Bringing Chemistry to Life Podcast
Expanding Chemistry Perspectives
Join us for intimate and informative conversations with some of today’s brightest chemical minds. Dr. Paolo Braiuca, Director of Global Market Development, hosts discussions with diverse chemists from around the world on a variety of chemistry topics. The common elements are a focus on the people behind the science and making the world-class science approachable and interesting, regardless of your technical background or training.
Bringing Chemistry to Life is available in audio-only format on Simplecast , or wherever you find your podcasts, for listening on mobile devices. Below you can find extended versions of each conversation in video format and episode summary sheets, which include great content recommendations from each guest.
Episode 9: C.R.E.A.M. – Chemistry rules everything around me (Cate Levey, PhD, Research & Development Scientist, Blue Planet Systems)
Some chemists just see the world around them in a different way. Where you see a pen, they see the polymer structure of its plastic body and the complex formulation of the ink. Where you see a building, they see the composite materials that make it and think about how the nano-scale structure of those materials define their macroscopic properties. Where you see a juicy burger, they see the proteins and complex chemicals that make its taste and texture so attractive.
In a nutshell, this is how Cate Levey sees the world around her. It’s a fascinating perspective that has taken her professional path down some paths less traveled. Engineered wood products, plant-based meat products, and carbon-negative aggregate for concrete have nothing to do with each other if you don’t look at things the way she does. To her they are all composite materials, where understanding and altering the chemistry at the nano or sub-nano scale allows her to alter macroscopic functional properties to make amazing things happen. It’s where chemistry meets material science, and where the science can really change the world around us.
Cate explains some of her groundbreaking work, but also offers a fresh perspective on how to pursue a career in science, following a true passion, and taking unbeaten paths.
Get the latest episodes of Bringing Chemistry to Life
Visit Simplecast to listen and subscribe so you stay up-to-date with the latest episodes featuring conservations with today’s brightest chemical minds.
Episode 8: The electrifying chemistry of the nitrogen cycle (Matthew Liu, PhD Candidate, Department of Chemical Engineering, Stanford University)
Moving from a linear economy, where things are made, used, and discarded, to a circular one, based on recycling and reuse, is one of the most important and difficult challenges for our society. Cracking this problem and moving to a more sustainable way of living, while maintaining or even improving living standards, is key for the future of our planet.
With Matthew Liu, we go back to topics discussed in Episode 6 of Season 1 to look at one of the most important chemical elements, nitrogen. Reducing atmospheric nitrogen to nitrates is fundamental to our modern world. Nitrogen reduction makes it possible to feed billions of people globally and it provides some of the most fundamental building blocks of modern chemistry. At the same time, it is one of the most energy-intense industrial processes, and its products, while essential and beneficial, eventually become environmental pollutants at the end of their lifecycle.
An old technology might be the key to change this landscape. Electrochemistry is going through a renaissance and it’s a very promising tool to recover nitrogen and put it back into the economic circle. In our discussion with Matthew, we discuss some breakthrough and novel electrochemical approaches—electrocatalysis, in particular—and how they can impact the economy of developed and under-developed countries.
Episode 7: From an ‘F’ in chemistry to 40 years in chemicals (Simon Pearce, Senior Product Manager, Organic Synthesis, Thermo Fisher Scientific)
We embrace this rare opportunity to sit and chat freely with someone who has lived and breathed the technical and business sides of the chemicals market for the last 40 years. Simon Pearce is a Senior Product Manager in Thermo Fisher Scientific and a man of a thousand stories.
Join us for this entertaining and eye-opening journey into the origins of chemical diversity, a bit of history on the British chemicals market, and a first-hand account of changes and constants in the work over time. We cover a lot of ground in this interview, from the early days of compound screening libraries to the mindset of managing a complex product portfolio. We speak about serendipity, the power of making the most of opportunities, and how chemistry looks different when framed by business requirements. As it’s often the case, it’s about humans interacting with each other, the people behind science, and the people behind the market. It doesn’t get more “Bringing Chemistry to Life” than that.
Episode 6: Electronics and the human body (Helen Tran, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Toronto)
The modern revolutions of electronics and biotechnology are changing the world in dramatic ways. The incredible progress of electronics is changing the world external to our body, while biotechnology/genetics is promising to change it “internal” to our bodies. While these two revolutions have not quite met, chemistry is what could link them up.
Imagine completely novel materials for interfacing electronics and the human body in a harmonious way. Be bold and open to new ideas, such as organic electronics with little or no use of semiconductors—bio-electronics that can self-assemble, biodegrade after use, and leave no toxic trace behind. Imagine what this could mean for new generations of medical devices, diagnostic medicine, as well as robotics and other applications.
Exploring these ideas takes an inquisitive, enthusiastic, and creative polymer chemist with ambition, vision, a passion for science communication, and an incredible drive to succeed. Helen Tran is all of this and more. She speaks about her science and her desire to give back as much, or more, than she has received. Hear her views on the importance of mentorship and how having fun doing meaningful work remains a simple, powerful way to achieve something meaningful in life.
Episode 5: The extra-terrestrial chemist (Dr. Christopher Shingledecker, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Benedictine College)
Among the various chemical disciplines we have discussed so far, astrochemistry is by far the most surprising. And Chris Shingledecker is a surprisingly charming member of this relatively new and growing scientific niche. He’s managed to naturally balance his passions for chemistry, borne from a chemical set received as a gift in his childhood, and for astronomy, that grew in him during middle school. This is a great story of someone who took his education and professional path in his own hands and gave it the shape he wanted to follow his interests and passions.
Chris is now living the excitement of a new science in which there are so many things to understand and explain given such fast progress in the field. We learn about what a young discipline astrochemistry is—where until three or four decades ago it was thought complex chemistry could not occur in outer space—and hear how Chris and his colleagues are quickly showing that chemistry beyond the boundaries of planet Earth is in fact extremely rich, diverse, and complex.
This is a fascinating discussion about the story and the future of astrochemistry, a jump into new ideas about the origins of life on our planet and hypothetical other worlds.
Episode 4: Women in chemistry; learnings from one of the greatest (Professor Lesley Yellowlees, CBE, FRSC, FRSE, Professor of Inorganic Electrochemistry, University of Edinburgh)
Many discussions have an “ah ha moment” that makes them memorable. It doesn’t happen often that you get half a dozen of these moments in less than an hour. It’s conversations like this one that make running this podcast worthwhile—and really fun.
Lesley Yellowlees, Professor of Inorganic Electrochemistry at the University of Edinburgh, first woman President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and uber-accomplished chemist with a never-ending list of academic and scientific achievements, needs no introduction. What needs attention is the many things she has to share, and her unique style of doing so. She is personable and makes a palpable connection between herself and her science by sharing her journey through her experience, learnings, and achievements, but also the challenges and failures of one of the most influential chemists of today.
We speak about electrochemistry, its long history and recent popularity, and the importance of fundamental research in fueling progress, as well as scientists’ responsibility in communicating the value of science to the general public—all of this from someone that has been a pioneer in her field and dedicated herself to be the first of many, rather than a one-and-only. What Lesley Yellowlees has done, and continues to do, to level the opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups in STEM is regarded as a milestone in the history of the field of chemistry. And, as she reminds us, there is still a lot of work to do!
Episode 3: Chemistry, computers, and humans (Dr. Gabe Gomes, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, Carnegie Mellon University)
This episode begins with a TV in the background showing Brazil playing Croatia in the World Cup quarter-finals, and ends with Brazil’s surprising defeat, to the dismay of our guest, Brazil-born Gabe Gomes. In the middle, find the most approachable conversation you’ll ever hear about computational chemistry.
Gabe tries to solve real-world problems using computers, and it’s almost a paradox that such an extroverted, fun guy, in love with music and speaking so much about people, ends up investing his life in machine learning algorithms. Yet it takes courage, creativity, and daring to go in new directions and seek the next big problem at the interface of scientific disciplines.
Chemistry is a complex multivariate problem and resolving this complexity is the key to the fundamental understanding we need to advance the discipline. Gabe is a wonderful chaperone in our journey to discovering how automation and optimization can be used not to replace chemists, but to free them to apply their skills where it matters most. Gabe is the living demonstration that computers and humans can be part of the same discourse.
Episode 2: The father of green chemistry (Dr. Paul Anastas, Teresa and H. John Heinz III Professor in the Practice of Chemistry for the Environment, Yale University)
This is a big one. When one of the most influential chemists of a generation gives you a full hour of his time, you can say your chemistry podcast has made it!
This conversation with Paul Anastas (Yale University), the father of green chemistry, is an inspiration to think differently. He favors disrupting common rules and to stop accepting the status quo, given that the status quo is not sustainable.
The “green shift” towards sustainable processes in chemistry and engineering is the revolution that we can’t afford to miss. We do not need any more evidence. The silliness in the way we do things is in front of our eyes; we just need to be willing to look and see it.
When we make 1000 kilograms of waste per kilograms of product, there is no future. When we keep producing, using, and discharging in a linear way, there is no future. When governments and private companies don’t embrace environmental responsibility as part of their performance metrics, there is no future.
Paul and his co-author Urvashi Bhatnagar have written The Sustainability Scorecard – How to Implement and Profit from Unexpected Solutions to outline the green chemistry principles that show the way to a sustainable future in chemistry. The pursuit of sustainability offers what they call “unexpected solutions” – leaps forward that make new processes not only more sustainable, but also more efficient, cheaper, and more profitable. There are many great examples, with many more to come.
Disrupt or be disrupted.
Episode 1: The chemists’ charisma (Dr. Steven Townsend, Professor of Chemistry, Vanderbilt University & Dr. Frank Leibfarth, Associate Professor of Chemistry, University of North Carolina)
We open Season 4 with a unique double interview with Dr. Steven Townsend (Vanderbilt University) and Dr. Frank Leibfarth (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). These are our original two guests from Season 1 of this series!
Steve Townsend and Frank Leibfarth are two of the best chemists of the current generation as well as being incredibly charismatic and fun humans. With that said, this episode is a bit different in that it was a fun moment of connection and entertainment where we discuss things on the fringe of chemistry, tongue in cheek. As it happens, it became much more than that—a journey into personal history, motivation and drive, stories and reflections on great chemists of the past and present, and much more. The human element behind the science takes center stage; this episode is one not to miss.
Episode 10: On solid state materials, electrochemistry and the importance of roots (Dr. Jesús Velázquez, Assistant Professor, University of California-Davis)
Some people have an aura, which is something difficult to describe; some define it charisma, others call it charm. These are people you want to spend time with, because they make you feel good and always have something interesting to say. Jesús Velázquez is one of these people. A talented materials scientist, deeply attached to his motherland of Puerto Rico, and determined to give back what he feels life has given him.
Jesús’ science is as generous as he is and brings disruptive potential with it. He studies nanostructured solid materials, particularly the so-called chalcogenides (metal complexes containing group 8 elements) and Chevrel phases (MxMo6S8). These materials can be used for a variety of applications, the most promising being electrochemical reactions. Generating hydrogen from water, or reducing carbon dioxide to methanol, are among these applications.
This is a scientifically stimulating, and yet warming conversation. We span from solid phase material synthesis and characterization to coaching and mentoring young talent from underrepresented communities. A great way to close season 3!
Episode 9: Energy harvesting and self-sustainable greenhouses (Dr. Derya Baran, Associate Professor, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology)
While most love adventure, it still takes courage and determination to go find it and commit to it. Dr. Derya Baran, a Turkish native, who studied in Austria, Germany, and the UK before now working in Saudi Arabia, has ample courage and determination that have provided a life of adventure!
This is one of our best explorations of the link between the person and the science. Derya, an academic researcher and entrepreneur, that can’t stop thinking about how her work can benefit people’s lives. She develops smart and functional materials for energy harvesting and conversion. Specifically, innovative organic materials with photovoltaic properties that can be used in challenging (hot and/or humid) environments and present unique properties of transparency, color, and ease of manufacturing, relative to traditional silica-based technologies.
Her materials are enabling incredible concepts, such as self-sustainable greenhouses that can generate all the energy they need to enable agriculture in inhospitable environments.
There is a lot to like here… great science that promises to address very important global issues and the personal story of a smart, determined, woman, full of unlikely, brave choices.
Episode 8: Drugging the undruggable (Dr. Shanique Alabi, Monte Rosa Therapeutics)
Chemical biology is a relatively recent discipline where thinking about biomolecules as big organic molecules isn’t shocking, but it was completely revolutionary just 3 or 4 decades ago. What is undeniable is that chemistry offers a new lens to observe, interact with and alter biological phenomena. Chemistry opens the possibility to understand biomolecules at the atomic level and to leverage traditional organic chemistry methods to change their function, ultimately influencing macroscopic biological phenomena.
Dr. Shanique Borteley Alabi has been thinking about how chemicals can influence humans ever since childhood observations of her grandfather at work in his pharmacy, in Ghana. She now uses chemistry to influence the interaction between cellular proteins by designing small molecules that work as “glues” for macromolecules.
She spent her PhD developing “proteolysis targeted chimeras” (ProTaC), the use of small molecules with affinity for both a specific protein target and for kinases that tag proteins to initiate their degradation. She now works on similar concepts to selectively initiate and promote the interaction between natural proteins with the objective of amplifying specific natural pathways to treat disease. This is the frontier of drug development, going beyond simple competitive inhibition and promising a way to develop drugs for undruggable targets.
Episode 7: Shining a new light on chemistry (Dr. Chern-Hooi Lim, New Iridium, Inc.)
Entrepreneurship in the blood, a fine mind, and a bold spirit makes for a life of successes and a great podcast episode as well! This is how we would describe Chern-Hooi Lim, a Malaysian chemical engineer who is thinking big and aiming to reshape the way we make molecules through the use of light. Chern-Hooi is an expert and innovator of photocatalysis. His organo-catalysts are a big departure from the more established precious metal-based ones and bring with them the promise of a new deal for synthetic chemistry.
This is a fascinating discussion about the present and future of chemistry. We discover how photocatalysis enables a new paradigm in chemistry, where we depart from fully reduced carbon sources and imitate nature in using oxidized carbon and light as the fundamental building blocks. We explore mild- condition Birch reduction, cross-coupling, and radical reactions.
This is also a story of smart ideas and bold choices and a new perspective on the role entrepreneurship can play in science and technology—another great discovery of a strong personality and the science that comes from it.
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.