1. What made you want to be a chemist?
Chemistry always came easy to me in school and college and so for the longest time it was the path of least resistance. It wasn’t until I had a wonderful undergraduate summer research experience that the switch was irreversibly flipped. What did it was making (unintentionally as it turned out) a molecule that apparently hadn’t been made before. This really blew my mind and still does when it happens.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
I think something in the visual arts. Chemistry is a very creative science, but in some respects an abstract one in that we use somewhat arcane glyphs to represent the molecules we make. With painting or sculpting one actually sees that product of one’s creative efforts. This I would love to be able to do.
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
By continuing to do what we do, i.e., make things that the world needs, and without damaging it in the process. Chemistry often gets a bad rap by the popular media and I actually think it is best if most of us try to stay under the media radar. Some scientists are gifted ambassadors and so we should let them do the talking, the rest of us should stick to the experiments lest we run the risk of being chewed up and spat out by the press.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
Great question, it is tempting to say someone like Da Vinci or Socrates, but since this is dinner I would probably go with the poet Rabbie Burns, a man who lived his short life to the full and whose words and music continue to inspire and comfort. Dinner with Burns certainly wouldn’t be dull.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
A real experiment! Probably a year or two ago when I tried to attach ATP to a protein. However, I routinely help people in the lab with certain procedures that are tricky and/or potentially dangerous to perform.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one CD would you take with you?
The CD would be “London Calling” by The Clash and as for the book, this seems like an appropriate time to re-read Joyce’s Ulysses.
Tom Muir is in the Lab of Synthetic Protein Chemistry, Rockefeller University, New York and works on developing and applying chemistry-driven approaches for controlling and studying proteins.