Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Fame (I’m gonna live forever…)

A few nights ago I was talking with my wife about fame (i.e., what makes someone a ‘superstar’) – it’s pretty easy to understand why so many actors/actresses, musicians, and writers are household names (whether or not you like Ben Affleck or Shakira, many people know who they are…) The average person might not be able to name a living artist or dancer, though I bet a number of people would say “”“>Christo and Jeanne-Claude” and “”“>Baryshnikov”…

But if you asked the average person to name a famous living chemist, I wonder if they could name anyone… (This is probably not true in Japan, since Nobel laureates have a unique “”">celebrity status," but in most other countries I wonder what the average person would say…)

So the million dollar question is can anything be done about this? (A related question is should anything be done about this, but for the sake of argument, I’m going to assume that something should be done about this…) Movies are certainly the easiest way to inform the general public: Awakenings, A Beautiful Mind, and Kinsey helped popularize the names “”">Oliver Sacks," “”">John Nash," and “”">Alfred Kinsey."

So do we need a movie about Barry Sharpless? Or, as someone suggested on “In the Pipeline,” should The Billion Dollar Molecule be made into a movie? I don’t know about you, but I’d watch a movie about RB Woodward – from all the stories I’ve heard, he sounded like an interesting guy…


Joshua Finkelstein (Associate Editor, Nature)


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    Stuart said:

    There was a play about Feynman that starred Alan Alda – I saw this in LA a few years back… was an enjoyable night out. Not a chemist, but a Nobel Laureate with quite a following.

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    Uncle Al said:

    Chemists make stuff not things. Stuff is beneath notice: Ask any research administrator.

    Opinion in religion and entertainment can be interminably argued. Physics enjoys vast crackpot mobs because stupidity is self-empowerment in a non-Newtonian universe. Saying “only addled pharma prescribes an unsaturated gamma-lactone (rofecoxib; Vioxx) as a chronic administration drug” conveys no meaning to the mob. Pendant amino groups on lysine residues, guys. You should have been thinking isostere.

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    Joshua said:

    I must admit that I hadn’t thought about plays – I remember hearing about QED when it came out. Glad to hear it was good…

    Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile (featuring Albert Einstein), Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen (featuring Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg), and Carl Djerassi’s & Roald Hoffmann’s Oxygen (featuring Joseph Priestley, Antoine Lavoisier, and Carl Wilhelm Scheele) also come to mind…

    There was also an opera about Oppenheimer

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    Novice Chemist said:

    I think there are many stories to be told in science, especially in the biological/chemical realm. If I were to pitch three, here we go:

    1. A bildungsroman about graduate school in the sciences. (I’m sure this one already exists.)

    2. A movie that looks at life in the a high-pressure synthetic chemistry lab. In the great tradition of “Top Gun,” you couple a scientific triumph with the tragic death of one of the coworkers from either overwork, accident or suicide. You pick.

    3. A TV show that focuses on pharmaceutical research in a medical school. I suggest a little bit of everything science (med-chem, clinical research, biochemistry, etc.) thrown in with tragic patients, hot, brilliant doctors and a little comedy. Get the drama from both tying the success of the main character to bench success and academic politics.

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    dennis said:

    Anyone ever read a book by Carl Djerassi?

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    Joshua said:

    Dennis – I haven’t read any of Carl Djerassi’s books, but if you are in San Francisco during the Fall ACS meeting, you might want to stop by this session. Walter Gruenzweig will be discussing Djerassi’s literary works and the session will close with a ‘’’ rel="nofollow">Commentary and staged rehearsed reading from “PHALLACY” with actors from the American Conservatory Theatre.’ Unfortunately, I will be in transit on Sunday and will miss the whole session…