PROF REINOUT MEIJBOOM IS HEAD OF THE DEPARTMENT OF CHEMISTRY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF
JOHANNESBURG (UJ). HE DELIVERED A COMPELLING PROFESSORIAL INAUGURATION LECTURE IN NOVEMBER LAST YEAR. “In life, and in research, we are not following a linear road”, he said. “Many times, we find something serendipitously, showing us a side path”. Serendipity is the discovery of something you are not actively searching for. The word was derived from the medieval Persian story of the three princes of Serendip, who continued to discover things they were not looking for. Blue pill or red pill In the movie The Matrix (1999) the main character was offered the choice between a blue pill and a red pill. If you take the blue pill, you stay on the same road. Everything is as it was, and you continue the way things are. You stay in your comfort zone. If you take the red pill, you take the side road and stay in Wonderland where you can see how deep the rabbit hole goes. “When we discover these serendipitous side roads, we have to make a decision. We either follow the same road and ignore the discovery, or we take the side road to a completely different place”, explains Meijboom. “We have to make the decision though”. We need a fast reaction Most of Prof Meijboom’s research deals with catalysis. Catalysis is the process of increasing the rate of a chemical reaction by adding a substance called a catalyst, which is supposedly not consumed during the reaction. “Catalysis is, by definition, taking a different route to your destination”, he
PROF REINOUT MEIJBOOM Serendipity and
opportunities in chemistry
explains. “This different route is faster, but you have to take a completely different route, you have to take the side road”. The future of chemistry Prof Meijboom is positive about the bright outlook of the future of chemistry. “Recent developments have shown that chemistry could go digital”, he said. “We are already digitizing our teaching by using 3D printed molecular modelling kits for the first-year students. This brings the price of these kits down from approximately R200 to R10 and enables all our undergraduate students to better understand the geometrical concepts used in chemistry”. Expensive laboratory robotics is something of the past since the introduction of open source hardware on low-cost 3D printers.
examine more of the potential product space. Building the equipment for your research enables you to understand the hardware properly. Chances are you will be able to repair the hardware when it breaks down. It also allows you to expand the functionality of the equipment, when necessary. According to Meijboom, this could lead to a type of ‘scientific cottage industry’ where several small companies could produce the equipment for sale in South Africa. “Chemistry as a subject has a bright future here at UJ”, Meijboom concluded. “The merger of the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Applied Chemistry will create one of the largest Chemistry departments in Africa. This would encourage more collaboration between colleagues, and potentially increase the research output and drive the teaching towards excellence”.
UJ is busy building a liquid handling robot that could
Made with FlippingBook flipbook maker