Reactions – Graeme George

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

Like Kipling’s Elephant’s Child it would have to be “satiable curtiosity”. I started doing experiments from age six or so and became frustrated at the low level of challenge in the available chemistry sets. This led me away from chemistry and to matters less experimental: languages and philosophy; but when I entered university I returned to the first love of science, initially planning to do Honours in physics but then changing to physical chemistry.

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

A writer of childrens stories. My children and I shared the excitement of the Adventures of Wilberforce Wombat when they were very young, but the stories have never been written down and illustrated. If I gave up science, perhaps I would have the time to bring them all to life.

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

By speaking out and engaging in issues that are of importance. This is not just global issues but informed debate is needed even for local matters. There is far too much opinion without expertise that gains attention, and we need to be able to engage, persuade and direct peoples’ energies to move beyond mysticism and pseudo-science.

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

If the meal could be had in the time of the historical figure, then it would have to be Rome in the time of the emperor Claudius I. I would have a chance to experience what Rome was really like and engage with a figure so misunderstood and misrepresented because of disability but most probably wise and a visionary.

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

My last episode in a labcoat was this week (in my role as an expert witness for the courts) in order to prepare a material for forensic analysis; more a dissection than an experiment! My last real experiment was a couple of months ago with a post-doc preparing some nano-titania/dye constructs.

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

It would have to be a book that challenges and stimulates activity: probably The music of the primes by Marcus du Sautoy, since it ends with a challenge. For music: any of my favourite operas. If I could, I would take Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle (hyper-compressed on to one CD!).

Graeme George is Professor of Polymer Science in the School of Physical & Chemical Sciences at Queensland University of Technology, and works on polymers for extreme environments (including the human body).