1. What made you want to be a chemist?
I was always interested in history, languages, and philosophy, as well as natural science, especially biology, so it was a difficult decision. However, both my parents were chemists, and as a child I often accompanied them to work, and this got me interested in chemistry. In the end my parents put some pressure on me to choose something ‘more useful’ and more lucrative (they hoped) and so I ended up doing chemistry.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
I have always been intrigued by Roman history, and would happily immerse myself in archaeological/historical studies. I am interested in finding out why such a sophisticated civilization eventually collapsed.
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
In the past humanist tradition, equal importance was attached to the education and exploration of arts and science in the education of a cultivated person. Since then, the famous ‘Two Cultures’ emerged, to the extent where science has started to be seen as something unnatural, placing human beings outside nature. Particularly in the context of the current energy and climate crisis, scientists need to contribute to bringing human beings back to their place in nature, with science (and chemistry) moving back in the direction of cooperating with nature further than just dealing with ‘natural laws’.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
Julius Caesar, to discover what such a reputably highly intelligent man was like (but not on the Ides of March, please).
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
1992, when I tried to synthesize a titanium catalyst precursor and failed.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one CD would you take with you?
The book would be Shakespeare’s collected works – Shakespeare seemed to know just about everything about human nature, and presented it with wit and wisdom. Another choice would be Goethe’s Faust or Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain (if German books are acceptable). If I were allowed, I would take the box of CDs of complete Mozart’s piano concertos (or sonatas) – I’d have to think about the pianist, though (probably Alfred Brendel or Michiko Uchida).
Jun Okuda holds the Chair of Organometallic Chemistry in the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry at RWTH Aachen University, and works on organometallic chemistry of Lewis acidic metals and homogeneous catalysis, in particular polymerization catalysis and biomass conversion.