Helmut Schwarz works in the Department of Chemistry at the Technische Universität Berlin. His experimental and computational research is concerned with understanding why it is so difficult to bring about, in an economically viable and environmentally benign fashion, the conversion of methane to value-added products under ambient conditions. Additionally, his commentary, “On the usefulness of useless information,” was published this week in the inaugural issue of Nature Reviews Chemistry.
1. What made you want to be a chemist?
Chemists don’t just discover what was already there, they also create new forms of matter. Among all the natural sciences, chemistry is unique in that it is most closely related to the arts and the engineering sciences. In this regard, it has led me on many a satisfying intellectual adventure.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be — and why?
I would perhaps join a theatre group, work on plays, and merge reality with the imaginary.
3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?
I am trying to understand why it is so challenging to activate small molecules like CH4, CO2, NH3, etc.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with — and why?
Nelson Mandela – just listening to him, perhaps asking him how he did manage to overcome hatred.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab — and what was it?
Ages ago – my students were not really excited about my showing up in the lab!
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?
Goethe’s unparalleled “Elective Affinities” and Mozart’s dark opera “Così fan tutte”.
7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions — and why?
There are too many!