Reactions – David Milstein

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

An enthusiastic, old-fashioned chemistry teacher who didn’t care much about orbitals, but could get the class excited with vivid, thought-provoking experiments. Being intrigued, I tried some experiments on my own, which, surprisingly, worked. The love and dedication of the teacher to chemistry were inspirational.

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

A ship skipper. I love the sea, which can be both relaxing, very challenging, and unpredictable. Sometimes like chemistry.

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

By doing what they do best. Concentrate on issues that they believe can make a difference, rather than follow “low barrier” directions. Resist being influenced by fashions and buzzwords.

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

Haim Weizmann, the first president of Israel, who was also a visionary chemist. He represented a rare case in which mixing of science and politics (or statesmanship) was fruitful. His scientific contribution to the British WW1 effort paved the way to the Balfour Declaration in 1917 (“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”).

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

Not exactly in the lab, I tried to entertain at my sons’ birthdays by showing chemical curiosities. That was stopped about 10 years ago (my sons didn’t turn out to be chemists after all).

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

A boat-builder’s manual would be nice. On a more serious note, Richard Willstatter’s “From my Life”. This is a thoughtful, revealing book by the 1915 Nobel Prize laureate. Beethoven’s 9 symphonies is my CD of choice.

David Milstein is in the Department of Organic Chemistry at the Weizmann Institute of Science, and works on organometallic chemistry and homogeneous catalysis.