Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Reactions – Jagadese ‘JJ’ Vittal

JJ Vittal is in the Department of Chemistry at the National University of Singapore, and works on solid state and materials chemistry.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I was introduced to chemistry by accident. My older brother advised me to take chemistry as my major for my bachelor’s degree so that I could get a job in his chemical company. However, I was overqualified when I applied to his company after I had obtained my MSc in chemistry. When I was at a different job interview I was advised to do PhD when they came to know that I was offered admission at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and I had no choice but to take it!

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

I was very much interested and good at mathematics during my school days. Probably I would have been a math teacher in one of the schools in India or a bank employee.

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

We are working on various aspects of solid state chemistry and materials chemistry. Currently, we are investigating some interesting solid state reactivities of metallomacrocycles and coordination polymers. Unexpected, unusual and unpredictable results always excite researchers. We hope that these studies will throw more light into the basic understanding on how an atom and a group of atoms in the solids respond to external stimuli during structural transformation.

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

I wish to dine with the great Indian mathematical legend Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar (1887-1920). Originally I had known that he was a mathematical genius, but I learned a lot about him when I read the book The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel. Ramanujan lived indeed his life in mathematics and for mathematics. He was also a strict vegetarian, a diet which I have no problem with!

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

I usually check the crystals grown by my students. I do solve and refine crystal structures on a regular basis. I used to collect the crystallographic data but not anymore! Last time I really did something in the wet lab was about 14 years ago when my undergraduate student didn’t know how to synthesize (Ph4P)[Co(SC{O}Ph)3] and isolate the product.

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

I don’t want to do any serious reading in a deserted island! I read the famous historical Tamil novel Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki long time ago. I would be happy to read this again, which is about the story of Rajaraja Chola, one of the greatest kings of the Chola Dynasty in South India. I love to listen to 70’s and 80’s Tamil and Hindi songs as well as English pop music. Taking just one music album may not be possible. If you insist, I would be happy to take Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

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

I would suggest Prof. Richard J. Puddephatt who is an outstanding and wonderful organometallic chemist. For the past 10 years or so he has turned his attention to supramolecular chemistry and crystal engineering. I know Dick well and he has been a long time collaborator. I would like to hear his views on some of these questions posed here.

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