Xin Su studied chemistry in China and the United States and started his career in scholarly publishing with John Wiley & Sons in New Jersey. He just flew across the pond to London to join Nature Chemistry as a Senior Editor, and will ultimately be based out of the Springer Nature Shanghai office.
1. What made you want to be a chemist?
Certainly a biography book of Michael Faraday I read when I was a kid. In retrospect, it is far from being a fine piece on this great scientist, but it did successfully interest me, sparking curiosity and inspiration in me to go and explore chemistry. Throughout my school years, I also had very good chemistry teachers, which reinforced my pursuit.
2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be — and why?
I would choose to become a historian, naturally and ideally studying the history of chemistry. I always had an interest in history, as I still do. I minored in history when I was in college, and was attracted to grammatology and classical Chinese literature. I was seriously thinking of apply for a postdoctoral fellowship from the Chemical Heritage Foundation when I was about to finish my PhD. So if I ever get an opportunity to take two half-time jobs, the combination will be publishing and history.
3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?
Now that I have just switched to Nature Chemistry, I look forward to serving truly innovative and broadly influential research results to the readers. In the meanwhile, I’m interested in promoting communications and exchanges among chemists and between scientists and the public (with deep-rooted fear for the demonized chemistry).
4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with — and why?
Nikola Tesla. He was such a prolific genius, but a lot of work he did in his later year remains largely unknown. I’d be very eager to learn more from him.
5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab — and what was it?
It was after I left research and started in publishing and it wasn’t chemistry at all. I replaced a cracked screen on an iPad in the lab. It would have been quite awkward to maneuver elsewhere, and you could hardly imagine how easy it is with a lab jack, a heat gun and clamps unless you try yourself (DO WEAR GOGGLES).
6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?
Shishuo Xinyu (Chinese: 世說新語), or literally, A New Account of the Tales of the World, and to complement it, Guangling San (Chinese: 廣陵散), a qin (ancient Chinese zither) melody long enough to be considered as an album. They make the best companion for solitude, I think. Citing the comment by Graham Sanders, a sinologist at University of Toronto, “few works can match the importance of the book…. for its portrayal of cultural attitudes and social practices among elites in China from the second to fourth centuries”, simply a fascinating age.
7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions — and why?
Professor Gordon Gribble at Dartmouth College. He is a highly achieved scholar, as well as an avid winemaker, but more importantly, he cares about the public image of chemistry and defends against the so-called “chemophobia”.