Guest Editor for InfoChem

As part of my internship at the Royal Society of Chemistry, I had the opportunity to be Editor of the January 2011 InfoChem (now renamed The Mole) issue. I wrote an editorial on China’s rare earth monopoly, on the importance of natural product synthesis in chemistry, and reported an interview with a chemist at BP.

InfoChem, January 2011

The success stories of our times

I’ve always loved reading the Readers’ Digest. Thanks to my mum and dad who have subscribed to it for the past twenty years. Apart from all the well-picked and topical articles, I always enjoyed reading their interviews. Recently, Suchitra sent me a link to an interview of Will Smith which was published in RD sometime ago. And after having read an RD interview after such a long time, I felt like reading more of them. I am sharing the most interesting bits of the interviews that I read:

Will Smith

RD: Have you ever thought about going back to college?
Smith: The things that have been most valuable to me I did not learn in school. Traditional education is based on facts and figures and passing tests — not on a comprehension of the material and its application to your life.

RD: Some would say there’s no reason to stay if a marriage isn’t good.
Smith: Once you say that, you’ve lost. With Jada, I stood up in front of God and my family and friends and said, “Till death do us part.”

RD: So getting to where you are is all just about running hard?
Smith: Most people you are going to be in competition with are not gonna give 100 percent.

RD: You work harder than the next guy?
Smith: I consider myself to be of basically average talent, right? What I have that other people do not have is a sick, obsessive, raw animal drive.

Jon Bon Jovi

RD: But then again you are always looking for new responsibilities.
JBJ: I never was one to rest on yesterday’s successes. I’m much more motivated to find new challenges.

RD: How do you feel today about your very first job selling women’s shoes? Is it something you’re ashamed of?
JBJ: Not at all

Michael J Fox

RD: You joke in your new book that you are fortunate to have married someone — actress Tracy Pollan — who is smarter and better looking than you. Do you think marital bliss boils down to that one choice: marrying the right person?
MJF:Obviously, that’s fundamental. But the key to our marriage is the capacity to give each other a break. And to realize that it’s not how our similarities work together; it’s how our differences work together. The least amount of judging we can do, the better off we are.

RD: Your last book, Always Looking Up, was about optimism. It’s the rare person who is as positive as you are. What’s your prescription for dealing with really negative, difficult people?
MJF: I think the scariest person in the world is the person with no sense of humor. I would say be patient with people who are negative, because they’re really having a hard time.

Hilary Swank

RD: Who instilled you with that belief in yourself?
Swank: My mom. She said, “You can do anything you want in life, Hilary, as long as you work hard enough. Don’t take no for an answer.” She didn’t want me to be afraid of taking life by the reins and making the most of it.

RD: There’s a lesson in that, right?
Swank: If you go into life with a good attitude, you’ll get more out of it.

Harrison Ford

RD: Your movies have grossed $3 billion. Is money all it’s cracked up to be?
Ford: Money is really only important if you don’t have any

Uma Thurman

Thurman: The purest relationship I have ever had, aside from with my children, is with my work. Whatever you give it, it gives you back double. That’s an unusual kind of relationship

RD: You’ve been at this for 20 years. Do you ever get tired of it?
Thurman: I’ve always approached work as a worker. Whatever it takes — endurance, discipline, practice, repetition, courage, working through it — I just have always been willing to pull myself up and try again. I’ve never taken success for granted.

Tom Cruise

RD: You’re lucky.
Cruise: I know.

Ok I admit these were all celebrity interviews. But I hope you enjoyed them nevertheless. 🙂

The big questions

Jean-Marie Lehn shared the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Donald Cram and Charles Pederson for their development and use of molecules with structure-specific interactions of high selectivity. He is more commonly known as the father of supramolecular chemistry. In the lecture that preceded this interview, he tried to explain the importance of supramolecular chemistry. “Chemistry is a bridge between Physics and Biology. It tries to explain how complexity arose from particulate matter”, he said with conviction.

Interview with Jean-Marie Lehn: Chemistry is trying to answer the biggest questions – Nature Lindau, 15 July 2010

Interview with Aubrey de Grey

Published at LabLit

Today, as the world looks at the great possibility of life extension it sees Aubrey de Grey lead the field from the front. He may not be the guy who has achieved all the great science that is trying to fight aging but he is certainly the one trying to make the choice available to our generation. He is often, and controversially so, is quoted to have said that “The first 1000 year old man is walking the earth now”.

It was a pleasure to hear him speak at the Oxford University Scientific Society (OUSS) recently. He is an interesting public speaker and his campaign against aging has attracted a lot of debate. His talk featured much more hard science than his TED talk. After which Aubrey opened the floor for questions. It was my longest Q & A session at an OUSS talk and one which was conducted with grace. He never rubbished a question, even if it was one of those common-sense questions. Sometimes the answers did not make complete sense because some words came from his mouth and just got lost in his beard. But apart from that this was amongst the best Aubrey talks I’ve seen.

After the Q & A, we had the rare opportunity for a personal interaction. But it’s alcohol first, after a glass of white wine and two glasses of red wine at the post-talk drinks, Aubrey was in a mood to hit the Lamb & Flag. At the pub, the questions ranged from aging to the gandolph beard to computer science (his formal education!) to alcohol. Here’s a short summary of the most interesting questions:

  • Q: So you moved from computer science to gerontology, why?

A de G: Because I met the right woman. There is a 19 year difference between us, I met her when she was 45 while I was at Cambridge. As scientists we spoke about science a lot. And we spoke a lot about the problem of aging and the more I read about it the more I got worked up about the problem. Now, 100,000 people die every day because of aging, which is not a joke

  • Q: What made you big in this field?

A de G: Luck has played an important role. When I wrote the first Bioessay in 1997, the editor of the journal was highly impressed with the essay and asked me to write a book.  I finished the book before the given deadline in Spring 1998 but the publishing house was in trouble. It took them a whole year to stand up on their feet and before they could publish my book they asked me to review it. In a year, I knew a lot more biology than before. I changed the bad job I had done into something that I am proud of even now.

  • Q: How come you rose so quickly in the ranks of biogerontologists?

A de G: I believe that scientists can change fields easily and sometimes make bigger impact in the new fields they enter. I think it’s because people who move do not look at the same problem from the traditional point-of-view. This enables them to come up with unique solutions. We are not trapped by dogma and if we are bold we can rise quickly.

  • Q: What gave you the confidence to be bold?

A de G: Boarding school made me an arrogant kid, Cambridge humbled me but allowed me to be bold yet not arrogant. This combined with my understanding of aging gave me the confidence to be a brave person. I also got the opportunity to interact with people well-established in the field and debate with them. That was the way I judged my knowledge about this area.

  • Q: Would you like to supervise students?

A de G: Oh no! Having students is like having kids. No thank you.

  • Q: Do you feel that you are not able to devote enough time to research?

A de G: No, I am happy doing what I am doing. I am speeding up research if not getting involved myself. I know that my work at the most will make these technologies available 10 years before time but in terms of the lives it will save, it would be a huge achievement. That’s what I work towards.

  • Q: What do you do to extend your own life?

A de G: As of now nothing, but I keep a close watch on my biological factors. Right now I am at a biological age of 29. I drink quite a lot but that’s because I have a good capacity to metabolise alcohol. It gives me energy. I also eat mars bars and candy. As soon as I see signs of deterioration I will stop.

By the end of this conversation, he was on his 3rd beer. The chat was so engrossing that we had to be kicked out of Lamb & Flag at mid-night that day. To end, I will quote Nick Bostrom from his TED talk, “Godspeed Aubrey de Grey and the likes. May these technologies be available to us soon!”

Akshat Rathi, Aubrey de Grey, Alex Flint