What’s your favorite thing about chemistry?
I work with some of the most fundamental building blocks of life. Things don’t get smaller than what you find in atoms and particles and electrons. It’s pretty neat to be working with things at that scale that can have such a huge impact on this world, and knowing that I can have fun doing it. I feel so blessed.
What exactly do you do? Walk me through a day.
We work on the synthesis of natural and unnatural products — compounds that are found in nature and others of interest because they have a cool chemical reactivity. We develop new kinds of methodology. And sometimes there are applications such as anti-cancer compounds, drugs, etc., which is called medicinal chemistry.
There’s lab work, working with the chemicals. There’s spectroscopy, the analytical side, working with instruments to characterize compounds, and there’s desk work, writing reports, literature reviews, presentations, etc., and using computer programs to model compounds.
Every day is so different. When I set up experiments, they don’t always go as planned. It’s a little like having kids. Some of them are well behaved and you can leave them alone; some of them demand your attention at all times. Some don’t like to go to sleep, so you have to keep taking care of them sixteen hours a day or coming back at three a.m. to tend to them.
How does faith come into play at work?
I don’t look at my workplace as a different place than anywhere else where I would do ministry. My goals are still the same: I want to walk with God in anything I do at work. That can be really challenging, especially when I’m dealing with things that look hopeless and terrifying, or really difficult people. Or even just things in my life, having to go to work and make it through the day without falling apart. The only way I can do that is leaning on God, clinging to his Word. That’s what has sustained me through all the trials, I carry Bible verses to help me get by and live out my faith. I need the Holy Spirit. I need his word. I need to know that he is there with me. That’s more of the survival part of things.
Then there are the opportunities to be a witness and share with my faith. I’ve had some really good conversations with my colleagues in the office and lab that have lasted hours. I’ve been really blessed to be able to share Christ with them in my workplace.
Specifically at MIT, the people there are different than your average Joe. People are very intellectual, and I usually end up having more intellectual conversations with people. I am asked all the time, how can you be a scientist and still have faith? How can you believe in God and be a scientist? People think it’s irreconcilable.
But God created science. I think they’re inseparable. I quote passages in Scripture, I remind them that the Bible is not a science book, but God clearly is the creator and real inventor of all our laws of physics and nature and theorems in math, and he’s the one who came up with all this—we’re just discovering it for ourselves.
Where do you hope to be in ten years?
Honestly, I hope Jesus will come back. But if not, the sky’s the limit. It would be really neat to start a nonprofit pharmaceutical company that distributes medicines to the poor. There are some out there, but I don’t know what their business models look like, or how they function, but that’s an idea I’ve had at the back of my head. I definitely want to work in the pharmaceutical industry, so that’s where you’ll find me.
Much farther in the future, I’d like to teach chemistry to college students.
What do you like to do for fun?
I enjoy doing triathlons. I like to kayak, snowboard, camp, and go hiking. I also enjoy painting, writing music and poems, and going to museums. I also like to play pool and tennis and kickbox.