The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions – Nongjian (NJ) Tao

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Nongjian (NJ) Tao is in the Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors, Biodesign Institute, and also affiliated with Electrical Engineering, Physics and Chemistry at Arizona State University. His current research interests include molecular electronics, chem- and bio-sensors.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I am probably not a typical chemist on Nature Chemistry’s blog because my training is in biophysics. I have been attracted to chemistry because it serves as glue between physics, biology and engineering, which is critically important for interdisciplinary research, such as molecular electronics and sensors.

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

I would like to be a geologist or astronaut, who can explore new frontiers, a remote desert or a distant planet, while getting paid. I don’t really regret my career decision because I find that exploring research areas between different traditional disciplines is just as exciting (and challenging).

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

I am looking for ways to place a single molecule between electrodes, to probe and control its chemical and physical properties, and to explore device applications. I am also developing chemical sensors that can fit in a cell phone, allowing one to excess not only internet and email, but also chemical information. I believe that such a function would expand our capability to solve many real world problems, such as security, environmental protection, and disease prevention and diagnosis.

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

Richard Feynmann would be at the top of a long list. “Feynmann’s Lectures in Physics” helped me to pass an important Physics exam that sent me to study for a Ph.D. in the US. “Surely, you’re joking, Mr. Feynmann” once made a 12-hour oversea flight quite enjoyable and unforgettable. His “plenty of room” lecture has been a constant source of inspiration for my research.

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

That was last week – when I was experimenting three different glues to fix my broken glasses. Over time, I find myself spending less time doing lab work, and more time reviewing or writing proposals. Fortunately, I am surrounded by many young talents who can do better jobs in lab than myself.

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

I will bring books that can teach me how to survive in a desert island or break out of prison. Entertaining books and CDs would be nice, but I would have to save the space for water and food.

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

Stuart Lindsay – my Ph.D. mentor. He taught me how to do science. I am sure that younger readers will benefit from interacting with him.

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