Reactions – Joost Reek

Joost Reek is in the Van ’t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, and works on the development of supramolecular approaches in transition metal catalysis.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I was interested in physics, chemistry and some other technical subjects, but chemistry seemed to be the most attractive among these as it also contained some of the other aspects. Of course, good teachers at high school play an important role in this choice. Once at the university doing my master research project I was tremendously fascinated by fundamental research in chemistry.

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

If it is not supposed to be related to science at all, then maybe a designer, or maybe something that involves sports (professional trainer/coach would be interesting)

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

I am currently exploring chemistry on the border between transition metal catalysis and supramolecular chemistry. It brings about new solutions to standing problems, it provides new tools for catalyst recycling, combinatorial catalysis and we have recently developed a photocatalyst for the light-induced formation of molecular hydrogen (formed by assembly). By using tools that are also frequently used by Nature, such as site isolation by catalyst encapsulation, dinuclear and bifunctional catalysis, we can create catalysts that show unprecedented selectivity. Some of our approaches are impressively successful, and we have started two companies to explore the commercial potential. (cat-fix, InCatT). This is of course the ultimate test for the academic ideas!

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

Barack Obama! No doubt.

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

When I started in Amsterdam in 1998, I still was doing experiments making porphyrin assemblies for transition metal catalysis and dendritic catalysts. Once I realized that it was no longer efficient to do the experiments myself, I reduced greatly the experimental work. I still do demonstration experiments, and the last time was in an old lecture hall of the tropen museum in Amsterdam, to celebrate the faculty’s birthday. It was great!

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

Only one music album is very old fashioned: we are the iPod generation! But it would be Californication from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. As a book I will bring From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin’s Four Great Books, introduced by E. O. Wilson.

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

Whitesides, Lehn or Rebek would be great as they have done great science, but it would be also great to see some younger scientists as Otto, Glorius, Wenemers, Rowan, White, Ritter, Schenning, Sommerdijk, etc