Guo-Xin Jin on chemistry in China and the importance of fundamental research. Interview by Joanna Pugh.
Guo-Xin Jin is a professor of chemistry at Fudan University in China. His research interests include catalysts for olefin polymerization and organometallic complexes. He is an associate editor on Dalton Transactions.
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?
It was complicated because when I was young, the cultural revolution was in progress in China. During this time there were not any universities and I worked for a television company for two years. When it ended, I had the chance to study and take examinations in mathematics, Chinese, English, physics and chemistry. At that time students went to university to study the subject for which they attained the highest score and my score for chemistry was the highest, so I entered the chemistry department at Nanjing University.
What motivated you to specialise in organometallics? I did a PhD in inorganic coordination chemistry at Nanjing University supervised by Quan-Xin Xin. My interest in chemistry grew and I was the first person from Nanjing University to be awarded a Humboldt fellowship that allowed me to go to Bayreuth University in Germany to carry out research under the direction of Max Herberhold, who was a great teacher. This was where I began to specialise in organometallic chemistry.
What's hot at the moment in your field? My group is currently interested in carborane chemistry. Carboranes are like a big cage that can stabilise organometallic compounds and my group are using carborane ligands coordinated with organometallic complexes to bridge metal-metal bonding of bi, tri and tetranuclear compounds. Another area of interest is the design of organometallic olefin polymerisation catalysts because polyolefins, such as polyethylene, are very important industrially. We have been fortunate enough to collaborate with Exxon-Mobil on this for several years.
China is becoming a major player in chemical research - how important do you think chemistry is to the future development of China? I think it's extremely important because the results of chemical research can influence our lives. Basic research results can be used as the foundation for applied science and the chemical industry is very important in China, especially the polyolefin industry.
You spent a number of years in Bayreuth, Germany as a post-doc - how would you say the chemical research community differed from that in Shanghai? At the time, China had a lot to learn about chemistry following the end of the cultural revolution. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to do research at an international level. In Germany, the chemical research system was very different from that in China; there was more support and more advanced instruments so chemists could investigate what they wanted to without the practical constraints we had in China. I stayed in Germany for more than seven years and when I returned to China things had progressed and I was able continue my organometallic chemistry research.
How do you see the future of RSC journals in China? RSC journals are becoming very important in China because the RSC is very active in making contact with different universities through visits from RSC staff and through the office in Beijing. There are many Chinese Associate Editors for RSC journals; there are three at Fudan University alone. The RSC is well known in China and many people submit their work to RSC journals and many universities, even the smaller ones, subscribe to the journals.
You are clearly passionate about educating and inspiring the next generation of scientists - if you had one piece of advice to pass onto them, what would it be? I teach and mentor PhD students and postdocs, which I am very happy to do. I am very proud of the fact that many of my former students are professors or associate professors in China, and most of the people in my group would like to remain in research institutions and universities. Again my advice to them would be that basic research is important.
Like many academics, you have to balance research with teaching. In what ways do you feel these activities complement and/or conflict with each other? I am head of the inorganic chemistry institute for both research and teaching so I have a duty to teach as well as conduct research. I try to find a balance between the two as they are both very important. Sometimes I find that through teaching I get ideas for my research and vice versa.
What do you like to do in your spare time? Unfortunately, most Chinese professors don't have time for hobbies, we work too hard! I have about 20 students in my laboarory and also a busy teaching schedule.