The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions – Matthew Hartings


Matthew Hartings is in the Department of Chemistry at American University, and works on two projects that can be characterized as bioinorganic chemistry: synthesis of ruthenium-based molecules that may disrupt cell signalling pathways and protein engineering to develop photo-activated enzymes.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

My love of chemistry comes from the inherent beauty of creating new molecules. I thought about studying physics or engineering, but I found that I couldn’t resist the lure of exacting control over molecular scale objects.

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

I would be the head grounds-keeper at Wrigley Field (home of the Chicago Cubs — Major League Baseball). I love sport. I specifically love baseball, and I have a very romantic notion of the canvas on which baseball is played. Being in charge of this canvas makes a person part-artist, part-scientist, part-priest. Pretty cool.

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

Aside from my other research pursuits, I’m working on developing new set of advanced lab courses. I am hoping to take advantage of the ability of active research to effectively engage and instruct the researcher in order to educate the junior and senior-level undergrads at AU. I am hoping that this course, when developed properly, will replace all of our upper-level undergraduate instructional labs. I also hope that we can get some really cool, publishable results so that we can reward our students with publications and opportunities to present at conferences along with the A’s that they are bound to get for the course.

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

Nikola Tesla. The man was just so absolutely interesting. I would have a million and one questions to ask him about his views on science and (especially) its application.

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

10 minutes ago I started activating some molecular sieves. I’m going to be synthesizing a ruthenium-ATP (adenosine triphosphate) complex, and I need to dry my solvents before I start. (I’m in the lab pretty much every day. One of the benefits/curses of being a first year Assistant Professor).

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

Book: The Survival Handbook: Essential Skills for Outdoor Adventure by Colin Towell.

Music album: (my favorite album of the moment) Rubber Factory by The Black Keys.

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

Emily Weiss. She is a good friend and one of my favorite people. Also, her research is just stellar (I am continuously envious of her research) and she is one of those young movers in the world of chemistry. More people should know Emily and her work.

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