1. What made you want to be a chemist?
When I entered the university and chose chemistry, given my circumstances in China at that time, I wasn’t able to know what it really is, except that it is useful. After then, I quickly became fascinated by the rich and beautiful colour changes of chemical reactions and reasons behind these changes. The ‘colour’ part might have something to do with me working on the organometallic chemistry now, because organometallic chemistry is always colourful. And the ‘wondering of “truths” behind a phenomenon’ part stayed with me ever since and eventually made me a chemist, or more accurately, a scientist.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?
If not chemist, I might become an engineer. I have been dreaming of building bridges in my childhood. I guess there must be a part of me that is always eager to construct. And being a chemist, I still would like to consider myself as an engineer at the same time – on the molecular level. I build with molecules.
3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?
As I said, I have been working on organometallic chemistry, which is the core of countless industrialized chemical processes. We the organometallic chemists always try to manipulate the way metals and organic compounds function, and to reveal the relationships of structures and properties. Give us time, and eventually, we will be able to build any organometallic molecules we want, and to design structures of molecules for any functions that we hope to achieve.
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?
E. O. Fischer, the founder of carbenes and carbynes. He is the person who shaped my way of thinking about chemistry and doing chemistry in many aspects. And I always feel like returning to his wisdom, his diligence and his life-time devotion to chemistry, which never fail to recharge my energy as a chemist.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?
It was no more than ten years ago, actually. I did one reaction when we were trying to industrialize one of our processes. The reaction could be dangerous if not being handled properly, so I did it myself.
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?
I’ll never forget the experience of walking into some fipple flute music by the side of Lake Geneva several years ago. I guess I will take a fipple flute album with me to that island. It will make a fine island album – simple, mysterious, consoling.
7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?
Gerhard Erker. I always admire his way of developing a whole story of frustrated Lewis pair out of one single experimental finding, and would like to know more about his unique way of thinking about chemistry.