Reactions – Tony Coleman

Anthony W. Coleman, normally known as Tony, is in the Laboratory of Multimaterials and Interfaces in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Lyon 1, France, and works on the use of calix[n]arenes to build non-covalent assemblies from nanocapsules to liposomes to nanoparticles and then through to macroscopic films.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

To sound horribly precocious at the tender age of nine I wanted to be a nuclear physicist. However, going to Huddersfield New College (in the North of England), I was lucky on two accounts: a superb chemistry teacher, Steven Mitchell, and the Nuffield Chemistry course. Both were inspiring — particularly the experimental bias of Nuffield; this, combined with the understanding of the mount of math in physics, converted me to chemistry.

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

Wine importer! I actually worked part time during one of my post-docs in both retail and wholesale wine sales, enjoyed both, and was pretty good. Having stopped smoking some time ago, my palate has regained health so wines are coming through much better. But a major factor would be bringing really great world wines to France.

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

Our major project at present concerns the use of calix[n]arene thin films for the capture and storage of various gases and volatile compounds. We see different types of specific behaviour depending on the calix[n]arene, and this allows us to start to differentiate between many compounds. Where will this lead — evidently explosive device detection, and for leakages of inflammable or toxic compounds, but the further we got into the project the more we also learnt about the economic impact of impurities in natural gas, so maybe we can reduce costs of things, such as glass, which use vast amounts of energy in their production processes.

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

Charles the Second, the Restoration king. Witty, knowledgeable and a rake, he also found time to found the Royal Society and reform the Royal Navy. Having dinner with him should a pleasure, but my main reason for this would be to discuss the jacuzzi with him and explain its workings and possibilities to him. Imagine the effect on court cleanliness, but more importantly just think of the fun he would have.

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

About two weeks ago, I am general handyman for our gas detection work. All the glassware and piping is at present at the prototype stage and I did all the design work. So when things go wrong either in the fluidics or the electronics my hands get dirty. In this case we set up the variable temperature system to get information on how we can detect gas in the field.

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

For the book I would take “One Hundred Views of Edo” by the Japanese artist Hiroshige. Why — well I read rapidly so I would run through any textual book too quickly; hence a book of paintings and drawings and there I really like Japanese art and the work of Hiroshige. A painting a day or so and it is easy to go back and see new things. The album: A Pocketful of Stardust, the new best of Bridget St John. Bridget is a cult folk singer of the late sixties and seventies who recorded only four albums but whose voice and songs have always stayed with me. 2010 is here, year with issue of the BBC sessions and this album with such great music as Fly High and Bumper to Bumper.

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

Helmut Ringsdorf. Helmut is the inspiration for many of us in the field of molecular assemblies. He is also a great and interesting speaker with a marvellous sense of humour. I have been lucky enough to share a table with him at a GRC and would very like to renew the experience with this great man who has also a great love of life and above all a wide knowledge of wine. Cheers.