable opportunity presents itself in old age, I can’t say no. Someone asked me whether I was bored. Are you kidding? The painting was made with yellow ocher, lemon yellow, alizarin red, burnt umber, and a little ultramarine blue.  Thanks, Maureen and Rich!

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Partition Functions, Proteins, and Chemical Plants

Some research I have seen appeared to be dead in the water after the first dime was spent. Then millions were expended showing it to indeed be a Flying Dutchman. How many institutions do post-mortems on their research after it dies?
Partition functions in statistical thermodynamics allow one to calculate macroscopic properties from microscopic information. Enzymatic catalysis seems to be an area in which if the partition functions could be established, one would have a number of models for industrial research and development. Since a complex series of concatenated transformations occur in both biology and in modern chemical plants, can one use information from one to guide the other? In particular, what is the relationship between the volume of an enzyme and the chemical transformations it catalyzes? How affected are these transformations by pressure? How much does pressure affect the size and selectivity of the active site within the enzyme. Alternatively how much does solvation affect the structure and function of the enzyme?
Why even talk about this? The great promises of high throughput experimentation remind me of the old joke about a fine talking salesman being “more hat than ranch”. Why might this form of experimentation fail to give meaningful leads? A lot depends on the quality of the arbitrator at the end of the process.
For example, an arbitrator which operates at a lower pressure would not necessarily provide a meaningful optimum for a process which operates at a higher pressure because the volume(s) of the activated complex(es) is (are) changed by the pressure.
If one wants an optimum catalyst for a process, one would want to know in what physical regime (temperature, pressure, reactants, products, and poisons) that process would be operating within. On the other hand, if one has a catalyst in hand, one would want to know what conditions would maximize its value for the proprietor. This sounds like the question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” because it is that kind of question.