Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Reactions: Felice Grandinetti

Felice Grandinetti is in the Department for Innovation in Biological, Agro-food and Forest systems (DIBAF) of the Università della Tuscia, Italy, and works on the computational investigation of the structure, stability, and reactivity of simple inorganic species. The studied systems are in general of fundamental interest, and play also an active role, for example, in environmental and plasma chemistry.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I was always fascinated by the atomic theory of matter, and by the possibility of interpreting macroscopic observations by the properties of invisible objects. However, when I had to choose my University courses, I initially ruled out chemistry. I believed that it was essentially a practical science, and I am not so able with my hands! However, I learned about theoretical and computational chemistry, and the possibilities offered by these disciplines. I therefore decided to attempt the road of computational chemistry. On the way, however, I realized that the most exciting opportunities come from the combination between theory and experiment.

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

I always had, and I still have, a great passion for classic languages, especially Latin and Greek. Thus, if not a chemist, I would like to be a classic philologist. Besides their intrinsic interest, these languages open the direct fruition of literary masterpieces. In addition, as a Roman citizen, it is nearly impossible to resist the temptation to learn Latin!

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

I am now working on the chemistry of the noble gases, especially by theoretical methods but also in collaboration with experimental teams. I think that the chemistry of these elements is still posing fascinating questions, and I hope in particular to find novel compounds and bonding modes.

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

Among chemists, I would certainly choose Linus Pauling. He was able to combine simple chemical intuition with rigorous theoretical and computational methods, and I believe that he had a greatest impact on the modern view of chemistry. He was also a really special person, and the winning of two Nobel Prizes (Chemistry and Peace) is a clear witness. Among non chemists, I would like to meet Socrates. He did not write anything, but his life and thought have permeated the western culture.

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

I did an experiment a couple of years ago in collaboration with colleagues working in the field of mass spectrometry and ion chemistry. Inspired by theoretical calculations, we were so fortunate to observe a first example of chemical species with a xenon-germanium bond: an exciting experience of predictions and observations working in concert.

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

I would take the “Auto da fé” by Elias Canetti and the 32 Sonate for Piano by L. van Beethoven.

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

I would like to see interviewed chemists who make reactions under less conventional environments such as the gas phase, the cold matrices, and superfluid helium. The results obtained under these conditions are somewhat different from those obtained in solution, and I feel that many “classical” chemists are still unaware of the exciting opportunities which come from these alternative methodologies.

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    Daniel Efford said:

    A sharply intellectual man. I appreciate the desire to learn Latin; pulling the veil of English dominance from the works of polymaths, philosophers and mathematicians of the days of Latin.