The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions – Mark Green


1. What made you want to be a chemist?

It’s not really a ‘what’, more a ‘who’. My high school teacher, Mr Corkhill, who was so passionate about chemistry, he’d snarl and growl at us if we got a question wrong. His passion rubbed off on a few of us, and hence an unremarkable high school in the north of England seems to have generated quite a few graduate chemists.

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

If I’m allowed to lapse into fantasy, I’d like to play American football for the New York Giants – I’ve followed them passionately for the last twenty years after watching them one night when I was thirteen. A complete lack of ability in that direction means a more realistic answer would be a primary school teacher, something I’ve always wanted to do. I just enjoy teaching, especially the little ones. I tried working in science policy but it’s not for me – wearing a suit and tie (what’s the point of a tie?), going to meetings for the sake of it, clocking in, clocking out, fifteen minutes breaks, etc. I felt like I was being left behind and realised I needed to get back to a bench. I lasted five months then I got my lectureship.

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

Wow – not sure I can answer that – everything we touch and use is driven by innovative chemistry – new materials, new drugs, new technology. Each chemist thinks their own area is the key one – or they wouldn’t be doing it.

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

My first thought was Edgar Allan Poe. Anyone that dark, moody and brooding must be fascinating company. Then I realised he’d just sit there being dark, moody and brooding, so I actually think Lawrence Taylor, ex-linebacker of the New York Giants. I always wanted to call my first child ‘Taylor’, which my wife thought was a nice name, until she realised that Taylor was a 6’4" 17 stone ex-drug addict who got paid to beat people up, so I have to rethink that.

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

According to my lab book, a month ago, which is quite a while ago – I’m usually in the lab once a week. I was phase-transferring some quantum dots from toluene to water for a biologist.

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

My bad music taste is legendary (Level 42, Enya, UB40, etc…), but I’m sticking to my guns, and my favourite album is Roachford’s first self entitled album. As for books, I have a stack of comfort books by my bed, ones I can pick up and read anytime – and they’re quite varied (Henry V, Wuthering Heights, His Dark Materials, Critical Mass by Philip Ball, Emergence by Steven Johnson) any of which would do, but at the moment, I’m fascinated with Freakonomics, a real eye opener.

Mark Green is in the Department of Physics at King’s College London, UK, and works on the synthesis of new nanomaterials, especially for biological applications.

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