The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions – Eiichi Nakamura

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Eiichi Nakamura is Professor of Physical Organic Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry, the University of Tokyo, and works on organic synthesis, physical chemistry and nanoscience.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

It is partly due to my father, Goro Nakamura, who was a mining engineer and showed me beautiful samples of minerals and inorganic crystals. It is partly due to my high school teacher, Hisao Fukuoka, who taught us not only chemistry but also the joy of mountain trekking and the beauty of wild flowers. Teachers in fine arts and music, Hiroya Shiroki and Ichiro Tada, taught me the joy of artistic activities – an essential supplement for my life as a chemist.

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

I would have been an architect or a mechanical engineer because of my interest in constructing various objects such as HO steam locomotives from a brass sheet. Indeed, I have become a “molecular” architect.

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

Exploring new fields for chemistry toward atomic dimension (electron microscopic study of individual molecules) and toward resolution of societal issues (utilization of ubiquitous elements for catalysis, industrialization of printable organic solar cells and gene delivery).

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

Alexander the Great in Babylon in 323 BC. During his journey to the East, he conceived a vision of unified Europe and Asia, and crossed the Indus in 326 BC. The influence of this historic event reached Japan several hundred years later. I would ask him what he has learned from Aristotle in his teens.

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

My last experiment was in the second half of the 1980s when my Grignard solution reached the ceiling of the lab. I continued however my own computational experiments until the middle of the 1990s.

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

I would probably bring a music score and a musical instrument, and enjoy playing music all the time rather than listening to someone’s recordings.

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

Profs. Teruaki Mukaiyama and Gilbert Stork. They are the last giants who can tell us the early days of modern synthetic organic chemistry. They are my mentors.

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