China’s basic research and cutting-edge technology research has made great strides in recent years, and behind every major scientific achievement, there is an interesting personal story. Yicai has launched the “Top Chinese Scientists” column to get closer to these scientific luminaries through a series of interviews.
(Yicai) Aug. 22 -- Zhao Dongyuan, a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has spent the past 20 years trying to ‘punch holes’ in the invisible microcosm with his groundbreaking work on mesoporous materials.
In the microcosm, materials containing pores with diameters between 2 and 50 nanometers are called mesoporous materials. The surface area of 2 grams of mesoporous materials can cover a football field of 6,000 square meters.
Twenty years ago, all mesoporous materials were inorganic. But Zhao had a vision of organic mesoporous polymer materials which he was determined to turn into reality, Zhao, who is also a professor at Fudan University’s department of chemistry, told Yicai in a recent exclusive interview.
As a pioneer in the field, it took years before Zhao and his team had a breakthrough. Then in 2003, one of his students, Gu Dong, who went on to become a professor at Wuhan University, had some unexpectedly good results when he conducted an experiment in an unconventional way.
Inspired by the data, Zhao and his team published a ground-breaking paper on mesoporous materials in 2005.
Zhao’s research has attracted over 1,500 research institutions from more than 60 countries and regions to do follow-up research on mesoporous polymer materials and mesoporous carbon materials using similar research methods, which have been published in over 40,000 scientific papers.
Mesoporous materials can be used in biomedicine and cosmetics as well as catalyzers, batteries and sensors, Zhao said. Each and every object is useful and becomes more useful when it contains pores.
Breakthroughs in mesoporous materials have a profound impact on daily life, he said. Batteries, for example, involve the flow of electrons. Pores in batteries create channels for electrons and can cut the time needed for charging and discharging as well as hike energy density, he said.
“Soon it will be possible to charge an electric vehicle in half an hour,” he said.
Zhao’s team has invented 19 mesoporous materials which are named after Fudan University, and over 1,000 tons of these materials have been produced.
He has more ideas about how to use these materials in the real world, such as modular assembly in synthesis, which is a methodology inspired by the Lego bricks that his son loves to play with. This new research is based on the assumption that pores can stretch like a rubber band and that pore diameters can dilate and contract according to changes in airflow.
New mesoporous materials could even be liquid, he said. If liquid mesoporous materials become a reality, we can keep ourselves warm or shield ourselves from heat just by wearing them. Scientific principles and laws are very important. Although we may not have something that can be used right now, science can discover it, he added.
Editors: Chen Juan, Kim Taylor