1. What made you want to be a chemist?
A fascination for discovering new things. I remember watching, at an early age, an old movie about Marie Curie, and I was hooked by her passion for research. I had a very good chemistry teacher in secondary school and I really enjoyed learning about the structure of the atom and MO theory. As an undergraduate, I enjoyed the inorganic and coordination chemistry labs and my supervisors further inspired me to do research.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
I’d probably had done a maths degree, which was the other subject I loved in secondary school. With a maths degree, I think I would still have pursued an academic career.
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
Energy and the environment are our two very challenging issues at the moment. Chemistry and chemists are central to both.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
Given my answer to question 1, it’ll have to be Marie Curie. She was a truly remarkable woman at a time when women weren’t even allowed to vote: two Nobel prizes (Physics, shared with husband Pierre and H. Becquerel, in 1903; and Chemistry in 1911) for her research on radiation and the discovery of elements such as radium and polonium; first female professor at the Sorbonne. The Curies believed in sharing scientific knowledge freely and never patented anything; and they warned about the danger of radioactive substances in the wrong hands. Marie relentlessly promoted the use of x-rays in medicine, but overlooked the dangers of radioactivity to health. I would like to know if she had done anything different, given what we know today.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
I haven’t done a full experiment from beginning to end for three or four years, but I do get into the lab and ‘help’ my students with their work now and then. The last time: a couple of weeks ago, helping a new PhD student to set up a reaction with nBuLi.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one CD would you take with you?
I think I’ll take the Spanish classic El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (or Don Quijote for short), by Cervantes. It has tragedy, comedy and adventure in equal quantities; and I haven’t actually read it properly (only in ‘bits’ in secondary school). A desert island will be a good place to cross it from the ‘to read’ books. Besides, it’s set in my native region of La Mancha, so it’ll remind me of home. As for a CD, I may take Unplugged by Eric Clapton. I don’t seem to get tired of listening to the songs.
Cristina Lagunas is in the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast, and works on luminescent metal complexes, in particular gold, and on molecular sensors. She is also involved in multidisciplinary research in electrochemistry and catalysis in ionic liquids.