Our Scientists (English Version)
Some say the science of chemistry dates back to the Stone Age when mankind first discovered fire. Early humans were fascinated by ways different objects react to burning, and developed the practice of alchemy. However, having failed to properly explain the transformations between states of matter, alchemy eventually gave way to modern chemistry. Over the years, the world of chemical substances and their myriad combinations have proved captivating to many, including Hong Kong chemist Che Chi-ming, who is determined to explore its unique allure.
Che Chi-ming, the current Zhou Guangzhao Professor in Natural Sciences and Head of The Department of Chemistry, became the youngest Chair Professor in HKU history at age 35. He was also the youngest Academician and first scientist from Hong Kong at the time to be elected into the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as well as the first Hong Kong scientist to win the First Class prize of the State Natural Science Award – often dubbed “the Chinese Nobel Prize”.
While these titles and accolades are testament to Professor Che’s accomplishments in scientific research and brought him fame, he gained the respect of his counterparts not only for his leadership in large research teams, but for his groundbreaking work in different arenas. An authority in both inorganic and organic chemistry, Che published in 1997 the first research report in the world on the conductive and fluorescent properties of metal-organic compounds. It paved the way for global developments in OLED, the technology deployed in mobile phones and TV displays by many world renowned brands. Meanwhile in Chinese medicine, when others are looking at the use of compound formulas to combat cancer, Professor Che would instead probe the use of single ingredients.
Yet, a young Professor Che was once discouraged by his teachers from pursuing the study of chemistry because he did not perform well in experiments. Refusing to give up, Professor Che decided to turn his attention to designing chemical compounds and developing their applications. While engaging in postdoctoral research at the California Institute of Technology, Che’s supervisor Harry Gray claimed that he “can make any compound you want”!
Chemical experiments require focus, patience and commitment. If success means arriving at a particular conclusion, you might fail even after a thousand attempts. As with detective cases, you must get to the bottom of it all – if an ingredient manages to kill cancer cells, what is the exact cause and manner of death? How would other organs react? A long but rewarding inquisition ensues.
While many people in their primes are already plotting their retirements, 60-year-old Professor Che feels that his golden age has just arrived. In chasing his dream, he believes Hong Kong can produce research standards to rival top-notch universities overseas.