“When kids look up to great scientists the way they do to great musicians and actors, civilization will jump to the next level” –Brian Greene-
The recent release of Stephen Hawking’s biopic “The theory of everything” along with others like Alan Turing’s “The Imitation game” have helped to revive debates in social media about celebrity scientists. By the way, both are great movies. It turns out that nowadays science is sexy, wasn’t it always? And no doubt that the TV show “The Big Bang theory” had a great deal in catalysing these events. Recently it was brought to my attention a post called Who’s the world’s greatest living chemist? And I started to think if maybe any of my contemporary fellow chemists could be in that list in 30-40 years. People whose work I read every day in the journals or people that work in the same department. This is somewhat exciting and scary at the same time, some of the guys I know are brilliant but won’t make it to their 50s drinking so much beer.
I have always been a great fan of the Authors Profile section of the Journal Angewante Chemie International Edition. ACIE grants chemists, who have recently published their 10th, 25th, 50th or 100th, with a profile consisting on a series of question about themselves. The questions are not always the same but many of them are repeated in several profiles. You can find a lot of interesting, surprising and sometimes odd details about your “chemistry idols”. I learnt about the profiles section during my last year of PhD when I was thinking of sending applications for prospective postdoctoral stays.
Everyone knows about the topics in chemistry they like the most, but if you are moving to another research centre for a couple of years and that is likely to be in a different country you better like both the chemistry and the people you are working with/for. I was very interested about the reasons why my chemistry idols and other big names in chemistry decided to be chemists. I found answers that were not new to me and at the same time were comforting, the kind of: “I was motivated by a teacher”, “it is fun”, “everything around us is chemistry”, “I love working in the lab”, “I like creative challenges”. And I say comforting when other may say boring because I found others answers like “God directed me this way” and “the registered mail with my application to study biology never arrived at central admissions” you can take your own conclusions on those last ones. It would take many hours to analyse all the profiles published so far. I might do it sometime, but if someone else out there has the time and the dedication I am not claiming the rights for the idea. Just one additional comment/thought about one of the answers given to “if I could be anyone for a day, I would be…” that intrigued me the most, I saw in a few profiles answering that they would be Pharaoh Cheops and a my follow up question to them would be: Is it because you want your legacy to be comparable to the pyramids or because the number of postdoc-slaves you want?