Javier Pérez-Ramírez is a Full Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences at ETH Zurich, and works on the design of catalytic materials and reactor concepts for the production of chemicals and fuels, with emphasis on sustainability and resource efficiency. His group published “Catalyst design for natural-gas upgrading through oxybromination chemistry” in Nature Chemistry earlier this year.
1. What made you want to be a chemical engineer?
My passion throughout my youth was playing tennis, which I hoped to make a career. This did not work for various reasons, prompting a change in direction to attend university. The choice of chemical engineering was somewhat improvised, since I hadn’t considered an academic path, but after the first semester I was really attracted to chemical processes, a flame which still burns today.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be — and why?
I could commit to any activity driven by a strong dose of creativity, like any expression of art.
3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?
We are interested in the discovery, understanding, and implementation of catalytic processes devoted to sustainable technologies. The latter secure the efficient utilization of natural resources, the transition to renewable feedstocks, reduced energy consumption and waste, and minimized environmental impact. More specifically, we target the design of practically relevant catalysts for natural gas functionalization, carbon dioxide valorization, the conversion of biomass to chemicals and fuels, and novel manufacturing approaches to specialty chemicals.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with — and why?
I would meet with John Hutchinson, John McClelland, William Gossage, Holbrook Gaskell, and Henry Deacon at the time they conceived the modern chemical industry in Widnes, England.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab — and what was it?
I am still experimentally active and master the process of coffee making every day; this is done in a highly reproducible way.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?
Given the remote setting, I would take a thick notebook to write and draw. As for a music album, if Spotify is out of the question I would face the dilemma between The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 or The Ties that Bind: The River Collection. I need more time to think…
7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions — and why?
I would be curious to read the answers of my colleague and friend Núria López.