Spring 2017

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He’s No Slugabed

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The Right Chemistry

Fraser Stoddart: Lighting Up Life on the Farm

Nobel Week


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He’s No Slugabed

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During Nobel Week in Stockholm in December 2016, J. Fraser Stoddart was asked by the Nobel organization, “What does it take to become a Nobel laureate?”

Three things, he replied. “You need the strength of a horse, the hide of an elephant and the work ethic of a honeybee.”

The first requirement means that “you need to stay fit and eat well,” says Stoddart. The second, having the hide of an elephant, means that “you have to be able to take the barbs and the criticism and, for the most part, ignore it.”

And the third requirement, the work ethic of a honeybee, Stoddart says, is something that he learned while growing up on a tenant farm in Scotland for the first 25 years of his life — with precious little sleep.

 “On the farm, milking would start at 5, so we had to be up by 4:30 a.m.,” he recalls. “From the time I was young I had the training that sleep wasn’t something you felt was your right.”

He hasn’t wasted much time on shuteye ever since, preferring to spend long days and nights at his lab, doing research and editing papers and reports written by his lab group.

“The comment I often make is, if you have a sleep pattern that lets you sleep eight hours a day and you live to age 75, then you will have slept 25 years of life.

“You can do a lot — more than you think,” he often tells young scientists and students. “It’s not just about hours. It’s about efficiency and making sure that every minute counts — and taking decisions that allow those working around you to make every minute count.”

Stoddart says that when he was an assistant professor, he was frequently frustrated by the system withholding things — resources or information — that prevented him from moving forward. “What I learned from that is that good leadership involves sharing information and communication not only well but very quickly.”

Clearly, he’s not one to sleep on it, when it comes to making a decision. — S.R.