The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions – Jean-Claude Bünzli

Published in Chemistry

Jean-Claude Bünzli is at the Institute of Chemical Science and Engineering at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL, Switzerland) and at the WCU Center for Next Generation Photovoltaic Systems at Korea University, and works on luminescence of lanthanide ions with emphasis on the development of bioprobes for specific detection of cancer cells as well as of photovoltaic and telecommunication materials.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

An early passion for the magic of seeing transformation of matter, either in the biological world, or in day-to-day life, often under the influence of sunlight. There was some hesitation with going into physics, a seemingly more rigorous science, but I solve the ambiguity by positioning myself at the interface, while adding, later on, the dimension of biosciences.

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

A tough choice between being a cook, which after all is job not too different from chemistry and which I love to practice, and being a conductor because music is so much smoothing and inspiring and because it communicates so well feelings and enthusiasm, strengthening one’s mood to confront (and solve) problems.

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

With a double affiliation, I have two wishes. The first one is to see the bioprobes recently developed at EPFL become a real tool for fast and cheap detection of cancerous cells. The second one is to succeed in having lanthanides improving photovoltaic devices.

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

Giuseppe Verdi during an open-air performance of La Traviata, for instance in a train station like in Zürich two years ago. Because I love romantic music, I loved “La dame aux camélias”, which inspired the play and if you could invite Marc Chagall I would be delighted…

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

Being a physical inorganic chemist makes things easy: I measured luminescence spectra and quantum yields of a series of dendrimeric erbium complexes between Christmas and New Year 2009. And determined the instrumental function of my newly-moved-to-Korea spectrofluorimeter in July 2010.

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

As for the music album, “The new world symphony” by Antonin Dvorak, accompanied by the trilogy of Bernard Werber “The aunts” including the “Encyclopedia of relative and absolute knowledge”, it may help survive!

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

Yan Chunhua from Peking University. Not only does he incarnates the young generation of Chinese scientists, but he is really enthusiastic about his research and work in a field which has bright future, lanthanide nanomaterials, particularly nanophosphors, nanobioprobes, and up-converting nanoparticles.

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