1. What made you want to be a chemist?
Chemistry was always my favorite (but not always my best) subject in grammar school, probably because the practical applications of chemistry in everyday life are so tangible. To this day I remain fascinated and motivated by the opportunities and challenges offered by chemistry and how the practical relevance of basic research can lead so quickly to an application.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
I cannot now imagine being anything other than a chemistry professor. There were times when parental or peer pressure might have pushed me towards teaching, industry or medicine. Based upon what I know now, these careers would probably have not worked out for me. However, if there was a fork in the road, it was when I was a teenager, since my best subject in grammar school was geography. Ironically, I have ended up seeing much more of the world than I could ever have imagined when I took the fork towards chemistry. My numerous visits to so many parts of the world have, in a way, made me an amateur at studying the chemistry of people.
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
Chemists can, must and will play a major role in solving the global challenges we face with the environment, energy and human health. In my opinion, if there is one thing we could do better in this context, it is to work less as individuals and more as teams. The grand challenges are simply too large and complex for an individual chemist or even a group of chemists to address, never mind solve.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
A very difficult question. Historically, it would probably be Leonardo da Vinci, whose impact on art and science and even today’s culture was and is so immense. The living person I most admire is Nelson Mandela.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
Yesterday. I still like to grow crystals and have never lost the excitement of solving crystal structures and I am apt to conduct a few experiments per month. If we ever figure out how to predict a crystal form before it is made then the excitement might lessen, but we are not there yet despite over 100 years of X-ray crystallography. However, I do not spend time in the lab every day, which is just as well for the students.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one CD would you take with you?
The Foundation Trilogy would be my book choice. In terms of music, I download (legally) individual tracks and have not bought a CD at a store for years. I would select a home-made CD which contains 20 tracks that represents a mix of the 60-90s (my selection of Beatles, Motown, U2, Cat Stevens, Eagles, Stones and, maybe, a track or two from Dark Side of the Moon).
Mike Zaworotko is Chair of the Department of Chemistry at the University of South Florida and works on crystal engineering, the design and application of functional solids, with particular emphasis on the design of porous and pharmaceutical materials.