Reactions – Tony James

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I see this as a two phase process, first why I chose chemistry and secondly why I decided an academic career was for me. The first one is straightforward, I decided to take chemistry at university because my teacher (Abraham Darby School) went that extra mile to make studying chemistry enjoyable. The reason I decided to become an academic is more diffuse, but does include being inspired by wonderful lectures by the late Donald J Cram (Pacifichem 1987), who sent a CPK model of a carcerand around the audience, and Sir J Fraser Stoddart (1990 Halifax, Canada) who used language and colours to convey difficult concepts. Special thanks also go to Professor Seiji Shinkai who polished my skills as a chemist and taught me that “even monkeys fall from trees”!

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

An artist – art has always been one of my greatest passions. I am particularly inspired by sculptures and 3D art. You could say the love of sculpture is why I am a chemist – since in chemistry we create art in the form of molecular sculptures.

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

I believe that what we do as scientists should be for the greater good. I also believe that it is your chemistry that should contribute and not you the chemist. In science, it is what has been achieved and not the individual which is important.

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

Richard Feynman – who was one of the most inspiring scientists of the 20th century. In particular his Horizon Interview in 1981 – “the pleasure of finding things out” sums up the way a scientist should live their life. One problem may be that during the meal he may have to be stopped from dropping O rings into everyone’s iced water. However, he could make this up by providing post dinner entertainment on the bongos.

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

I like to be involved in experiments as much as possible. This summer I helped a visiting Japanese student who is part of a Royal Society International Joint Project collect fluorescence data. This was a rewarding experience and resulted in a paper for the student (Jusaku Minari) and the academics involved (Kazuo Sakurai, John S Fossey, Steven D Bull and Tony D James). Finding time to do experiments can be difficult – but thanks to the JSPS, I will get 60 days (Short Term Fellowship) from the end of January as a visiting Professor in Kyushu University to spend time experimenting to my heart’s content.

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

I prefer listening to music than reading books, since I can listen to music while doing other things. Therefore, I would choose two CDs which contain songs that remind me of my time spent in Canada as a PhD student and one that reminds me of my postdoctoral research in Japan. The first is by Pink Floyd (The Dark Side of the Moon) containing the track ‘Time’ and the second is by The Boom containing the track ‘Shima Uta’. The one reminds me of camping on Galliano Island and the other of humid summers spent cycling around Japan

Tony James is in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Bath and works in the area of supramolecular chemistry and in particular on the development of sensor molecules for saccharides.