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How did you get into chemistry?
My father is a teacher but he always wanted to be a professor. I think someone said you usually follow your parents’ dreams rather than their current jobs.I always knew I wanted to be a professor. My interest in chemistry goes back to my high school years. I represented Turkey twice at the International Chemistry Olympiad. Of course my interest in chemistry started before that. One of my mentors at high school got me interested in chemistry because he taught how it is related to life in general. He spoke of daily life items like soap, shampoo, fabric, dyes and drugs. He said everything is chemistry. So I thought – if everything is chemistry then I need to do chemistry. I saw I could make an immediate impact if I studied chemistry. I still keep that in mind – that I need to make an immediate impact on people’s lives.
Before the move I was in the US for about 10 years. I got my PhD in Texas at Rice University and was a postdoc at the University of California, Santa Barbara. My postdoc advisor, Galen Stucky, had a very distinguished position here at KAIST in Korea and he came here briefly to do some teaching and other things. Galen is no longer involved here but his previous involvement helped me to think this position was a possibility. I came here and I realised it’s a great environment with highly motivated people.