Thanks to sponsorship from the Royal Society for Chemistry here in the United Kingdom and the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs in China, I recently travelled to Hangzhou, China, for a visit to the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering at Zhejiang University.
Zhejiang University is one of the top universities in China, and the foundation of academic polymer research within the country. With a long history of significant accomplishments in polymer chemistry, it was an appealing location from a scientific perspective. As one of the more beautiful cities in China, it was also an appealing location for my first trip to China as well!
Arriving late in the day on Monday 18 April, I was greeted at the airport by Li Chenglin, a graduate student at Zhejiang University. With the nickname “Listening”, Li proved to be a thoughtful guide throughout my trip, with truly interesting and thoughtful discussions befitting his moniker. Exhausted from the three flight journey (Edinburgh-London-Hong Kong-Hangzhou), I slept well in the Ling Feng Hotel.
In the morning I was able to get a bit more of my bearings. The Ling Feng Hotel has a strong association with Zhejiang University, located very close to the campus, and was full of prospective students visiting the campus and groups attending short courses. On my first day I was lucky and got to play tourist and visit beautiful Hangzhou. This is truly a wonderful city highlighted by West Lake – an area protected from the expansive growth of the city – and featuring ten iconic scenes that tie Hangzhou to China’s long history (see Photo 1). The lake itself is especially beautiful at sunset, especially after Listening and I spent three hours in a tea house talking science and life (see Photo 2). My iPhone told me that we walked for 17km throughout the day, making me feel slightly less guilty about the delicious authentic Chinese food we ate!
On day two it was time to get to work. My host for my visit was Professor Qi Wang from the aforementioned Department of Polymer Science and Engineering. In the morning I presented a lecture to interested staff and students, discussing both my scientific work in sustainable polymer synthesis and the work of the Royal Society of Chemistry as a publishing house and a facilitator of international scientific connections (see Photo 3). In the afternoon I met with faculty in charge of graduate education at Zhejiang University. We discussed best practice in terms of graduate education. As a proud Canadian, and with experience as an educator on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, I was able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of both the UK and North American systems – in particular, the rapidity that the UK can produce excellence in PhD graduates was a major selling point! As the current Head of the Graduate School for the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry I was able to highlight the cultural, scientific and administrative changes I’ve recently championed to promote change within our School. The meeting produced from strong potential actions, and I learned quite a bit too from their best practice!
On day three it was off to the new Zhejiang University campus (see Photo 4). While the old campus was very close to the beautiful West Lake, the new campus has much more room to grow. With the excellence in Zhejiang making existing buildings a struggle to fit into, a new Polymer Science building will be finished in 2019 and allow for growth in undergraduate and graduate student numbers, faculty research efforts and an increased focus on international engagement and collaboration. The new modern campus also contains an educational museum that captures both Zhejiang Universities storied past, including the mobile university efforts during World War II that saved thousands of books and traversed thousands of miles, and features many of the technological advances pioneered in Hangzhou (see Photo 5, a screen capture of myself and Qi Wang as part of a modern alumni engagement system). After an afternoon at a picturesque wetland area it was off to dinner – a “romantic” restaurant called LeFleur. Here I had the best dish of the trip – a chicken stewed in a broth featuring a unique tiny peppercorn with no supposed English translation. While not overly spicy, the dish numbed the palate to comedic effect. It was delicious and supremely unique (Photo 6). Off to bed before my early flight out the next day. Three more flights on my return gave me time to reflect (and write this blog post!)…
I was impressed by the grand size and excellent science at Zhejiang University, the majesty of Hangzhou and West Lake but most of all by the graciousness of my hosts. I thank Li Chenglin and Qi Wang immensely for their hospitality and hope I can collaborate with both of them in the future. We’ve already started a small collaboration at the interface between our two research programs!
A second thank you also goes to the RSC and SAFEA for support for the trip – my first to China, but hopefully not my last!