1. What made you want to be a chemist?
As a child I was intrigued with building (my father was in the building trade) so I guess in some respects I took his lead but down to the nanometric dimension. I love the definitive nature of chemistry and the way you can create new things or new processes or provide an understanding of the world around us. I was also lucky to have some great science teachers at school. Mrs. Steenholdt, Mr. Djoneff and Dr. Commons were extremely enthusiastic teachers across the science discipline when I was at high school and really spike my interest. I studied a biochemistry/chemistry major at university and enjoyed the chemistry of biology more than the molecular biological aspects of biochemistry. However, my chemistry teaching is often framed from a biological viewpoint.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
It was a toss-up between chemistry and landscape gardening when I left school. The latter is an extremely creative profession and combines outdoor work with intellectual inventiveness and manual dexterity. There are some similarities to chemistry here!
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
Chemistry is all pervasive throughout the world within which we live and the society we live in. From medical diagnosis and drug discovery, through the development of novel materials, to addressing the concerns surrounding environmental issues (to name only a few…). Scratch the surface and you’ll find a chemist.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
Captain James Cook. His voyages of discovery throughout the ‘new world’ were truly amazing, the stuff of legend. His skill as a navigator, explorer and cartographer know no equal. He’d have a few travel stories to tell. If he weren’t available then I could settle for Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso or Vincent van Gogh.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
A true irony of being an academic is that you are able to spend less time in the lab. However, when time permits I do set up a few crystallisations and solvothermal experiments. I also try to do some crystallography here and there, along with structure interpretation with my students.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one CD would you take with you?
The book would have to be ‘Blood and Water’, a collection of stories by Tim Winton. I have forgotten how many times I have read this collection. These stories still captivate me; Winton has a truly laconic writing style and his characters transcend their often miserable lives with an undying spirit of hope. However, I doubt that any author can better an opening chapter than the one that begins ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ by Roald Dahl. I can still remember the day I first read this as a 6 year old and am taken back to my childhood every time I read it…to my kids. Happy days!
As for the CD… anything by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and as I am limited to a choice of one then it would have to be their best-of compilation album. Nick Cave is a masterful lyricist.
Paul Kruger is in the Department of Chemistry at The University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and works upon all aspects of supramolecular chemistry ranging from organic synthesis and coordination chemistry, through materials and structural chemistry, to host-guest and sensor chemistry.