1. What made you want to be a chemist?
When I was a kid, I wasn’t particularly good at baseball or any other sports, so I would hang out in my basement with a chemistry set and play with it. I had a truly outstanding chemistry teacher in high school (Frank Cardulla, who received the 2000 American Chemical Society Conant Award for High School Chemistry Teaching) and in college I had the privilege of taking courses from and doing research with Dudley Herschbach, the 1986 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
I thought seriously about going into medicine, but decided I did not have the appropriate bedside manner. I think most of my friends and colleagues would agree with me.
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
Many of the world’s major problems such as climate change and the need for renewable energy sources will be solved by chemists. These problems require a fundamental understanding of matter at the molecular level. Chemists have this.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with and why?
I find Josef Stalin to be the one of the most fascinating historical figures over the last 100 years, but I’m not sure I would want to have dinner with him. Then again, an evening of borscht and vodka might not be so bad.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
I was pretty involved in experiments on transition state spectroscopy in my research group when I started at Berkeley in 1986. Once I got multiple projects going and realized the students could run the instruments better than I could, I began distancing myself more from the day-to-day operations. But I still visit my labs on a daily basis and (much to the horror of my students) will turn knobs on occasion.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one CD would you take with you?
War and Peace. I’ve always wanted to read it but never had the time. And Beethoven’s 9th on CD.
Daniel Neumark is in the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and works on chemical dynamics, spectroscopy, and cluster science, with particular emphasis on using negative ion photodetachment to probe transition states and other transient species.