The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions: Kurt Gothelf

Published in Chemistry

Kurt Gothelf is in the Department of Chemistry and iNANO at Aarhus University, where he is conducting research in DNA programmed self-assembly of molecules and nanomaterials.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I had a wonderful chemistry teacher in high school, who inspired me to study chemistry at the university. I spent my third year at Heidelberg University, Germany, where I had my first research related organic chemistry laboratory experience. This ignited a very strong passion for organic chemistry and soon I decided to pursue a research career.

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

In high school I was very much in doubt whether to pursue a trumpet or a chemistry career. Maybe it was lack of self-confidence, but I rationalized that if things didn’t turn out that well, it would be better to be an average professional chemist who plays trumpet as an amateur rather than vice versa. I have fortunately never regretted my choice and today I still play the trumpet – as an amateur.

3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?

We are working with the so-called DNA origami method, where a long single stranded DNA sequence can hybridize with hundreds of short synthetic DNA sequences to form arbitrary structures. This method gives scientists a unique tool to form well-defined nanoscale-structures and to position other materials in a well-defined geometry relative to each other. In this context we are working on creating electronically conductive paths on such origami templates and to find new methods for arranging proteins, dendrimers and polymers on origami structures. Although origami structures are scientifically and aesthetically fascinating in themselves, it is my aim to develop this technology into real life application in medicine, diagnostics and electronics.

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

Aristotle. I have always admired the Greek philosophers and how they shaped the foundation of modern thinking and, for Aristotle in particular, the physical sciences.

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

Although I loved doing experimental work earlier on I have not been able to find time to do any experiments myself since I became the leader of the Centre for DNA Nanotechnology. The last time I performed experiments in the lab, I made some lanthanide complexes.

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

The book should definitely be Biochemistry by Stryer et al. Then I would finally have time to read that book in depth – something that has been on my “to do” list for a long time.

The music album would be The Valkyrie by Richard Wagner, which is the all time favorite of mine, but there are many other classic, jazz and rock albums that I would also like to bring.

7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?

Hanadi Sleiman from McGill University. She works in my field and has an interesting background.

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