1. What made you want to be a chemist?
I think it was my first copper sulfate crystallizing experiment at primary school and then a series of great teachers. Chemistry for me was the perfect mixture of creativity and problem solving. I was lucky to have two wonderful A-level teachers who recognized that this appealed to me and encouraged me to do extra chemistry lessons, then to apply to study chemistry at Oxford.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be — and why?
I would choose to do another creative job — I’d love to be an artist, architect or designer. I’m glad I kept art as a past-time but I’m still jealous every time I see one of the beautiful Nature Chemistry covers that our Art Editor designs. The other thing I love to do is cooking (it’s organic chemistry where you can eat your product!) so the dream scenario would be to design and run a restaurant!
3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?
I work for Nature Publishing Group as a Technical Editor, which involves adding extra features to research articles on our website. We are incorporating extra compound information pages, which are linked from bold compound numbers in the HTML and PDF of our articles, as well as highlighting chemical names in the text and linking these to free chemical databases. I hope that the use of these sorts of facilities continues to grow and that we can make improvements to the way that scientists access information, particularly spectroscopic data and experimental methods.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with — and why?
It would be interesting to have dinner with William Perkin who discovered and commercialized the dye mauveine. He was a chemist at a time when so much was still unknown about organic chemistry, but when it was so important for industry. Maybe I’d invite William Fox-Talbot and Johannes Vermeer too — I always wish I’d been around when knowledge of the chemistry of pigments and photographic techniques was so important for artistic and commercial ventures.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab — and what was it?
I vividly remember my last experiment in the lab as it was the last experiment of my PhD and it was only last December! I was trying to purify 1 mg of the final product of my total synthesis. After a nervous 15 minutes with a pipette column and a further few staring at the NMR machine I discovered I’d made the right compound — a very happy (and nerve-wracking) day.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?
That’s a tricky one. I think I would have to make up some kind of “mix-tape” compilation album to suit all my moods, but you can be sure there would be some Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye in there. I’d probably take some historical fiction like a Tracy Chevalier novel with me or as a guilty pleasure the Harry Potter box set — that would waste a few hours.
7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions — and why?
Stuart Warren, as I — like many others who started there degrees in and after 2001 — learned much of the organic chemistry I know from the big green book!