Reactions – Philippe Hiberty

Philippe C. Hiberty is in the Department of Chemisty at Université de Paris-Sud, and works on method development and applications of valence bond theory

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

As a student, I was fascinated by quantum mechanics and especially the electronic structure of atoms and molecules. I followed the lectures of Professor Lionel Salem, who was a fantastic teacher, and from then on my dream was to enter his lab and do theoretical research.

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

I sure would be a motorcycle mechanic, or even better I would work in a motor development department. Opening a motor, finding what’s wrong, tuning it, is as creative as doing research.

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

I am working on specific applications where valence bond theory can give insight while molecular orbital theory cannot. I do hope that this will lead to better understanding of chemical reactions and molecular interactions, and especially I hope to convince the chemists that both theories are complementary rather than rival.

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

President Barack Obama, for sure. Not because he is supposed to be the most powerful man in the world — he certainly is not. But he is a true visionary, and he has restored the picture of United States that we, the French, are attached to: a country of tolerance, intelligence, freedom and progress.

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

My last experiment dates back to the times when I was a student. I was such a terrible experimentalist that it is better for everyone’s security that I became a theoretician.

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

Book: « A la recherche du Soi » (In search of the Self) by Arnaud Desjardins.

Music album: Sonatas and Partitas for violin of J.S. Bach (including the celebrated Chaconne), played by Hilary Hahn

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

Roald Hoffmann. He has beautifully demonstrated the importance of quantum mechanics in chemistry, and he tremendously helped our understanding of chemical reactions and molecular structure by means of simple models. And those who know him personally know that he is even much more than a great chemist.