Having recently written about the benefits and serendipitous connections that one can make on social media, and twitter in particular, it feels mightily ironic that the day of the chemistry Nobel announcements (see my news article) for once I didn't get ahead of the crowd this year in announcing the laureates as soon as the Nobel committee released the news as I was playing record producer to a fellow musician and totally offline on the morning of the announcements. It was given to one of my oldest contacts - Scottish born, Fraser Stoddart, currently at Northwestern University in the USA - and two others about whose work I have also written many times over the years, Jean Pierre Sauvage and Ben Feringa. For twenty-odd years I'd been awaiting the announcement that Sir Fraser would be a Nobelist and I musically missed it.
Stoddart's work has nevertheless fascinated me from the very beginnings of my career as a science journalist back in the early 1990s. At the time, he and others were starting on their odysseys of building molecular machines and this was perfect substance for a young science writer hoping to capture the attention of the editors at New Scientist, Science, etc and the national papers. Indeed, many a time I wrote news articles about the latest rings on strings and light-controlled molecular shuttles and, of course, Stoddart's topical molecule, Olympiadane, back in 1994. So much of it was always worthy of Nobel attention needless to say.
I've met Sir Fraser a few times over the years too (as well as corresponding by fax). Early on when he visited the Cambridge offices of the Royal Society of Chemistry and then at various chemical conferences and symposia. Always charming, always enthusiastic about the science and perhaps even more so about those serendipitous connections. If memory serves, he was always very keen on the potential for international collaboration across Europe and the free movement of scientists and students alike from across the continent would benefit us all. Indeed, I believe I quoted him on this topic in a Science feature article about European cohesion around the time the EU was being formally established.
Recently, I noticed he wrote an editorial entitled "Better in than out" for C&EN magazin and was widely quoted by science writers with a chemical bent and those interested in the impact of so-called "Brexit" on science in the UK and beyond. Stoddart has been a "Eurenthiast" for a long time, long before the Maastricht Treaty even: "At the outset of my academic career in Sheffield, it became clear to me that the quality of scientific research in England could stand to benefit from embracing Continental Europe." He welcomed European students from as early as 1984 into his research group. Moreover, he has on several occasions pointed out that the arrival of continental Europeans in his research group over the years had a positive effect on the Brits who "raised their game and played their part" as well as simply increasing diversity, perspectives and ideas.
I've not written about Stoddart's chemistry for a while, at least not until the news story for Materials Today announcing the 2016 Nobel Prize, but I have followed his molecular machinations and his shuttling from Sheffield to Birmingham to UCLA and then to Northwestern University where he has been Prof since March 2014. From his view across "The Pond" he sees the knife-edge vote the UK made to leave the EU as worse than a really bad move and concludes in his C&EN piece that "Time is not on the side of the EU...It would be best for all concerned in Europe if governments within the EU were to speak out with one voice against the UK's knife-edge vote to leave the EU and say, 'No, you can't.'" I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately for science and international collaboration this seems increasingly unlikely.
As a PS to my article, Sir Fraser has recently pointed out that all 2016 "American" Nobel laureates are immigrants..."I think the resounding message that should go out all around the world is that science is global," Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, one of three laureates in chemistry, told The Hill on Monday.
David Bradley blogs at Sciencebase Science Blog and tweets @sciencebase, he is author of the popular science book "Deceived Wisdom".