Joe Sweeney

Favourite Thing: To do research which helps people



Imperial College and Oxford University


B. Sc. (Chemistry), D. Phil

Work History:

ETH, Zürich; University of Leicester; University of Bristol; University of Reading; University of Huddersfield

Current Job:

Professor of Synthesis and Chemical Biology


University of Huddersfield

Me and my work

I try to invent new ways to make useful things

I’m an academic (OED: academic, n. ‘of little practical value’), and a professor of chemistry. I work at a university teaching and carrying out research in organic chemistry, which is the study of molecules and substances composed mainly of carbon. Most of the molecules found in people, animals and all other life-forms are ‘organic’, so the work we do has relevance to may things of importance for daily life. In particular, we are keen to make a contribution to understanding diseases, and finding new medicines  to treat them. So we make new chemicals and work with other scientists (biologists, pharmacologists, medicinal chemists) to have these new substances tested in relevant ways. One of the great strengths of chemistry is synthesis: the ability to make completely new substances using new or well-known chemical reactions. Of all the diverse scientific disciplines, only chemistry enables us to make these new things, and as researchers in synthetic chemistry, we try to invent new ways to make chemicals which have already been shown to be useful (as medicines, or other practical things, such as dyes, imaging agents for MRI and so on). We also aim to use new methods in synthetic chemistry to make totally new molecules which possess useful properties. AT the end of the day, I want to help make a difference: in my mind science is all about helping society, making life better, for as many people as possible.

My Typical Day

I teach students, I work with scientific researchers, I write, I read (a lot) and (most importantly) I learn as much as I can

My typical day starts reasonably early (I’m usually in my office by 08:00). The day could be described as a mixture of talking, listening and writing. I spend a lot of time talking to students, both undergraduate and postgraduate

What I'd do with the money

Money?! *checks website* I’d use the money to show people see that we’re all scientists at heart

People make a decision, often early in life, that they can’t ‘do’ science. From then on, they see scientists as ‘different’ to them, and science itself as something distant from their life. I don’t think it should be like this: if you asked a room full of teenagers if they can play football, most of them would say ‘yes’. They know they aren’t at the same level as Suarez or van Persie, but they know that they CAN play the same game. If you asked the same room of the same teenagers if they can do science, many of them would say ‘no’; but in fact everyone makes decisions based on scientific analysis every day. Children learn quickly not to overfill a glass with drink, because they observe that it will spill when they carry it; that is a scientific analysis, and we all make these analyses many times a day. So, to my mind the difference between me and you is that I am a professional scientist, whereas you are an amateur one; it’s just like the footballers. I would use the prize to set up web resources to help convince every that science has something for everyone, that it’s not a black art and that scientists are ordinary people. If a little geekier than usual.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Fun loving criminal

Who is your favourite singer or band?

The Beatles. No, The White Stripes. No, Nirvana. No…oh I don’t know

What's your favourite food?


What is the most fun thing you've done?

Be in/have a family

What did you want to be after you left school?


Were you ever in trouble in at school?

No sir

What was your favourite subject at school?


What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Train young scientists

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

A fascination with nature

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

The geek on the bus with the faded Boba Fett t-shirt

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1. To be captain of Liverpool Football Club. 2. To use science to help people. 3. To be able to honestly acknowledge how little I know

Tell us a joke.

How do you keep a web surfer in suspense?

Other stuff

Work photos: