1. What made you want to be a chemist?
I think of myself more as a materials scientist who is intrigued by chemistry. My father inspired me to become a scientist; he was a biologist who clearly loved what he did and was full of enthusiasm about his work. It rubbed off on me.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
I would be a journalist since I love to write, or a chocolate maker. Or better yet, a food critic who specializes in chocolate — then I could both sample great chocolate and write about it.
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
Human beings have four critical needs: health, food, shelter and entertainment. I think chemists can help with the first three, helping to develop affordable, effective drugs, more productive crops and sustainable housing. As to the last need, it is probably best left to others.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
Having dinner with Oscar Wilde or Mark Twain would be wonderful because I am sure the evening would be filled with great stories and laughter.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
This past year, my friend and collaborator Julia Yeomans wanted to try to create a scaled up version of microscopic swimmers. So we bought some plastic wind-up toys and put them in a tub of gelatinous fluid. Not a complete success — they didn’t move very far. But we forgot to clean the tub and the fluid grew some wonderful blue-green-purple specimens. So, an interesting experiment nonetheless.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one CD would you take with you?
I would take “David Copperfield” by Dickens since it is my favorite novel; I love the characters and they would be good company. As to the CD, I would take a compilation of the Beatles music.