Associate Professor Matthew Todd promotes online, open source drug research where anyone can contribute to creating molecules that might one day treat conditions like Ebola and Zika virus. Here, he gives us a tour of his desk.
For medical conditions that pharmaceutical companies don’t want to invest in, Associate Professor Matthew Todd is promoting online, open source drug research. ‘Open source’ means anyone can contribute and work in the public domain on molecules that might go on to treat conditions such as Ebola and Zika virus. The biggest project founded by Associate Professor Todd is Open Source Malaria, which was in the news last year for working with Sydney Grammar School on the simple synthesis of an expensive drug, Daraprim.
The work I do is about connecting people so we can solve problems together in real time. It’s a little like ‘Wikipedia for Drugs’, because everyone works with no secrecy. To my mind, secrecy poisons research and makes it less efficient. My wife bought me this because she likes the idea that there’s an inherent simplicity in people getting together.
I’m from the UK. This clock reminds me of the heat of Australia in comparison to where I started my professional life, in cold, wet London. I married my wife in London and then we left on a one-way honeymoon that brought us to Australia. It’s the only time I ever bought a one-way ticket. My wife’s mother bought me this clock when I moved here. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work any more because people usually knock it off the table when they look at it.
Every year Google invites a couple of hundred people to a meeting at its Googleplex in California for an ‘un‑conference’. There are rooms and you write what you want to talk about on a post-it note and put it up. And whoever turns up, turns up. I led sessions on open-source science with astronauts and software people and goodness knows who else in there. It was a fascinating experience. A couple of years later I got an award for the Open Source Malaria project, and Google was one of the sponsors. They gave me this lasered 3D representation of the stars in our area of the galaxy. It gives a beautiful sense of scale when the light catches it in the right way.
My son Harvey drew this a while ago and I love it. It’s a piece of modern art, destined for the Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s also accidentally representative of our first open-source project, which was about killing a parasitic worm that lives in human blood. Our starting molecule was a mix of things. This picture has a worm, the word “mix” and spots of red. We eventually solved the worm problem by unmixing the molecule, where the openness of the research enormously accelerated the whole project.
Whenever I open this, I just want to keep reading. Feynman was a great teacher because he made you want to know more. This book aggravates my physics envy – a common feeling among chemists I think – a yearning for the simplicity and precision of that discipline. But then some of the work my collaborators do in Open Source Malaria aggravates my biology envy. I assume that other scientists get chemistry envy when they see us making molecules new to the universe, but nobody has ever admitted this to me …
I should have one of those big, expensive standing desks, but I much prefer the table I already have, aesthetically. So this is my version of a standing desk. As you can see it’s easily adjustable. I like improvised solutions that work well but don’t cost much.
I’ve had these two things on my desk for years. They remind me of my kids. My son Harvey used to play with them when he was about one or two. He’s now seven. I like the simplicity of the Lego car and the ball is perfect for playing with when you’re on the phone.
Photography by Stefanie Zingsheim