The Who, What, When, Where and Why of Chemistry
Chemistry is not a world unto itself. It is woven firmly into the fabric of the rest of the world, and various fields, from literature to archeology, thread their way through the chemist's text.
I vividly remember the first time I met a Nobel Prize winner. I was a graduate student in my 3rd year, and Roald Hoffman had recently won the Prize in chemistry (1981). A group of us went up with our research advisor (who had worked with Hoffman as an undergraduate) to hear him speak at a symposium at USC. On the drive up we were briefed as to behavior - do not speak unless spoken to. Frankly, we were happy enough to be out of the lab as well as treated to lunch (and to a terrific speaker). Lunch was at picnic tables in an outdoor courtyard - the grad students all clustered at a table on the edge. Imagine our surprise (and delight) when Hoffman joined us at the table, and spent lunch asking us what we were doing for research, and what excited us most about chemistry. I, at least, left with the sense that I was an interesting part of the chemical community -- even if a very junior one.
The Noble organization and Honeywell are offering the opportunity to anyone to ask a question of Nobel winners. The next live broadcast is Tuesday, March 2 at 11:15am (-6hrs GMT), when you can hear Robert Grubbs, who won the chemistry prize in 2005 for his discovery of olefin metathesis (a method to rearrange carbon-carbon double bonds using metal catalysts). I wrote my oral exam proposal on olefin metathesis in 1982 - I was fascinated then, and am still, with these atomic level architectural changes.