A few years ago, Michael was helping tidy up his father's chemistry lab at University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. A dusty old bottle at the back of one shelf aroused his curiosity. His father, George, said it contained a chemical pertaining to a portion of his PhD thesis--a chemical reaction that he had not finished investigating. Michael decided to finish the work and "fill an annoying hole in Dad's thesis."

barany reaction The bottle contained a precursor for making complex compounds, called Dithiasuccinoyl (Dts) amines. In the 1980s, Dts compounds were regarded as a very promising route to synthesizing peptides, the building blocks for proteins. But producing Dts was such a slow and laborious task that other chemicals soon eclipsed Dts for making peptides.

Still, Dts could prove valuable in the production of artificial DNA for certain types of gene therapy, if a more efficient process for deriving it were found. That's what Michael has developed--a shortcut for producing Dts, along with a new and more powerful variant called Tts. Last summer, he was invited to discuss his research at the European Peptide Symposium in Prague, and he and his father published a paper on the technique in the Jan. 19 Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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COMMENTS On The Issues

Education: It's a little disconcerting to read math textbooks from Singapore. Their 6th graders are routinely asked to do stuff that I didn't encounter until the 7th grade, and I'm a great deal ahead of the American curve.

Energy and nuclear weapons: Frankly, I'm not too concerned about the spread of nuclear weapons. It is imperative that we move beyond fear mongering, especially when nuclear energy offers a cheap replacement for traditional "burners" [coal-fired power plants].

Genetically modified organisms/plants: The Green Revolution started in a lab a couple blocks from where I live. I am intensely aware of both the promises and hazards of GMOs, and I would urge caution. Aside from the risks of ecological homogeneity, GMOs could lead to the kind of cultural imperialism that has historically caused deleterious cycles of debt, soil erosion, and environmental destruction under the guise of efficient agriculture.

Funding more R&D: Agricultural subsidies make me sick. As a Midwesterner, I am acutely aware of the erosion of sustainable agriculture and small farms resulting from subsidies--at no ostensible benefit to consumers. Adding insult to injury, they are a blatant violation of our own fair-trade policies and have indirectly helped ruin Mexican agriculture.


Michael J. Barany


Science's Language Problem

Roseville Area High School
Roseville, Minn.

Hobbies: Plays trumpet in jazz and symphonic bands, debate team captain

Ambition: University professorship, as a springboard for formulating seminal theories and concepts