Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Reactions – Marina Kuimova

Marina Kuimova is in the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London, and works on photophysics, spectroscopy and fluorescence imaging of dyes in live biological cells.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I was always keen on science at school, but chemistry was not a favourite for a long time, I much preferred physics and maths. I guess in the first instance my interest in chemistry was stimulated when I turned up at a chemistry afterschool class and realised I can not solve even the easiest of extracurricular problems. In the end, I have my hurt pride on that occasion, as well as the excellent and inspirational teacher of that class, to thank for my deciding to study chemistry at the Moscow State University. However I also kept my interest in physics and maths alive as I became a physical chemist!

2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?

I think I am quite good at persuading people, so perhaps I could make a decent lawyer. Either that or a saleswoman!!

3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?

We are trying to develop and characterise the series of small fluorescent molecules called ‘molecular rotors’. These molecular rotors show a marked change in fluorescence (spectra, lifetimes) depending on the viscosity of their environment. The hope is that once incubated within live cells, the fluorescence detected from ‘molecular rotors’ will help us understand more about the properties of the intracellular environment and the role of viscosity in important biological processes.

4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?

I have to say Richard Feynman. He is such a charismatic figure in science and a great populariser of Physics, so much so that his explanations make even the most complicated phenomena interesting and related to life. I’d like to know how he managed to do it. My parents have The Feynman Lectures on Physics standing next to Shakespeare, so I can not guarantee my Dad wasn’t reading it to me instead of nursery rhymes or Grimm’s fairy tales when I was little.

5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?

A couple of weeks ago – me and my student tried to measure the singlet oxygen quantum yield of a new fluorescent dye, which appears to kill cells. Since we have detected none, we now need to look for another reactive species responsible for this dye’s toxicity!

6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?

The difficulty is to choose just one. If it is really just one book I’d go for ‘Master and Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov. I read this book so many times I am pretty sure I can read it many more. This will be closely followed by Catch 22 and Catcher in the Rye.

I really love classical music, but prefer to listen to it live, so the CD will have to be The Doors or Don McLean (American Pie).

7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?

Peter Ogilby from Aarhus University is someone I know will give excellent and original answers to these questions.