The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions – Ed Constable

Published in Chemistry

Edwin (Ed) Constable works in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Basel, and works on applied coordination and supramolecular chemistry.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

Honestly, it was the gift of a chemistry set when I was 14. Although I had inspirational teachers, chemistry had never clicked with me until I could play with chemicals on my own. Almost certainly not an aproved strategy today! I went from the bottom of the class to the top in the space of one term. Before that, I wanted to be a writer or a historian.

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

Probably a wildlife photographer or science journalist. I have always felt that communication of what we are doing, why we are doing it and why it is important is an essential and often underrated part of our job. And wildlife photography? Because it is fun.

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

Our primary work at present concentrates upon the major problem facing mankind in the upcoming hundred years – namely the development of sustainable and environmentally acceptable energy policies. We have large programmes in the development of photovoltaic cells, specifically dye sensitzed solar cells and OLED and light emitting electrochemical cells for efficient next generation lighting. Our aim is to replace scarce and expensive elements such as ruthenium and iridium by earth-abundant first row transition metals.

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

Another good question. I thought long and hard about this and finally decided on Paracelsus (Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim). Not only was he a predecessor of mine at the University of Basel, but he was active at the cusp between alchemy, magic and science. He is arguably one of the first medicinal chemists and I would like to know what drove him. He was also apparently a very difficult person, so it would be an interesting dinner.

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

A very quick and dirty preparation of [Ru(dmso)4Cl2] about six months ago. Simply heating RuCl3.3H2O in dmso and collecting the crystals!

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

Oh dear, I never was one for Desert Island Disks! The book would need to be one that I could read repeatedly and always find something new. Disregarding the Bible and Shakespeare which are always present on desert islands according to my sources, I would chose the complete works of “Saki” ( H.H. Munro). He is a wickedly funny and often cruel writer of short stories from the Edwardian period who was one of the many talents lost in the global conflict 1914-1918. For music, it is much more difficult. Certainly nothing classical. I guess I am not allowed my iPod, so the choice ends up between Leonard Cohen, Dory Previn, Al Stewart, The Smiths and Pink Floyd. Very difficult to decide, but on balance it would be Pink Floyd “The Wall”.

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

Achim Mueller. I know Achim well and suspect that his answers would provide a unique insight to a unique mind!

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