What excites you most about your area of research and what motivated you to dedicate your career to this area of research?
I began my career as a coordination chemist, so my research has always been centred on this. My group spend a lot of time looking into the structures and properties of coordination compounds, as you have to understand what is going on in these systems in order to best tailor them for the application required. Our goal is to develop real-world material and medicinal chemistry applications, including display systems and targeted chemotherapy, so I therefore want to develop coordination compounds in such a way that this can be realised. That’s why it is important to understand metal-ligand interactions, and demonstrating how these can be manipulated to have real-world impact is what excites me the most about my area of research.
You have published every year with Chemical Science since the journal’s launch in 2010! What do you feel has been the most important development within your area of research over this time?
People have moved away from just making coordination compounds, and are looking more into how these compounds can be utilised, for example platinum emitters. Research previously and presently focused more so on iridium emitters, but there has been a surge of interest in platinum and more recently gold emitters, and these are having impact in a number of different fields. We have also moved away from just proof-of-concept studies, and into real life application.
Chemical Science has been important publisher of bioinorganic research. This field is now becoming really significant, with more and more exciting developments in this area. I hope that in the future new coordination compounds can be utilised and developed so that it can have impact in medicine. In transition metal photo-redox catalysis, currently people incorporate their photo-catalyst, then add a reductant and/or an oxidant, among other things, to carry out the organic transformation. Turnover numbers of around hundreds are observed. However, the ideal photo-catalytic reaction would be one where you just add your photo-sensitizer/photo-catalyst without the addition of anything else - you just add your substrate and get the product. If that photo-sensitizer/photo-catalyst could have product turnover numbers of over a million, this could have real impact, and I do think this can be eventually realised. I am pushing my research in this direction.
One example from my research includes a paper that I published in Dalton Transactions many years ago on gold(I) dimer-dppm complexes. For this work, when present in catalytic amounts, the gold dimer can catalyse coupling between two alkyl radicals generated from alkyl halides with a reasonable turnover. I actually didn’t realise the impact of this chemistry at the time, but many people are now picking up on this. The compound gold(I)-dppm is now becoming a very useful photo-catalyst for light driven carbon-carbon bond formation reactions with practical synthetic interest. Again, this dream of mine has become a reality by the efforts of many other people, and the field is moving really well overall.
Which Chemical Science publication are you most proud of and why?
I am proud of all of my publications in Chemical Science, however I particularly like our paper on platinum tetradentate emitters that was published back in 2014. This work has attracted attention and interest from both academia and industry, like Samsung. This work showed that through careful molecular design, you can invent useful emitting molecules. Tetradentate platinum emitters could be tailor-made to have similar performances as iridium emitters. Because these platinum complexes have a planar structure, they could have other features that an octahedral compound wouldn’t have.
The other paper that I like was published back in 2011 and described a pincer type platinum compound with an N-heterocyclic carbene, a compound that is very effective for the inhibition of tumor growth. We have also been able to identify the molecular target for this complex, which is responsible for cancer metastasis. Overall, we are convinced that pincer platinum complexes with N-heterocyclic carbine ligands could be tailor-made to show better and more effective efficacy than cisplatin in treating advanced metathesised cancers.
I can see a promising future for these platinum compounds, and I feel that these papers highlight how important it is to obtain a thorough understanding of their structure and function in order to optimise them for application.
You have also been an active member of the Chemical Science Advisory Board for many years. How do you feel the journal has developed over this time, and what would you say are the strengths of the journal?
The journal has been progressing well, and I feel that Chemical Science really does compare well with other top journals in the field. I would say that the strengths of Chemical Science are that it is very international, and publishes highly original and rigorous research. The quality from my point of view is definitely equivalent to other top tier journals in this field. Moving forward, I would like to see the journal develop to be the leading general chemistry journal and with increased attention from the community in China.
What goal would you set for yourself over the next 10 years?
I want to continue to see realisation of the impact of coordination chemistry for important real-world applications. I hope that the proof-of-concept studies so far developed can become reality, and I have confidence that this will happen. In 10 years if you interview me again, I think the complexes that are currently under investigation and development will be utilised for a number of highly important technologies!
10th anniversary collection
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Chemical Science we are publishing a number of special birthday issues, to recognise and thank members of our community who have been supporting the journal and publishing in Chemical Science since we launched ten years ago.
Explore our collection now.