The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions – Tom Welton


1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I only took A-level chemistry because it completed a sensible set of three. Then, the first thing that we learned about was atomic structure. I can remember thinking that this was the most interesting thing that I had ever heard. From then on, I was hooked.

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

I had always thought that I would be an aeronautical engineer. I had always loved aeroplanes.

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

Aside from the obvious contributions in terms of the products of the chemicals industries and understanding how the world works, I think that most chemists are well grounded, practical people who like to proceed on the basis of evidence. These qualities seem to be surprisingly rare in today’s world. Keeping these in the public discourse is really important.

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

This is the question that I have found the most difficult to answer. Do you go for someone who has had huge impact on the world, a person of great beauty or famous charm or a damn good comedian? I don’t know.

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

If you mean to have finished an experiment, it’s so long in the past that I can’t remember. I can remember very clearly when my two most experienced PhD students came to my office one day to speak to me on behalf of the group. They told me that whenever I came into the lab to do some practical work, I left things half completed and that they had no idea of what to do with the mess that I left behind and that I was slowing their progress. So, I stopped.

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

The CD is easy, it would be the complete collection of Round the Horne. I’ve always quite fancied reading the Mahabharata – at least it’s good and long.

Tom Welton is in the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London and works on the effects of solvent-solute interactions on chemical reactivity, particularly in room-temperature ionic liquids.

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