The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions: Andreja Bakac

Published in Chemistry

Andreja Bakac is at the Ames Laboratory (US DOE)  and the Department of Chemistry, Iowa State University and works on mechanistic chemistry of high-valent metal-oxo complexes and on activation of oxygen and nitrogen oxides.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

It is true that I was fascinated by chemistry from my first chemistry class in middle school, but I also enjoyed physics and math and literature. In the end, the extra push for chemistry was provided by my chemistry teacher in my senior year in high school. In this man’s outspoken opinion, girls are not meant to do chemistry. Well!

2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?

I love literature and poetry. If I were not a chemist, I would probably be a starving poet.

3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?

Our group is involved in mechanistic chemistry focusing on activation of molecular oxygen, nitrogen and other small molecules with transition metal complexes. The ultimate goal of this work is to design new processes and catalysts that will address the world’s needs in energy, environment and health. We approach this problem by preparing relatively small and simple, typically macrocyclic metal complexes that are capable of mimicking the chemistry believed to take place at the active sites of metalloenzymes. Chemically and spectroscopically simpler mimics facilitate mechanistic studies and provide a wealth of relevant information and important clues about real-life chemistry. The information gained will be used in the next step to develop simpler, better and more durable catalysts for industrial and laboratory reactions. Currently the group’s favorite metals are rhodium and iron, favorite ligands are saturated macrocycles, and favorite small molecules in need of activation or generation are oxygen, molecular nitrogen, and nitrogen oxides.

4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?

I would love to have dinner with Alexander Borodin, a great chemist and a great composer and musician. In my experience, a lot of chemists enjoy music, but it is quite a feat to excel in both. How did he manage two separate professional lives? And where did he find the time?

5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?

My most recent adventures in the lab took place a few months ago when I needed some preliminary data for a research proposal. I looked at the reaction of some Rh(II) complexes and chloride ions. The outcome was not what I expected, but it explained a lot of puzzling observations that we made over the years. All in all, it was time well spent.

6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?

Provided this exodus is safe and temporary, and I do not need a survivor guide to teach me about finding food and shelter, sending smoke signals, or building a boat, I would enjoy a collection of stories by Chekhov while listening to piano concertos by Beethoven or Rachmaninoff.

7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?

If you could get hold of my senior-year high-school chemistry teacher, that would be great!

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