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Meet our new academic staff from the Department of Chemistry

Our interview series introduces new researchers who started this academic year in the Faculty of Natural, Mathematical & Engineering Sciences.

In this instalment, we spoke to Robert Jefferson from the Department of Chemistry.

Dr Robert Jefferson

Dr Robert Jefferson is a Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry. His research applies both computational and experimental techniques to the modelling and design of dynamic membrane protein complexes for cellular engineering. By doing so he hopes to understand and manipulate the inner workings of cells and proteins to better harness their capabilities in areas like healthcare. 


What first attracted you to the field of Chemistry?

The biochemistry of proteins really hooked me with how chemically elaborate polymers could form beautiful structures that enable nature to harness and abuse the chemical rules of our world. Polymers, which are large molecules made up of repeating units called monomers, play a crucial role in creating these intricate protein structures. 


Tell us about something you are working on at the moment - what is exciting about it?

I work with natural protein complexes – groups of multiple protein molecules that team up to carry out specific tasks within cells. I re-engineer them to create useful functions for cell engineering and synthetic biology. Not only are there an astronomical number of sequences to test, but these complexes are often highly dynamic, which makes predicting the effects of designed mutations more difficult than your average single protein. Incorporating dynamic states of proteins into rational design is often avoided to simplify the calculations. However, finding ways to preserve functional motions in these complexes really expands the number of protein tools we can create and deepens our physical understanding of how natural complexes function. 


What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about Chemistry?

There used to be these 'Rocket Science for Poets' classes, as if science is somehow incompatible with an artistic mind and vice versa. I think this perceived divide mostly comes down to a problem of communication, but art is a wonderful way to convey complex ideas without language, and it allows us to consider our own work from a different perspective. As someone who works at the intersection of several fields, I hope to see more cross-talk between art and science in the future.


What advice would you give to someone considering studying Chemistry?

It can be hard to go from having all the answers in the classroom to asking cutting-edge questions in the lab. Try to find a problem that is truly important to you. Something that drives you to test hypotheses and find new nuggets of understanding. Those nuggets can lead you to exciting places, but you have to be open to it.


Aside from Chemistry, what do you do in your spare time?

I enjoy getting out of the city on my bike and seeing some greenery, but mostly just so I can eat more when I get home. I have been having a nice time sampling the diverse array of cuisine in London.

In this story

Robert Jefferson

Robert Jefferson

Lecturer in Chemistry

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