Diana Drennan

I'd like to hear about your opinions on this experience. And, I'm still willing to answer questions. =) Please e-mail me at

Favourite Thing: I’m lucky, because I love my job, it’s very visual (I use the same 3D graphics that high-end gamers do) and I study the way things fit together. Doing the research is like solving puzzles – which I really enjoy.



Raritan Valley Community College 1990-1991; Rutgers 1991-2001; University of Medicine and Dentistry 1993-2001 (joint program)


Rutger & UMDNJ: Microbiology & molecular genetics with a focus on computational methods.

Work History:

Pizza parlor, Computer manager at pay check company, computational chemist at pesticide company, taught biochemistry at University


Unilever R&D, Trumbull, CT.

Current Job:

Computational Chemistry

Me and my work

I design and use computer 3D models to find new compounds that can help your skin.

Your skin has proteins in it that help you skin stay healthy (the “targets”).  myimage4 Your skin also has natural compounds that interact with the proteins (to turn them on or off) or are affected by the proteins (to build them up or break them down).    Sometimes these interactions change at we get older or as the sun damages our skinmyimage1.  I use 3D graphics to build models of how those interactions work, and then find compounds (very similar to the natural ones) that we can put into our skin products that help your skin work better — so old skin looks younger or damaged skin looks healthier.  

My Typical Day

I spend most of my day on the computer either building a model or using the model to find compounds — the rest of the time I’m working with other scientists on the project.

A typical project takes several months, and goes through certain stages.  Although each project is different, so every day is different, there are some things that are the same.  I have to find out everything I can about the target, make a model of the target (a hypothesis) myimage2, make sure the model actually works (validation), and then use the model to find new compounds (search our database of 12 million existing compounds or help the chemists design new compounds).  I work very closely with other scientists who do all sorts of things on the project: compound synthesis, test how well the compounds affect the target, stability of the compounds in formulation or in the skin, test how well the compounds penetrate the skin, and many others.

What I'd do with the money

I would use it to help make science more accessible to kids.

Science programs in schools are limited by resources.  Their books and equipment may be out of date or sometimes they won’t have any at all.  It would take a lot of money to bring them all up to date,  more than the prize money offered here.  So, I think we need a different way of doing things.  I think that businesses can fill the gap by bringing real science to the students in their communities.   My colleagues and I have gone to schools and done chemical experiments with the students.  We work it in with what they’re studying, and work with the teachers to help the kids understand what’s going on and why and how. My company (and others too) funds this sort of thing, so the schools don’t have to – it really doesn’t take much money from the corporate standpoint – but the schools can’t afford it on their own.   I think that since we do lots of different things where I work: biology research, chemical research, packaging research, etc that with a little coordination we could teach more than what we are already.  The prize money could be used to help coordinate this effort – perhaps with a web site  – recruit other businesses (and maybe even colleges) and find ways that we could make a big difference in the schools.  We can, with very little investment,  really make the science education up to date and fun in a variety of diverse ways. myimage3

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

curious persistent independent

Who is your favourite singer or band?

The Grammys brought Mumford and Sons to my notice – they’re awesome.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I went on a hawk watch weekend. They taught us all about hawks and then we went hiking to look for them.

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

1) to know the answer to any question I asked 2) to be able to cure any disease 3) to have enough money to have my own philanthropic foundation

What did you want to be after you left school?

which level ? After high school I wanted to be a vet. After my B.S. I wanted to be a medical doctor. After my M.S. I wanted to do pharmaceutical research. After my PhD I wanted to do computational chemistry (what I’m doing now.)

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

In 4th grade I got detention once for chasing Bob Quirk with worms. In high school I got detention for cutting one class so I could finish a report for a different class.

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

That’s hard to say. I’ve got a few patents I’m proud of, and two compounds in clinicals. But, mostly, I’m happy whenever I get something to work right. When the “puzzle” gets solved.

Tell us a joke.

A chemist walks into a pharmacy and asks the pharmacist, “Do you have any acetylsalicylic acid?” “You mean aspirin?” asked the pharmacist. “That’s it, I can never remember that word.”