Graduate Student Spotlight: Alexandra Brown

Danielle Randall
March 7, 2018

Alexandra Brown has been at MIT for eight months, and comes to Cambridge from Dublin, California. Her current research in Professor Daniel L.M. Suess' group is focused on studying synthetic metal chalcogenide clusters, especially iron sulfur clusters. These clusters are best known for mediating electron transport, but they carry out a variety of important biological reactions such as the reduction of dinitrogen to ammonia. By studying synthetic iron-sulfur clusters, we want to gain insight into the structure of potential intermediates in these complicated reactions, as well as glean design principles that can be applied to the development of new catalysts to carry out industrial reactions.

As the subject of March 2018's Graduate Student Spotlight, Alex shares her most interesting bit of useless trivia, the most amazing place in nature she's experienced, the current trend that she finds annoying, and more!

1. How did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
I became interested in inorganic chemistry because of the diversity of reactions that occur at transition metals and because of the colors. I decided to work on iron-sulfur clusters because I figured if one metal was good, four would be better. Nobody told me all my clusters would be brown.

2. When you are old, what do you think children will ask you to tell stories about?
Maybe driving cars? I feel like sometime in the future nobody will learn how to drive because it’ll be automated.

3. What’s the most interesting documentary you’ve ever watched?
March of the Penguins.

4. What bit of trivia do you know that is very interesting but also very useless?
The male platypus has a venomous spine on its rear heel. Apparently, the venom is pretty painful. I’ve never encountered a platypus though so I’m not scared.

5. What movie universe would be the worst to live out your life in?
Lord of the Rings. There’s like, 3 other women around and I’m pretty sure it’s a prerequisite that they have to be able to appear in a mystical white fog. I don’t know how to do that.

6. What’s the most ridiculous animal on the planet?
Sloths. But baby sloths are pretty cute.

7. What scientific discovery would change the course of humanity overnight if it was discovered?
Life on another planet. Or if we proved that there was no other life in the universe. That would be pretty depressing.

8. What unethical experiment would have the biggest positive impact on society as a whole?
There’s a ton of ethical problems with gene editing but it could also really help a lot of people.

9. What inconsequential super power would you like to have?
Have my shoes never come untied.

10. What food do you crave most often?
Potato Chips.

11. What did you believe for way too long as a child?
That I would get sucked down the drain of the bathtub if I was in it when I drained the tub.

12. What’s the most amazing place in nature you’ve been?
Yosemite. I hiked up Vernal Falls with my family a long time ago.

13. What’s the best thing about the place you grew up?
People mistakenly believe I’m from Dublin, Ireland, which makes me seem momentarily cool.

14. What is something that is popular now that annoys you?
Gender discrimination. And the Tide Pod Challenge.

15. What is the silliest fear you have?
I’m afraid of stepping on chewed gum on the street.

16. Do you like reality TV shows? Why or why not? If so, which ones?
No. I don’t watch much TV so I’d rather watch something funny or something with an interesting story. The only exception is the Great British Baking Show.

17. What song always puts you in a good mood?
“Dear Theodosia” from Hamilton.

18. What apps have changed your life a lot?
Google maps. I’m not even sure how my parents drove anywhere before it.

19. What would your perfect bar look like?
It would have drinks and lots of snacks. Probably mostly snacks.

20. Where would you like to travel next?
I’d like to go back to visit my family in Canada. Preferably when it’s still winter. I moved out of California partially to live somewhere it snows and I haven’t seen enough snow yet.

Many thanks to Alex for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come!