The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions: Lewis Rothberg

Published in Chemistry

Lewis Rothberg is in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Rochester and works on the materials science underpinning organic electronics.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

Since I learned about chemistry, I have always been excited by the idea of being able to explain macroscopic phenomena … things we see every day … with an abstract microscopic picture. In the interest of full disclosure, however, I am a physicist by training and passion even though my research is very chemical in nature.

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

That’s a hard one. I really love science and never looked back. Still, part of me wishes I could play professional basketball because I love the game and it looks like so much fun to be able to perform at that level. Another fantasy is facilitating innovation that would help Third World and impoverished populations by being a (philanthropically minded) venture capitalist. I’d also love to be a philosopher.

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

My research group works on some of the barriers to wider application of organic electronics, materials stability, light extraction from LEDs, charge separation in photovoltaics, understanding the origin of apparent limitations such as spin statistics in OLEDs and aggregation quenching of luminescence.

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

I’d like to meet St. Augustine – he seems to have grappled with many of the theological and moral problems at the core of the meaning of life with real grace and insight.

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

I do small experiments all the time and work in the lab with undergraduates a lot but in 2001 I worked on developing a new sensing approach to detect unlabeled analytes that is based on reflective interferometry. I was proud that this technology was patented and licensed by a small company interested in point of care medical diagnostics.

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

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons always makes me feel joyous and hopeful.
It may be hyperbole to say that nothing new has been said since Plato, but there seems to me enough truth in it that I would like to take a book of Plato’s complete works.

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

I admire the chemists that have gone beyond taking on the big scientific issues and speak articulately on the importance of what we do to the public. … perhaps the most pressing technological issue we face is environmentally responsible and sustainable energy which looks like it has to come from sunlight and water in the very long run if we are to survive. I couldn’t single out any particular chemist but Dan Nocera, Nate Lewis, Tom Mallouk …. The importance of this should inspire young people to go into science and development and understanding of improved and inexpensive catalysts (chemistry!) looks to me to be the most critical component of what needs to happen.

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