The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions – Marty Burke


1. What made you want to be a chemist?

At first I was simply trying to impress Christina White, my organic teaching assistant when I was a freshmen in college. When I later realized the tremendous power of organic synthesis to promote the understanding and betterment of human health, I was hooked.

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

When I was a kid I dreamed of becoming a major league baseball player, but talent (or rather a lack thereof!) has a funny way of working these things out.

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

I always tell my students that when you learn how to make molecules you make yourself a very powerful person. It is truly staggering when you let your mind race about all of the important problems that ultimately represent challenges at the molecular level. I think the most impacting chemists tend to be those that identify an important molecular problem and then solve it. Interestingly, the problem identification may be the most critical part of this process.

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

It’s tough to pick just one. I guess if I were forced to make a choice I would have to say Sir Isaac Newton – now that guy could pick a good problem!

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

I still try to work in lab as much as possible, but these days I usually just make starting materials for my students. This gives me the opportunity to stay involved without getting in the way of the students’ discovery process. This was one of the many very useful pieces of advice that I got from Scott Miller when I was preparing to launch my own group.

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

My favorite book is 100 Years of Solitude, and if I could only have one CD I would probably take the soundtrack from Garden State. But to be honest, if I were exiled on a desert island I would spend most of my time trying to get back!

Marty Burke is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on the synthesis and study of small molecules with the capacity to perform higher-order, protein-like functions.

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