Reactions – Judy Kim

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

When I entered college, I thought I was going to be an engineer. But then I took my first real chemistry class (5.11 at MIT), and I was simply amazed at the world of molecules. Challenging and wonderful (thanks to Silvia Ceyer) physical chemistry courses followed, and I discovered the world of chemistry research as an undergraduate in Mario Molina’s lab. Now here I am in the Chemistry Department at UC San Diego, with Mario Molina as my faculty colleague!

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

I’d write biographies of ordinary people from all over the world. This job would combine many of my non-chemistry interests, such as experiencing other cultures, writing, and traveling.

3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?

One of the most important responsibilities of a chemist, or any scientist, is to actively shape the laws that guide society. Many of the problems that we are trying to solve (energy crisis, pollution, etc) can be lessened by relatively simple changes in the rules that govern our civilized lives.

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

Ernest Shackleton was an Antarctic explorer who endured 800 miles of the most treacherous waters in a small lifeboat and crossed severe terrain to save his crew stranded near Antarctica. His extraordinary leadership, skill, and perseverance are inspirational – what was this man like?

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

As an assistant professor, I still work very closely with my students and go to the lab almost every day. Today I helped my undergraduate student obtain a resonance Raman spectrum of a carrot using our new microscope. It doesn’t matter how many times I have seen these data (including publishing a paper on it), I still get excited seeing the molecular fingerprint of a vegetable!

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

This is an easy one – I would bring East of Eden by John Steinbeck with me. To offset this tragic and intense tale, I’d turn to one of my favorite textbooks from college, The Stars by H. A. Rey, to identify the beautiful shapes in the nighttime sky. Music? Top 80’s hits (as defined by Richard Blade) are a must, as well as Johnny Cash and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.

Judy Kim is in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at The University of California, San Diego, and works on spectroscopic studies of biological systems. Her research areas include membrane protein folding, peptide-membrane interactions, and biological radical intermediates involved in electron transfer reactions.