“How harmful overspecialization is. It cuts knowledge at a million points and leaves it bleeding.” said Hari Seldon, my favourite fictional character. In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, he developed “Psychohistory” which combines history, sociology, and mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behavior of very large groups of people. What we would call today a real multidisciplinary approach!
We are still far from the too optimistic (and quite naive) sentence of Dirac: “The fundamental laws necessary for the mathematical treatment of a large part of physics and the whole of chemistry are thus completely known, and the difficulty lies only in the fact that application of these laws leads to equations that are too complex to be solved.” However we should seriously consider that in many aspect of science, in particular chemistry, fundamental research should focus more on new properties and applications, rather than new reactions.
Many chemists, foresee a return to the research of fundamental chemistry in some decades, when humanity will need chemical building blocks and energy from different source than Oil. This will be probably a pioneer era for chemistry, but it doesn’t mean that today chemistry is confined to a role of “technical support” of other sciences. I strongly believe that a real border between Physics-Chemistry-Biology doesn’t exist, and that more applicative reasearch can lead to fundamental discoveries.
As chemist, I should go out more often from my comfort-zone of expertise. Don’t be scared of not understanding. Go to other scientists. To biologists, physicists, engineers, physician, astronomers, geologists and ask: “What are you working on? What are your problems? May I help you?“. Even further! Chemistry is the most multidisciplinare and ecumenical science, let’s goo to historians, literates, artists and ask the same questions. We could be really surprised!