The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions: Paula Diaconescu

Published in Chemistry

Paula Diaconescu is in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at University of California, Los Angeles, and works on synthetic organometallic chemistry.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

My failure to be truly competitive in the physics Olympiad in high school. Of all science subjects, I first liked math until it became very abstract, and then physics. Chemistry seemed too easy in the beginning but I realize now I was naive and I am really glad I ended up choosing it because it allows me to create new molecules.

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

A foreign correspondent. I always thought that good journalists use the same analytical skills as scientists and I have always been interested in understanding and observing different cultures and societies.

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

My group is working on several aspects of ferrocene chemistry ranging from the fundamental understanding of weak metal-metal interactions to applications to polymer chemistry. I always hope that we can create new molecules/materials with our approach and that they will find uses that we can’t even fathom now.

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

I initially thought of Socrates because I admire his pursuit of interrogating everything around him, the same thing we do in science all the time. And then Oscar Wilde popped into my mind because I find his witticism truly entertaining and very appealing as a prospect for a dinner conversation.

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

I still go to the lab on a regular basis and mount crystals for my group. The last time I mixed chemicals though was around the end of my second year as an independent scientist. The reaction was the hydrogenation of 1,1’-ferrocene diazide, one of the steps to generate our ligand precursors, and failed. I knew then that I don’t have the focus to carry out true lab experiments anymore (I did that reaction many times before and although it is somewhat capricious, I thought I had a fool-proof method of doing it).

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

I would take “The Glass Bead Game” by Herman Hesse because I always wanted to see if I can come up with the rules of the game proposed in it. For music, it is “Tristan und Isolde” by Richard Wagner; since it has so many layers, I think I wouldn’t get bored listening to it over and over again.

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

Marie Curie for various reasons. First to know her opinion of the society at the time and the fact that she had to work as her husband’s assistant. Secondly, her discoveries prompted the effort to work with elements beyond uranium and push the limits of what we know about what makes the world around us.

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