School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Head of Year 1 Chemistry, Queen’s University Belfast.
What is your background? What made you decide to become a scientist?
I grew up in Edinburgh with my elder brother. We both ended up doing PhDs in chemistry in St Andrews in catalysis. I think the strength of chemistry teaching at our school had a lot to do with that. I was drawn to science as I have always been very curious, chemistry particularly appealed to me as it is a creative science.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful scientist? Why?
There is no definitive 3, but I will pick curiosity, enthusiasm and attention to detail. You have to have the tendency to ask questions, the motivation to chase the answers, and the patience to pay proper attention to the answers.
What is your favourite part of being a scientist?
The ability to create new solutions to problems and hopefully improve our future.
What would you say you have learnt from the challenges you have faced?
There have been a lot of challenges, I have learnt to be more patient.
Who inspires you and why?
Many of the scientists I have met and worked with have inspired me, and all of them were important in different ways. The green chemistry community has particularly influenced me. In terms of scientific stories I will chose the discovery of the anticancer properties of cisplatin by Rosenberg, and Marie Curie’s story, both these scientists were driven to apply science for the benefit of others.
What are you working on next?
We are embarking on in-depth studies of catalytic reactions in water. In one avenue of this research we are trying to engineer specific catalytic environments using bespoke polypeptides, and study the effects these unique environments have on the reactivity of an active catalytic site. We hope that we can start to build a greater chemical understanding of what makes enzymes so remarkably efficient.
Any collaboration opportunities you would like through the greater community?
Working on the boundary between biological and chemical catalysis, I do not work alone, and I have a network of collaborators that I depend upon. That aside, the study of catalytic reactions occurring inside soft matter, whether it be a silica gel, or a protein, is very challenging, so we are always on the lookout for research groups that have spectroscopic or kinetic techniques that might help unlock the mysteries of these catalytic systems.