1. What made you want to be a chemist?
I was always fascinated with how things worked, deciphering their components and interactions that produce an emergent system behaviour or property. I had a home chemistry lab behind the garage when I was young.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
Tough choice, but probably a psychoanalyst or medical specialist. The human body, particularly the human mind, is so incredibly complex there are more than enough great problems for study for the foreseeable future.
3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?
Two main areas: understanding the molecular basis for control of stem cell fate and design of small molecules that achieve this; modelling the properties (especially biological effects) of nanomaterials and materials more generally to allow design, optimization and safety.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
Having read Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything I realise that some of the scientific greats may not have been good dinner conversationalists. I would choose Leonardo da Vinci because of his brilliant mind a breadth of his scientific and artistic interests.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
I do computational experiments every day. The last time I was in an experimental lab was to learn to culture embryonic stem cells, about four years ago.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?
Excluding obvious must have books like the Bible, I would choose Caravans by James A Mitchener (one of the great travel sagas), or collected works of Tolstoy. For music either a great blues compilation, or Mozart.
7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?
George Whitesides, I love the way he thinks so laterally, and the broad range of areas of chemistry he has contributed to.