1. What made you want to be a chemist?
I started out as a neuroscience major at Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada. In the summer after my second year I started doing experiments in the chemistry laboratory on reactions that I thought were interesting. The most rewarding aspect of chemistry is that you can think of a new idea in the morning and often know if it works by the end of the day. In neuroscience, experiments usually took weeks or months before knowing the outcome. I also didn’t like killing rats.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
Before switching to chemistry I was on my way to becoming a neurosurgeon. I still think neuroscience is interesting because it directly pertains to the phenomenon of consciousness.
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
The short answer is by sharing more data more quickly. I understand that in many situations this is not possible because of IP or collaboration concerns. However, there are other situations where data that could be shared is not because of inertia. My approach to this is to make the laboratory notebook of my group public at all times. When I talk about sharing data I’m also including the details of how an experiment was carried out and observed. We can learn a lot by observing how people fail as well as succeed.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
It would be fascinating to hear Wilder Penfield recount his pioneering work on neural stimulation and mapping.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
September 3, 2008. While I was in Southampton I spent the day with Cameron Neylon and we measured the solubility of a few compounds in organic solvents. The experiment is available here. We used this as an example of how people can perform simple experiments and report measurements publicly that are difficult to find, even in expensive databases. We aim to collect a completely public dataset of solubilities of common compounds in organic solvents and create a predictive model via a collaboration with Rajarshi Guha at Indiana University. More information can be found here (Sigma–Aldrich is currently sponsor – new sponsors and participants welcome)
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one CD would you take with you?
I would bring an autobiography of somebody interesting – if I had to pick a specific one, William Shatner’s Up Til Now probably has a few giggles left in a second reading. Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut album never gets old.