The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions – Cameron Alexander

Published in Chemistry

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1. What made you want to be a chemist?

The ability to make things that (may not) have existed before was the original motivation, then the idea that you could actually make something useful led me to continue in chemistry. Modern medicines rely a lot on chemistry, and having had the experience of a 2 hr old child dependent on some brilliant doctors – who in turn relied on excellent medicines – made me realise that there will always be a need for great science, and if one can contribute in even a small way then this is the right choice.

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

Mountain guide – it would at least make me get fit… But it would also be a chance to spend work time doing something (else) that I very much enjoy. Few experiences in the world can compare to the Cuillin Ridge on Skye.

3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?

By continuing to strive for new discoveries and making new molecules and materials. People who have studied chemistry are also vital in helping others in the world to understand how the most fundamental processes in life operate, of how we can learn to use energy properly, and of the value of reason!

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

The obvious ones, Berzelius, Darwin, Turing, Crick etc would be interesting for science of course, but actually my great grandfather would have been fascinating to have spent time with. He was a religious man and lived in Scotland in a time when there weren’t a lot of material comforts – life was probably cold, dull and dark most of the time, but he provided circumstances that enabled his son to be a doctor, and to instil ideals that have lasted. It would be intriguing to know what values we share even if our beliefs and lifestyles are probably very different. Hmm, can’t pretend life today doesn’t involve cold, dark and dullness some of the time….

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

About 2 years ago I carried out Atom Transfer Radical Polymerisations (ATRP) – and got one decent polymer and one addition to the expanding catalogue of ‘My Failed Reactions’. And yes, the students had to tell me where everything in the lab was, remind me about safety procedures and clear up the mess afterwards…

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

I am not going to pretend that I read much other than work, the last fiction I read was in 1993 and was a short book by Alice Walker. Of course it would be great to read another book for fun/interest, and one of Alice Walker’s other books would be a good start. Next year, when there is more time….

The CD has to be Wish You Were Here, and not just for the title. The Floyd are probably overrepresented amongst the science fraternity but you just can’t beat the sound of British angst and misery. Supergrass and Radiohead do some top English ethereal yearning/misery/whimsy fusion too.

Cameron Alexander is in the School of Pharmacy at Nottingham University, UK, and works on polymers for transporting drug compounds, proteins and genes for biomedical applications.

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