Sir Derek Barton (1983) - Creativity in Organic Chemistry

Sir Derek Barton (1983)

Creativity in Organic Chemistry

Sir Derek Barton (1983)

Creativity in Organic Chemistry

Comment

In the long history of the Lindau meetings, 1983 must have been a good year. One reason is the special set of a little more than 10 Nobel Laureates that accepted the invitation and participated in the meeting. But in the lectures one can also find references to Count Lennart Bernadotte, the main driving spirit behind the meetings. In this lecture, e.g., Derek Barton discloses that he had planned to give a straight chemistry lecture with many chemical formulas, but that Count Lennart had asked him instead to tell the audience how to win a Nobel Prize when you are not yet 31. From my own memories of Count Lennart, this would have been a typical request to speakers that the Count thought could improvise. And at 64, Sir Derek certainly shows that he knows how to do just that. Not only does he give the young part of the audience good advice, but he also starts out by reading a limerick on creativity composed for him by another speaker, John Cornforth. So what is particular with the age 31? It turns out that Derek Barton published his first important paper on the conformation of organic molecules in 1950, at the age of 31. This may have been the most important paper for the Nobel Chemistry Committee and, if so, the 20 years that elapsed between the actual research work and the Nobel Prize have become quite typical during the second half of the 20th Century. So the question put by Count Lennart might have been phrased “how to make an important research work when you are not yet 31”. Sir Derek’s advice is to be motivated, work hard, read a lot, be multidisciplinary and most importantly, think. Since his opinion is that Professors of Organic Chemistry think too little, his advice to the young audience is to go back to their universities and tell their professors to think more. It would be interesting to know what fraction of the audience actually followed this particular advice!

Anders Bárány

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