Reactions – Jacob Klein

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I am not “really” a chemist, since I both read for my first degree and carried out my PhD in the Cavendish, the University of Cambridge’s physics department, where I was later on the faculty. And what made me want to be a physicist was an inspiring high-school teacher. But the beauty of modern scientific research is that traditional areas overlap and have merged fruitfully; so that despite my physics background, I work in a department of materials research in a chemistry faculty at the Weizmann Institute, and was for many years the Dr. Lee’s Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University, as well as being head of Oxford’s Physical Chemistry Department.

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

I very much enjoy explaining to young people and making them aware of the physical world – which I had opportunity to do through my own children in their schools. I would be a teacher.

3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?

Many of the world’s really large problems – clean energy shortages, global warming (related of course), prolonging and improving people’s health, and others, are already being addressed by chemists in the broader sense.

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

If the sky is the limit (as it were): Jesus of Nazareth. I would like to discuss directly with him what his views were, in the light of later interpretations…

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

In the mid-1990’s, many years after being promoted full professor and heading a relatively large research group, I was still doing my own all-night (surface-forces) experiments with a student or a postdoc for company (night is the best time as ambient vibrations are at a minimum). More recently I go into the lab frequently to look at the experiments, twiddle the knobs (mandatory!), and look through the eyepiece at moving optical fringes…

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

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I read it page by page to each of my children in turn when they were young, and a few times on my own account, and the world it creates is still vibrant. For music – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, especially useful for a desert island.

Jacob Klein is in the Department of Materials and Interfaces at the Weizmann Institute, and a Professorial Research Fellow at Oxford University. He researches the properties soft matter, in recent years especially the behaviour of highly confined complex fluids and the molecular basis of biological lubrication.