Reactions – Andrew Wilson

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1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I was a reasonable tuba player and had auditions to go to music college – these didn’t go too well and it was pointed out that I was quite good at maths and physical sciences. I thought again and decided that I enjoyed chemistry and was interested in research (whatever that was) so put chemistry down on my university application forms (as well as civil engineering, although I don’t really remember why now). I stumbled into the summer of my second year and found myself in Dave Leigh’s lab (then at UMIST) for a vacation placement and suddenly awoke to the enormous possibilities for making and playing with molecules. I guess that’s when I started to understand what it was I wanted to do.

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

It varies; when the national football team are not doing so well, I want the manager’s job because I haven’t quite grown out of the habit of thinking I know what the best line-up and formation is. On other occasions, I’d quite like to act in West End Musicals as these are the most fantastic live entertainment and encompass acting singing and dancing. Some days, I’d like to be a house husband and stay home with my 1 year old daughter – time spent with her is more rewarding than anything else I do!

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

Develop the theories, synthetic methodologies and new chemists that permit society to continue to evolve. The scientific aspects cover: preparation/ degradation of recyclable materials, methods for energy collection and storage, purification of the atmosphere/ water and new challenges in healthcare such as an ageing population. I struggle with this one as there are so many fun reasons to do chemistry which we should endeavour to convey to those around us, but some of these issues are pretty big problems – for me it is not really a case of how chemists should contribute, more of what chemists must do or things could get quite sticky!

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

This is not something I think about too often – and now I have, the list gets quite long quickly, not to mention that it’s made me start thinking if I’d prefer to have dinner with someone famous who’s alive. In any event, Leonardo Da Vinci would be quite good – my family were on holiday in Tuscany this summer on a vineyard close to the town where he was born. I was amazed at the diversity of activities he was involved in, particularly some of his engineering work which centuries later seems (to an untrained eye) to be largely unchanged. Tuscany was also very good for food and wine!

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

Today, I ran a couple of TLC’s, an NMR and an IR on a sample so that I had characterization for an undergraduate experiment I have to mark! More seriously, I was still doing a little synthesis last month for a paper that needs finishing off – I should stay away and let my group get on with laboratory work, but even though I don’t have time and I don’t think my group like it too much, I can’t resist the temptation to see if something will work for long.

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

Book: Lord of the Rings because it is good and because it is long, which will be helpful as I’m likely to have plenty of time. CD: Assuming the ready availability of a solar powered CD player; Symphony No. 2 Resurrection by Mahler, but Definitely Maybe by Oasis comes close. Can’t I have a whole i-pod?

Andy Wilson is in the School of Chemistry at the University of Leeds, and works on inhibition of protein-protein interactions, self-assembly and molecular recognition.