Interview with Professor Hosea Nelson in journal Nature

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One of our newest faculty members was interviewed about his career path in the Oct 1st issue of the prestigious journal.

Prof. Nelson earned a B.S. in Chemistry from University of California at Berkeley in 2004 and a  Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 2012.  After postdoctoral training at University of California at Berkeley, Prof. Nelson joined the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in July 2015.

Broadly speaking, Prof. Nelson’s research program is focused on the development of enabling technologies for chemical synthesis and biology. These goals are achieved through two primary avenues of research: target-driven organic synthesis and reaction development.

Prof. Nelson was listed as C&EN‘s “Talented 12” earlier in the year.

Excerpt from Nature – Oct. 1, 2015 (by Virginia Gewin):

A construction worker transitions to chemistry to carry out his love of building things.

A former construction worker, Hosea Nelson is still building things — but now, as a chemist, he constructs biologically active molecules instead of houses. In July, he launched his own laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Can you describe your path into science? 

I did construction and odd jobs for years, but over time, I decided I wanted to go to school. The problem was that I had no idea what to do. I took biology courses at a community college and liked them, and eventually, I got a job doing research in a microbial-genomics lab at San Francisco State University in California. I fell in love with research and the pursuit of intellectual ideas. Making a genetic construct gave me the same feeling as building things. But I wanted to understand the glue — the chemical bonds that hold everything together — and got more interested in chemistry and building molecules. I spent four years at a community college, then transferred to the University of California (UC), Berkeley, and knocked out a bachelor of science degree in chemistry in two years.

How did you decide where to go for your graduate degree? 

I didn’t go right away. I got a job in industry at the Panasonic Energy Solutions Lab in California’s Silicon Valley. One of my UC Berkeley instructors stayed in touch, and convinced me that I was talented and could get my costs covered for graduate school. I had never heard of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, but I applied there and worked with chemist Brian Stoltz, who is known for making compounds relevant to human health.

Do you feel you charged ahead in Stoltz’s lab? 

Yes. He and I are similarly intense, but he is much more regimented, whereas I grew up in San Francisco with hippie parents who did not have a lot of structure. I was worried that we would clash, but we share a common interest in constructing molecules. In his lab, I decided to do a total synthesis of molecules derived from a plant called Thapsia garganica, which has a rich medicinal history that even Hippocrates wrote about.

To what do you attribute your success? 

I take a lot of initiative and have a fearless approach, which I learned from the industrial lab. The biggest roadblock to productivity is indecision. If you have an idea, no matter how crazy you might think it is, you have to go with it to get anything done. With the T. garganica project, I spent 3 months trying to find a way to make a compound using a conventional route, which would have been a 20-step process. I challenged myself to do it in six or seven steps, and my short route ended up working. Read full article here.

To learn more about Prof. Nelson’s research here.