Reactions – Catherine Murphy

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1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I always liked science and nature even from a young age (around 6). I was fortunate enough to have great chemistry teachers in 8th grade (age 13) and in high school (age 15). I also found high school chemistry labs far more interesting than biology (I killed things) and physics (boring).

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

I would have two part-time jobs: one working outside in a garden, and the other in a coffeeshop/bookstore, both of which would pay me over $100,000 per year (as long as I am describing the ideal situation). I like to be outside, drink coffee, and read a lot of books so this is the perfect combo.

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

Scientifically, by connecting the molecular scale we deal with to larger, more complicated systems like biology, medicine, the environment. Of course we also have the chance to get students excited and more knowledgeable about chemistry early at the university – many students have to take chemistry, not just chemistry majors. So education of future citizens, to look at the evidence of phenomenon and come up with a good explanation that passes multiple tests, is a general good that chemists and other scientists bring to the world.

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

Julia Child – she was a hoot, and plus would make us a great meal!

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

Sadly, years ago as an assistant professor, when I was purifying compounds and DNA by HPLC. I still visit the lab every other day or so, and do demos for my university chemistry class.

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

Dante’s Comedy (Dorothy Sayers translation) and KD Lang’s Hymns from the 49th Parallel.

Catherine Murphy is in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of South Carolina, and works on metal nanoparticle synthesis, optical properties and applications; she also has an interest in the nanoscale structure and dynamics of DNA.