A Lifetime of Chemistry

Tim Clark is a jolly looking fellow: he’s tall, he’s round, and his beard is white. When he speaks, a low rumble overtakes the room and you listen to what he has to say. Tonight, he’s telling stories of Professor Paul von Ragué Schleyer.

Paul Schleyer, at the age of 83, is still a practicing chemist. He has several students and teaches a graduate course in the fall. He’s written many technical books–along with one, as of yet, unpublished memoir–and has published over a thousand papers. He is an expert in synthesis and computational chemistry. It’s fair to say, he’s had a good career.

Tim Clark was there when he left Princeton for a small German university–a move that confused many. “I know what lured him,” Clark says. “I’ve seen her.” The next slide shows a large computer in a cabinet. Clark tells us that it has 0.2 MB of memory. This is what Schleyer had left the prominent university for: a machine with the computing power of a modern wristwatch. The switch was, obviously, successful. Schleyer’s reputation only increased as he tackled the new field of computational chemistry.

After discussing some of the work he and Schleyer had done together, Clark showed a series of quotes by famous scientists. Most were mocking chemists. The crowd had a good laugh. The final slide had this quote from Justus von Liebig, “The loveliest theories are being overthrown by these damned experiments; it’s no fun being a chemist anymore.”

Schleyer followed Clark with a short speech thanking him for the presentation. He told the story of how Clark came to work for him on adamantane, but never got around to it. He read a passage from a technical book by Norman Allinger which contained an anecdote of Clark being impressed by the speed of molecular mechanics. He ended his speech with a sentence that typifies his research career, “I am still a strong proponent for fundamental research; I think its natural home is in universities.”

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3 thoughts on “A Lifetime of Chemistry

  1. Pingback: A Lifetime of Chemistry | Science Communication Blog Network

  2. Pingback: Mail-order Super-computer | Practicing Science

  3. Pingback: The Week In Science (Feb 23 – Mar 3) | Science Communication Blog Network

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