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Friday, May 24, 2024

10 questions with …

Professor Mark Mascal said he likes to make an impact on a student’s life, no matter how small.

A professor of organic chemistry at UC Davis since 2003, his research deals with applying chemistry to the study of molecular assemblies, molecular information and bioinformatics science.

Mascal recently published an article detailing how biofuels can be generated from oilseed crops increasing yields by up to 24 percent. Mascal and his colleagues explain this method as allowing a multi-step process to occur as one, and improving performance especially in cold weather.

Recently, The California Aggie had the opportunity to chat with Mascal on his research and current projects.

Q: What is most promising about the new biofuels applications?

A: It is simple, inexpensive and gives high product yields. Many

alternative approaches involve expensive enzymatic and fermentation processes. Ours is completely chemical in nature and produces a highly versatile product that can be used to make either biofuels or value-added products.

Why did you decide to do research and teach?

I really liked the idea of doing my own science while at the same time training the future generations of academic and technology leaders.

Who has been the greatest influence in your career life?

There have been a number of outstanding scientists whose work has made a big impression on me. I don’t think I could narrow it down to any one person. I have the most respect for individuals who show a lot of creativity in their work, pushing forward the frontiers of science, whether on an applied or fundamental level, in a way that stimulates the imagination.

How can students best succeed in your classes?

There is only one way to succeed: Do the work. I always tell my

students in the intro lecture that they can decide then and there what grade they want. If they want an A, they will get it. If they want an F, they can get that too. The difference between the two is the amount of work they are willing to do to get what they want. I am continually amazed at how many students “decide” they want a D or an F and then proceed to get it. You don’t have to be particularly clever, just do the work.

What other research interests are you currently pursuing?

We have projects in the synthesis of medicinally interesting molecules, medical imaging agents, molecular self-assembly, macrocycle chemistry and the synthesis of theoretically challenging molecules. I’ll bet you’re sorry you asked.

Outside of your career, what are your most fulfilling hobbies?

With two small children, I don’t have time for a lot of hobbies. But when I can, I play racquetball, go hiking in nature and read good books.

How has teaching at UC Davis particularly enriched you versus other institutions you may have taught at?

I have taught chemistry here, at UCLA and in England, and I would say all of these experiences have been enriching in their own ways.

What is one aspect of UC Davis students that makes them stand out in comparison to other schools?

I find that students are students, wherever you go. I’ve been one. I’ve taught them. I’ve mentored them. Some you get to know. Some you never really see. They are a kind of universal constant in my book. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to make a difference in their lives in some small way.

Mention one undergraduate memory that clearly sticks out in your mind.

Staying up 48 straight hours writing up a whole semester’s worth of lab reports.

How are you conducting the procedure to identify biofuels? Could you briefly explain your current research procedure?

As organic chemists, we look at biomass on the molecular level and try to understand the mechanisms for its deconstruction into useful molecules. The molecules we have been able to produce so far have been good platform chemicals for biofuels and other uses. It takes a combination of intuition and luck to hit upon the right conditions.

SADAF MOGHIMI can be reached at features@theaggie.org.


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