Reactions – Omar Yaghi

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

The thrill of discovery and the beauty of molecules. I fell in love with molecules at the age of 10 when I saw a stick-and-ball drawing of two molecules (water and methane) in a text book I randomly came across in our school library. That started my fascination with molecular drawings and patterns, which later led me to develop reticular chemistry (stitching molecules together by strong bonds into networks).

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

A pianist or gardener. These professions (jobs) are solitary and some of the very few jobs where the fruit of labor and Nature can be beautifully revealed.

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

Chemists are unique because they are able to exchange an atom (or several) in a molecule and turn it from a poison to a medicine. Such tiny change and such great impact are a result of our knowledge of how atoms are connected and how to alter such connectivity for various uses. We must keep this goal in mind as chemists and thus continue to make vital contributions.

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

Galileo for his incredibly convincing yet simple defense (“…I wrote what my mind did not think”) that got him off.

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

The experiments I did when I was 25 years old as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard involving the solid state synthesis of Re/Se clusters. Generally, I am terrified of beakers, flasks, tubes and all that they hold, which kept me away from my laboratory: it’s an irrational fear of these objects in particular and many others too numerous to list here.

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

The Oxford English Dictionary, and Turandot.

Omar M. Yaghi is a Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA and works on the chemistry of linking molecular building blocks into useful crystals for clean energy applications.