Professor Spotight: Herman Sintim, Drug Discovery Professor of Chemistry

By Kenny Nguyen | Managing Editor

Herman Sintim, Ph.D.
Education: BSc University College London 1999, Ph.D. University of Oxford 2002, Post-Doctoral Fellow University of Oxford 2002-2004, Post-Doctoral Fellow Stanford University 2004-2006

Had you not chosen to become a professor, what do you see yourself doing?
I would have been a physicist, maybe working at NASA. It was always a childhood dream of mine. I always liked physics, looking at the solar system and wondering what is out there. I changed my mind and decided to focus on chemistry due to the combination of opportunities, and later realizing I was better at chemistry and biology than physics. I also took research during undergraduate years and got hooked into medicinal chemistry, and how you could use chemistry to find cures for diseases.

After teaching at the University of Maryland, what brought you to Purdue?
Purdue has a very strong chemistry program and it has a very rich history of Nobel Prize winners and National Academy members. The Chemistry Department is also coupled to excellent facilities. I’m interested in drug design, and Purdue has a whole Drug Discovery building and institute. Purdue’s facilities are almost unmatched in academic research. The types of instrumentation I saw here when I visited, you can only find in other big companies and service facilities. It’s the opportunities that Purdue would offer to my research that brought me here.

Can you tell us more about your experience, particularly those not mentioned on your homepage or CV? What would interest people?
In Maryland, I was involved in outreach and communicating science to high school students. I do this to make chemistry accessible to them so they don’t see it as something that harms the environment, but develops modern technology that imparts life. I’m a very strong fan of communicating science to the public.

If you could travel through time, would you go back in the past or travel to the future? Which specific year(s), and why?
I always want to go into the future. I would probably want to go 20 years from now, 2036. The reason is, 20 years from now I think life would be so much fun. All the major diseases would be cured—cures for Parkinson’s for one, which I read a lot about because of my dad. Great advances in cancer as well. Technology would be cool, communicating with people with holograms maybe? I could talk with my family via holograms, and not feel like I’m so far away when I’m at conferences. And hopefully it wouldn’t take so long to travel.

Imagine you are hosting a dinner party, and you can invite 3 guests. Who would your intimate dinner party guests be? They may be dead or alive, real or fictional, but not family or love interest. And why would you pick them?
Definitely invite Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Michael Jackson. That would be an interesting table, especially with Michael Jackson. What Gandhi taught us I think is really inspirational—the whole issue of love for one another and peace. Martin Luther King had a similar message as Gandhi, just from a different part of the world. I believe we still haven’t gotten there yet, but that is the ideal life: all live together, in peace. After achieving these dreams, we could then focus on bigger problems that matter, like cures for cancer. Doing things that unite us, times would be better spent.

When I was growing up, it was Michael Jackson’s time. A dinner should not just be serious, it should be fun!

What is your favorite memory?
When I had my son, and the first time I walked into a room and he saw me and he smiled, and I could tell he recognized who I was. The first few months, I could have been anyone to him. But the first time he was in the room with his mom, and I walked with and there was a lot of different people, but he knew who I was.