1. What made you want to be a chemist?
Curiosity about the mechanisms by which invisible rules control change in the visible world made me want to be a scientist.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
A writer. I read continuously, often several books at once. Most recently I read Olive Kitteridge, A Fraction of the Whole, Sea of Poppies and Netherland. Writing is just so versatile.
3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?
Reprogramming the genetic code. We hope to accelerate our mechanistic understanding of post-translational modifications by genetically encoding the modifications and looking at their effects. We also hope to turn the cell into a general polymer synthesis device.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
T. E. Lawrence. I imagine he could tell an interesting story or two.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
A year or so ago. I helped with a method to measure the fidelity of a ribosome a student had evolved, by looking at 35S cysteine mis incorporation into a gene with no cysteine codons.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?
I would need a subscription to The New Yorker. In general it is beautifully written and brings together lots of interesting articles and fiction. I read The New Yorker in Cambridge, so I know how it feels to read it far from the source already
7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?
John Sutherland at Manchester University, UK. Because he is using chemistry to ask the right questions about the origins of biology and provide elegant and important pre-biotic syntheses – arguably the most important syntheses.