Successful first Chemistry Tour

Meeting of chemistry students with Nobel laureates will be repeated next year

25 November 2014

Last Wednesday 19 November Science Park Amsterdam received two rather distinguished guests when Nobel laureates in Chemistry Arieh Warshel (2013) and Roald Hoffmann (1981) met with chemistry bachelor students. During the very first Amsterdam 'Chemistry Tour' both the students and the laureates experienced an eventful afternoon.

Arieh Warshel and Roald Hoffmann travelled to Amsterdam on the invitation of the Holland Research School of Molecular Chemistry (HRSMC) which celebrated its 20th anniversary symposium later that week. The University of Amsterdam (UvA) seized the opportunity and organised a 'Chemistry Tour' where chemistry bachelor students could meet the Nobel laureates. 

Students from UvA, VU University and Leiden University (the HRSMC partner universities) interviewed the laureates on their groudbreaking research, moderated by Martijn van Calmthout, science editor of the Dutch national newspaper De Volkskrant. 

Chemistry Tour 2014

The Amsterdam Chemistry Tour will, hopefully, become an annual highlight for chemistry bachelor students. Photo by Hanne Nijhuis.

Funny Molecules

The students turned out to be quite interested in the experience of winning a Nobel prize, leading to some interesting facts about the two great men. For instance Roald Hoffmann, who received his prize 33 years ago, had obviously gotten used to the fame while Arieh Warshel was living a rather new life science he received the prize last year.

Hoffmann won the Nobel prize in 1981 for the development of theories concerning the course of chemical reactions. Besides being a great scientist he is also a poet and philosopher, which showed in his beautifully constructed answers. One of the students asked for his favourite funny molecule and Hoffmann translated this question to 'Can science contain humour?'. His answer was a clear 'yes' since indeed a chemist can synthesize 'funny molecules'.

Chemistry Tour 2014 Roald Hoffmann

Left to right: Martijn van Calmthout, Arieh Warshel, Roald Hoffmann. Photo by Hanne Nijhuis.

In love with chemistry

Some special facts about Warshel were that he grew up in a kibbutz and served in the Israeli army. In the mean-time he pursued what he was good at: chemistry. But it was only at the end of his PhD that he really fell in love with chemistry.

On top of that Warshel told of his wife believing so much in him winning the Nobel prize that she bought flowers on the day of the announcement. She turned out to be right when in 2013 Warshel received the Nobel prize for developing multiscale models for computational modelling of molecules.

Chemistry Tour 2014 Student question

The chemistry bachelor students had been well prepared during special lessons in the weeks preceding the Chemistry Tour. Photo by Hanne Nijhuis.

The Chemistry Tour ended with a clear advice for the young students: Do what you are best at. The two Nobel laureates were thanked with a thunderous applause, attesting the great impact the Nobel prize winners had made on the young chemists. The success of this first edition strengthens the ambition of the organisers to make the Chemistry Tour with Nobel laureates an annual highlight of the Amsterdam chemistry curriculum.

Thanks to Tessel Bouwens for her contribution.

Holland Research School of Molecular Chemistry

Published by  HIMS