1. What made you want to be a chemist?
Back in the early eighties my mother once used butter to wash tar off my hands and I remember being fascinated by the process. So, I was hooked on chemistry long before I knew the word. As a fifteen year old I was fortunate to have a great teacher – Joe Lynam. I still think about his classes on van der Waals interactions.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
Sometimes I wish I had studied anthropology so I could contribute to the story of earth’s exploration by early man. And otherwise, I’d like to be an organic pea farmer. Peas are a great source of protein, with much of the nitrogen provided by symbiotic bacteria.
3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?
The lab is focused on weak interactions of proteins. We hope to figure out how the crowded and heterogeneous intracellular environment affects protein interactions. The role of low-affinity small molecule ligands is central to our interests. There is much to be learned on how these interactions influence protein assembly and function in vivo.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
The American alchemist George Starkey would be an interesting character to dine with. Apparently, he produced pigments from flies, which had metamorphosed from worms that were fed on redweed… 17th century chemical biology?
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
The last serious experiments I did were NMR titrations of cytochrome c with sulfonatocalixarene. Last month I did a few quick experiments with a new ligand. More on this later… Every week I look at crystallization drops and admire the beautiful patterns, gels, precipitates and crystals that proteins form.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?
If only one book was allowed it would have to be a good English dictionary. There’s endless amusement in words. Music albums get on my nerves after a while so I’d rather listen to the wind and waves. Though, Te Deum by Arvo Pärt might suit.
7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?
Adam Urbach. His work on protein and peptide recognition by cucurbituril is impressive.