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Book Review Poets in the Laboratory Cantor's Dilemma. By C. Djerassi

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This was ground up and stored in an argon atmosphere. The “P,Se,” powder
(0.40g, 0.91 mmol) was added to a solution of 0.56 g (0.48 mmol)
[(C,H,),P],[WSe,] in 10 mL DMF. The resulting red solution was stirred for
24 h a t room temperature, then filtered, layered with 10 mL THF, and stored at
4°C. Lustrous red crystals suitable for an X-ray diffraction analysis separated
out. Yield 70%. correct analysis.-IR: v [cm-‘1 = 495(s), 441(s), 328(m),
123(m).-NMR data [for the designation of the P and Se atoms see Equation
(a)]: ” P NMR(DMF, H,PO,ext.). b = 52.85 (d, 1 P, P(l))J(P(l)-P(2)) 9.8 Hz,
J(P(1)-Se(a)) 309 Hz), 6 = 10.49 (d.1 P, P(2)) J(P(2)-Se(b)) 227.8 Hz, J(P(2)Se(c,d)) 654.5 Hz), 19.37 (s, 2 P, Ph,P@), ”Se NMR (DMF rel. to Me,Se):
b = 1073 (d, 2 Se, Se(a)), 1210 (d. 2 Se, Se(b)), 993 (d, 2 Se, Se(c,d)), 2288 (s,
1 Se, Se(f)).
Received: June 13, 1990 [Z 4013 IE]
German version: Angew Chem. 102 (1990) 1502
CAS Registry numbers:
1, 130955-60-1; P,Se,, 56836-52-6; [Ph,P],[WSe,J, 112988-67-7
[l] a) M. A. Ansari, J. A. Ibers, Coord. Chem. Rev 100 (1990) 223. b) M.
Kanatzidis, Comments Inorg. Chem. 10 (1990) 161;c) D. Fenske, J. Ohmer,
J. Hachgenei, K. Merzweiler, Angew. Chem. 100 (1988) 1300; Angew.
Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 27 (1988) 1277; d) H. G. Gyshng in S. Patai, Z.
Rappaport (Eds.): The Chemistry oforganic Selenium and Tellurium Cowpounds, Wiley, New York 1986, p. 679; e) W. A. Herrmann, Angew. Chem
98 (1986) 57; Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 25 (1986) 56.
[2] J. G. Brennan, T. Siegrist, S. M. Stuczynski, M. L. Steigerwald, J Am.
Chem. Soc. 11f (1989) 9240.
[3] a) W. A. Flomer, S. C. O’Neal, W. T. Pennington, D. Jeter, A. W. Cordes,
J. W. Kolis, Angew. Chem. lOO(1988) 1768; Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 27
(1988) 1702; b) W. A. Flomer, J. W. Kolis, J. An7. Chem. Soc. 110 (1988)
[4] a) 0.J. Scherer, Comments Inorg. Chem. 6 (1987) 1 ; b) 0.J. Scherer, M.
Swarowsky, G. Wolmershauser, Organomelallies 8 (1989) 841 ; c) M. DiVdira, P. Stoppioni, M. Peruzzini, Polyhedron 6 (1987) 351; d) P. T. Wood,
J. D. Woollins, Transition Met. Chem. I 1 (Weinheim, Germany) (1986)
358; e) A. J. DiMaio, A. L. Rheingold, Chem. Rev. YO (1990) 169; f) B. W.
Eichhorn, R. C. Haushalter, J. C. Huffman, Angew. Chem. 1Of (1989)
1081; Angew. Chem. I n / . Ed. Eagl. 28 (1989) 1032.
[5] a) A. W Cordes, R. D. Joyner, R. D. Shores, E. D. Dill, Inorg. Chem. 13
(1974) 132; b) C. A. Ghilardi. S. Midollini, A. Orlandini, Angew,. Chem. 95
(1983) 801; Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 22 (1983) 790.
161 a) M. DiVaira, M. Peruzzinr, P. Stoppioni. J Chem. SOC.Chem. Commun.
1983.903; b) M. DIVaira, M. Peruzzini, P. Stoppioni, J Chem SOC.,Dalton
Trans. 1985,291; c) Polyhedron 4 (1986) 945; d) G. A. Zank, T. B. Rauchfuss, S. R Wilson, A. L. Rheingold, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 106 (1984) 7621.
[7] S . C. ONeal, J. W. Kolis, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 110 (1988) 1971.
[8] Crystal structure data: [(C,H,),P],[Se=W(PSe4)(PSe2)] (CH,),NCOH,
triclinic, space group P1, a = 10.582(4). b = 13.770(5). c = 20.159(6) A,
Y = 88.35(3);. p =77.00(3)”, 7 =70.28(3)’, V = 2692(2) A3, 2 = 2, ecs,c
1.91 g ~ m - pMo,,
~ .
=70.30 cm-’ (transmission factors: 0.47-1.00),
T = 21 “C. Refined using 4395 reflections (20 5 45”) with FOz> 3u(FO2)to
R = 0.0702 and R , = 0.0868 on 587 parameters (all non-hydrogen atoms
refined anisotropically). Full structural details of the crystal structure investigation may be obtained from the Fachinformatronszentrum Karlsruhe, Gesellschaft fur wissenschaftlich-technische Information mbH, D7514 Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen 2 (FRG), on quoting the depository
number CSD-54758, the names of the authors, and the journal citation.
[9] D. E. C. Corbridge: The Structural Chemistry of Phosphorus, Elsevier,
Amsterdam, 1974.
[lo] L. Aslanov, R. Mason, A. G. Wheeler, P. 0. Whimp, J. Chem Soc.
D 1970. 30.
[ ] I ] a) 0. J. Scherer, Angen,. Chem. 102 (1990) 1137; Angew. Chem. Int. Ed.
Engl. 26 (1985) 1104, and references cited therein; b) J. F. Nixon, Chem.
Rev. 88 (1988) 1327.
[12] R. W M. Wardle, S. Bhaduri, C:N. Chau, J. A. Ibers, Inorg. Chem. 27
(1988) 1747.
Poets in the Laboratory
Cantor’s Dilemma. By C. Djerassi. Doubleday, New York
1989. 230 pp., hardcover $18.95.-ISBN 0-385-26183-7
It is unusual for scientists to write fiction, the most familiar example being C. P. Snow, the Cambridge University
chemist-spectroscopist, best known for his “Strangers and
Brothers” series of novels and his influential and controversial book “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.”
Carl Djerassi, Professor of Chemistry at Stanford Universi1488
Verlagsgesellschafi mbH. W-6940 Weinheim, 1990
ty, recipient of the US National Medal of Science and the
first Wolf Prize in Chemistry and synthesizer of the first oral
contraceptive, has followed Baron Snow’s example; he is the
author of “The Futurist and Other Stories”, and his short
stories, essays, and poems have appeared in various
magazines. As related in “Steroids Made It Possible”, an
autobiographical volume in Jeffrey I . Seeman’s “Profiles,
Pathways and Dreams” series, following a cancer operation
in 1985, Djerassi decided “to test the seriousness of [his]
intellectual commitment to a new literary career ... [proceeding] concurrently along two paths-one fictional, the other
The accelerating pace of research and increasing size of
research groups has rendered more difficult the traditional
mode of transmitting the methods, values, and ethics of science to scientific novices by personal contact with experienced researchers. One indirect but quite artistic means for
accomplishing this goal is the medium of fiction, a method
chosen by Djerassi in “Cantor’s Dilemma,” his first novel.
First and foremost, “Cantor’s Dilemma” is an absorbing
mystery that kept us engrossed through the final pages. We
won’t spoil the fun for potential readers by disclosing the
outcome. It is a cautionary tale about I. C. Cantor, an internationally renowned “superstar” cell biologist and, like
Djerassihimself, a true renaissance man, who pushes his best
postdoc, Jeremiah Stafford, a young scientist with flawless
laboratory technique into performing an experimentum crucis to prove Cantor’s new theory of tumor formation. The
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 29 (1990) No. 12
initial failure of one of the researchers in the laboratory of
Kurt KrdUSS, a fellow cancer researcher and competitor of
Cantor’s, to replicate Stafford’s work as well as an anonymous letter cause Cantor to doubt Jerry’s results, SO Cantor
devises a second and simpler experimental proof, which he
carries out himself. Cantor and Stafford jointly receive the
Nobel Prize, and many of the later pages of the book are
devoted to the elaborate Stockholm ceremonies. In the end
Krauss attempts to blackmail Cantor into nominating him
for the Nobel Prize.
The book reads like a veritable “Who’s Who” of science.
The names of familiar leading researchers, editors, and historians of science, historical and contemporary, appear on almost every page. Djerassi even slyly introduces an oblique
reference to himself (p. 167). While telling his story, he deals
with many personal and professional issues that researchers
encounter in their work, issues neglected in traditional science courses, e.g., choosing a Ph.D. mentor, role models,
hiring and tenure policies, laboratory notebooks, grantsmanship, refereemanship, the status of women in science,
teacher-student relationships including sexual relations,
nominations and awards, patents, competition, priority,
jealousy, fraud, replication of experiments, credibility, retraction of published work, seminars, and lectures. Also unobtrusively and skillfully integrated into the story are countless other fascinating esoteric minutiae ranging from antique
furniture and Boccherini string quartets to Nobel protocol
and European dining habits.
After we each had read the book separately, we exchanged
and compared our impressions. As a chemist, one reviewer
marveled at the authoritative way in which Djerassi accurately presents a “behind the scenes” view of how science is
done and how the scientific community works. He also admired the seemingly effortless manner in which the author
dispenses nuggets of wisdom that should be invaluable to
budding scientists. As a humanist, the other was disappointed at the picture of the scientific enterprise as predominantly
award-oriented rather than as the idealistic search for truth
generally perceived by the public. She also thought that the
characters, especially the women, lacked depth. As we continued to discuss the book, more and more ambiguities surfaced; in particular, Cantor’s final dilemma-whether or not
to recommend Krauss-is unresolved. Nevertheless, we both
enjoyed the book immensely and could not put it down until
we had finished it.
According to Djerassi, “Publications, priorities, the order
of the authors, the choice of the journal, the collegiality and
the brutal competition, academic tenure, grantsmanship, the
Nobel Prize, Schadenfreude ... are soul and baggage of contemporary science. To illustrate them, I had Cantor and
Stafford work on a totally fictitious theory of tumorigenesis.... Only by giving myself. .. the assurance that their science
is pure fiction could I write about behavior and attitudes
surely more common than we like to admit.”
While Djerassi’s novel will be avidly read by chemists, it
will also reach a wider audience. In view of the current rampant epidemic of antiscientific attitudes and chemophobia,
many scientists may question the wisdom of washing science’s dirty linen in public by giving the public an inside view
of the darker side of science with Cromwellian warts.
Stephen G. Brush has written an article, “Should the History
of Science Be Rated X?” (Science 183 (1974) 1164), subtitled
“The way scientists behave (according to historians) might
not be a good model for students.” The same question might
be raised with respect to “Cantor’s Dilemma” and the nonscientific public. We recommend that you read it and answer
the question yourself.
Angew. Chem. Inr. Ed. Engl. 29 f 1990) No.12
Gaps and Verges. By R. Hoffmann. University of Central
Florida Press, Orlando 1990. Distributed by University
Presses of Florida, 15 NW 15th St., Gainesville, FL 32603.
x, 88 pp., hardcover, $14.95.-ISBN 0-8130-0943-X
As in Hoffmann’s first poetry volume (“The Metamict
State”, 1987), these poems are characterized by striking
metaphors and vivid images, many drawn from scientific
ideas and concepts: “disordered silica chains, rings and
structural frustration”; “oxygenated salty soups, lightninglit, when molecules swam to be shaped”; “membranes, assemblies of proteins and lipids that define the outer walls of
cells”; and “lipid-tailored confinements, warm prisons where
enzyme brews gel.”
Not only do scientific and chemical metaphors and images
occur in poems dealing with events from Hoffmann’s
everyday life, but entire poems deal with scientific and academic themes. “Jerry-Built Forever” deals with an automobile exhaust suicide by describing in poetic but scientifically accurate detail the oxygen-carrying mechanism of
hemoglobin and the competition between oxygen and carbon monoxide. “Modes of Representation” describes
the artistic line cuts of laboratory experiments in old chemistry books. Hoffmann contrasts these simple but lucid
drawings with the modern photoengraved illustrations in full
color that grace the pages of the latest chemistry textbooks
(and add tremendously to the cost!), whose introduction he
connects with “a deterioration in the students’ ability to
follow a simple experimental procedure.” “What we have
learned about the Pineal” describes the functions and
secretions of the pineal gland in animals and in humans.
“These pour Obtenir le Grade de Docteur 6s-Sciences” depicts an oral thesis defense, a common academic rite of passage.
Many of the selections will appeal to nonscientists as well
as to scientists. A number derive from Hoffmann’s frequent
travels, e.g., “Svoloch” depicts his encounter with customs
officials at Sheremetovo Airport and the confiscation of the
cassette of a Haydn cello concerto played by Mstislav Rostropovich, who was then stillpersona non grata in his Russian
homeland. “Eschatology” recalls the bishops’ rooms at
Maynooth, the Irish Pontifical Seminary where Hoffmann
and other invited speakers at a scientific meeting were
Although we found the meaning of a few of the poems
obscure, particularIy in Sections 1 and 6 of this six-part
book, Hoffmann’s poignant autobiographical recollections
of the Holocaust are readily accessible to Jew and non-Jew
alike. “June 1944” recalls his escape after 15 months’ hiding
in an attic as a six-year-old with his mother to the Russian
lines and the family home, while “Believing” sketches his
experiences in Krakow at the age of eight as a Catholic,
including confession and first communion (his family pretended to have converted during World War 11).
The volume concludes with “Corral”, a poem for Carlos
Fuentes that portrays Sor Juana Inks de la Cruz (1651 - 1695),
the intellectual prodigy, poet, scholar, and scientist, who
retired to the convent of San Jeronimo because “it was not
a time for learned women in Mexico”. In this slim volume,
which we heartily recommend to aficionados of Hoffmann’s
verse, he masterly presents to a wider audience the image of
a chemist both as a professional scientist and as a human
George B. Kauffman
Laurie M . Kauffman [NB 1119 IE]
California State University
Fresno, CA 93740 (USA)
Q V C H Ver/agsgeselischafim b H . W-6940 Weinheim,i990
$3.50 i
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