1. What made you want to be a chemist?
I blame it on my parents: I was born when my father was in his 3rd year of college and my mom in her 2nd year. I am told I used chemistry books as a pillow, toys, maybe even food. It turned indigestible, though. Very frustrating, but I developed high frustration tolerance, something an organic chemist really needs.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
I would be a sculptor. I would love to be one, actually, more and more. I don’t see a difference between a sculptor and an organic chemist sculpting from carbons, nitrogens, oxygens, etc. You just need an X-ray “diffractometer vision” to fully appreciate it. Otherwise, same thing.
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
This question almost implies that the most important impact a chemist has on the world is through his or her professional activities. I am, err, not sure that one makes the most impact by his work. To me that appears to be wishful thinking. Most chemists who are not blessed by inventing penicillin contribute best by being nice people, who are good examples for others, conscious of large problems (environment, global warming, energy situation) because they actually understand a little better these things than an average citizen. And, of course, for those of us who teach chemistry it is inspiring the future scientist, who will discover the new penicillin for sure! Why do I have the feeling I failed at this question?
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
That would be Carl Wilhelm Scheele, the discoverer of oxygen, nitrogen, manganese, molybdenum and tungsten and many other chemicals, including also chlorine (most likely before Sir Davy). The most surprising is, however, that he did all that without almost any professional training, as a small-town pharmacist! His talent and intuition must have been phenomenal – so the dinner would be a BLAST! I have one for you directly from the man himself:
“Oh, how happy I am! No care for eating or drinking or dwelling, no care for my pharmaceutical business, for this is mere play to me. But to watch new phenomena this is all my care, and how glad is the enquirer when discovery rewards his diligence; then his heart rejoices."
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
This summer. Synthesis of dichlorotetrazine from guanidine and hydrazine… That explains why I did it myself.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one CD would you take with you?
The most important book in the known universe, Winnie the Pooh! Duh! And as for a CD, that would be the Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. And a CD player with solar power cells, please!
Pavel Anzenbacher is a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry at Bowling Green State University, OH, and works on the design and synthesis of photonic materials and investigates the photophysical processes as they relate to excited state energy migration and photonic energy processing. His group works on photonic materials focusing on optical sensing and organic electroluminescence (OLEDs).