1. What made you want to be a chemist?
You have to blame my high school chemistry teachers. Chemistry and biology were the only two topics in high school that came naturally. Math, languages, etc., were always way too much work for me. Combine this with fun hands-on experiments and unexpected explosions during chemistry classes… what kid can ask for more?
I have to admit that my first 2-3 years as an undergrad in Germany nearly ‘eliminated’ any love towards chemistry. My professors were stuck 50 years in the past (science and age wise) and the lectures they gave were somewhere between boring to non-existent (one just has to love the German university system). I was very close to switching majors and decided that I would leave chemistry when I failed my first course. Only after the ‘vordiplom’ did things get interesting and I have to credit my first advisor, Helmut Ringsdorf, for bringing back my love for science.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
No question, I would be a music conductor. I love classical music, the one great passion (but for my family and friends) besides chemistry. The only times I can ‘let go’ of chemistry and not think of it is during an opera or symphony performance.
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
I do not want to repeat what all the other scientists below pointed out. Clearly, chemists have to make major (or the key) contributions to very important scientific problems and challenges in our society ranging from the environment to health. All of us work on scientific problems related to these challenges.
One issue we as scientists are not addressing (or at least not doing a good job at) is educating the general public about science. The lack of understanding of the basic principles of science of the general public including our societal ‘leaders’ (politicians, etc.) results directly into some very dangerous and problematic decisions (or the lack of decisions to address problems), i.e., we as scientists knew 20-30 years ago that carbon dioxide emissions are not good for the environment. However, we were not able to relate the importance of this to the general public and to our governments.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
That’s a tough one. If it’s just me and one person, I would go for Mozart. This will be for sure an entertaining dinner.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
To be honest, my last time doing an experiment in lab is some time ago, I guess approx. 6 years (my second year as an assistant professor). I still help group members out now and then, but do not have my ‘own’ project or run my own reactions. Most likely my group would kick me out (or leave the room) if I went back into the lab.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one CD would you take with you?
These are always the toughest questions. I think I would bring the ‘Ring der Nibelungen’ (can I take all 14 CDs instead of just one since they count as ‘one opera cycle’?) from Richard Wagner (The poor animals on the island. They have to endure Wagner all the time. They might send me back to civilization). The book is tougher. I think I would either go with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or Gogol’s Dead Souls.
Marcus Weck is in the Department of Chemistry at New York University and works on organic materials with emphases in supramolecular polymers, biomaterials, optical materials and catalysis.