Reactions – Heather Carlson


1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I had a terrific chemistry teacher in high school, who let me do an independent study project. Also, my Pchem Professor in College was very good. I loved math and chemistry, but thought of them as two separate areas. When my Professor showed me that the two come together in theoretical chemistry, I was hooked!

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

If I had the talent, rock star! But since I don’t, I would have probably pursued statistics. That was my other consideration for graduate study. At the time, I was told that all statisticians could do was actuarial work, but there are so many new opportunities in informatics. I am happy to say I get to dabble a little now… in statistics, not as a rock star.

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

In my subfield, we work on teams with other scientists to develop new drug molecules. I think that is a very noble pursuit.

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

Maybe Howard Hughes. He was very gifted, and it is such a shame that treatments were not available to help him with his mental illness. For the same reason, maybe Abraham Lincoln. They had such great success while dealing with untreatable and, at times, debilitating illnesses.

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

A few months ago, I did some de novo structure-based design to improve a potential inhibitor of HIV-1 protease. A student has been using the design to run dynamics simulations. We are completing the paper now.

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

The CD would have to be U2’s “The Joshua Tree” or the Black Crowes “Shake Your Moneymaker”. Classics! The book would have to be a photo album of my family. I would miss my husband and son very much.

Heather Carlson is in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and works on theoretical chemistry and computational modeling of protein-ligand interactions. She studies bioinformatics, the basic biophysics of molecular recognition, and applied drug discovery.

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