Reactions – Stuart James

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

Science was in the family, and I was encouraged by an excellent chemistry teacher. It seemed a good option after deciding I wasn’t going to follow music. Happily, chemistry turned out to be a very creative career and I haven’t looked back.

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

A musician, touring worldwide and with a recording studio back home. I play guitar and studied as a teenager at the Royal Academy of Music. Music expresses the inexpressible, as they say. I’m also synaesthetic – I see musical sounds as shapes and colours – maybe that’s also why I’ve always been fascinated by it.

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

In at least two ways. On one hand we can help to address the technological challenges facing us – energy, health and cleaner processes – on the other we can provide inspirational, numerate, relevant, and problem-solving education.

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

Mid-week, it would be Einstein. His insights are intellectually astounding and have utterly changed our view of nature. It would be fascinating to get a glimpse into how he got his insights. Weekend, Jimi Hendrix or Frank Zappa.

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

A couple of days ago, together with a PhD student. Very satisfyingly, we found an innovative way to purify a compound which had resisted all the usual methods.

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

The CD would be purely for enjoyment, Sheikh Yerbouti by Frank Zappa, which is a fantastic, hilarious, creative, masterpiece. The book would be something mind-expanding and very long which I haven’t read before, possibly Don Quixote in Spanish, which would probably keep me occupied for 20 years or so…

Stuart James is in the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast and works on self-assembly, porous liquids and solids, and solvent-free synthesis.