1. What made you want to be a chemist?
Growing up on a farm combined with a Mom who taught Junior High science, a great high school chemistry teacher in Potosi, Missouri (Bill Nelson) and topped off with a course called “environmental chemistry” at college probably capture most of the ‘what’.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
Either a brain researcher or a farmer though I actually do the latter one day a week now. Probably best to keep the farming job as the one I play at since the rewards are mostly psychic ones. I find the science of the human brain fascinating and extremely challenging.
3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?
A number of interesting things, although exploring why humans are so contaminated with perfluorinated acids is particularly intriguing. Specifically, we synthesize various polyfluorinated phosphates, that are commonly used as food contact paper chemicals to impart water and oil repellency, to explore their reactive properties. We just published some work that showed we could measure ppb concentrations of these in human serum, thus we are specifically interested in their metabolic reactions and whether they are significant contributors to the body burden of PFOA and related perfluorinated acids. This involves live-animal metabolism studies along with more focused investigations of the reactive intermediates.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
Winston Churchill since I’ve taken on an additional job in university administration and successful leadership is on my mind.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
Probably not since my early years as an assistant professor though I love designing experiments. I do note we are doing a largish field experiment now on the fate of food contact paper chemicals in an agroecosystem. This has me riding my John Deere tractor disking 600 tons of paper sludge on to 20 acres, on my farm, and then planting it into soybeans. I have an undergrad research student who follows along obtaining and ultimately analyzing the samples. My experimental contributions are not so scientific but they are necessary to the experiment.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?
Like publishing research, quality is more important than quantity but quantity still matters (especially on a desert island) so I would bring War and Peace. Harder pick for music so perhaps some Led Zeppelin would go well with Tolstoy.
7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?
Wow, this is harder than I would have thought as there are so many. Perhaps Mario Molina or Sherwood Rowland as they are scientific heroes of mine and I be interested seeing their personas fleshed out.