1. What made you want to be a chemist?
I became interested in chemistry when I was in high school. I remember that I was quite good at identifying metal species in a solution based on solution colour change and/or precipitation when known chemicals were added, a subject I knew later as qualitative analysis. The most important event that made me want to be a chemist was that in the national examination for entering university I got a very good mark for chemistry, 97 out of 100, which qualified me to study chemistry in Xiamen University, an institution well-known for its chemistry.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
I would like to work as a garden designer. I think gardening needs a nice combination of science and art, and is full of challenges. The major reason for this is that I have been very much impressed by Chinese traditional gardens like those in Suzhou, and by Chinese calligraphy. Personally, I like and enjoy Chinese calligraphy very much.
3. How can chemists best contribute to the world at large?
The best way is to help understand what happens in many processes involving chemistry in order to guide a suitable handling of those chemicals, and to produce environmentally friendly chemicals.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
I would like to have a dinner with Mr. Lan-Fang Mei, the most famous contemporary Peking Opera master. He was known at playing the role of and singing as a woman and later promoting the international reputation of Peking Opera. What really impressed me were his perfect performances and amazing voice on the stage, which, in my opinion, shaped Peking Opera very much.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
I still conducted experiments when I was just promoted to full professor in 1996, when we started to develop chemical sensing based on intramolecular charge transfer dual fluorescence in micelles, for which I did syntheses of the fluorophores and fluorescence titrations. Even up to now I still like to show to young students skills, such as recrystallizations, and do organic syntheses in my non-organic laboratory.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one CD would you take with you?
I would bring a book on cooking as I like to cook, it’s a kind of chemistry-related art, and it would be good to help someone in a desert island to survive. A CD of Chinese folk music would be my favourite in that situation.