Reactions: Timothy Shiau

Timothy Shiau is an Assistant Director in the department of Drug Discovery, at NovaBay Pharmaceuticals and a Principal Chemist at Emeryville Pharmaceutical Services, and primarily works on topical antiinfective agents and NeutroPhase, a skin and wound cleanser .

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

All throughout my life, I’ve been attracted to building things. I built a lot of Lego spaceships as a child, and was particularly fascinated with the idea of design. I never built any of the spaceships the instructions told me to build – I’d just throw all my Legos into a big pile and create my own. That fascination with design transferred to organic chemistry in high school, when I turned to the back of the book (the part we weren’t going to study) and started reading about all the different molecules that could be made with just carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. At that point, the builder in me took over.

2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?

Prior to my discovery of organic chemistry, I had always wanted to be a computer programmer, for much of the same reasons that led me to be a synthetic chemist. Like molecules, computer programs are machines, built and designed to accomplish a purpose. Like synthetic chemistry, there’s a sense of accomplishment watching your machine at work, and an extra measure of satisfaction seeing it do something that nobody had done before.

3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?

NovaBay’s main program involves a set of topical antiinfective compounds called Aganocide® compounds. They’re N-chloroamine and N-chloroamide containing molecules which inactivate proteins on viruses, bacteria, as well as fungi. Most importantly, these compounds selectively attack microbes over human cells with no chance of resistance. NovaBay’s goal is to reduce the overuse of antibiotics for applications that don’t really need systemic drugs – eye, ear, skin, and wound infections are all readily treatable with Aganocides.

4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?

Georges Lemaître, a physicist who was one of the first to propose an expanding universe – in addition to being an engineer, decorated WWI veteran, as well as a priest! I’d love to hear his thoughts on having so many vastly different experiences in life.

5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?

This afternoon. My coworker, Dr. Dmitri Debabov, and I have started a new company, Emeryville Pharmaceutical Services, which partners with small companies in the San Francisco Bay Area to provide NMR, LCMS, and Microbiology services to people who may not have their own infrastructure or lack the expertise to run some of the tough experiments like 2-D NMR or biofilm assays. Today, I ran a 31P-13C HMBC to locate where a phosphorylation had occurred on a large molecule.

6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?

I would bring a star chart so that I could enjoy the magnificent, unspoiled view of the night sky. I suppose, then, it would be only appropriate that I listen to the Jupiter movement from Gustav Holst’s The Planets.

7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?

Prof. John Soderquist at the University of Puerto Rico is an exciting and excitable guy who excels in chemistry as well as personal anecdotes. I’d love to see his wit and wisdom in a future post.