Thursday 5 June 2014

In memory of Jean-Claude Bradley

This Autumn I will be attending an ACS Meeting in San Francisco for the second time. The first time was in 2010 when I co-organised a symposium with Jean-Claude Bradley and Andy Lang.

I was pretty nervous. I stumbled through some opening remarks before finding my feet and paying tribute to the memory of Warren DeLano, another pioneer of openness in chemistry. When Jean-Claude arrived the next day to chair the second session, I remember thinking wow, this guy is so relaxed and confident he can just turn up in bermuda shorts and a casual shirt and not worry about whether his tie is sending out the right signals - I wish I was like that.

Subsequently, I found out that it hadn't always been like that. He been like, well, everyone else: wearing suits every day eagerly trying to make a good impression, following the funding, playing the game. A day came when he tired of it, looked at what he was doing, and decided it was not going to make the world a better place. So he sat down and thought about how to identify what areas of chemistry were actually "useful":
The best answer I could come up with is to trust what human researchers have to say in their papers. I developed a set of search phrases such as "what is needed now" or "what is missing is" and ran them through Google Scholar and Scirus. One of the results was "there is a pressing need for identifying and developing new drug-based antimalarial therapies".
Reactive Reports #51, 2006 Interview with David Bradley.

...and that was how he started the Useful Chemistry project. You can see the genesis of the project in his initial blog posts.

Others have commented on his legacy in Open Notebook Science. For me, his story of starting Useful Chemistry was what impressed me most: how many of us have the courage to look at our work and ask ourselves, is it useful?

To pay tribute to his remarkable vision, I will be speaking at the Jean-Claude Bradley Memorial Symposium on July 14th, organised by Andy Lang, Tony Williams and Peter Murray-Rust in Cambridge, UK. I encourage you to come along to celebrate the work of an inspiring person and to hear how others are building on his legacy.