Conversations with C&EN's Talented 12
Join us for a series of conversations with some of today's brightest chemical minds. Dr. Paolo Braiuca, Sr. Manager for Global Market Development, hosts discussions with diverse chemists from Chemical and Engineering News' (C&EN) Talented 12 program. Conversations touch on their research as well as their personal and professional journeys, and provide insights that may help guide your future research efforts. C&EN's Talented 12 program is presented by Thermo Fisher Scientific. Bringing Chemistry to Life is also available on podcast platforms for listening on mobile devices.
Episode 6: A fresh perspective on the development of new drugs (Dr. Ziyang Zhang, University of California, San Francisco)
Antibiotics are an incredibly important class of drugs and possibly the most impactful, life-changing scientific innovation in history. However, microorganisms reproduce themselves very rapidly and can evolve in literal minutes. We can’t iterate science this quickly, which is the basis of increasing cases of antibiotic resistance that are a growing concern in modern medicine.
Antibiotics are complex both chemically and in their biological function, which makes them hard to develop and a relatively unattractive pharmaceutical class from the business perspective. Like never before, we need a fresh perspective, and this is where Ziyang Zhang is leaving an impression.
Ziyang is young, but incredibly productive and creative. Even before starting with his own research group, he has achieved so much and shown incredible chemical talent and thinking unlike anyone else’s. His new way of thinking can affect drug development strategies for antibiotics and beyond.
This is a captivating discussion with an incredible character, that fascinates with his understated style as he introduces us to his chemistry and his ideas. In a classic Bringing Chemistry to Life way, we explore his personal and professional path, his research into macrolide antibiotics, and his novel approach to selectively targeting brain cancer.
Episode 5: On the COVID pill and other process chemistry tales (Dr. Patrick S. Fier, Merck & Co.)
Process chemists are the silent heroes of modern pharmaceutical sciences. They take a drug molecule coming out of medicinal chemistry research and make sense of its chemical synthesis. With tight deadlines they often must completely reinvent chemical syntheses to meet strict efficiency and cost requirements necessary to move drugs to commercial production. It’s a challenging job that requires discipline and pragmatism, but a certain dose of chemical creativity at the same time.
Patrick Fier, from Merck, represents the perfect profile of a great process chemist. He makes the most of the incredible resources and the culture of innovation available at Merck. His chemistry is creative and intriguing, and he shows that unique mix of disruptive thinking and disciplined determination that is needed to design state-of-the-art chemical syntheses. His talent gave him the opportunity to lead the development of molnupiravir, the so-called COVID pill, one of the most promising antivirals used in severe coronavirus cases.
Episode 4: Perovskites and the future of science in Mexico (Dr. Diego Solis-Ibarra, Instituto de Investigaciones en Materiales (UNAM))
Perovskites are somewhat ambiguous compounds defined by a general chemical formula and a three-dimensional structure. Yet their potential is huge; they represent the next generation of materials to harness the relationship between energy and light.
Like perovskites, the scientific landscape in Mexico is also a bit ambiguous. The lack of history and of an established scientific infrastructure make it hard to do research in the country. However, there are promising, yet still isolated, success stories and a spring of new talent, such as Diego Solis-Ibarra, that suggest a new dawn for Mexican science.
The conversation with Diego is an amazing story of a brave and talented young man with a deep connection to his roots, and the determination to embrace challenges not many would even consider. He traded a relatively easy scientific career abroad for being the steward of the growing scientific culture in Mexico. His research is as punchy and disruptive as his personality. We learn about the amazing technology of perovskites, while discovering a great scientist’s profile.
Episode 3: Imagination and the chemistry of the things around us (Dr. Alaaeddin Alsbaiee, DuPont)
Alaaeddin is someone you can spend entire afternoons with chatting about life, experiences, and of course, science. His studies and career in chemistry brought him around the world, living, working, and studying in several countries, accumulating life learnings that made him the person and the scientist he is today.
Dr. Alsbaiee has worked in an industrial environment since his PhD and is not afraid of new challenges. His polymer chemistry background allowed him to work on some incredible applications, such as the materials of which turbine blades are made, or sophisticated methods to manufacture electronic microchips.
This is a textbook Bringing Chemistry to Life conversation, where you can see the person in their science—you’ll learn about chemical mechanical planarization (CMP), polymer chemistry, and their roles in our everyday life, as well as the importance of imagination in chemical research.
Episode 2: Making impossible molecules (Dr. Hans Renata, Scripps Research)
For decades chemists have challenged themselves to reproduce in the lab incredibly complex molecules that can usually only be extracted from plants or other highly evolved organisms. These are often painfully complex efforts from researchers to design and execute multi-step chemical synthesis, where consideration must be given to intramolecular interactions between multiple functional groups, as well as issues related to stability, configuration, and conformation. Yet this is how modern synthetic chemistry has evolved its toolbox of useful reactions, and how skilled chemists exhibit creativity in addressing some of the most complex scientific problems.
Hans Renata left his native Indonesia as a young child to study in Singapore and later emigrated to the US for his academic career, partly spent in the lab of a Nobel Prize recipient. Perseverance and the ability to adapt skills learned at an early age played key roles in becoming who he is today—a chemist that makes molecules everybody else struggles to imagine. Hans is known for his chemical creativity, and his synthetic approaches look like nothing else out there. In this episode of Bringing Chemistry to Life, we discuss how combining traditional organic chemistry with the use of enzymes is at the foundation of Dr. Renata’s research, and how this could change organic synthesis as we know it.
Episode 1: Fuel the world with light – the wonders of nano-magnesium (Dr. Emilie Ringe, University of Cambridge)
One of the most difficult scientific concepts to grasp is how things behave differently in the macro- vs. the nano-scale. For example, everyone knows that gold is shiny and yellow, but gold nanoparticles suspended in a liquid (colloidal gold) are red. Dr. Emilie Ringe, a Canadian-born Assistant Professor at the University of Cambridge, travelled the world investing the best part of her still young career in studying one of these intriguing phenomena. She is an expert of the so-called plasmonic nano-materials, focusing specifically on magnesium. These materials can collect specific wavelengths of light and emit energy, behaving like nano antennas.
The potential applications are incredible, from an efficient way to apply localized energy to chemical reactions, to an innovative and benign cancer treatment. And in perfect Bringing Chemistry to Life style, the discovery of the science and the person go hand in hand, making for a great start of Season 3!
Episode 1: Chemistry: a modern American dream (Dr. Osvaldo Gutierrez, University of Maryland)
To start season 2, Paolo talks with Dr. Osvaldo Gutierrez about the latter's amazing and inspirational journey of personal and professional growth. There are exciting science-mediated stories of life-changing experiences. And then there is Osvaldo’s story. Now an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Maryland, Osvaldo could not really foresee his future as an award-winning chemist when he left Mexico as a child to move to the United States.
Paolo and Osvaldo discuss the present and future of catalysis, how a base metal such as iron could displace precious metal catalysts, and how the novel combination of computational and experimental chemistry offers synthetic organic chemists a promising way to fundamentally understand current innovations in modern organic synthesis. This episode tells an inspiring story of a real and modern American dream, achieved through personal development, hard work, perseverance, and talent. Osvaldo's tale is not just of a kid rising from humble beginnings to become an accomplished chemist and a role model for the younger generation. It is also very much a story of excellence in science.
Episode 2: Why do things happen where they do? (Dr. Laura-Isobel McCall, University of Oklahoma)
If chemical cartography is a new term to you, you’re likely not alone. And if you haven’t met a chemical cartographer, you’re about to meet one. In this episode Paolo talks with Dr. Laura-Isobel McCall about chemical cartography and how it helps us better understand an organism’s complex and location-dependent response to external stimuli such as simple chemicals and pathogens. In other words, why do chemical responses to external stimuli differ, depending on the organ, tissue, or even different areas of the same tissue?
Dr. McCall’s curiosity and talent for working at the interface between scientific disciplines led her to develop innovative ways to build three-dimensional maps of the chemical composition of organisms. This is what is known as chemical cartography, and it allows us to understand complex interactions and interplay of host and pathogen metabolism. The conversation touches on fundamental LC-MS metabolomic work, particularly, its use in conjunction with chemical cartography as a tool in understanding Chagas disease, a parasitic infection that affects multiple organs.
This episode explores the complex relationship between living organisms and the environment around them. A deep understanding of the metabolic response to exogenous chemicals can ultimately enable the design of better drugs, but it also gives rise to a new set of ethical questions surrounding the use of highly personal metabolomic fingerprinting data generated in the process. Metabolomics, or a person’s chemical map, not only defines who we are as genomics does, but also what we have done and what we have been in contact with over the course of our lives.
Episode 3: Rethinking catalysis (Dr. Josep Cornella, Max Planck Institute in Mülheim an der Ruhr)
This episode is a declaration of love for catalysis as a driver for innovation in organic synthesis. Paolo and Josep discuss creative new ways of usng some of the elements our Earth has given us, from making air-stable nickel zero (Ni(0)) complexes to using bismuth as a completely novel catalyst. This approach erases the biases brought about by an an overreliance on old, well-established concepts, thereby opening a box of possibilities.
Modern synthetic chemistry relies on a rich toolbox of chemical transformations, among which catalytic reactions play a prominent role. Yet, despite the many successes in this field, innovation seems to have slowed down, the range of activities confined to exploring the various forms and application scope of well-established catalysts based on a limited number of reliable transition metals.
Clearly, Josep Cornella is an innovator. He is not loyal to a specific element or a specific catalysis reaction. He has a non-discriminatory approach to catalysis, where the key is choosing what he wants or needs to do with a potental catalyst rather than figuring out what else can be done with an already known catalyst of his choosing.
Episode 4: The chemistry of outer space (Dr. Brett McGuire, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
The only chemistry we know is what we can experience on our planet, or is it? Brett McGuire is among the pioneers looking beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, and discovering a surprising and fascinatingly complex chemical world that defies imagination and provides new insights into the chemistry we know. He uses a mixture of laboratory work, modelling, and microwave and radio telescopes to gather rotational spectra data to study the chemistry of outer space, which is unique in that it is atmosphere- and solvation-free, and temperature is low.
In one of our most fascinating episodes yet, Paolo and Brett discuss astrochemistry. We learn how astrochemists, by scanning radio telescope spectra, are discovering hundreds of complex organic molecules in the spaces between stars and developing intriguing new theories on the origin of our chemical reservoir, the reasons for biological L-chirality, and how life could vary in different parts of the universe. We also learn how astrochemistry has driven the field of nanochemistry.
If you’re tempted to dismiss all these as mere items of curiosity, you will be surprised at how studying the chemistry happening light years away from our planet is often the key to revolutionizing chemistry here on Earth. This is a far out, must-hear episode!
Episode 5: Questioning the limits of Moore’s law (Dr. Rudy Wojtecki, IBM Almaden Research Center)
The unstoppable progress in computational power made in recent decades has changed the world as we know it. In this episode, Paolo and Rudy discuss how state-of-the-art technology is pushing the boundaries of semiconductor features into the low nanometer size range. This in turn brings up questions about the limits of Moore’s law, which projects a linear increase in microchip transistor density, doubling every two years. The projection has consistently been proven to be correct; however, the physical limitations of Moore’s law are now being tested as resolution breaks the 5 nm barrier, quickly approaching molecular dimensions. Thus it is conjectured that Moore’s law is perhaps dead, giving Rudy Wojtecki and the conventions-challenging teams at IBM Almaden Research Center ample reason to work on developing new paradigms for the computers of the future.
A polymer chemist by training, Rudy is a true multidisciplinary scientist at heart. His career path spans mitochondrial DNA sequencing, atomic force microscopy, NMR studies, and presently he is using his polymer chemistry skillset to help push the boundaries of nanoscale science at IBM. His work on surface chemistry and self-assembling polymers has helped him innovate the way microchips are manufactured, providing a brilliant example of different scientific disciplines working together to accelerate progress. Tune in to learn more about Rudy's diverse and exciting dream job.
Episode 6: The charm of the forgotten elements (Dr. Robert Gilliard, Jr., University of Virginia)
This episode centers on the work of Dr. Robert Gilliard, Jr., Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Virginia. Paolo and Robert speak about new properties, reactivities, and applications in synthetic chemistry and material science, all coming from the abundant, cheap, and “forgotten” main-group elements. There is one thing Robert categorically refutes: that innovation in synthetic chemistry is dead. As an innovator, he has built a career on the risky proposition of finding value in a part of the periodic table that has been historically underappreciated.
In his fearless exploration of the properties of bismuth, germanium, beryllium, and boron, Robert is discovering new chemistries and inventing new applications. He believes in moving beyond the well of tried-and-true chemistry to explore less-traditional approaches, and making these part of the standard chemistry toolset. A wonderful story of how the relentless pursuit of knowledge unveils a vision for a very different chemistry of tomorrow. This episode is a must for anyone looking for proof that chemistry is alive and thriving!
Episode 7: Fresh urban water (Dr. Jessica Ray, University of Washington)
Great scientists look at the world around them, identify problems and think about how their area of expertise can provide a solution. This is what Jessica Ray, Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington, does.
In her native St. Louis, she experienced regular urban flooding, and grew up familiar with the problem of managing urban wastewater. When, later in life, her studies took her to California, she experienced the opposite problem of severe droughts. This is how she became interested in urban water and started applying her chemical engineering skills to deal with the problem of contaminants, such as PFAS, in urban waste waters.
This podcast returns us to the theme of unsustainability of our linear economy–where things are made, used, and discarded. We explore Jessica’s disruptive work on the development of cost-efficient methods for the treatment of storm water and other urban water wastes. It’s a surprising discovery of how a smart combination of everyday materials and clever chemistry can bring us one step closer to a more sustainable circular economy. If you’re concerned with water quality and are curious about how chemistry can help improve it, then this episode is for you.
Episode 8: Sustainability as an entrepreneurial choice (Dr. Kevin Barnett, Pyran)
Sustainability is a trendy word that is often abused, especially when speaking about chemistry. Most commodity chemicals and their highly integrated value chains remain rooted in the oil feedstock. Until this changes, it will be difficult to move towards truly sustainable technologies. The use of renewable resources to produce valuable chemicals has promised a lot but delivered little so far. Dr. Kevin Barnett aims to change that, and his approach is radical and pragmatic at the same time. But as Thomas Edison said: “The value of an idea lies in the using of it.” So, the value of Kevin’s innovation has to be linked to its prospects for commercial success or its commercial attractiveness. Realizing this, Kevin took something that was not easily found in the established value chain, and that could be both immediately useful and commercially attractive. That something is a small but wondrous molecule called 1,5-pentanediol.
After graduate school, Kevin took the entrepreneurial way and co-founded Pyran, a company focused on the production of useful commodity chemicals from renewable resources and already launched his first commercial product: 1,5-pentanediol, of course! His radical approach combines novel chemistry with the real-world and scalable implementation of a chemical engineering mindset. In this fascinating discussion, Paolo and Kevin discuss career choices, entrepreneurship as a credible option for chemistry graduates, the present and future of renewable resources, and the promise of a different chemistry for tomorrow.
Episode 9: Materials of tomorrow to recycle the materials of today (Dr. Wendy Lee Queen, Laboratory for Functional Inorganic Materials, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL))
Every day, tons of potentially valuable materials are discarded in various waste streams simply because recycling them is more expensive than their recoverable value. There is an obvious opportunity in the fact that among these wastes are finite resources, such as precious metals.
Wendy Lee Queen, an American expat and passionate baseball player, leads the Laboratory for Functional Inorganic Materials at the EPFL in Lausanne, and she has a potential solution. A pioneer of novel composite materials, Wendy is one of the leading experts in the field of metal organic frameworks (MOF). MOFs and polymers in bead form provide an innovative way to fine tune affinity and selectivity for various chemical species of interest. These can be used not only to efficiently capture pollutants such as carbon dioxide, but also to recover valuable resources such as precious metals from water waste streams.
In this inspirational and interesting episode, we learn about Wendy’s amazing work of creating and using composite materials as well as the importance of her early career mentors, and her passion for sports and competition. Wendy’s research is a beautiful story of chemical innovation, where ground-breaking chemistry makes new things possible. And when these new things have the potential to change the way we look at our urban and industrial wastes is a moment that brings chemistry to life–an out-of-the-park home run!
Episode 10: Bioorthogonal chemistry, tuberculosis, and making the best of opportunities (Dr. Mireille Kamariza, Society of Fellows, Harvard University)
Sometimes you feel like you missed an opportunity, or didn’t make the best of it, or sometimes you feel life is unfair and doesn’t give you a chance. Then you hear stories like Mireille Kamariza’s, and your perspective changes.
This is a classic episode of Bringing Chemistry to Life, in which an incredible personal story intertwines with great science. Dr. Mireille Kamariza, junior fellow at Harvard University's Society of Fellows, is driven by her personal experience growing up in war-torn Burundi. Given the opportunity to move to and study in the U.S., she rose to the challenge and quickly become an expert in bioorthogonal chemistry, developing a highly reliable, yet simple and affordable method for the detection of tuberculosis (TB). Nominated as one of Fortune Magazine’s most powerful women, Mireille now wants to give back to the world by using the technology she developed to address the global TB health crisis.
Listening to Mireille’s personal story alone is well worth your time, but make no mistake, there is also great chemistry to be learned here; another brilliant example of chemistry interfacing with biology, producing some of the most exciting results in modern science.
Episode 11: The chemical immunology revolution (Dr. Lingyin Li, Stanford University School of Medicine)
In this final episode of Season 2 you’ll meet Dr. Lingyin Li, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Stanford University. You'll also learn about her studies of the 2′3′-Cyclic GMP-AMP (cGAMP) cascade pathway in which she uses chemistry to activate the immune system and ultimately find a new way to fight cancer. Her work is not only new but also disruptive in that it seeks to overcome the limitations of the two main approaches to the treatment of cancer, namely the general toxicity of chemotherapy and the drug resistance of targeted therapy. Indeed, it is opening the door to a completely novel approach to the use of immunotherapy as a targeted treatment for cancer and viral infections.
Lingyin is strong and determined, smart and brave. Because she happily survived her own fight with cancer when many don't, she knows that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and that the challenges you meet along the way are but steps toward success.
Lingyin's research is as brave as she is, and offers the promise to revolutionize cancer treatment. This interview is another great example of chemistry blazing a trail in an associated scientific discipline. As often happens in this podcast series, this episode tells an intriguing personal story, a perfect finale to this exciting Season 2 of Bringing Chemistry to Life.
Episode 1: Human milk, it's a matter of chemistry (Dr. Steven Townsend, Vanderbilt University)
Human milk provides both nutritional and non-nutritional components tailored to the specific need of the infant in all phases of growth. A wonderful example of personalized medicine and diet, its complexity is only partially understood. The oligosaccharides contained in breast milk have only recently emerged as potent pro- and antibiotics, which have been proven to affect several physiological mechanisms and biological pathways, including the immune system.
We discuss with Dr. Townsend, a leading scientist in this field, the chemistry and properties of these special carbohydrates, as well as the challenges of running an ambitious multidisciplinary research program at the interface chemistry and biology.
Dr. Townsend takes us on a surprising journey of personal development and scientific progress that could lead to a revolution in nutrition, the design of novel antimicrobial and antifungal drugs, and possibly even a re-thinking of contraception.
Episode 2: Reinventing plastics, one reaction at a time (Dr. Frank A. Leibfarth, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Polymer chemistry has been one of the main disruptive forces in the last decades, having a profound impact on materials used in all applications. Polymers are at the core of modern material science, enabling new technologies and impacting everyday life. The widespread use of polymers has generated environmental challenges, yet it’s hard to imagine a future without them.
Dr. Leibfarth, one of the most creative minds in polymer chemistry today, has introduced some incredible innovations in the synthesis and applications of polymers. In this episode, he shares a fascinating story in which elite college American football, science, inspiration, and creativity intersect, their convergence ultimately providing the disruptive force that brings about significant paradigm shifts.
Frank discusses with Paolo stereo-controlled polymerization, novel functionalization, and exploration of structure-function correlations. They also talk about chemical innovations as well as personal and professional growth.
Episode 3: There’s chemistry in the air! (Dr. Cora J. Young, York University in Toronto)
If you thought a career in science means spending your best years in a dark laboratory for long, boring hours doing routine experiments, think again! Dr. Cora Young does a significant part of her environmental chemistry work in the field, measuring air quality in residential and business spaces, at high altitudes on airplanes, in forests and the Arctic.
In this episode, Cora discusses her work: the quantitation and forensic tracing of persistent and problematic pollutants. She takes us to her laboratory, through her modelling studies, and to the field where she does her various measurements–from indoors in her home kitchen to the great, rarified outdoors of the Arctic.
We also discuss how environmental chemistry differs from traditional analytical chemistry as well as the challenges of taking high precision analysis to the field, out of the controlled environment of the laboratory. Dr. Young sheds light on how analyzing air quality can have a profound impact on international regulations and the quality of life. From understanding how cooking at home can affect our health to measuring emissions of worrisome pollutants such as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), Cora’s chemical journey is a fascinating discovery of the chemistry of air.
Episode 4: Super smooth microchips (Dr. Tina Li, CMC Materials)
If you thought chemistry is basically just boiling stinky mixtures in a flask, this is the episode for you. This interview delves into the science of chemical mechanical planarization of semiconductors and how it benefits all of us in our everyday lives. Tina also discuss with Paolo her career path and what working as a chemist in an non-academic environment is like.
There is perhaps no better demonstration than this episode of how chemistry is foundational to practically all sciences and technologies. What Dr. Tina Li does at CMC Materials is find new ways to ensure semiconductor layers in electronic components manufacturing are as smooth as can be, allowing the deposition of as many layers as possible on a single wafer. This is the key to enabling increased complexity and computational power of electronic devices.
Dr. Li explains how this “sanding” at the nanoscale level works. Selective chemical reactions work in synergy with abrasion to achieve unbelievable levels of smoothness, as measured in nanometers. We discuss not only the chemistry that helps enable our smartphones and computers, but also her journey of professional and personal growth as a chemical researcher in an industrial environment.
Episode 5: What happens in the microscale doesn’t stay in the microscale (Dr. Lauren Zarzar, Pennsylvania State University)
This conversation with Dr. Lauren Zarzar of Penn State University delves into her creative and observational approach to chemistry, in particular her research team’s efforts to understand how microscale systems can made to create macroscopic effects.
Common phenomena, which most of us observe or experience in our daily lives, can be surprisingly misunderstood and even mysterious! Genuine curiosity, an open mind, and a good dose of creativity are necessary ingredients for making the most exciting scientific discoveries. This is the take-home message of our fascinating discussion with Dr. Lauren Zarzar about why what happens in the microscale does not stay in the microscale. For example, we learn: 1. What is behind the iridescence at the air-water interface
2. How this can be reproduced and controlled with many different types of emulsions
3. How this could be used in novel paints and display technologies
We also discuss 3D printing using lasers at the nanoscale, and how this can revolutionize materials science. Dr. Zarzar’s work is yet another great demonstration of how great science happens at the interface between different disciplines, with chemistry usually one of them.
Episode 6: One person’s waste is another's treasure (Dr. Will Tarpeh, Stanford University)
This captivating conversation with Dr. Will Tarpeh from Stanford University centers on how chemistry is finding ways to recover valuable resources from wastes. His innovative way of thinking stands to provide economic incentives to develop applications with tangible benefits for human life and the environment.
80% of waste water gets discharged untreated, which causes some of the most urgent environmental issues facing our planet. However, Dr. William Tarpeh, nominated as one of The Root 100 most influential African Americans, views waste water as an incredible resource that contains many valuable components and represents an untapped economic opportunity in our world of finite resources.
This episode is an intriguing discovery of how chemical engineering can transform our energy-intense linear economy, where materials are made, used, and eventually discarded, into a new circular economy based on recovery value and a vision of eliminating waste altogether. Will and Paolo speak about how selective adsorbent resins and electrochemical processes can completely change the chemical landscape and profoundly impact the global economy. This episode is a treasure trove of examples of how chemical innovation can change the world and how great science can translate into practical applications with immediate tangible benefits for human life and the environment.
Episode 7: Stronger magnets, stronger science (Dr. Loren Andreas, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry)
Since the elucidation of the DNA structure by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1951, the importance of understanding the three-dimensional structure of biomolecules has become obvious. Over the last few decades scientists have resolved the structure of thousands of complex biomolecules enabling incredible innovations in drug design, and the biological and medical sciences.
X-ray crystallography has been the key technique, but in recent years nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) has emerged as an additional, complementary approach. Dr. Loren Andreas explains to us how NMR has grown to be the technology of choice as it has expanded its field of application from liquid solutions to condensed systems. The discussion is a surprising discovery of how progress in engineering and instrument design has completely changed the landscape in structural biology. Modern NMR allows scientists to study molecules in complex systems, simulating more closely their natural environment, including interactions between them. This episode offers an exciting glimpse of the future, through a few examples from today’s science.
Episode 8: Chemical computers and other tales from a theoretical mind (Dr. Brenda Rubenstein, Brown University)
Dr. Brenda Rubenstein from Brown University is definitely the most theoretically oriented scientist we've interviewed, but her conversation with Paolo is quite approachable and entertaining. They discuss her views on the balance between theory and practical utility, her novel work on chemical computing, and her work to make STEM education more available to low-income students.
Theoretical chemistry is one of those subjects that can intimidate even the most passionate experimental chemist. Complex theories rooted in super-advanced mathematics to model a chemical bond length are not everyone’s cup of tea. Yet it does not have to be like that, and it takes a brilliant mind like Brenda Rubenstein’s to make it so elegantly obvious. Brenda and Paolo’s discussion is as approachable as it gets–a surprisingly eye-opening discovery of how theory can have profound effects on experimental practice. Brenda talks through her efforts in finding the right balance between the theoretical rigor of molecular simulations and their practical utility, as well as opening the door to her incredible creative thinking and courage in pursuing disruptive ideas. Her novel paradigm for the computer of the future, where chemistry is used to achieve massive increases in data storage density compared to traditional semiconductor technologies, are truly out-of-the-box. As if all this wasn’t enough, we also find a brilliant example of social responsibility in Brenda’s commitment to change lives of children from low-income backgrounds by facilitating access to STEM education. Surely, this is an episode you wouldn't want to miss!
Episode 9: Watching chemistry as it happens (Dr. Peng Zou, Peking University)
In this conversation with Dr. Peng Zou, from Peking University, we learn about the clever use of smart biochemical tags to help visualize localized chemistry within cells. Peng also discusses the truly international and collaborative aspects of chemistry.
Life is the result of an incredibly complex mix of chemical reactions, all happening at the same time and influencing one another. These apparently chaotic and incomprehensible systems are elegantly regulated at organ, tissue and even cellular and sub-cellular levels. Most of these chemical phenomena are not fully understood, and the scale and complexity of the micro-environment where they happen often make it difficult to make scientific observations without perturbing the system. This is where out-of-the-box chemical thinking can make a difference, and this is what Dr. Peng Zou has dedicated his research efforts to. The smart use of chemical tags can allow us to literally visualize chemical phenomena inside the cell as they happen, with the aid of relatively straightforward technologies such as fluorescence microscopy. One reaction at a time, Peng’s team is developing detailed cellular maps and achieving significant advances in understanding the cell’s chemical machinery. This episode is a masterful example of how chemistry can advance biological knowledge.
Episode 10: Nanometric mega-libraries (Dr. Katelyn Billings, ZebAI Therapeutics)
The use of DNA-encoded libraries (DELs) is helping to advance the screening of molecular libraries for potential therapeutic targets. In this informative and engaging episode, Dr. Katelyn Billings from ZebAI Therapeutics discusses with Paolo the fundamentals of DELs, their application, and their advantages.
For decades, the pharmaceutical industry has synthesized millions of molecular entities in the pursuit of novel biologically active compounds. These huge compound libraries have always been considered a treasure trove of potential new drugs for a plethora of new therapeutic targets. Even with the great progress in laboratory automation and high-throughput technology over the last decade, library screening remains a key drug discovery strategy. However, the size of these libraries and their handling present multiple challenges, starting from the synthesis and screening speed to the storage space and annotation required when working with singleton compounds. A clever alternative finds inspiration from biology and leverages the DNA information storage power. These are known as DNA-encoded libraries, or DELs.
Dr. Katelyn Billings is a pioneer of this technology that offers a number of advantages, starting from the possibility of working on the nanoscale in as little as a few microliters to making and screening millions of molecules as a pool. In this episode we learn about how DELs work and discuss their advantages, challenges, and the promise of combining data from DEL screens with machine learning to innovatively disrupt modern drug discovery.
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