1. What made you want to be a chemist?
Although I always had some ability as a chemist, I only really became interested in pursuing chemistry as a career when I was doing my PhD. I particularly enjoy the moments when you make a molecule for the first time or discover something new, and this first struck home when I was doing it for myself during my PhD. Although I rarely go into the lab any more, I still get that buzz when my research group makes that step forward.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
I’m afraid I would be a politician. I know this will surprise many people, but I have a strong sense that we should use our gifts for the benefit of other people and I have always felt that politicians have the potential to make more of a difference than most, even if what they do doesn’t always work! I have strong political views and have probably been interested in politics for longer than chemistry. I also think more scientists should become involved in politics, after all we have a lot to contribute.
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
As you can tell from my previous answer, I feel that it is extremely important that chemists use their abilities for the wider benefit. Chemists already make a huge contribution to the world-at-large through new drugs and many new technologies. Almost everything we come across in the modern world has been improved by chemists in some way. One area where chemists will make a huge difference over the coming years is in controlling the effects of climate change. If you think about it, chemists are the only people who understand the problems and also know how to overcome them.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
Robert F. Kennedy. Although he isn’t as famous as his older brother, JFK, he was a remarkable man who had a real vision for reaching out to the less fortunate in our society. Politically he has been extremely influential and was the real thinking behind what is called the Third Way which people would recognize in Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. If he hadn’t been shot whilst campaigning for the democratic nomination in 1968, he may well have beaten Nixon to the presidency, pulled out of Vietnam and I am sure that the world would be a very different place today.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
Apart from in the teaching labs it has been some years, I’m struggling to remember! I used to give demonstration lectures with bangs and flashes and that was probably more recent than any research oriented experiment.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one CD would you take with you?
It depends whether we have the Bible and Shakespeare? If I don’t have them I would have to take the Bible. If I already have that, then it would be far harder as I read a lot of different books. For fiction, I would probably take “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami, for non-fiction I would take “Make Gentle the Life of This World” which is a collection of speeches by Robert F. Kennedy. My CD would have to be “Blonde on Blonde” by Bob Dylan, even though it was made before I was born, it doesn’t get better than that.
Neil Champness is in the School of Chemistry at the University of Nottingham and works on all aspects of molecular organization, including nanoscale surface supramolecular assembly and organization in the solid-state via crystal engineering.