The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions – David Leigh

Published in Chemistry

[Welcome to a new (and hopefully regular) feature on our little chemistry blog here. ‘Reactions’ will feature chemists answering questions ranging from why they entered the field to what reading material they would like to be stranded on an island with… – Stuart]

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

Like many who choose to study chemistry at university, an excellent and enthusiastic school teacher.

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

If I was miraculously granted the ability to do any of them well (unfortunately I have severe limitations in all the qualities required!) then prime minister, rock star, footballer.

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

By changing it for the better. This can be in obvious ways – introducing new technologies that contribute to solving global problems like pollution, energy needs, health and sustenance etc – and in less obvious ways, such as improving the way the general public understand the world, thereby making it safer by removing the influence of religions and other superstitions on societies and individuals.

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

Jesus or Einstein. So many questions…

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

Back in 2002 I was particularly excited about a compound one of my group was preparing at the end of a long synthetic sequence. It was a friday night and I was impatient to see the NMR of the product. So I worked up her reaction without asking and spent all Saturday and Sunday running chromatography columns to try and isolate it. Needless to say, I never got it and by the end of the weekend and half-a-dozen columns later there was nothing left. Jenny Wong, bless her, didn’t say a thing – at least not in my presence! – and went back and did the 15 step synthesis again (this time without telling me when she put the final reaction on!).

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

‘Card College’ by Roberto Giobbi – I’d finally have time to study! [Leigh is a magician as well as a chemist – Ed.] – and any live bootleg of Elvis Costello from the 80s.

David Leigh is in the School of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh and works on synthetic molecular motors and machines.

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