The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions – Francesco Stellacci


1. What made you want to be a chemist?

In reality I am a materials scientist, chemists are my ‘cousins’. I chose to become a materials scientist because I could not decide between physics and chemistry, and materials science seemed a good compromise. I am still truly happy for that choice even though as my career has progressed I have drifted more and more towards chemistry.

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

Well, I chose science because I felt (and keep feeling) that it was a way to help people around me and develop knowledge that would eventually lead to improved living conditions for everybody. This dream keeps driving me everyday and I would not exchange it for anything else. So if I could not be a scientist I would probably like to be a politician, with the exact same spirit. On the other hand, an old dream of mine is that of being a photographer, one that tells the world with an artistic touch like Henry Cartier-Bresson.

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

Well, we can all use our talents to improve the way we live in this world, using less and less of its resources and we could all mitigate the toughness that illness and pain bring to life. A far dream is to use science to limit the divide between rich and poor countries. In a world in which technology is evenly distributed the difference due to uneven access to natural resources (like water) would be mitigated (I think…).

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

Hum, this is a tough one, do soccer players count? Just kidding…I would definitively like to have dinner with the ones that changed the world when others did not see the need for it. And they did it for the better, with love. So Saint Francis of Assisi and Gandhi would top my list. But if it is only one dinner (too short to exhaust all of my questions…) why not Cleopatra? Just kidding again…

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

A serious one? I don’t recall…Very, very sad!!! I don’t even remember what my last experiment as a post-doc was. I should, it would be equivalent to the last kiss to a loved one! I do many experiments because I teach a lab class, so the last one would be measuring the size of polymer coils in dilute solutions with DLS. Nothing like the thrill of a true research-oriented experiment.

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

The book would be something I have not fully read but always wanted to finish reading, so the Divina Commedia (Holy Comedy) by Dante Alighieri. The CD would be a Pink Floyd one, really tough to pick one though, I love them all.

Francesco Stellacci is in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT and works on supramolecular materials science, in particular his interests are in the interactions that supramolecular assemblies of molecules have with the outside world when they have a specific nanostructure.

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