Reactions – Andy Mitchinson


[In lieu of profiles, the contributors to this blog have decided to do their own Reactions pieces, and first up is Andy…]

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I think what got me truly hooked was getting a chemistry set as a child. The very first experiment I did, I managed to blow up the reaction flask, which I’m now somewhat ashamed to admit I thought was pretty exciting. (Note to budding chemists: blowing up reaction flasks is not cool or clever).

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

In my spare time I sing with a choir – not as dull as it sounds, since we specialize in tongue-in-cheek arrangements of pop songs (which I compose) alongside the more serious stuff. So, if money was no concern, I’d like to train as a proper musician and try to make a career out of it.

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

By making useful things. I know a lot of chemists in the pharmaceutical industry who chose that career because they wanted to make something that could benefit society. Imagine being the chemist who made the first successful drug for Alzheimer’s disease – what a difference you’d have made.

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

How about Henrietta Lacks, who gave the world the first immortalized cell line (the ubiquitous HeLa cells)? She never knew that her cells made such a huge contribution to medicine and biological research, and I’d love to know what she thought about it.

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

About a year and a half ago, but I don’t recall what it was. I was an industrial synthetic organic chemist, and the company I worked for closed down my site, making about 350 people redundant. The experiment I was working on at the time didn’t stick in my mind, probably because I had other things to worry about.

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

I’d go for a couple of peculiarly British options. The book would be Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson, which is a tragicomic examination of family life, written mostly from a child’s point of view. The CD would be Tropical Brainstorm, the final album from the much-underrated singer/songwriter Kirsty MacColl. (But I’d also like to take my Massive Attack CDs, especially the Blue Lines album).

Andy Mitchinson is an Associate Editor for Nature and a regular contributor to the Sceptical Chymist.

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