Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Reactions – Miguel Garcia-Garibay

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I was a beginning pharmacy-biology major in Mexico when, on a Saturday morning, a friend asked me to help him with work related to his natural products chemistry research. Following a manual, and with his help, I set up and ran a steam distillation extraction and analyzed fractions by TLC while he was doing something else. The whole process was so absorbing and entertaining that by the time I remembered that I had something to do that afternoon, it was already well into the night. About ten hours had gone by and I was having a lot of fun. That night I realized that chemistry research doesn’t feel like work (…and I hate work).

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

I would have been an archeologist. I like history, digging, classifying and solving puzzles.

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

There are many more questions and challenges in the world today than all chemists are capable of solving. We need to attract more talent and many more resources. While it is obvious that our society does not invest enough in the creation, preservation, and distribution of knowledge, we cannot expect poorly informed societies to make a significant investment in something they do not understand. In addition to having fun at work, we could take responsibility for not having the public engaged in all aspects of chemistry, and then do something about it.

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

Leonardo Da Vinci, because he may be the most amazing human being on record.

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

About six years ago my research group started work in the area of crystalline molecular machines. The project seemed so risky that I did all the initial work. Eventually, several students took over and have done wonders with it. However, I run emission spectra under cryogenic conditions regularly. We have a 15 year old (but still very nice) setup and I am one of the few experts in my group.

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

Any book worth reading multiple times will have to be poetry. I am a Pablo Neruda and Federico Garcia Lorca fan. For the CD, I’d bring a Mandarin language course. It would be the greatest irony that, with Spanish, English, and Mandarin I could speak to a significant fraction of the world’s population, yet there would be no one to talk to. Learning Chinese would be fun and it would take a while.

Miguel Garcia-Garibay is in an organic chemist in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles and works on the development of stereoselective solvent-free synthesis and on the design and testing of crystalline molecular machines.

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