1. What made you want to be a chemist?
I have always been curious about how things work and liked solving puzzles. In fact, when I was very young, I conducted experiments on plants, systematically exposing them to different conditions such as sunlight and drops of water in order to determine the optimal conditions for growth. So when I was in junior high and learned about chemistry, I realized that this was the field that interested me. At the age of twelve, I decided to be a chemistry professor.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
I would work in animal conservation. Protecting the diversity of the earth’s wildlife from loss of habitat and the effects of global warming is something I feel passionate about. Whether I would study genetics of endangered species at a place like the San Diego Wild Animal Park or would work in the field on an animal management team, I am not sure.
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
We already contribute greatly to the world: everything from making life-saving drugs to extra-absorbent diapers. I think chemists will continue to play a crucial role in society, making positive impacts in alternative energy, combating world disease, and purifying drinking water, to name a few.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
Michelangelo. I once read a book about him that also discussed more generally the chemistry of frescos and paints. I would be really interested to talk with him about how frescoes are made and how he was able to carve the statue of David such that the proportions are correct to the distant viewer. I would like to know if he did indeed paint parts of the Sistine Chapel with both hands by memory rather than by drawings to save time. Besides, I suppose I would get to eat some good Italian food.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
It was approximately two years ago — I made protein reactive initiators to polymerize styrene. Members of my group continued that work, synthesizing polystyrene that binds to free cysteines and aldehydes at one or both ends. We are currently preparing derivatives of these initiators to form protein-based nanocapsules for delivery of hydrophobic drugs.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one CD would you take with you?
The book is easy — I would take Norton’s Anthology of Poetry. I would never tire of reading it. For the CD, I would take some Hawaiian music as that would be definitely appropriate for a desert island.
Heather Maynard is in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, and works on protein conjugation to polymers and surfaces for biomedical applications and nanotechnology.