The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions – Aline Miller

Published in Chemistry

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1. What made you want to be a chemist?

As a child I remember being given a chemistry set and spending many hours in the family greenhouse mixing different coloured liquids and causing things to heat and sometimes burn (much to the horror of my parents!). This fascination of exothermic reactions continued throughout school and then it was a hard decision between chemistry and physics. I ended up choosing chemistry as there were more girls on that course at the time.

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

I would definitely like to be a travel writer as I love to visit new places and experience different cultures, so to get paid to do this would be fantastic. However, if I am thinking about my carbon footprint, and about seeing my family, then I would most probably open up a tea shop, so I could sell the cakes that I love to bake (and eat).

3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?

In addition to the current push to reduce pollution and improve the environment, I think chemists play a key role in improving health, quality of life and every day well being. I see this as not only making more effective medicinal treatments that are available to all, but also small things like improved material properties and personal care products.

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

Well, the obvious one would be Dorothy Hodgkin as I think she managed to make such a contribution to science, inspire her students and raise her family at the same time and I would like to ask her how she did it! Although if I just had to choose one then it would be Leonardo da Vinci as he was such a great thinker and a pioneer in so many areas including science, anatomy and engineering. I think it would be so fascinating to find out what influenced and inspired him. I believe he was also the first to really take inspiration from nature to create highly functional materials & systems, which is something highly relevant to my research area today!

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

Ermm? I am ashamed to say that it was a while ago! I did some cryo-transmission electron microscopy with our collaborators in Helsinki, Finland about two years ago on a protein hydrogel. My student was with me though (and she also showed me what to do!) so I am not sure that counts. On the other hand I made some dough for a pizza last night, so you could say my last experiment was fermentation.

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

Unfortunately I don’t a great deal of spare time for reading at the moment between work & having two young children who believe they should only sleep when it gets dark (great for winter, not so good for long summer nights!)! If I had to choose one however, it would be the last Harry Potter book by J.K. Rowling. Choosing one CD is hard as I have quite eclectic tastes, but I should be true to my roots and choose the Scottish band Deacon Blue as they would instill passion for me to find a way back home!

Aline Miller is in the Manchester Interdisciplinary Biocentre at the University of Manchester, UK, and works on understanding how nature uses self-assembly to create functional nanomaterials and attempts to mimic and exploit this in synthetic systems.

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