Public lecture on the beauty and purpose of curiosity-driven research

Apr 15th, 2013

Kelly Foss

Public lecture on the beauty and purpose of curiosity-driven research

A leading international expert in molecular chemistry will deliver the 29th Job lecture at Memorial University.

On April 29, Dr. Helmut Schwarz, a professor of chemistry at the Berlin University of Technology and president of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation will present The Magic of Molecular Soccer: Beauty and Purpose of Curiosity-driven Basic Research.

Dr. Schwarz considers his topic from the perspective of scientists who wondered if fullerene cavities can be packed with something, and then went ahead and did just that.

“If chemists or physicists had been asked in the early 1990s whether atoms could be introduced into fullerene cavities, for example, by collision experiments, the answer would have been a resounding ‘no’ as these experiments involve highly excited transients that decay within picoseconds,” said Dr. Schwarz. 

“Today, after more than 20 years of fullerene chemistry, this can be carried out by elaborate chemical surgery. In a breathtaking experiment, we succeeded in the inclusion of one helium atom (and later, two atoms) in the soccer ball-shaped molecule without bursting the collision complex.”

Further well-designed experiments were required to convince even the hard skeptics that the interpretation of these results, which contradicted standard textbook chemistry and physics, was correct. Dr. Schwarz says these experiments, complemented by theoretical work, and further considerations eventually lead to the central question ‘Of what use is basic research?’

He’ll attempt to answer that question during the lecture, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Bruneau Centre for Research Innovation (IIC-2001) on the St. John’s Campus.

This year, in addition to the public lecture, two research lectures will take place with Dr. Schwarz. On Tuesday, Apr. 30 he will deliver Oxidative Dehydrosulfurization and Selective Bond-Activation by “Roll-over” Cyclometalated Pt(II) Complexes: Theory and Experiment in Concert, at 10 a.m. in C-2004.

Then at 2 p.m. he will present Chemistry with Methane: Concepts Rather than Recipes in A-1043. The Department of Chemistry’s annual student awards reception will follow this event.