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All Start from Questions--Interview with Scholar of Topological Polymers, Prof. Liu Yuzhou

Release time:October 16, 2017 / Liu Xinrui

Introduction

 

In June of this year, a research team led by Prof. Liu Yuzhou from the School of Chemistry in Beihang synthesized a range of circular polymers from simple organosilicon monomers by the Piers-Rubinsztajn reaction for the first time, and multiple analysis methods were used to prove their structures. Their achievement was published in Angewandte Chemie, a top journal which is of long history and admired by the chemistry academic field as much as the JACS. Papers published in this journal attract all people in the chemistry field. According to Prof. Liu Yuzhou, it was a big approval for their work.            

 

Achievement

 

Do you know what are 90% of contact lenses made from? What enables LED lights to have a long life? And what ensures that fuel in the airplanes and rockets will not leak? To get answers of these questions, we need to know the organosilicon material which is widely used in our daily life but unknown to most people.

The research of organosilicon material started early in the world, and concrete applications have existed for more than ten years. However, in the traditional synthetic method, platinum is needed to catalyze the cross linking reaction. This expensive method will not only cause products to become yellow in the heating step, but could also break down some materials. Relatively few final products are formed through this method, so ways must be found to improve it.

Prof. Liu Yuzhou’s team were committed to solve this problem. Through related theories, they knew that some special properties could be improved by increasing the molecular weight, but huge molecular weight could make the material hard to process and use because it increases the chance of molecule winding which will cause viscosity to raise and mobility to decrease. They noticed that the winding ability of circular structure is much lower than that of chain structure, so they finally made a big ring which containing tens of thousands of atoms. It not only solved this problem but also made the synthetic method become cheaper for platinum is not needed in synthesizing this new organosilicon material. Now, this technology leads the world and also has great practical value.            

 

Path

 

In Prof. Liu’s view, this project is very “lucky” because it is “closely connected to daily life and needed by the industrial community”. In fact, Prof. Liu’s team insists on starting from practical problems and being closely connected to production and daily life. Prof. Liu’s own experience has an important influence in the formation of this research path.

After getting a doctorate in New York University, he once worked in the industry. There, Prof. Liu, who did not like repetitive production, gradually turned to research which concerned more about innovation from commercial development. However, after that, scientific problems in the industrial circles are still very much on Prof. Liu’s mind, and he has even attended meetings in that circles. His belief that research should be higher than life but also not too far from life is approved by many colleagues.

Prof. Liu’s team is now living up to this concept. Simply publishing paper is not their goal and emphasis; instead, they hope to get patents to create more values. Just for the achievement which is mentioned before, they have received or filed more than 40 patents, among which 5 or 6 patents’ patentee is Beihang University. In the future, they plan to further modify the molecule’s structure, strengthening its properties like flame retardancy, waterproofness and anti-fouling against marine organisms, so as to develop its application in other fields such as special coating, architectural decoration and ship-making. Until now, many projects have achieved great developments and entered the test stage.            

 

Faith

 

“We will not give up easily. If this method doesn’t work, we will switch to another.” The research road of Prof. Liu’s team is full of obstacles; however, they believe that it is normal to get “negative results” in research. If circumstances are favorable, it will take about 4 months to design and finally synthesize a special material. If not, the period will be longer or even end in failure. They choose to reflect on them and make a summary in facing with obstacles. “At least, a failed project enables us to learn why it doesn’t work, and it will deepen our understanding of materials and guide us in the right direction. ”            

Doing research on basic subjects is like climbing heights. Prof. Liu has never faltered in his determination of studying chemistry after choosing chemistry as his first choice for college entrance examination. “Only in doing the things you love can you get the real happiness. It will bring a sense of achievement by solving a problem which others can’t.” He thinks that two different forces drive him to do research. One is to pursue products which have practical value, and the other one is to explore the unknown. In the right general direction, interest is of key importance to the development of subdivision direction. Thus he always encourages undergraduates to get into the lab and engage in work. Only by understanding and love your major can you enjoy it and achieve greater development.              

“Now, many things in chemistry involve not only knowledge of chemistry but also of other subjects.” So it requires researchers to have broader perspective and richer knowledge, especially in basic subjects. For example, “topology” of the “topological polymers” originated from the famous Konigsberg bridges problem; before introduced to chemistry, this concept is also applied in other subjects like math, geography and computer science. Most work of Prof. Liu, who comes from the International Research Institute for Multidisciplinary Science, is multidisciplinary. For him, multidiscipline makes his work become more meaningful.            

 

Translated by Liu Xinrui