Reactions: Ellen Matson

Mar 27, 2019
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matsonEllen Matson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Rochester. She studies cooperative reactivity between non-traditional ligand platforms and first-row transition metals and goes on Twitter by @MatsonLab.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?  

As a result of a short-minded freshman physics teacher, I ended up taking both biology and chemistry during my sophomore year of high school. The connection between the two fields of science completely blew my mind! In college, I found that the more upper level chemistry classes I took, the more I loved the subject. When I finally got to graduate school and into a lab, I knew that research had to be a part of my future. The ability to ask and answer questions through synthesis is a feeling of gratification I can’t even describe!

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

I’d be a politician or lobbyist. Our world needs some help!

3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?  

In my young research group, we are working on the synthesis and characterization of transition metal functionalized polyoxovanadate-alkoxide clusters. So far, we’ve been able to generate these compounds and study their electrochemical properties by cyclic voltammetry. We aim to develop a new class of three-dimensional, robust, redox-active reservoirs for first-row transition metals in an effort to facilitate multi-electron bond activation processes with earth abundant elements.

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

I think I would like to meet with a group of the United States’ founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin especially. In addition to chatting about normal science-related things (it’s so amazing to consider how far we have come as a community!), I would like to understand their thought processes when they wrote our constitution. I feel like a meal with these gentlemen would help to clear up some of the ambiguity!

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

As a newly minted second-year assistant professor, my life still predominantly revolves around my own experiments. I’ve got a great team of graduate students and a phenomenal postdoc who have provided me with opportunity to remove myself from the bench when necessary, but assisting them with experiments is still a major part of my academic life. Last week, I helped an undergraduate put together a reaction exploring oxidative pathways for the generation of manganese-substituted POV-alkoxide complexes. Yesterday, I started to make some interesting mixed-metal precursors for cluster formation. Today, I’m going to distill a thioether one of my graduate students has synthesized.

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

Exiled on a desert island is probably the appropriate place for my reading and music interests! I’m majorly interested in any music that I can sing along to, much to the chagrin of my students. From a book standpoint, I’d probably bring along Bard and Faulkner’s “Electrochemical Methods: Fundamentals and Applications”, as the solitude and quiet might actually give me an opportunity to sit down and learn something new!

7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?  

My colleague, Bill Jones. The man knows everything and he has an epic perspective on the world!


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