Reactions – Shutao Wang

Shutao Wang is in the Institute of Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his research is focused on bio-inspired interfacial chemistry — in particular materials and developing artificial biointerface with controllable adhesion.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I have to mention my chemistry teacher in high school. In his special humorous style, he managed to catch everyone’s attention with one piece of chalk and show us a colorful world of chemistry. I enjoyed the fact that that molecules can talk to each other, and at times come up with new phenomena to shake the rules of modern physics. Now, I love chemistry because, as in the words of IUPAC on the occasion of the International Year of Chemistry, “Chemistry — our life, our future.”

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

If so, I would like to try to be a cook and perhaps I could be a good cook because I am curious about tastes. There is a lot of similarity between cooking and chemistry; they are the art of mixing but more than mixing. I believe that I can make some creative and appetizing food you may never have tried (my 3-year-old kid always likes whatever I cook!).

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

We are working on the design and synthesis of bio-inspired interfaces with controllable adhesive properties. To achieve this major property, there are several steps — from discovering specific adhesive phenomena in natural or biological systems, to revealing what chemical and physical mechanism are behind them, to designing and synthesizing functional molecules, and to integrating these molecules within multiscaled structures to form an artificial interface/surface with controllable adhesion.

Adhesion is one of basic properties at solid surfaces, but remains a significant challenge in surface chemistry and related applications such as marine antifouling coatings, anti-adhesive artificial blood vessels, and selective cell adhesion. For example, how can we capture a few circulating tumor cells from billions of blood cell? This is a great technical challenge for the common approaches like immuno-beads separating method based on antibody-antigen molecular interactions.

Facing this challenge, learning molecular and structural recognition from nature, we are trying to develop artificial multi-scaled biointerfaces with specific recognition and adhesion for disease diagnosis (e.g. rare cell capture for early cancer detection and fetal diagnosis). We hope to discover some new principles on adhesion from biology, and use chemical approaches to solve one or two of important adhesion-related challenges in our daily life and industrial applications.

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

I would like to have dinner with Albert Einstein if I can travel through time because I like what he said and did – “Imagination is more important than knowledge… while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand”!

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

It was last Friday, my graduate student and I carried out measurement of the adhesive force between pollen and stigma of wild chrysanthemum. It will help us to understand the specific recognition and adhesive property between pollen to its corresponding chapiter and design novel adhesive interface.

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

If exiled on a desert island, I would like to take Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, and the music of “I’m on My Way” from the Shreck soundtrack.

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

Akira Fujishima is a Japanese chemist, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo. He is well-known for significant contributions to the discovery and research of photocatalytic and superhydrophilic properties of titanium dioxide (TiO2). He simplified the photo-electron conversion in the photosynthesis system of plant to a photo-induced electron-hole separation in TiO2. This is the way to learn from nature and go beyond nature, my favorite field!