Reactions – Catherine Goodman

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[In lieu of profiles, the contributors to this blog have decided to do their own Reactions pieces…]

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

Like Josh, I didn’t get interested in chemistry until quite late in the game. My high school science classes were not very inspiring, but they were also sufficiently painless that I wasn’t averse to taking more when I got to college. My freshman general chemistry class, then, got things moving: It was taught in the Socratic method by the best teacher ever, John Hutchinson. While the rest of the class was great, my ‘eureka’ moment came during a lecture about how soap works… as stupid as it sounds, the idea that physical processes could be explained in such a meaningful and elegant way really set me on the scientific path.

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

Well, I’ve been saying for a long time that I wish someone would pay me to read things, so if I couldn’t have this job, the other obvious choice is as an editor for a ‘normal’ publisher where I could read silly things (i.e., fiction). The other other (i.e., non-geeky) obvious choice would be as a dancer, although I would have to get back in shape (ahh, guacamole, the plague of my exercise plan!).

3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?

Without getting too negative, I think that many people live their lives without thinking things through, either in terms of their consequences (i.e., ‘it doesn’t matter if I throw this trash on the ground’…) or in how they will affect people around them (hmm… not sure I should get into this one, but let’s say I do not see eye-to-eye with Bush’s policies…). I like that scientists, as a whole, seem to be more willing to think about things carefully and act accordingly. Thus (although I guess this isn’t specific to chemists), an important potential contribution is to help people think more often.

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

Do they have to be dead? I would say Jon Stewart. I simply cannot imagine a more hilarious evening.

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

Last spring (May ’06) – I was trying to figure out if my beta-peptides had structure or not, and spent a few frustrating days on the CD. The last time I did an actual chemical experiment was shortly before that – homologating alpha amino acids to the beta compounds with diazomethane. I am proud to say there were no explosions.

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

I am, as my sister would say, an easy reader, so this is a tough one! Since I know I love it, and it’s long enough to take more than ~a day to read (and I could use it to further improve my Japanese), I would probably take Shogun, by James Clavell. (Josh thinks I should point out that I got this book for 25 cents, amidst a used-book-sale binge of 300 books. Fortunately they all cost ~25 cents.) Otherwise I’d take the complete works of Shakespeare. A CD… probably Crash, by Dave Matthews Band. Unfortunately, my favorite time to listen to that CD is while driving, which doesn’t work out so well for being on a desert island… can I have a (CD-equipped) dune buggy too?

Catherine Goodman is an Associate Editor for Nature Chemical Biology and a regular contributor to the Sceptical Chymist.