Reactions – Shana Kelley

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I enrolled in university thinking I would end up in business, finance, or law, but once I got there, I found that science – chemistry in particular – was the subject I found most interesting. I found it concrete and logical, and the way that simple theories and laws explained complex phenomena really fascinated me. What really hooked me, though, was research. Once I got into a lab and started running my own experiments, I became captivated with the process of discovery and learning new things about molecular systems through experimentation.

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

I can’t imagine a job better than the one I have now – it’s so multifacted and there’s always a new challenge. If I had to choose something else, I think it would be related to medicine. I find physiology fascinating, and I could see a career as a surgeon as leveraging some of the the same skills that I liked using in the lab, so maybe that’s where I would end up.

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

We are working in a number of areas, but one of our current focuses is on a biomolecular detection platform that we are pushing very hard to make practical and relevant for use as a clinical diagnostic. I’d very much like to see the work my lab does have an impact outside of academic science and make its way into clinical medicine, so this is an area we’re investing quite a bit of effort in.

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

Elizabeth I. She was a woman with so much power and responsibility at a time when women had so little. I’d be fascinated to hear about what it was like to walk in her shoes.

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

Quite a while ago…..don’t want to get into the details, but it was a fiasco involving radioactivity and the cleanup of a pretty big mess because I was too distracted with all the demands of being an assistant professor to focus properly on an experiment. I realized then that it was time to get out of the lab and devote my attention to overseeing others’ research efforts. My group at the time wholeheartedly agreed and I think my current coworkers continue to prefer that I limit my lab activities to looking over their shoulders rather than making a mess in the lab!

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

That’s a tough one. One of my favorite books because of its chemistry link is The Periodic Table by Primo Levi, so it would be a front runner. My music tastes are pretty eclectic, so what I would take would depend heavily on my mood when I got shipped off for exile, but perhaps a nice long Mozart opera would end up making the trip with me.

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

I’d like to hear from some of my chemist colleagues in Toronto – always interesting to hear more about what’s behind the science that people nearby are doing.

Shana Kelley is in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto, and works on nanomaterials-based biosensors and drug delivery systems.