Reactions – Nicholas Long

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

Probably a number of reasons: (i) wanting to learn about colour — understanding of how it arises and how it can be harnessed and utilised; (ii) wanting to make compounds — especially if they were smelly, exploded or changed properties; (iii) and having a truly inspirational schoolteacher — Mr. Ken Jones.

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

An architect. I love the shapes and topology of (inorganic) compounds and often find myself doodling boxes, and 3D shapes. Add some numbers and angles, along with imagination, and it would be fun to design amazing structures.

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

Firstly by education — training and inspiring the next generation of scientists, but also by teaching the general public that chemistry is such a central and indispensable science with many, many facets. Secondly, by harnessing these talented chemists to tackle the major problems and issues that the world faces — climate change, sustainable energy/resources, medical/biological diagnosis and treatment.

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

Linus Pauling – anyone who wins two (unshared) Nobel prizes (one for Chemistry and the other Peace) must have some interesting views and dinner conversation would not be dull.

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

It’s been a long time since I was able to get stuck into some serious synthetic chemistry — these days I am mainly limited to helping my research students purify compounds via various crystallisation techniques — there is such a thrill when you see a set of beautiful crystals at the bottom of a Schlenk tube after an overnight re-crystallisation.

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

The book would be Papillon by Henri Charriere – a great, mainly true autobiographical story about the adventures of a French convict and fugitive, and one of the few books I have read twice. One CD is tricky and would depend on my mood. If classical – Rachmaninov; If jazz – Chet Baker; but for rock/blues, a Van Morrison compilation would probably capture the ups and downs of being on a desert island, along with some great tunes and a bit of a singalong.

Nick Long is in the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London and works on applied synthetic chemistry, particularly aimed at ligand design/catalysis and the synthesis of biomedical (PET, MRI and optical) imaging probes.