What made you want to study chemistry?
I was always interested in science from a curiosity point of view. I love understanding how the world works. But the thing that really attracted me to biological chemistry, my specific area of study, was that there’s no chemistry more complicated than the chemistry of living things, which makes it really exciting. When I was an undergrad, I didn’t always think I wanted to study chemistry. I knew I wanted to have two science majors, but I thought it’d be biology and physics since I liked both in high school. But then I looked in the college catalog and saw that physics required lots of math classes, and that was not for me. Chemistry represents the most detailed view of how the world works — the nitty-gritty, the absolute. Physics is also concerned with the most detailed view of the world, but whereas physicists are content with equations, chemists philosophically prefer more conceptual and visual explanations, which I enjoy.
“Having students doing research, getting in the lab, and participating in the scientific endeavor is such an integral part of what an undergraduate education looks like.”
Why did you choose Hamilton?
What really attracted me to Hamilton … is the ability to pursue scholarship in a meaningful way while also being a teacher. To be at a place like Hamilton that has the resources to do research in a meaningful way — that’s pretty unique in the landscape of schools focused on teaching. Hamilton’s ability to put resources into research is especially exciting to me because I love doing research. But also, almost more importantly, it allows students to get involved in that research. Having students doing research, getting in the lab, and participating in the scientific endeavor is such an integral part of what an undergraduate education looks like. I love helping students discover what I think is really exciting about chemical research and helping to facilitate their success. It’s pretty unlikely that I’ll discover some drug or something that is really useful to society, but there’s a good chance that some of the students that I train and help over my career will go on to do just that.
Could you tell me about your research?
I’m a biological chemist, so I’m interested in the chemical processes of how life works. My research is particularly concerned with two things. First, I’m interested in natural products, which are small, complex molecules produced by living things for a variety of purposes other than eating and reproducing. For example, let’s say you’re a yeast, and you’re competing for sugar with some bacteria nearby. You might produce an antibiotic that would kill those bacteria, so you can have the resources all to yourself.
To chemists, natural products are interesting molecules with complex structures, and to non-chemists, they are still important because they’re really vital in the production of drugs. As we get deeper into the antibiotic resistance crisis, these natural products are going to become almost more important, so I’m really interested in discovering new natural products and seeing how these natural products get made, especially by bacteria.
The second area that I’m really interested in is the role of metals in those processes. Our proteins use metals to do difficult and interesting chemistry, like putting together complex molecules, namely antibiotics. So, I can study antibiotics and the chemical processes involved through these different lenses.