1. What made you want to be a chemist?
It’s certainly not a career you just fall into to but there was certainly no point at school at which I thought “I want to be a chemist”. I enjoyed chemistry at school so I continued doing it at university. As the physical side of it got more complex I got more and more immersed in it and couldn’t get out!
The move to publishing came when I realized that I couldn’t see myself spending any more time in the lab. I enjoyed reading other people’s research more than I did doing my own. I also realized that I’d like to spend more time reading more diverse science than what I could when doing fairly specialist projects.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
I think I’d always have ended up in publishing but if I was to choose what I could write about it would be sports. I love football (soccer) and cricket and being able to watch it and get paid for it would be great!
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
There are two things that I think are very important. The first one is for chemists to not only address the major problems that are facing civilization currently, such as energy and sustainability, but to continue to work on fundamental problems still not fully understood. The second thing is to teach and discuss science with enthusiasm. Interest from non-specialists and students is fostered through passionate teachers. So many chemists tell stories about great teachers inspiring them to work in science and this is a responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
I have a real answer and a “professional” answer. My real answer is Brian Clough. For those of you who were not big football (soccer) fans in the 70’s and 80’s he was a manager (coach) for several English teams. During his career he won everything (English and European competitions) basically through great man management. He trusted his team and they trusted him. He would ask them to do something and even though they might not have understood why (any grad students know that feeling?) they would do it anyway (any grad students know that one?).
My professional answer is Ed Lorenz. Sadly, he died very recently but his legacy will live forever. His discovery of deterministic chaos in weather systems sounds like it could be interesting to only a select group of meteorologists, but the intrinsic mathematics behind those systems are important to so many researchers, from biologists to economists, that it started a new way of looking at deterministic systems. He had one of those “eureka” moments and it would be great to hear him talk about it!
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
I really can’t remember the last actual lab experiment I did. I left the lab to carry out some computational work half way through my PhD and I forgot to go back! So if simulations count then the last batch I ran were related to a kind of spiral pattern that I’d previously observed in the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction. In the experiments it behaved in a way that had never been reported before that we couldn’t obviously explain. We couldn’t reproduce its behaviour in the simulations no matter what we tried!
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book, and one CD would you take with you?
My book choice is High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. It introduced me to the concept of “Top 5s”, the greatest pub game ever (if it needs explanation it’s basically just listing your top 5 songs, films, papers in Nature this year, 1970 cop shows, etc.). As for music, it would be Definitely Maybe by Oasis; a classic.
Gavin Armstrong is an Associate Editor for Nature Chemistry.
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