Reactions – Huaqiang Zeng

Huaqiang Zeng is in the Department of Chemistry at National University of Singapore (NUS), and works on the applications of broadly defined, bioinspired supramolecular chemistry into both chemistry and biology.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

Chemistry has been my most favorite subject in high school due to my natural interest in science. The wonderful chemistry experiments conducted in my high school time slowly lured me into the splendid world of chemistry. When I started going to college, I knew that I wanted to study chemistry and to become a chemist someday.

2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?

Government officer who has the power to transform the society not into “Utopia” type, which is unlikely to realize, but at least into a one that is free of poverty and hunger while providing more opportunities or according more status to the more capable, regardless of races and genders, on the fairness basis.

3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?

The major emphasis is placed on realizing synthetic ion channels capable of transporting ions across the lipid membrane in a highly selective fashion. Priorities are given to (1) mimic and recapitulate nature’s almighty ability to hormonally combine high ion selectivity into rapid ion conduction using simplified chemical systems that have not been made possible yet and (2) devise general and reliable strategies for synthetic ion channels and pores easily tunable toward binding and differentiating various ions (and other molecular species in the future) so that we don’t simply stop at the frontiers defined by nature. The ability to do so will lead to diverse interesting applications.

4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?

Albert Einstein, one of the world’s greatest minds. I have wanted to know his thoughts behind all those great theories and to get infected by his utmost courage and determination during “the years of anxious searching in the dark, with their intense longing, their alternations of confidence and exhaustion and the final emergence into the light”. A spiritually contagious dialog with him during the dinner shall greatly encourage me to continue venturing into the unknown world of chemistry as a pathfinder and to deal with all the uncertainties that come with it.

5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?

I can hardly remember, but it must be biology-related one because I always completed the synthesis of target molecules first, followed by biological applications, and because I worked until my last day with Prof Peter G. Schultz at The Scripps Research Institute, it must be around the end of June of 2006, a time I left TSRI and headed to NUS to take up my current post as an Assistant Professor.

6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?

Being a chemist is great in that one’s knowledge-based imaginations can be physically tested, and can sometimes solve perplexing enigmas. So, rather than a book and a music album, I would love to take with me a set of laboratory apparatus (hotplate stirrer, magnetic bar, rotary evaporator, etc).

7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?

In balance, I will choose Professor Samuel Gellman from University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a genuine scholarly man of integrity. I met him once in the conference held in France, talked to him for a short time and was deeply impressed by his scholarly spirit, humble attitude and true love of great sciences of not only his but also others.