Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Reactions: Philippe Zinck

Philippe Zinck is at the Catalysis and Solid State Chemistry Unit, University Lille 1 (France) and works on polymerization catalysis, with a focus on functional and bio-based polymers. He goes on Twitter by @PhilippeZinck.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I studied materials science, because at that time the materials science department of my college was more oriented toward research. I did the first year of my masters as an exchange student in Berlin, and the macromolecular chemistry teacher was really excellent, so I fell in love with that specialty. When I went back to France I chose the polymer chemistry department for the second year of my masters and my lab training period, and I stayed for my PhD.

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

Well I think I could have been a researcher in many other fields like physics or biology for example. What really makes me happy in my job is the research adventure. A bit like the ancient explorers, the researcher is discovering new territories, and that’s what makes me happy and excited when I go to work every morning (or almost).

3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?

We are just starting a biorefinery project for making bio-based polymers, with several industrial and academic partners. It’s a 10 year project, and you rarely have projects that last so long in our profession. Honestly, I don’t know where it will lead, but it gives me the opportunity to work on issues in society. I hope it will be a success story.

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

Pierre-Gilles de Gennes. I find the way he conducted research fascinating. A lot of his discoveries were achieved through analogies between different research fields. Besides, he was also an excellent teacher, and did a lot to raise high school student’s interest for research. He also took an interest in societal issues. I had the chance to give a seminar in his lab several years ago and to meet him briefly, but not to have dinner with him!

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

I had to open my lab-book to check. It was in July 2010, I was trying to polymerize some carbohydrate derivatives in a new way, but it did not succeed. These kinds of reactions almost never work, and that would have demoralized the students, so I used to do them myself.

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

I’m hesitating between a world encyclopedia of wines and a longboard user manual, but the latter will definitely be more useful on a desert island! For the music, I’ll take one of Pink Floyd’s albums, probably Atom Heart Mother, a fantastic brass instruments album.

7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?

Well, I think that green chemistry is more than ever an essential issue for our society, for many reasons that I will not explain here. Scientists from this area should be interviewed on Reactions, like Barry Trost for example, among many others.



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