1. What made you want to be a chemist?
When I was 14 or 15, I was certain that I would become a journalist. By this age, I had already gained experience working at a local newspaper as a sports reporter. I was also beginning to research journalism programs at a number of colleges. My high school guidance councilor suggested that I take chemistry to “make my college applications more competitive” and the rest, as they say, is history. My high school chemistry teacher (Mr. Donohue, East Syracuse-Minoa High School) was superb and I knew almost immediately that chemistry was my calling. Another real turning point came in college when, as a chemistry major, I began doing research in Professor Petr Zumans’ laboratory. This experience opened up a whole new world for me, one which continues to excite me many, many years later.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
Given my previous response, you’d probably think that my answer would be journalism. However, I think that archeology would be my number 2 choice. Over the years, I’ve acquired a great appreciation for history. The idea of pursuing clues that help to unravel ancient history is really quite appealing to me. Of course, three months of digging in a hot desert could very well change my mind.
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
I think the simple answer is to be excellent. Chemists are a fairly bright lot. We work on very challenging problems that impact many fields including medicine, materials, energy, etc. It is absolutely inconceivable that chemists will not play a large role in providing long-lasting solutions to the major problems that face us (i.e., diseases, limited fossil fuels, global warming and climate change, hunger, etc.). The best way for us to contribute is by being excellent at what we do. After all, we surely can’t expect much from the physicists ??
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
John Adams, 2nd President of the US. David McCullough’s biography of John Adams was a real eye-opener. It fascinated me to no end. I would love to spend an evening picking John Adams’ brains, preferably at a time after his presidency had ended. He was a remarkable visionary with an amazing intellect. He raised and debated fundamental questions about governance and human rights and prosperity – questions that are still very relevant today. By the way, if Abigail Adams happened to join us, all the better.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
Probably six months ago when I attempted to demonstrate that carbon nanotubes could be transferred from one substrate to another using simple mechanical forces. I was surrounded by several students who were (1) amazed to see me in the lab and (2) laughing because they thought that this could never work. Fortunately for me, AFM images revealed a clean transfer. For the most part, I’m smart enough to leave the experiments to the people that know what they’re doing.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one CD would you take with you?
For the book, I’d probably take the latest edition of March’s “Advanced Organic Chemistry” from which I could draw inspiration while drawing chemical structures in the sand. For the CD, I’d take my copy of “Faith Rewarded: The Historic Season of the 2004 Boston Red Sox”. This way, even if I was never rescued, I could continuously relive the greatest comeback in the history of sports by the greatest team in the history of sports. And although I draw no pleasure whatsoever from watching the misery of others, this monumental feat, as it turns out, also marks greatest collapse in the history of sports by another franchise which I refuse to name,… ever. New Hampshire, by the way, is just one hour north of Boston.
Glen Miller is in the Department of Chemistry and the Materials Science Program at the University of New Hampshire and works on a number of projects at the intersection of organic chemistry and nanoscience. These typically involve fullerenes and carbon nanotubes.