Reactions: John Anderson

John Anderson is in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Chicago, and works on inorganic chemistry with a particular focus on the role that ligand-based redox or radical character plays in catalysis and new materials.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

When I was 15 I realized that my long-awaited growth spurt wasn’t going to be enough for a career as a professional basketball player, leaving chemistry as my second choice.

In all seriousness, like many others, I had fantastic mentors. Most important in this context was Greg Hillhouse, who really kindled my passion for science as an undergraduate.

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

I guess my first answer gives this away. Who wouldn’t want to get paid millions to play a game for a living?

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

One of the things we are currently working on is synthesizing a well-defined family of first-row metal oxo complexes. By changing the identity of the metal, and thus the electronic configuration, we can ask questions about the importance of O-centered spin density for hydroxylation and O–O bond formation reactivity. We have some exciting initial results supporting the formation of these species, and are currently characterizing them more thoroughly. These studies will lead to an improved understanding of important processes such as photosynthesis, and may help us develop improved catalysts.

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

 Leonardo Da Vinci. There are a bunch of good options here, but I think his creativity and perspective would be really interesting at a dinner table.

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

 This morning. I am prepping samples for a trip to Argonne.

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

 Bob Marley’s Legend seems appropriate for a tropical destination. For a book, I would probably choose Linus Pauling’s The Nature of the Chemical Bond. I am always finding new insights from re-reading this book!

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

Dan Mindiola. I think the expanded space of this format would allow him to build on his responses to his Angewandte interview from 2011.