Reactions: Werner Nau


Werner Nau  is in the Department of Chemistry at Jacobs University Bremen, Germany, and works on supramolecular chemistry and photochemistry.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I think I told this story before: I didn’t intend to study chemistry, I applied for biology. In 1987, biology was hip in Germany and therefore admission was regulated centrally. The story is that my express letter which I sent took a week instead of a day, so I missed the deadline. As a generous compensation, Deutsche Post reimbursed me 3.20 Deutschmarks for the postage, which I invested in studying chemistry.

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

For sure it must be an investigative one. Being a well-paid medievalist would be quite tempting. Just one month back, I was admitted to the Bishop’s archive to do family research, and it is amazing how time flies browsing all day long in old books, finding a hint here and there, and piecing everything together. It even gave me a chance to revive my Latin.

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

Our research focus could be defined as unconventional applications of fluorescent probes and host-guest complexes. We develop, for example, fluorescent probes to assess the dynamics and structure of short peptides, a bottleneck in the understanding of the holy grail of protein folding. Additionally, we develop supramolecular approaches to set up enzyme assays and other nifty applications. Our favorite macrocycles are cucurbiturils, and we are convinced they will soon rival cyclodextrins with respect to real-life applications.

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

Napoléon Bonaparte. He could have used some good advice.

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

Just a year ago, when I taught one of my coworkers how to do freeze-pump-thaw cycles on the vacuum line and to administer different pressures of a hydrocarbon gas. I even did some titrations myself (which worked), and also demonstrated how to professionally break one of those expensive degassable cuvettes.

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

Of course, there will be at least a shed with a CD player, right? Then I would actually dare to take a novel, maybe “The Pillars Of The Earth” by Ken Follet, and “Made in Heaven” by Queen, these would be just fine to enjoy the sandy beach.

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

Interview Waldemar Adam! He exiled to Puerto Rico, so can tell you more about the island question. With 75 years of experience, he’s got something to say and he wanted to write his memoirs anyways.