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Graduate Student Spotlight: Brian Graham

Categories: Students

Chemistry Graduate Student Brian Graham describes his research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.

Brian Graham is originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, and has been at MIT for two years. As a member of Professor Ron Raines‘ group, Brian’s research focuses on the chemical transformation of renewable lignocellulosic biomass into chemical feedstocks. They have developed an efficient chemical method for the deconstruction of plant biomass to its component sugars, and a boronic acid-catalyzed process to convert glucose to 5-hydroxymethylfurfural for use as a renewable platform chemical. He is also investigating fundamental aspects of boronic acid chemistry and the application of boronic acids to pharmaceuticals.

As the subject of this month’s Graduate Student Spotlight, Brian shares his idea for a new holiday, a bit of useless, yet interesting trivia, the scientific discovery he thinks would change the course of humanity over night, and more!

  1. How did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
    I was interested in taking advantage of the amazing synthetic chemistry that plants perform and using it to improve the sustainability of our society.
  2. What movie, picture, or video always makes you laugh no matter how often you watch it?
    Either Fantastic Mr. Fox or O, Brother, Where Art Thou?
  3. What movie universe would be the worst to live out your life in?
    The Star Wars universe seems pretty rough overall
  4. What bit of trivia do you know that is very interesting but also very useless?
    Despite appearing to be a large tree, the ombú in South America does not produce true wood and is mostly held up by water pressure.
  5. What scientific discovery would change the course of humanity overnight if it was discovered?
    Extraterrestrial life
  6. What would your perfect bar look like?
    A nice selection of craft sodas.
  7. What movie or book do you know the most quotes from?
    I think at one point I could quote almost all of The Princess Bride, so probably that.
  8. What’s the most ridiculous animal on the planet?
    The naked mole rat.
  9. What food do you crave most often?
    Goldfish crackers.
  10. What did you believe for way too long as a child?
    I was terrified of our basement for way too long.
  11. What’s the most amazing place in nature you’ve been?
    Zion National Park
  12. What’s the best thing about the place you grew up?
    It was right by the mountains, so it was easy to escape into nature without having to travel.
  13. What is your guilty pleasure?
    Buying too many houseplants
  14. What is something that is popular now that annoys you?
    The concept of superfoods.
  15. Do you like reality TV shows? Why or why not? If so, which ones?
    I like reality competition shows like cooking competitions, because it’s cool to watch people doing something they are good at. Although Survivor is also pretty entertaining.
  16. What song always puts you in a good mood?
    The Mariner’s Revenge Song by The Decemberists, or Little Boxes by Pete Seeger.
  17. What apps have changed your life a lot?
    Google Maps, because I’m bad with directions.
  18. Where would you like to travel next?
    The Galápagos Islands.
  19. What inconsequential super power would you like to have?
    The ability to perfectly predict the weather for the next 18 hours.
  20. If you could make a holiday, what would it be like? What traditions would it have? What would people eat on your holiday?
    An international dark sky day, where cities would turn off their lights for a night so that everyone could actually see the stars, and people would get together to stargaze and cook over bonfires.

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