Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Reactions: Marshall Brennan

Marshall Brennan is an Associate Editor for Nature Chemistry. He blogs at Colorblind Chemistry and goes on Twitter by @Organometallica.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

The path that brought me to chemistry is a little unusual. I actually began my undergraduate studies in journalism, not chemistry—it wasn’t until I found myself a little bored of the curriculum about halfway through my first year that I decided to focus on a science. I initially switched into chemistry to try and con my way into the physics department, but once I started in on general chemistry, I was hooked. I especially love the subtle logic of working out reaction mechanisms and understanding how molecular geometry influences macroscopic properties. Once I started in on chemistry, I never looked back!

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

I have often thought that, if I had to do it all again, I would be part of a natural products isolation group. I imagine the job isn’t as glamorous as I think it is, but the idea of spending summers diving in coral reefs and winters running purifications is wildly romantic to me.

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

Well, I suppose I’m just getting started here at Nature Chemistry, so there’s a lot of uncharted territory for me. I’m looking forward to seeing what exciting new research the chemistry community has in store for me!

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

This is the question I have come back to the most times in the course of this interview. At long last, I have to go ahead and default to my favorite historical chemist, Sir Edward Frankland. While relatively unknown, he made so many critical contributions to early bonding theory and synthetic organometallic chemistry. More importantly, his descriptions of his laboratory hijinks are a hilarious read and I would be delighted to use my time machine to hear about them directly.

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

It was just a few weeks ago—I was running screens to develop new C–C bond activation reactions. The work is somewhat tedious, but very rewarding. Being able to describe a new bond-forming reaction that no one has observed before is its own sort of thrill!

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

Tricky question! The music album is straightforward—I would have to go with “Your New Favourite Band” by The Hives. As for the book, that’s the tougher part… I might have to cheat a little and go with Franz Kafka’s collection of short stories. Kafka wrote some really chilling stories that seem more cerebral every time I read them, so that might help with preventing boredom on the desert island.

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

I would whole-heartedly recommend Prof. Gregory Girolami—in addition to carrying out some truly fascinating research, he’s a bona fide historian of chemistry and I have yet to have a conversation with him that isn’t captivating.


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