The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions: Clemens Richert

Published in Chemistry

Clemens Richert is in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Stuttgart, and works on functional nucleic acids. His group’s homepage can be found at

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

The desire to get an education in a fundamental field of science that fascinates me. I was more drawn to chemistry than physics, probably because I liked synthesis better than mathematical approaches.

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

I like to build things, both on a molecular level and on a macroscopic level. I enjoy working with my group and do not actively think about other options, but I can well imagine being an entrepreneur in the (bio)tech area, making novel devices. For example, we are thinking about using the organic waste that a household produces and harvest enough energy-rich compounds from it to make the household independent of fossil fuels. If I was more patient, I would also like to teach autogenic training as a technique to overcome stress-related diseases.

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

My lab focuses on synthesis and molecular recognition. We have projects on enzyme-free replication, high fidelity diagnostics, and nanostructured materials. I hope we will find new ways to induce energy-rich organic compounds to drive spontaneous molecular evolution, and to develop devices that are based on molecular recognition and that include molecular machines. I also would like to be able to find highly specific ligands for biomacromolecules within days rather than years.

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

Linus Pauling or Richard Feynman. I have so many questions I would like to ask either of them.

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

I like to be in the lab and perform experiments. There is immense satisfaction in being able to synthesize a new compound with the desired properties in high yield. I go to the lab daily, but the last time I did a serious study with my own two hands was seven years ago. I measured the reactivity of active esters, using a mass spec-based approach (Synlett 2005, 411-416).

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

The book would be Ernest Hemingway: The old man and the sea. The album would be Dire Straits: Making Movies. I would prefer to take my guitar, though.

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

Peter Gölitz, editor of Angewandte Chemie. I wonder how he manages to deal with thousands of manuscripts per year and still remain an approachable human being.

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