Reactions – Lisa McElwee-White

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Lisa McElwee-White is in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Florida, and works on applications of organometallic chemistry to problems in materials science, catalysis and synthetic methodology.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

My mother gave me science toys and took me to museum classes because she was frustrated that she couldn’t become a scientist. I loved playing with a chemistry set (completely unsupervised!) in the basement of my parents’ house. Once I got the chance to do undergraduate research at the beginning of my freshman year, I was hooked. I never considered majoring in anything else.

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

I’d love to play in a major symphony orchestra but my skill level as a musician isn’t anywhere near that high. I’ll just have to keep my day job as a chemistry professor.

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

We are working on several things: green chemistry methods for carbonylation, electrocatalysts for direct oxidation of alcohols in fuel cells, and design and synthesis of organometallic precursors for the chemical vapour deposition of inorganic thin films. All of these are interesting and important problems but I think our most distinctive work at the moment is in mechanism based design of CVD precursors. I would like to see our approach spread through the materials community, so that people think more like chemists when looking at deposition chemistry.

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

Rosalind Franklin, because I’d like to hear the story from her side.

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

I think it was in about 1987. I prepared a batch of (CO)5W(THF) as starting material for a student. I learned rapidly that my time as a faculty member was so fragmented that it was not possible to synthesize sensitive organometallic compounds and get the workup done before the material decomposed. My current generation of students can’t even conceive of me doing an experiment. They cringe when I touch things.

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

The book would be something by Terry Pratchett, probably Good Omens. The album would be a tougher choice. Half of me would want something baroque, maybe one of the Interpreti Veniziani recordings of Vivaldi. The other half of me couldn’t give up my Springsteen albums so I might end up with my hands on Born to Run.

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

Paul Wender. I’m dying to find out if he can answer a question within the 100 word limit.