Friday, 22 November 2013

Molecular Strategies

All big organisations love strategies, and universities are no exception. The University of Sussex had just launched its Strategy 2013-18: Making the Future.

What impressed me most was its presentation. Rather than a boring text document, Sussex have gone for a radical approach, etching aspirational and inspiring words on to the multicoloured planes of a buckminsterfullerene molecule.

For the chemically illiterate amongst us (including me), a buckminsterfullerene is a c60 carbon molecule, discovered by Sussex chemist Professor Sir Harold Kroto, who went on to earn a Nobel Prize for his labours.

As if that connection wasn't enough, the c60 is 'made up of pentagons and hexagons [and] its cage-like spherical structure allows it to withstand extreme pressure and temperature, as well as to react selectively with other molecules while retaining its shape.' Which makes perfect sense. Any strategy needs to withstand extreme pressure and (heated) debate. Its ability to react selectively with other molecules is perhaps less apparent, but we'll let that pass.

The Sussex Strategy made me think that the rest of us are missing a trick. There are plenty of molecules out there, and we should be harnessing them as metaphors. So, for anyone who is beginning to draft a strategy and needs to have a talismanic molecule in mind, here's a list of five possibilities to get you started:

  • Curcurbituril: a pumpkin shaped molecule. As such, has the possibility to transform into a beautiful carriage, given the right input. It's also an efficient host molecule and has a particularly high affinity for positively charged or cationic compounds. But I don't think we need dwell on that. 
  • Pterodactyladiene: a molecule shaped like a pterodactyl. Some might accuse you of being a little backward looking if you use this one, but you can counter by saying that the intense structural strain this molecule faces (due, of course, to its planar carbon rings. Do keep up) reflects the necessary and important 'strain' that your strategy will place on the arcane and antiquated systems you hope to change. Either that or you'll be wiped out be a meteorite.
  • Penguinone: shaped like a penguin. Useful for your strategy, as it will help to win over your detractors. I mean who doesn't like penguins? 
  • Lampane: shaped like a lampshade. Because your strategy will shine like a beacon, to lead your institution out of the darkness. Oh yes.
  • Etorphine: used as an elephant tranquiliser. Make of that what you will.


  1. On an entirely different matter. I would be interested to hear if hearts at Fundermental Towers were set alight by RSEng & EPSRC's idea of launching a campaign ( to inspire and "grab kids and show them they have career choices beyond entertainment and sports" with (Olympic torch carrier and entertainment star).

    1. Dear Zilchopilcho
      Thank you very much for highlighting this excellent initiative. We are indeed very supportive of the oddly punctuated inspiring young X-Factorites to think beyond Gary Barlow. I would be keen for this to be a reciprocal arrangement, and for stars of the research firmament speaking up to inspire on behalf of poor PhD students who need to recognise that the lab and the archive are not their only options, and that they should take a punt on Britain's Got Talent.