John D. (Nick) Fisk is in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Colorado State University and works on developing new chemical tools for understanding and manipulating biological systems.
1. What made you want to be a chemist?
I was very lucky to grow up in an old farm house; my back yard was woods and a stream. I don’t think that a better toy will ever be invented for a 5-year old than a stream full of living things. I was in the water collecting animals or building dams and locks nearly every day. I think that environment and the observations that one can’t help but make about how it works, how it changes, and how it can be made to change set me on the path toward science. I remain interested in all of physical science and am working in an area between chemistry, biology, and engineering. Ultimately, I am interested in how the world works on a chemical level.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
If I hadn’t become a chemist (or some other flavor of scientist), I would be an architect or landscape architect. I have always been interested in design. My work deals with the design of molecules and nanostructures, but I would also enjoy assembling buildings or gardens.
3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?
My lab is interested in using chemistry and biology together for the construction of materials and biotechnologies useful in medicine. Toward these ends, we are working to add new amino acids to the genetic code; we will use these non-natural amino acids, along with protein engineering, to improve the utility of virus particles as the building blocks of advanced materials. I hope that our work will contribute on a basic level to the ability to integrate new chemistries into biology and on a practical level to generate useful tools for research and medicine.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
Issac Newton. I am interested in the history of science, and he is such a pivotal figure. I am not sure he would be a great dinner companion, as he was apparently a bit anti-social. Nonetheless, I would really like to see how a mind like his worked.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
The last time I was in the lab doing experiments was about a year ago synthesizing some non-natural amino acids.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?
I’m going to cheat a little bit with this one and say that I would take along the Scientific American Library series. The whole series contains fewer than 70 books, so it is not an entire library. I really enjoy learning about other areas of science, and I imagine that I would have a lot of time to read before I got my “island lab” running.
7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?
Jason Chin. The work he is doing is quite exciting and may bring about a real paradigm shift in the area of templated polymer synthesis.