Interview with Sason Shaik: The magic of chemistry

Sason Shaik talks to Yuandi Li about doing chemistry in an aircraft shelter, inspiring youngsters and the importance for chemists to sell themselves

Sason Shaik

Sason Shaik is professor of chemistry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. He is well known as a proponent of valence bond theory, has contributed much to its revival and is also noted for his work on charge shift and ferromagnetic bonding. He is an avid promoter of chemistry and gives public lectures about its importance.

What inspired you to get into chemistry?

From an early age, I started taking an interest in chemistry. I have no idea why – my parents didn’t buy me a kit and there was nothing to push me in this direction. I simply went to pharmacies and photography stores where you could buy all kinds of chemicals and I started mixing them. Most of the time I didn’t know what I was doing because I had not yet learnt any chemistry, but I was fascinated by colour changes, or what I call the ‘magic of chemistry’. My interest became stronger when I started learning chemistry because I had very good teachers.

You had the chance to pursue writing, which is also something you enjoy. Have you ever thought what might have happened if you’d taken that route?

I don’t know. I still write poetry and I publish some. The other possibility is that I would have been a writer, because I like expressing myself in an accurate way. In poetry, you have to say something in a single phrase, you can’t waste words. So I guess either a writer or a poet. But probably I’m a better chemist.

You have mentioned that your poetry is something you feel has benefited your research. Why is that?

Well, I think in poetry, you really have to have tremendous insight about whatever you’re writing, because you have to express something in four or five short lines. And this is something that I find myself trying to exercise in my science. This is also how ideas come to me when I think about complex problems. My brain has learnt somehow to summarise the final outcome of my thinking in terms of a sentence and I will go and check it. Also, my thinking is very visual and mathematical equations speak to me via molecules and molecular motions. In poetry you’re playing with imagery and a way to express it so everyone can feel what you feel.

You can find the whole interview here

Have a look at Sason’s recent articles in PCCP and Faraday Discussions

Water as biocatalyst in cytochrome P450

Devesh Kumar, Ahmet Altun, Sason Shaik and Walter Thiel

Faraday Discuss., 2011, Advance Article, DOI: 10.1039/C004950F

Valence bond all the way: From the degenerate H-exchange to cytochrome P450

Sason Shaik

Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2010, 12, 8706-8720

Valence bond modelling and density functional theory calculations of reactivity and mechanism of cytochrome P450 enzymes: thioether sulfoxidation

Sason Shaik, Yong Wang, Hui Chen, Jinshuai Song and Rinat Meir

Faraday Discuss., 2010, 145, 49-70

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