Reactions – Sébastien Perrier

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Sébastien Perrier is in the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney and works on the synthesis and characterisation of macromolecules with highly controlled and pre-determinable structures using controlled/living free radical polymerisation, to design new materials, or improve existing ones.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I have been fascinated by all aspects of science and mathematics from a young age. I chose to read chemistry as it is fundamentally a science that enables its students to understand the building blocks of life and the world around us. My research specialism is polymer and macromolecular chemistry which also requires knowledge of physics and biology. I very much enjoy the multi-disciplinary nature of this field and the collaborations it has enabled me to pursue!

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

I would probably be a historian! In my spare time I enjoy learning about different periods of history across the world, and understanding how we got to where we are.

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

Since my move from the University of Leeds in the UK to the University of Sydney, my research has evolved from polymer synthesis to the wider field of soft matter. My team is currently developing new methodologies to combine synthetic polymers to natural molecules, such as peptides and cellulose, to design nanostructured materials. The results are two-fold: the exploitation of the properties of the natural molecules to lead to functional materials (e.g. we have developed structured polymeric nanomaterials based on the self assembly of peptide sequences); and the enhancement of the properties of natural, renewable, materials by conjugating them to synthetic polymers (e.g. we recently developed cellulose–polymer derivatives that show improved properties when compared to cellulose).

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

I have always been impressed by how the early scientists studied all aspects of mathematics and science, combining chemistry, physics, biology, geology, etc and even philosophy. One scientific figure who stands out for me is Leonardo Da Vinci, who was also an engineer and an artist – I would love to spend hours listening to his observations on our modern world!

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

My last experiment was the synthesis of a polyamide, as a demo to my first year undergraduate students! I tend to do a lot of chemical experiments in my lectures, to show students what it is really all about! In terms of research, the last time I worked in the lab was to fix our size exclusion chromatography!

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

Could I cheat and take my iPod?! If I could only take one album, it would have to be The Joshua Tree by U2 – their best album so far in my opinion. Being able to take only one book is a difficult choice, as I enjoy reading very much! I recently read A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, which combines my two passions, science and history, and is written in a simple, humorous and very informative way (I actually use this book in my undergraduate teaching!). If I were to select something from the canon of literature, it would have to be the complete works of Oscar Wilde.

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

This is a tough question! I can think of a few, but generally speaking it would be nice to hear from a mix of people at various stages in their career – e.g. researchers about to retire from the profession and new appointments.