1. What made you want to be a chemist?
I’ve always enjoyed building things, looking for ways to improve some feature or combine functionality. Synthetic chemistry is all about building things – except at a very small scale. The field of organic electronics provides a beautiful opportunity to enjoy both pico-scale construction (molecules) and macro-scale construction (devices). It’s always a real thrill to take an idea all the way from initial target molecule, through synthesis and then into a working device in a matter of a few weeks.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
I think I’d still be designing and building things. I’m already an avid woodworker – I could envision myself in architecture / homebuilding, furniture design / construction – any job where I can use my hands to create something beautiful, new and useful.
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
I suppose at first blush we contribute by doggedly pursuing our intellectual curiosity. Chemistry is central to so many endeavors – from understanding the fundamental science of molecules and molecular assemblies, to synthesizing compounds for pharmaceutical or materials applications. However, I see my most important contribution as the education of a new generation of scientists. I have had the pleasure of working with some exceptionally talented graduate and undergraduate students, and feel confident that their curiosity and enthusiasm will carry them into productive careers as chemical researchers.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
I’ve always been fascinated by the history of early England, and the one person I’d love to have the chance to converse with is Eleanor of Aquitaine. She exercised an incredible amount of power in an era critical to the development of modern Europe.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
Last week – I performed an Ullman coupling to put a perfluoroalkyl chain onto an iodothiophene compound. While I don’t spend nearly as much time in the lab as I would like, I do try to do at least one reaction every few weeks, just to maintain credibility with the students that I instruct.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one CD would you take with you?
The CD question is tough – my musical tastes are strongly influenced by what I’m doing at the time. When writing, the von Karajan recording of Beethoven’s 4th and 7th symphonies is a top pick. In the lab, lately I’ve loaded my i-pod with Tool’s “Undertow”. When grading, Blues are more appropriate, such as Tom Waits’ “Real Gone”. But the one CD I would never want to be without is Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”. As for books – since the 5th grade I’ve been fascinated by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, and his complete works would serve as an entertaining read as well as a phenomenal example of literary creativity.
John Anthony is in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Kentucky and works on the design, synthesis and application of high-performance organic semiconductors for display and photovoltaic applications.