It's all about presence


I finished last month's editorial with a question (more about your responses later) so I'd like to start this month's with one (ok, two): who is the living chemist you admire most and why?

Before you answer, let me set the scene: when we talk about scientists we admire we tend to think of the likes of Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin or Isaac Newton, who have long been dead and in most cases we base our choice on what they discovered or created and not so much on what they were like. You may remember that during the International Year of Chemistry we asked readers to nominate their heroes and heroines of chemistry and all the suggestions were big names (John 'Kappa' Cornforth [Harry Kroto's first choice], Linus Pauling, John Dalton, Frederick Sanger, etc.). Many were Nobel prize winners - happily some were 20th century scientists - with some major discoveries to their name. Of course, this doesn't detract from the fact that we should still admire them and call them our heroes; but what happens when you disassociate the scientist from his science? What makes a scientist a hero then? For me it's all about presence. I have now met the two living chemists I admire most - does this mean I can now die in peace? - and realised that, although I am aware of their work and related achievements, which are many, what inspires me is their charisma. So I would say that, although these two people have not made huge scientific discoveries that have changed the world (yet!), they are inspirational, charismatic and thus true science heroes. The first one (in no particular order) is George Whitesides. Perhaps an obvious choice as he is arguably the best living chemist - his h-index is outstanding - but I had the privilege of meeting him at an event organised by the RSC a while back and the man has charisma to spare. You can read the interview we published in the November 2010 issue (p33) or online. The second one is Christopher Evans. He is a biotech entrepreneur and microbiologist turned biochemist. I first attended a keynote speech he gave about four years ago at an event organised by the then ERBI (now One Nucleus) and I was very impressed by his tremendous presence. I've recently met him again and my opinion has not changed at all, if anything it has been reinforced. On this occasion I had the opportunity of talking to him and the interview will be published in the next issue of Chemistry World - don't miss it!

But of course charisma and presence are very subjective. We could all probably agree a definition of charisma but then would never agree to attribute this adjective to the same person. So I refer you to the opening questions. Please send your answers through the usual channels.

What makes a good chemist?

In last month's editorial I challenged readers to explain in 140 characters what makes a good chemist. As foreseen, many took 140 characters to mean 140 words but the response has been brilliant and we've received some excellent suggestions. A selection of the best has been published in the letters page (see p46) so please do make sure you read them. My favourite is the entry by Michael Matson. Enjoy.


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