In 2009, the Royal Society of Chemistry signed a cooperation agreement with the State Administration for Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA), a division of the Chinese Government. As part of a wider governmental initiative to enhance the global impact of Chinese science and China’s higher education institutions, the RSC and SAFEA provide funding for a Visiting Researchers Programme. This encourages academics from the UK to visit Chinese universities to share best practice, advise Chinese researchers on presenting their research to an international audience and to stimulate collaboration between UK and Chinese institutions.
This blog provides a space for participants to share their experiences and for the RSC to highlight the opportunities that stem from the SAFEA programme.

*The map is reproduced from the United Nations Statistics Division

Catalysis, Porous Materials And Historical China- Diary Of Dr Zoe Schnepp In Shanghai To Nanjing

In September 2014, Dr Zoe Schnepp (University of Birmingham) visited  Southeast University in China, courtesy of the RSC-SAFEA visiting researcher programme. Below is her trip diary where she recounts her experience in Shanghai and Nanjing. Highlights of her trip includes a potential memorandum of understanding between SouthEast University and the University of Birmingham, historical Nanjing, and excellent chinese food.

13th September           
I arrived in China on Saturday September 13th. After the long journey from Birmingham, I was very happy to check into a hotel and then go out for a walk around Shanghai. The first stop was the People’s Park and People’s Square in the centre, where I particularly enjoyed the reflections of all the skyscrapers in the lotus pond. I then walked to the Bund to see the great view along the famous riverfront. For the final part of the day, I explored the French Concession and managed to successfully order some dumplings for dinner.

Water droplets on a hydrophobic lotus leaf in Peoples Park in Shanghai

14th September

In the morning before my train, I had time to visit the Jade Buddha Temple, a short walk from my hotel. The statues and carvings are very beautiful and I was also able to buy some noodles with mushrooms. I also met with a former student from my group, who came from Fudan University to study for a BSc in the University of Birmingham. She did her research project in my group and so it was very nice to see her in Shanghai and discuss her future PhD in the University of Oxford. The journey to Nanjing was very comfortable on the express train and I was picked up at the station by one of Professor Zhang’s students and taken to my hotel in the central campus of Southeast University. Dinner was with Prof Zhang and his family as well as some of their friends and I was able to try a local speciality, Nanjing salted duck.

Local speciality Nanjing Salted Duck

15th September       
I was picked up after breakfast by Prof Zhang to drive through the busy rush-hour traffic to the new campus of Southeast University on the outskirts of Nanjing. The group of Prof Zhang have recently moved into a new building and so the first part of the day was spent looking around the new labs and equipment. I met several of the other faculty and also listened to a talk by one of the PhD students on his Oxygen Reduction Reaction catalysts. We then discussed some ideas of how we can use some of my methods for studying mechanisms of material synthesis to understand the structure and properties of their catalysts, and perhaps improve them.
After lunch I gave a talk entitled “Materials from biomass: Iron-catalyzed graphitization of sawdust to carbon nanotubes”. The talk was kindly chaired by the Director of the Research School, Professor Lin. Since there are many researchers here who work on carbon materials for various applications there were many questions and it was an interesting discussion. Following the talk I met Professor Yunqian Dai and her research group and was given a tour of the laboratory. The undergraduate students were very shy to try their English, which was a shame, since their English seemed very good, and certainly much better than my Chinese. 

Seminar at SouthEast University Chemistry Department

In the evening, I was welcomed to Nanjing and Southeast University at a dinner with the Director (Prof Lin) and Vice Director (Prof Liu) of the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, as well as the head of the administration office Mr Wang. Prof Yuanjian Zhang and Prof Yunqian Dai also joined us. I had the chance to taste some more Chinese dishes including squid, tofu, a sea-fish, pickled radish and many other delicious foods. There was also local beer and rice wine with many opportunities for ‘gan bei’.
16th September     
On Tuesday I spent the day in meetings with various research staff. Firstly, I met Professor Zhou Jiancheng and his student and learned about their work on biomass conversion and also catalysts for reducing oil viscosity. We discussed a possible collaboration for my research group to make porous copper-based heterogeneous catalysts for their research. Following this, I listened to another talk from a PhD student of Professor Zhang on some work that is related to our previous collaborations. I also met again with Professor Liu, this time to listen to the work of one of his PhD students and then for Professor Liu to give me an overview of the research in his group. We then discussed setting up a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to facilitate collaborations. There is already an MOU between Birmingham and Southeast University between the Schools of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and so this should be straightforward. There are many connections between the Chemistry Schools, particularly in the work of electrocatalysis and also biological sensing and so an MOU will be beneficial to many researchers on both sides. Finally on this afternoon I learned some more about the work on sensor technology at Southeast University. In the evening, Professor Zhang showed me around some of the old buildings in the central Southeast University campus and also a pine tree that is 2000 years old.
17th - 18th September
On Wednesday and Thursday I had the chance to see many of the important tourist sites in Nanjing and learn some of the history of this city and of China. Since Nanjing has been the Capital city of China, there are many important historical places here. The first stop was the Purple Mountain area and a visit to the Mausoleum of Dr Sun Yat-sen, with a long climb up the hill rewarded by beautiful views over Nanjing. Following this, I was able to visit the Mausoleum of Ming Xiaoling, the first example of a Mausoleum from the Ming Dynasty with some really beautiful buildings and carvings surrounded by forest. On Thursday morning, I saw the old city walls and visited the city wall museum, followed by a walk around part of the City Lake and islands, which are a popular leisure spot and a welcome break from the busy area in downtown Nanjing. Close to the lake and the North Gate of the city wall was the Jiming Temple. This was certainly a highlight of my trip as it is a beautiful example of the Chinese pagoda style and there is a restaurant at the top where you can enjoy views over the temple and beyond to the city wall and gate. After a visit to the folk art and craft museum (a particular interest of mine), we joined Professor Liu and several members of the research centre for a farewell dinner.

Beautiful historical site in Nanjing the Mausoleum of Ming Xiaoling
19th September
Early on Friday morning, Professor Zhang drove me to the train station and I travelled back to Shanghai. For lunch, I met my former student again and she took me to try a ‘sushi-cake’, even including a birthday candle in the middle!

After this, I went to the office of the Royal Society of Chemistry to meet Justin Xu and Hongmei Peng and told them some stories from my trip. I also discussed China-UK links and particularly our joint China-UK programmes at the University of Birmingham. The Royal Society of Chemistry is active in helping to set up or promote student chemical societies in Chinese universities and we discussed how the existing Birmingham-China link may be able to help this project.

On this Friday, I was very lucky that there was an international RSC-Unilever event occurring during this week and I was invited to join the final dinner, since the subject of the event was functional materials. So my final evening in China I was able to meet many Unilever scientists (including some who have lived in the UK), some more of the RSC international staff and also some of the invited international speakers. It was a nice surprise and a great way to end the week in sharing some stories of our experiences in China.

20th September

A final experience, on my journey to the airport I was lucky to experience the Shanghai Maglev train!
Posted by Kathleen Too on Oct 3, 2014 4:17 PM Europe/London

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