Clay Clark is professor and interim head of the Department of Molecular and Structural Biochemistry at N.C. State. He launched the Biochem Blog, http://blogs.biochem.ncsu.edu, to educate the public on advances in biochemistry – the study of chemical processes in living organisms – and to train his student scientists on communicating with the public.
Q. What is the mission of biochemistry?
A. The field of biochemistry encompasses nearly all aspects of life, from viruses to bacteria to more complex multicell organisms such as plants and animals. Our goal is to understand how life works.
Q. In the world of biochemists, what’s the top issue being discussed these days?
A. Biochemistry is a diverse field and touches on a number of grand challenges, such as food sustainability, water and energy use and conservation, and human health. In human health areas, a better understanding of how biological macromolecules are modified in cells and how they interact with each other has resulted in the development of new drugs and vaccines for the treatment of infectious diseases, inflammatory, neurodegenerative and heart diseases, and cancers.
Q. Your blog showcases work being done on biofuels. What do you hope people learn about this?
A. We started with the question, “Is it worth it?” Whether from cellulosic biomass, algae or seed oils, biofuel production is still in the early stages of research and development. We hope that the public will learn that conservation is a key aspect to future energy policies while scientists study ways to increase alternate fuels. In the current state of research and production, biofuels are not a replacement for fossil fuels but should be part of a comprehensive energy plan that also includes solar, wind and hydro energy sources.
Q. What do you think would help bridge the communication gap between scientists and the public?
A. It’s not sufficient to just do science. Part of doing science should include explaining to policymakers and the public how we do science, why the projects are important, and how the studies may affect their everyday lives. In addition, the conversation should include discussions of how the research component of our job ties in with the educational component, from training the next generation of scientists to enhancing the educational experience of undergraduate students through research and classroom instruction.