Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Reactions: Xiaogang Liu

Xiaogang Liu is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at National University of Singapore. He also holds a joint appointment as senior research scientist with the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, Agency for Science, Technology and Research. His research interests include nanomaterials synthesis, lanthanide luminescence and surface science for catalysis, sensing, and biomedical applications.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

I was trained in the fields of chemical engineering when studying in college. But after I moved to the States to pursue my graduate study, I was largely influenced by my former Masters supervisor John Sibert. His enormous passion and dedication to organic chemistry played a pivotal role in influencing me to pursue chemistry as a career. My former PhD supervisor Chad Mirkin also influenced me tremendously with his enthusiasm for knowledge in nanochemistry. He really taught me how to get my work up to standard.

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

I would probably be a physician. My mother is a retired doctor (internal medicine) and I have always envisioned myself to follow in her footstep.

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

I am currently working on developing approaches to the synthesis of luminescent rare-earth nanomaterials, particularly photon upconversion nanocrystals that are able to convert two (or more) low energy pump photons to a higher-energy output photon. These nanomaterials, which are approximately 20 nanometers in diameter, are biocompatible and mix rapidly with biomolecules in water. When illuminated with a near-infrared laser, they give rise to multicolored visible luminescence. I am also interested in mechanistic investigation of fascinating energy transfer between different lanthanide ions confined within a nanoscopic region. I hope these studies could lead to substantial impacts on fundamental science and biotechnology.

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

There are quite many people I would like to have dinner with. If I have to choose one, I would ask Albert Einstein to join me for dinner. I would ask him to share his violin experience and pass on some of his music. Many scientists have fallen in love with music. But this love is not always rewarded with perfect mastery.  My personal hobbies are playing the harmonica and guitar, and I am desperately seeking a balance between research and time for my instruments.

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

It was about a year ago when I taught my student how to grow organic single crystals suitable for X-ray diffraction studies. If I have more time on hand, I would certainly enjoy spending time carrying out more experiments with my students.

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

This is a hard one. I might prefer to relax and indulge in the beauty that nature has endowed on the island. Not everyone has such opportunity to enjoy sounds and music of the nature peacefully.

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

My former MSc supervisor John Sibert. His own research work and personality have inspired me over the years. And I have not heard much from him more than a decade.


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