Chemistry Graduate Student Matthew Pearson describes his research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.
Currently in his fifth year at MIT, Matthew Pearson hails from Louisville, Kentucky.
“I really enjoy understanding how materials work on a fundamental level (like, from a chemical standpoint, what differentiates a car tire from a plastic grocery bag) and I find the process of creating new materials from the most basic building blocks to be a such a fun puzzle,” said Matthew. “I’m also very interested in issues related to climate, energy, and sustainability and I’ve always wanted to do work that is impactful in these areas. I saw chemistry as a perfect avenue to work in areas related to these topics that I also really enjoy.”
A member of Professor Jeremiah Johnson‘s laboratory, Matthew’s research involves merging amorphous polymers and crystalline porous materials to create hybrid materials of the two. The porous materials he primarily works with are called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). They’re essentially molecular sponges with very high surface areas and have potential applications as adsorbents for gas storage and separation. However, since the vast majority of MOFs are formed from rigid organic molecules, they are also generally very brittle materials. Many industrial applications of these materials require greater mechanical flexibility and processability, an area in which polymers excel. Matthew’s research revolves around designing polymer-MOF hybrid materials, in which the polymers are integrated throughout the MOF lattice, in hopes of being able to harness the favorable mechanical properties of the polymers, while maintaining the porosity of the MOFs.
As the subject of this month’s Graduate Student Spotlight, Matthew shares the item he feels is worth investing in, his favorite books (both as a child and currently), the most heartwarming thing he’s seen, and more!
- What game or movie universe would you most like to live in? What would be the worst to live in?
I would be lying if I didn’t say Harry Potter, but only if I got to be a wizard. I think I speak for a generation when I say I’ve wanted to go to Hogwarts since I first read the books as a kid. The worst would definitely be the Game of Thrones universe. Nearly everyone meets an untimely and brutal end and even while alive, life seems miserable.
- What’s the most interesting documentary you’ve ever watched?
Flow: For the Love of Water, which explores the privatization of the world’s fresh water supply and the growing water supply crisis.
- If you were on a 27-hour flight and could only watch one movie, what would it be?
Years ago, there was a 24-hour marathon of Elf on TV and I basically watched that movie all day, so I’d have to say that one.
- If you were given five million dollars to open a small museum, what kind of museum would you create?
I think I’d make a museum accurately depicting the major labor struggles and leaders throughout U.S. history. It’s a very interesting and important subject and most people don’t know much about it.
- What are some small things that make your day better?
Spending time talking to friends in lab, making it to the T station just as the train shows up, and going a whole day without having to reply to any emails
- What’s worth spending more on to get the best?
A bed. With the amount of time spent there, it only makes sense that it should be as comfortable as possible.
- What irrational fear do you have?
Accidentally being buried alive.
- What was your favorite book as a child, and what is your favorite book now?
I think my favorite book growing up was Eragon. Now, it would probably be A Tale of Two Cities. It’s not the most fun book, but I think it has such a brilliantly constructed plot and that’s something I really admire and aspire to do in my own writing.
- If you could pick any career other than the one you’ve chosen, what would it be?
I think I would be either an author or a screenwriter.
- What food do you crave most often?
Cinnamon rolls, especially the ones from Cinnabon. There aren’t any in Boston, which is probably why I’m always craving it.
- As a child, what did you think would be awesome about being an adult, but isn’t as awesome as you thought it would be?
Being able to manage my own schedule. I thought it would be more of a “I can do whatever I want” sort of thing, but it turns out it’s generally more of a “I need to take responsibility to attend to all of my obligations” sort of thing, which is much less fun.
- What sport could you play the longest in a televised game, without anyone discovering you aren’t a professional athlete?
Golf. If you dress the part, no one would suspect a thing until your first stroke, and, as we all know, that can take ages.
- What is the most heartwarming thing you’ve ever seen?
When I was at Brown, one year there was a duck that laid its eggs in a large potted plant outside the science library. When the eggs finally hatched, the SciLi duck marched all its ducklings down College Hill to the Providence River in procession. A bunch of students directed traffic and guided the ducks through the city until they reunited with Papa Duck. There was a media presence and everything. It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.
- What’s something common from your childhood that will seem strange to future generations?
Going to a brick and mortar store to rent movies or video games. I honestly miss it.
- What skill would you like to master?
I’d really like to learn to play piano by ear and improvise. I can only play sheet music, so I am so envious of people that can sit down at a piano and just play whatever they want.
- What are your top three favorite movies?
Back to the Future, Men in Black, and Green Book.
- Who is the most famous person you have met?
I met John Cusack when I went to canvass for Bernie in NH in 2020. He actually went canvassing with us. He’s apparently very passionate about progressive politics.
- Where are some unusual places you’ve been?
The Corn Palace in South Dakota is probably the weirdest. They have a bunch of murals made exclusively out of a variety of colors of corncobs. Also, Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, which has these extremely detailed, expansive model railways and airports. It’s way cooler than it sounds and I’ve never seen anything else like it.
- If you could know the truth behind every conspiracy, but you would instantly die if you hinted that you knew the truth, would you want to know?
Absolutely not. It’s not that I can’t keep a secret, but more that I love sharing information with people. If I were even able to make it a week, not being able to share it would be torture.
- Who would be in the lineup for your ideal music festival?
I basically just want to go back to early 2000’s pop punk. So a lineup with bands like Green Day, blink-182, Sum 41, New Found Glory, Yellowcard and Fall Out Boy would be amazing.
Many thanks to Matthew for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come!