Rice University chemistry professor James Tour is officially best known for his many research papers (700) and patent families (130). He is popularly known more for his passion for introducing the lay public to the awesome chemistry of life.
The ORCID database of science achievements puts it like this:
Tour’s scientific research areas include nanoelectronics, graphene electronics, silicon oxide electronics, carbon nanovectors for medical applications, green carbon research for enhanced oil recovery and environmentally friendly oil and gas extraction, graphene photovoltaics, carbon supercapacitors, lithium ion batteries, CO2 capture, water splitting to H2 and O2, water purification, carbon nanotube and graphene synthetic modifications, graphene oxide, carbon composites, hydrogen storage on nanoengineered carbon scaffolds, and synthesis of single-molecule nanomachines which includes molecular motors and nanocars. He has also developed strategies for retarding chemical terrorist attacks.
His papers have over 116,000 citations though his greatest personal passion appears to be teaching.
But then Orcid also goes on to report,
For pre-college education, Tour developed the NanoKids concept for K-12 education in nanoscale science, and also Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero science packages for elementary and middle school education: SciRave (www.scirave.org) which later expanded to Stemscopes-based SciRave (http://stemscopes.com/scirave/). The SciRave program has risen to be the #1 most widely adopted program in Texas to complement science instruction, and it is currently used by over 450 school districts and 40,000 teachers with over 1 million student downloads.
It wasn’t always like this for Tour. We are told at the People Behind the Science podcast that, as a youth, Tour wanted to be a New York State Trooper (impressive uniform and all that?).
However, “He was dismayed to discover that this career was out of his reach because he was colorblind. Jim turned his attention next to study forensic science instead, but his father encouraged him to pursue a more general degree in chemistry. He took his father’s advice and ended up loving his first organic chemistry course in college enough to make organic chemistry his career.”
It almost reads like a joke: What could James Tour have become if only he had not been colorblind? – Answer: a New York State trooper. An honourable calling, to be sure, but not ultimately his vocation.
Part of his vocation turned out to be more like this: A 13-part series at YouTube on the origin of life:
A common misconception is that researchers need only discover the “secret ingredient” or “key process” and we will know how life originated. But life is very much more complicated, even in its simplest forms, than we often realize.
Second, the origin of life is a historical event from a very long time ago, not an often-repeated phenomenon that science can simply replicate in great numbers, like pregnancy in mice. Those facts, in themselves, limit how much we can discover, how easily. Tour has sometimes become impatient with colleagues who fail to grasp the distinctions — and is suitably penitent. A devoutly religious man, he says of his craft,
I build molecules for a living. I can’t begin to tell you how difficult that job is. I stand in awe of God because of what he has done through his creation. My faith has been increased through my research. Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God. ~ James Tour
That would be his response to the facile question, often put to researchers who believe in God, “How do you reconcile your faith with science?” His faith is his inspiration.
Here are some other COSM 2021 speakers you will want to pencil in. Book now for the best available rate:
Peter Thiel speaking in person at COSM, Seattle, November 10. As a world class venture capitalist, he is known for bluntness about what works and what doesn’t. COSM 2021 focuses on the converging technologies, remaking our world. Thiel asks, is new tech soaring or slumping?
Jules Urbach, founder of OTOY, to speak at COSM 2021. Tech philosopher George Gilder has called him “ingenious” and ”the most inventive software engineer” he has ever met. “Every single person should have agency to create,” says Urbach, “and…if we do our jobs right, everyone with an idea is going to be able to render things.”
“Listen to the technology; find out what it’s telling you…” That’s the motto of CalTech’s Carver Mead, who will speak at COSM 2021. Integrated circuit design pioneer Carver Mead is also deeply interested in physics problems, in seeing “quite visibly what matter is down at its heart.”
Babak Parviz, inventor of Google Glass, returns to COSM 2021. Parviz will be addressing the question, “Is It the End for Silicon Valley?” Parviz has an impressive history that spans engineering and health care issues, but he is perhaps most famous for his leadership in developing Google Glass.