Recently elected president of the International Union of Crystallography, Gautam Desiraju, talks to the RSC journal CrystEngComm, about the lack of support for science and the growth of crystal engineering.

Desiraju was born in Madras, India. He received his BSc at the University of Bombay in 1972 and PhD at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, US, in 1976. After two years at the Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester, US, he joined the faculty at the University of Hyderabad, India. Now, he works at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

Why did you want to become a scientist?
I always liked chemistry; I was fascinated by it. During my first lab experiment, I remember thinking I didn’t want to do anything else. I was very lucky that I had the opportunity to do what I liked.

What projects are you working on at the moment?
So many projects that I have lost count! I have at least 10-15 projects underway in my group. We are very excited about nanoindentation, which is a new technique that allows us to experimentally compare the interaction strengths and monitor anisotropy of molecular crystals. This requires a very good student as it is a very laborious process – you need to know the faces of the crystal really well.

What do you think will be the next big breakthrough in your field?
If I knew what it was, I would be doing it! The beauty of scientific research is that you never know. If you could predict the next breakthrough, everyone would have got there.

How do you think crystal engineering will develop in the next couple of years?
There is no doubt that crystal engineering has spread far and wide. Unlike other areas in crystallography, it has attracted lots of people and interest, even though it is hard. Big ideas in chemistry are sustained when there is a commercial application because this brings in money to attract research. Crystal engineering is very lucky as areas like metal-organic frameworks and pharmaceuticals are very big and have lots of money, and so there is lots of interest. The commercial applications and the challenge are an irresistible temptation. No subject addressed by the both the RSC and ACS can be small.

According to the evolutionary model, it is the survival of the fittest and so the not so good areas of science will die out because of the lack of support. These are not good times for science and we do need to worry about it. However, the future is very bright for crystal engineering, as the pharmaceutical industry sustains the organic research and the chemical industry sustains the metal-organic framework research.

Read more here.


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