Reactions – Sota Sato

Sota Sato is from the Department of Applied Chemistry, School of Engineering in The University of Tokyo, and works on coordination chemistry based on organic synthesis to produce self-assembled huge, well-defined molecules and to reveal the magnetic properties of discrete molecules for application in NMR analysis.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

Definitely, there were many teachers in my life who guided me to become a chemist. As an elementary school child, I was fascinated by butterflies for their diversity of color and wing patterns and for the mysterious change in figure from a grub to an imago. My uncle, Mitsuo Jinkubo, and father, Kazumune Sato, taught me about the fascinating living world and related concerns of the natural environment. In junior high school I found that important things hidden behind textbooks can be accessed through chemical experiments, and finally my high school teacher and my first co-author, Toyokazu Usui, taught me how to become a chemist with a letter article: in a sense, I became a chemist at that time.

2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?

I wanted to be involved in the professional area where overwhelming personal techniques play a central role. My grandfather, Saburo Sato, who is now 101 years old and an extremely dexterous artisan of scientific quartz glass, impressed me and I thought about becoming a craftsman. Unfortunately however, I found that I am not good with my fingers. Accordingly I was interested in a profession backstage in the theater, where massive scale lighting systems and sound equipment are operated in a tense atmosphere, because stage business is always in progress in front of an audience. I imagined that to operate these complex systems at will based on a wide and deep knowledge of them would bring me satisfaction, producing dream-like scenes.

3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?

I am working on synthetic chemistry, to develop a methodology to synthesize the world’s largest molecule and to find a new application based on molecular design. Molecules with a new class of structures often lead to a practical usage; rather I hope the chemistry will entice the scientific playful spirit of both professional chemists and other interested people.

4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?

Tenshin Okakura (1863-1913), who was a pioneer of aesthetics in the Japanese Meiji period. Against the established Japanese painting circle, he struggled to produce a new paradigm and also introduced Japanese arts and ways of thinking to foreign countries. I want to know how he thought in turbulent frontier and how he made the decision to cut open a novel field in art. I am very sad to hear about the loss of Rokkakudo in Kita-ibaraki City, the historical small architecture where Okakura spent much time for contemplation, which was lost in a huge earthquake and resulting tsunami in Mar. 2011. But it is also really encouraging to know that funding and intense effort are going towards rebuild it as part of restoration after the disaster.

5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?

After getting my current job as chemist several years ago, I have not had a chance to perform synthetic experiments by myself. I do fragmented but difficult pieces of experiments supporting my students. I am sure that the style is efficient, but I’m not sure that I am satisfied as much as I was as a doctoral course student…. My tiny synthetic chemistry in a flask in my hands still seems shining for me even though the final solution always gets brown with unknown trace amounts of chemicals.

6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?

Once I traveled alone to isolated islands in Japan and found that I did not need books or music. I enjoyed watching the unusual scenery day and night and listening to the natural music, such as the sound of the wind, waves, or animals. If I was in such a precious situation, which I have not been recently, I would not need artificial works, but I dare to pick my favorite piano music “Suite Bergamasque” by Claude Debussy in case of a completely boring island.

7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?

Prof. Dr. Jeffrey M. Stryker, an organometallic and organic chemist in the University of Alberta. I spent a couple of months as a visiting student in his laboratory during my doctoral course. He is a very strict, intelligent chemist, and I like his warm personality with an open mind.