Catherine Renouf is a PhD student in the Department of Chemistry at The University of St Andrews, and studies the separation of olefin mixtures using metal–organic frameworks using adsorption-based and structural techniques — she is also one of the winners of our In Your Element writing competition, with her essay on indium.
1. What made you want to be a chemist?
At school I was always good at science, and I found all of science interesting and rewarding. However, I found chemistry both more challenging and more fascinating than the other sciences, probably due to one particular chemistry teacher. He was the only teacher in my school with a PhD, and he was fantastic at communicating his excitement for the subject. He made us do a lot of experiments during chemistry classes, and that really held my interest.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
I love baking, which is really just chemistry in a different disguise, so maybe I would have been a professional baker. However, I am very passionate about communication, and particularly about the communication of science, so I would also have been very happy as a writer.
3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?
I’m nearing the end of my PhD now, so I’m mainly working on my thesis! A large part of my research was developing an environmental gas cell to use in single crystal X-ray crystallography at the ALS in Berkeley. Over the past three years it has improved to a stage where we can see gases inside our MOFs which has been a significant and exciting development. Hopefully, with more time and development, the gas cell will become a standard piece of equipment available on end stations at synchrotrons throughout the world.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
I think it would have to be W. L. Bragg, the youngest Nobel laureate and one of the discoverers of Bragg’s law. He was the director of the laboratories where Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA using X-ray diffraction, so he certainly knew how important his discovery had been, and hearing about the early years of his field (and hearing his views about recent developments, such as quasicrystals) would be fascinating.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
A couple of weeks ago I recorded an adsorption and desorption isotherm of propylene on a metal-organic framework using home-built gravimetric adsorption apparatus. It was nothing particularly exciting by that point – just a repeated measurement for inclusion in my thesis appendices.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?
I would take Ben Goldacre’s newest book, Bad Pharma. I love reading popular science books, but I haven’t had the time while finishing up my PhD. Music-wise, I would take something relaxing and inspiring, possibly some Elgar.
7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?
Someone who does something a little different with their chemistry – perhaps a beamline scientist at a national facility, a teaching fellow at a university or a writer for a science magazine.