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Career Connections: Chemist

5 minutes

(man) Well, my name's Joseph Kittle. Everyone calls me JD. My company is Molecular Technologies Laboratory, and here in Athens, we do work with molecular biology. We are able to understand the biology of the living cell at the level of molecules. The importance of that is that you can actually engineer a cell to have new properties. But it all starts with chemistry and understanding how the cell works and how chemistry works. When I first started college, the idea was that chemistry and biology were separate. We knew many molecules in the living cell, but didn't know how they operated. There was a phrase coined at that time called molecular biology. We hoped to understand biology at the level of molecules. At that time, it really wasn't there. Since then, biology's reinvented itself a couple of times, and now we're at the point where we can engineer cells based on the chemistry taking place inside them. One of the molecules we work with is DNA. We use synthetic DNA to reprogram living cells. If I were to make a DNA molecule with this type of model, it wouldn't be huge, it'd be this big around, but it would be football-field length. These giant molecules. We're actually able to engineer those here. We design them on a computer, order them through the Internet, and they're delivered by FedEx. There are factories that make these giant molecules. At one time, that was exciting, being able to make molecules. Now we use them to engineer cells. When they arrive, they're not big giant things. They're a little drop of liquid in a test tube, and we use those to reprogram bacteria or human cells to have new properties. For example, we will take a bacteria and use it to produce a pharmaceutical, something that would be possible to cure a person with. So we will engineer the bacteria to make a particular protein, and that protein can be given to a sick person to cure their disease. I got a degree in chemistry at Ohio University in Athens and went to Harvard graduate school and ended up doing a postdoc at Ohio State. That seems like a trajectory toward working in the lab the rest of my life. I do work in the lab, but I also teach and also have a business. So that idea of being able to be an ambassador for the world of chemistry allows me to use that knowledge in a variety of ways. The core of what you want to be able to do, you want to understand the world around you, you want to be able to communicate that, and you want to have creative ideas. Don't be afraid to talk. That English class or that presentation class you take, it's pretty distant from chemistry, but it allows you to interact with other people. Don't think that taking an English class is going to affect your ability to do chemistry. You need to communicate the things you learn. Finally, the creative ideas. I wish I had a magic formula or tell you how to be creative, but it's the ability to trust yourself to try something. If it doesn't work, don't be surprised. It's okay. You'll do more in the future. Take good notes. Keep track of things. Don't be surprised when things don't work. That creative spark, that's the one thing our company does better than anyone else. This company is designed to be creative. There's actually no substitute for throwing yourself into it. Allow yourself to be caught up and taken by the wave. Have a passion. And that's always been my passion, to use chemistry as a way to interact with the world and create value that might be hidden from other people.

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Meet a chemist who owns his own business that develops synthetic DNA molecules designed to reprogram cells and help cure diseases. Hear the importance of writing, communication skills, and creativity to becoming a successful chemist. Part of the "Career Connections" series.

Media Details

Runtime: 5 minutes

Career Connections
Episode 1
5 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Career Connections
Episode 2
6 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Career Connections
Episode 3
3 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Career Connections
Episode 4
5 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Career Connections
Episode 5
5 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Career Connections
Episode 6
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Career Connections
Episode 7
7 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Career Connections
Episode 8
7 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Career Connections
Episode 9
6 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Career Connections
Episode 10
6 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12