Reactions: Bas de Bruin

Bas de Bruin is in the Department of Homogeneous and Supramolecular Chemistry at the van ‘t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences (HIMS) at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), and works on catalysis research. He specifically focusses on fundamental development of homogeneous catalysis with metals in unconventional oxidation states and with unconventional ligands, aiming at the development of new catalytic reactions.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

As a boy at the age of 10, I got inspired by visits to the laboratories of the KEMA institute in Arnhem (Netherlands), where my father took me sometimes. Since then I already wanted to become a chemist. This has not changed since.

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

I would probably be working in physics or biology, areas which have always appealed to me besides chemistry. I could well imagine exploring the fascinating world of deep-sea marine biology, for example.

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

I am currently working on a quite broad range of topics, all involving coordination chemistry, organometallic chemistry and catalysis. My primary interest is to understand reactivity, in a broad sense and in particular around transition metals. I am involved in explorative design and synthesis of new materials based on highly functionalised polymers, metallo-radical chemistry, carbene and nitrene transfer reactions, modelling transition metal catalysis (combination of synthetic modelling and computational catalysis), and EPR spectroscopy (combined with computational methods), as well as the development of applied homogeneous catalysts in unconventional oxidation states and/or with unconventional ligands. Current and long-term future activities aim at development of new (supra)molecular catalysts and (polymeric) materials, focusing on increasing demands to uncover new catalysts for new desirable and atom & energy efficient transformations providing several opportunities for new research lines.

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

I am fascinated by the history of Fritz Haber. This German scientist saved many people from starvation (Haber-Bosch process) and developed several important concepts in chemistry (e.g. Born-Haber cycles). However, he was also named the “father of chemical warfare” as a result of his work in developing nerve gasses during World War I. He lived in a dangerous, dynamic and fascinating time. It seems intriguing to me to talk to this controversial man about the role he played in history.

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

I still do occasional experiments in the lab myself, but this mostly involves preparing samples for EPR spectroscopic measurements. My last real synthetic efforts were around 2004. Unfortunately, I do not have enough time left to do that anymore myself. Luckily my PhD students and postdocs keep me updated with their fascinating chemistry almost every day.

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

Difficult question. I guess every book and album becomes boring if you are alone on a desert island for a very long time. A survival handbook is probably the smartest choice, but I guess the question involves a novel. In that case I would choose “The world according to Garp” (John Irving). The music album would probably be Communique (Dire Straits).

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

Jonas Peters (Caltech). He seems to be an interesting guy, and his chemistry is fascinating.