When I asked Dr. John Nail, chemistry professor, if I could interview him for a feature article, he warned me that he is the most boring person on campus. I quite disagree.
Q: I hear you have cats. Tell me about them.
A: Stray, homeless cats tend to find me, so when I have cats (yes, plural) show up on my doorstep, I take them in. Right now, I have two. Three showed up together years ago. I named them after computer operating systems. One is Tux because the symbol for Linux is a penguin, and he reminded us of that. One is ME. He’s an attention whore, so I thought it was appropriate to name him after Windows. The last one is Jag, after Mac OS.something. We’ve named other cats after chemists.
Q: What did you do before coming to OCU?
A: I taught chemistry at OU.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: It’s been so long since I’ve done anything for fun, I’ve forgotten. I gave up most of most of my hobbies when I came here. I used to brew beer and wine.
Q: If you chose another profession, what would it be?
A: I honestly don’t know what else I’d be doing because I was never good at anything else. If I wasn’t teaching chemistry, I would probably be in a lab working as a chemist. The only other profession that I’m familiar with is farming, and that’s just not economically viable for most people anymore.
Q: What is your favorite element?
A: Arsenic. I did a lot of arsenic chemistry when I was doing my dissertation research. Arsenic has such a dark reputation. I think it’s appropriate. It’s interesting that phosphorus is an essential element, and you go one down, and it’s arsenic, which is a deadly poison.
Q: What is something that very few people know about you?
A: Probably a lot. Anything worth mentioning, I don’t know. I hate social media.
Q: If you could only have one piece of glassware for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A: Oh, Jesus. That’s like asking a carpenter to use one tool. Obviously, some pieces of glassware like beakers and flasks are important. Probably my favorite is a separatory funnel.
Q: What is your dream vacation?
A: To be able to do research in a really well-stocked laboratory for as much time as I wanted to spend there.
Q: What is the worst gift you’ve ever received?
A: I don’t remember bad gifts. I remember good gifts.
Q: What is your favorite song?
A: Never really thought about it
Q: If you were an Olympic athlete, what sport would you compete in?
A: Probably one of the shooting sports. I used to shoot pistol marksmanship years ago. It’s good because it really makes you focus on the here and now and block everything out of your brain.
Q: Do you like to dance?
A: No, I have no rhythm or coordination. Unfortunately, I have allergy issues, and watching things like frantic movement makes my head hurt. I also grew up in a congregation that thought dancing was the devil.
Q: Who or what is your inspiration?
A: Just surviving is my inspiration. I don’t know that I could come up with a mentor or or role model. There are some people I admire, most of whom are retired now. I like chemists who do really good research and who really see a field that nobody else has seen yet. I admire people who see opportunities that others don’t.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to the entire campus, what would it be?
A: Don’t trust what you’ve been told. Do your own damn research. One of my students complained that I was not teaching climate change dogma. I said that my job is to tell people to think – not what to think.
Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: Probably The Shawshank Redemption. You can give up or fight back, and I prefer to fight back.
Q: How do you relax after a hard day?
A: Usually, I just go home and crash out. The only thing I do for relaxation is just stupid news aggregator websites. I get ideas for class from these things sometimes. I probably spend way too much time online on sites. There’s a site called Fark (similar to Reddit). Someone called it an antisocial media. I like those. The only other thing is some genealogy research, although I’ve really gotten bored with that.
Q: What is your happiest moment?
A: Seeing the lightbulb go off when students get a difficult complex topic.
Q: What is one scientific discovery that you would like to see made in your lifetime?
A: Nuclear fusion has been a holy grail of energy research. We’ve been 10 years away from having nuclear fusion for the last 50 years. If we could get that done, that’d be good. In my own field, I’d like to see someone explain why life developed around one set of amino acids and not the mirror image set.
Q: Would you consider yourself more of a gardener or a cook?
A: I have done some gardening. I usually don’t have the patience to stay on top of it and remember what needs to be done. I do cook, so I guess I’ll pick that. I usually cook Cajun.
Q: What is the most vivid memory from your childhood?
A: I honestly don’t remember most of my childhood. That was so long ago. I’m not a person who looks back.
Comment below to suggest someone for the next Feature Friday.