Issue Date: November 17, 2008
U.S., Chinese Chemists Gather
IN A TIME OF economic slowdown and looming energy crisis, a group of 19 American and Chinese scientists gathered on Nov. 4???6 in Dalian, a coastal city in northeast China, to discuss future collaborations and likely alternatives to fossil fuels. The gathering, titled "China/U.S. Energy Research Frontier Symposium," marked the beginning of a series of bilateral meetings between the American Chemical Society and its Chinese counterpart, the Chinese Chemical Society (CCS), aimed at identifying solutions to many pressing global issues.
In a video address that opened the conference, ACS President Bruce E. Bursten said, "This is a pilot event and the first in what we hope will be a compelling series extending to other institutes and universities and scientific audiences, both established researchers and emerging talent."
Tao Zhang, a catalysis expert and director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (DICP), a leading Chinese research organization, was thrilled about the role his institute played in hosting the first meeting in the series. "We are extremely proud to provide a platform for pioneering interactions between CCS and ACS," Zhang said.
The two-day meeting tackled five major topics currently at the forefront of energy research: clean coal, hydrogen, fuel cells, biomass conversion, and photocatalysis. Each topic featured several keynote presentations followed by question-and-answer sessions that involved both DICP scientists and graduate students.
Most attendees agreed, however, that the symposium reached its high point during the two-hour roundtable discussion that recapped all the topics and explored future research opportunities. Although no specific projects were committed to at the meeting, scientists from both sides eagerly shared information on topics ranging from potential collaborations to specific tips on the use of catalysts.
"We are hoping that, just as many Chinese students are coming to the U.S., maybe Chinese institutions will sponsor more of our graduate students who want to do research in China," said Levi T. Thompson, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Michigan who works on fuel cells. The Chinese scientists agreed that they would like to see more international students study in China but noted that their current budget for student stipends would likely need to increase to attract more of them.
Despite sporadic language barriers during the symposium, scientists on both sides displayed keen interest in—and appreciation of—each other's research. "I've always been impressed with the high level of research our Chinese colleagues have achieved," said Sharon P. Shoemaker, executive director of the California Institute of Food & Agricultural Research at the University of California, Davis, and a frequent visitor to China since 1985. Shoemaker, whose work focuses on biomass conversion, said it's only a matter of time until the two chemical societies expand collaboration because of China's rapid emergence in the global academic arena.
To illustrate her point, Shoemaker, who is on the editorial board of ACS's Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry, pointed to the dramatic increase in high-quality research paper submissions from Chinese authors. "Academic papers by Chinese researchers used to be very difficult to read because of the poor grammar and erratic formats," she said. "But now they are every bit as perfect as any others."
THE IDEA of a bilateral symposium between the two chemical societies goes back to an ACS Board meeting in March 2007, when ACS leaders made the suggestion to Zhigang Shuai, deputy secretary general of CCS, who spared no time in reporting the idea to CCS President Chunli Bai. As soon as the two societies settled on energy as the theme, "DICP became a natural choice because it represents China's highest level in energy research," Shuai said.
As far as its cooperation with China goes, ACS is organizing a seminar on new materials for early-career chemists to be held this winter in California. It will be jointly funded by the U.S.'s National Science Foundation and its Chinese counterpart. The next CCS/ACS symposium, however, is still in the planning stages.
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