Jeremy Harvey is in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol, where his research is focused on investigating the mechanisms of chemical reactions using computational electronic structure methods.
1. What made you want to be a chemist?
Though I was never into explosions in a big way (I still have both eyes and all my fingers), I was fascinated by the tangible mystery of chemical transformation: I can still remember messing around pouring nitric acid onto iron in my early teens, and seeing the fumes of nitrogen dioxide. Much more fun than physics!
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be — and why?
I would quite enjoy not really having a job — being able to lounge around, reading about things I’m interested in (and perhaps writing and talking about them).
3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?
A lot of my work over the years has been about catalysis, and that’s still the overarching theme in my group. Within that, we do a lot of different things, which I think are all very exciting! I’m perhaps most excited for the moment by work which I’ve done with an extremely talented postdoc, Dave Glowacki, on developing potential energy surfaces to describe complex reactive systems, and techniques to explore the dynamics associated with reactivity in these systems. I think it can lead to a better understanding of what makes catalysis tick, and thereby help improve catalysts.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with — and why?
Henry Eyring is one name that springs to mind. The 1930s were an exciting period for starting to work out what the new quantum theory might mean for understanding chemical reactions, and he was a key figure. His equation is still a daily part of my thinking about chemistry. He also comes from a different epoch and a different background to mine — in my dream, we would have had a wide-ranging discussion about all that.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab — and what was it?
Experiments — real ones, mixing up chemicals and watching them react — ages. About 15 years now, “looking” at ions react in a mass spectrometer when I was a postdoc with Helmut Schwarz in Berlin. As a computational chemist, I would say that calculations, especially simulations, are sort “experiments in the lab” and I’m happy to say I still do some of those myself. I was calculating the bond energy for a transition metal species, a model of a biological catalyst.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?
It would have to be a long one in both cases to keep me busy. I’d probably go for a nice recording of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, and for Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.
7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions — and why?
It might be nice to see an interview with a younger scientist — a PhD student or postdoc.