Reactions – Harry Gibson

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1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I enjoyed chemistry in high school and did the usual teenage things with zinc dust and sulfur rockets and electroplating. However, I started my college career aimed at chemical engineering, but I was tripped up by engineering drawing, which in those days was pen and india ink — very demanding. Since I was doing well in general chemistry, I decided to switch and became a chemistry major. I truly enjoyed the lab experiences, particularly analytical and organic labs, and was then hooked.

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

I had wanted to be a jet pilot when I was an undergraduate, but a bone tumor and a broken leg ended that dream.

Now if I had to choose another profession, I would be a jazz musician. Though I have no real formal training past high school, I enjoy drumming along with CDs of the greats of jazz, traditional, blues and funk.

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

Chemists have contributed tremendously to society in a myriad of ways that the public generally does not appreciate. Our contributions range from medicine to clothing to electronics. I anticipate that our contributions will continue to grow in importance as we experience changes in raw materials when petroleum feed stocks are depleted.

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

This is a hypothetical question that I have not pondered before — too pragmatic, I guess. I guess my choice would be Thelonius Monk, the great jazz pianist. I would like to know how his mind worked to come up with the truly original way he played.

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

It was on August 25, 1988, according to my notebook. I carried out the reaction of 2-methoxycarbonyl-1,2-dihydroisoquinoline with benzaldehyde using NaH in DMF. The two diastereoisomeric carbonates were formed in 54:46 ratio.

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

For the CD it would be a very tough choice between one of Monk’s compilations or one by Monty Alexander, another swinging pianist.

As to the book, I would probably pick a historical treatise, such as one by Stephen Ambrose on World War II.

Harry Gibson is in the Department of Chemistry at Virginia Tech and works on self-assemblies of the pseudorotaxane, rotaxane and catenane types, as well as efforts with endohedral metallofullerenes and ionic liquids.

Stu Cantrill

Chief Editor, Nature Chemistry, Springer Nature