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William Alexander Donald

The Power List 2020 – Australia

Associate Professor and Australian Research Council Future Fellow, School of Chemistry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Greatest inspiration: I find Thomas Edison inspirational. The development of the practical light bulb required testing thousands of different materials for their potential use as filaments. As the story goes, Edison was asked by a reporter: “Mr Edison, how did it feel to fail 1,000 times?”

His reply: “I did not fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” 

Future of the field: I can see the integration of machine learning and portable chemical spectrometers becoming a reality for a range of applications in forensics, border security, and point-of-care disease diagnosis. Just imagine walking into your doctor’s office, breathing into an instrument and, in a matter of minutes, knowing if you have a disease! I believe single cell chemical analysis by mass spectrometry will also be revolutionary in biological discovery as will native mass spectrometry in accelerating drug discovery and development.

Dinner party guest: Marcus Aurelius because I am interested in stoic philosophy and ancient Rome.

Time travel destination: I would go 100 years into the future. We are living in strange times. I’d like to see where we are headed.

Misconceptions of science in Australia: That analytical chemists are technicians rather than scientists who solve worthwhile problems, develop new methods that probe exciting questions, and generate previously inaccessible information.  

Advice to younger self: Be more humble and grateful. Read more often and more widely. Remember to always examine ideas from many perspectives.

Part of the Power List 2020

Around the World in 60 Scientists

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