Reactions – David Chandler


David Chandler is in the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley.  He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and a Foreign Member of the Royal Society. He works on theories of complex systems.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

During my childhood, I had a chemistry set and a microscope, and I read about the life of Louis Pasteur. I loved all of that, found it romantic, but I was not a good high school student. I initially went off to college thinking about other things, until a few terrific chemistry and physics teachers made these subjects vivid and exciting, and I could not resist doing both as a career. I’ve written about it in my Festschrift Autobiography.

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

A competitive professional tennis player. I always loved sports and was a reasonably good tennis player in my youth, but I lacked the athletic talent — sufficient strength and agility — to be a star, even though I wished to be a star. If I could always be tops in sport, I would avoid the afflictions of old age.

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

The theory of self assembly — how is it that reversible molecular dynamics leads to hierarchical nano-scale structures. Understanding such things requires a deep understanding of dynamics far from equilibrium, and it is of practical importance for understanding the formation, stability and function of biological structures, not to mention the design of advanced materials.

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

Richard Feynman. I once met him and we talked for an hour. It was enjoyable and I would like to do it again.

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

I never do experiments. I’m a theorist!

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

The book: The Feynman Lectures on Physics. The music album: too difficult to decide because I play the piano and enjoy both classical and jazz. I guess I’d simply want the piano.

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

Linus Pauling. That would be a good trick, and maybe you could piece it together from all that has been written by him and about him.