Professor Francesco De Angelis, University of L’Aquila, Italy, and former president of the Italian Chemical Society (SCI), talks to Dr. Vera Koester for ChemViews Magazine about his involvement in the Italian Chemical Society, the history and importance of EuCheMS and ChemPubSoc Europe, about chemists whom he admires, and his motivation to get involved in society work, do research, and teach organic chemistry.
You were the president of the Italian Chemical Society from 2005 to 2007. What would you say have been the biggest changes of the society since then?
According to the statutes of the society, since 2011 when I ended my time as past-president, I was not anymore an official member of the Board of the Italian Chemical Society. Nevertheless, over the years, I have remained in close contact with and active in the society. For quite a few years, we have been moving towards becoming one of the big players in Italy as far as chemistry is concerned. This was not always the case in the past. It started probably with the president before me and then continued with the other presidents along the direction of an increasing involvement of the society as a whole in national and European arenas.
Today, the society is making even more connections with all of the main players in chemistry in Italy, for instance, with the National Research Council of Italy (CNR, Consiglio Nazionale Delle Ricerche), the Ministry of Education and Research, the Minister of Education, and with Federchimica – the Italian Federation of the Chemical Industry (Federazione Italiana dell’Industria Chimica).
In addition, our international connections are becoming stronger. We have a strong connection with EuCheMS and with all the major national chemical societies in Europe, like the German Chemical Society (GDCh). Together with the GDCh we just created the Primo Levi Prize, which was awarded for the first time last year. The prize was presented to Roald Hoffmann in Berlin, Germany, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the GDCh.
We are also connected with the European Chemistry Thematic Network (ECTN), a consortium of higher education institutions and national chemical societies from 29 European countries and six other countries from outside Europe. I was the president of ECTN from 2013 to 2015. In addition, we are connected with ChemPubSoc Europe, a partnership of 16 European chemical societies, through which we publish a family of high-quality journals together.
How are you connected to ChemPubSoc Europe? And how important is it for the Italian Chemical Society?
From the very beginning, I served very intensely in ChemPubSoc Europe as the representative of the Italian Chemical Society and since 2006 as president of one of the four Editorial Societies. [An Editorial Society is a group of ChemPubSoc Europe journals under a responsible ChemPubSoc Europe delegate, the president.] About 20 years ago, together with six other European chemical societies, we started to publish our own journals. Today we have a family of 14 journals and ChemViews Magazine. Very recently we started to designate lectures at some conferences as ChemPubSoc Europe lectures. We use the royalties from the journals for prizes and grants.
You also have been very active in EuCheMS for a very long time.
For a very long time, yes. Since 2004/2005. In the very beginning, I was part of what was called the strategy board of EuCheMS (European Association for Chemical and Molecular Sciences). This board was composed of representatives of those societies that were sponsoring EuCheMS with a voluntary contribution. Those were the German Chemical Society (GDCh), the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), the French Chemical Society (SCF), and the Italian Chemical Society (SCI).
EuCheMS, previously called the Federation of European Chemical Societies (FECS) was then based in London, UK, hosted by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). In 2010, if I remember correctly, it was established in Brussels, Belgium. I then became a member of the Board and the treasurer for two terms, for a total of seven years, and then I was appointed to the Board for one more year to facilitate the exchange with the new treasurer. I stepped down at the beginning of this year.
Of course, I was involved in the organization of the 2nd EuCheMS Chemical Congress held in Turin, Italy, in 2008. EuCheMS organizes biennial EuCheMS Chemistry Congresses. The 7th will be held this summer in Liverpool, UK.
How has EuCheMS changed over the years?
EuCheMS has changed a lot, particularly when it changed its name and legal identity and moved from the RSC in London to Brussels. EuCheMS became an ‘Association Internationale Sans But Lucratif‘ (not-for-profit organization) in Belgium.
During the “London times”, we only had a policy advisor in Brussels to take care of relationships with the European Commission and the European Parliament. Then EuCheMS moved its headquarters to Brussels. This changed a lot with regard to the interactions with the European Parliament and the European Commission. For example, EuCheMS organized pivotal events on key policy issues in chemistry and related fields together with them. So, EuCheMS gained a lot of activities and it is still growing.
In addition, we are pleased to have had a number of presidents in EuCheMS that were very active. The first was Giovanni Natile (2005–2008, Università degli Studi di Bari and Italian Chemical Society). He was followed by Luis Oro (2008–2011, University of Zaragoza and Spanish Chemical Society), then Ulrich Schubert (2011–2014, Technical University of Vienna and Austrian Chemical Society), and then we had David Cole-Hamilton (2014–2017, University of St Andrews and Royal Society of Chemistry). Now we have Pilar Goya Laza (2017–2020, Instituto de Química Médica (IQM), Madrid) again from the Spanish Chemical Society. I have had the good fortune of collaborating with many of these people as treasurer and have been very happy about this.
What do you think of the developments of Brexit? How will that change EuCheMS in your opinion?
EuCheMS published a position paper on Brexit last summer (Research and Education Without Borders After Brexit) that can be found on the EuCheMS website. It says that as far as education and research are concerned, a relationship that is as strong as possible between the EU and the UK is necessary. Continued collaboration without borders will improve research across all European countries. We should continue with the advantages of this cooperation independently of Brexit: the exchange of students, grants, and research projects all have to continue.
What or who has inspired you most during your career? And how has your career developed?
I remember when I was a boy, I was intrigued by books and magazines about atoms and molecules. Then I went to a classical school in Italy, studying Latin and Greek besides Italian classics, and I was also very much intrigued by philosophy and history. Nevertheless, my aim was science. However, I was not decided on whether I preferred physics or chemistry at that time. Eventually, I was drawn to chemistry because I felt it is more practical than physics. I should say that since I was in high school, I had a sort of fixed idea that I had to become – sorry for this – a university professor and researcher. This was my firm idea from the very beginning. So, this is what actually happened immediately after my degree, which was very quick. I should say I got a grant from the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, which is the oldest scientific academy in the world and the highest Italian cultural institution to promote, coordinate, and disseminate scientific knowledge.
I was also lucky because I was a student of Professor Rosario Nicoletti at the University of Rome. He was a great scientist and an expert in the lab and very clever in how to work – all of this is absolutely necessary for an organic chemist like me. I felt very comfortable with him because he left me to my own devices from the very beginning. I was free to set up my own plan, free to go abroad and come back, and so I had a lot of freedom and, eventually, became an organic chemist with an interest in mass spectrometry and organic natural compounds. Since then I have followed my aim and vision – I was lucky. I still continue to be involved in research, which I like very much, in teaching, which I like even more, and also in these international activities, and in the society business of the Italian Chemical Society. Of course, I am very lucky to work with many great colleagues at the society, just to mention a few: Angela Agostiano, the current president, and Raffaele Riccio, the past president.
If you could have dinner with a famous chemist, one from Italy and one international one, who would you choose?
For the Italian, I would refer to the present time: I think that Vincenzo Balzani [emeritus professor at the University of Bologna; for several years he has been one of the 100 most cited chemists of the world] is really a wonderful person, a perfect scientist who also has a high level of ethics, which is something that I think should always guide us as good scientists.
And an international chemist … This is a very difficult question, as there are so many. Let me mention Dudley Williams from the University of Cambridge, UK. Unfortunately, he passed away young in 2010 at the age of 73. Besides being a great scientist – his mentor was Carl Djerassi –, for me he was a person with a huge vision of science and he was also moved by philosophical thinking. Dudley Williams was a person with a wonderful intuition about what chemistry can do with molecules. I worked with him in Cambridge and I think he was very good indeed.
And what do you do in your spare time?
I like listening to classical music and traveling. With so many obligations, it is difficult to cultivate friendships deeply, but, of course, spending time with my friends – I still have friends from high school – is great. As it is with my partner, my brother, and his wonderful family.
What kind of classical music do you like?
I like going to the opera and listening to the great composers of the 19th century, which are wonderful. Starting from baroque music, but also Beethoven, Wagner, Verdi, Rossini. I have not much time now, but in the past, I also liked to go to the theater for the comedy in Rome a lot. I will start this again when I retire.
Thank you very much for the interview, Franco.
Francesco De Angelis, born in 1949 in Bari, Italy, gained his degree in chemistry in 1974. He worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Rome, Italy, from 1974 to 1981, and from 1981 to 1987 as a research fellow. He was a visiting professor at University of Cambridge, UK, in 1981, and at University of Zurich, Switzerland, in 1991. He became associate professor of organic chemistry at the University of L’Aquila, Italy, in 1987, and full professor in 2001.
Francesco De Angelis’ research focuses on organic synthesis, natural organic compounds, and mass spectrometry. In addition, he is active in many chemical societies and served, for example, from 2005 to 2007 as president of the Italian Chemical Society (SCI), from 2013 to 2015 as President of ECTN, from 2010 to 2016 as Treasurer of EuCheMS and member of the Executive Board.
- Gold Medal “Domenico Marotta” of the Italian Chemical Society (SCI) (2011)
- Honorary Fellow of ChemPubSoc Europe
- Member of the “Accademia delle Scienze” dell’Università di Bologna, Italy
- Constantin Istrati” medal of the Romanian Chemical Society (2016)
- C. Iacobucci, S. Reale, M. Aschi, J. Oomens, G. Berden, F. De Angelis, An unprecedented retro‐Mumm rearrangement revealed by ESI‐MS/MS, IRMPD spectroscopy, and DFT calculations, Chem. Europ. J. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1002/chem.201800347
- C. Iacobucci, S. Reale, F. De Angelis, Elusive reaction intermediates in solution explored by ESI-MS: reverse periscope for mechanistic investigations, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2016, 55, 2980–2993. https://doi.org/0.1002/anie.201507088
- C. Iacobucci, S. Reale, J.-F. Gal, F. De Angelis, Dinuclear copper intermediates in copper(I)-catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition directly observed by electrospray ionization mass spectrometry, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2015, 127, 3108–3111. https://doi.org/10.1002/anie201500
- S. Reale, F. Attanasio, N. Spreti, F. De Angelis, Lignin chemistry: biosynthetic study and structural characterization of coniferyl alcohol oligomers formed in vitro in a micellar environment, Chem. Europ. J. 2010, 16, 6077–6087. https://doi.org/10.1002/chem.200903302
- S. Reale, A. Di Tullio, N. Spreti, F. De Angelis, Mass Spectrometry in the biosynthetic and structural investigation of lignins, Mass Spectr. Rev. 2004, 23, 87–126. https://doi.org/10.1002.