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

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Gave another lecture this morning, this time on our main-group organometallic chemistry. I had to a work a bit harder to keep everyone’s attention today as it was much hotter and the air conditioning seemed to be struggling a bit. However, a mid-lecture break to show some pictures and tell some stories about London and Imperial College (did I mention this is where I am based?) seemed to do the trick. Afterwards we bumped into a large group of students in combat fatigues marching around the campus which quite surprised me. Although to outsiders’ eyes such as mine this seemed very militaristic, I was assured this was not the case and it’s actually just a tradition that all new students have to undergo a week or two of so-called “training”. I was perhaps over-optimistically beginning to think I understood China, but I now realize it’s going to take a lot longer!
After lunch (no siesta today) we set off to the Planning Exhibition Hall in Tianjin which contained many models and displays on the future plans for development of the city and its surrounding areas. It was interesting to see how ambitious the plans were, including not only the development of new housing estates big enough to be cities in their own right, but also completely new industrial sectors, power-plants, highways and a brand new subway system. It looks like the exponential growth in the population and economy in Tianjin is likely to continue well into the future. On the way back to the University we stopped at a food street to try some mooncakes – a tasty delicacy used to celebrate the mid-Autumn festival which falls next week. This evening there was time for one last meal with Professor Bu and some of his group before saying goodbye as he was departing for a meeting elsewhere the following day.
Posted by Rob Davies on Oct 26, 2010 9:31 AM BST
I arrived at my hotel in Beijing just before midday, and met up again with Rosemary from the RSC who had kindly agreed to spend her afternoon showing me some of the sights of the city. However, before this we lunched at one of the restaurants in the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) with Lei Fengyun , Deputy Director General of at SAFEA and Professor Wang Qinglin, Director of the International Office at BIT. SAFEA were joint instigators and sponsors of my trip, and I found it particular valuable to meet Lei Fengyun and talk to him about how he envisions the SAFEA-RSC program developing over the next few years. He was particularly keen to tell me how he would like to extend the scheme to more Universities in the West of China, since these Universities are on the whole less well developed and tend to have no or very few contacts or collaborations with Universities outside China.


After lunch Professor Qinglin gave us a tour of the BIT campus, which despite being in the centre of Beijing was very green and full of date and persimmon trees. The University was also the proud owner of a new indoor stadium, built to house the volleyball competition at the 2008 Olympics. After saying goodbye there was just time for a quick trip to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden Palace, which was certainly a highlight for me. Tomorrow I return the London and the beginning of a new academic year.
Reflecting on my trip, I can say that it was certainly a worthwhile and educational experience, and I have been particularly impressed by the generous hospitality of all my Chinese hosts. I hope very much that in the future I can continue to contribute to the SAFEA-RSC program and return to meet again my new friends and scientific collaborators in Tianjin, and also maybe visit some other Universities in the West of the country which I imagine will once again challenge all my preconceptions of China.
Thanks to David Clark, Hongmei Peng and Anna Simpson at the RSC for organising much of the trip for me, the RSC and SAFEA for funding, and also all my hosts in China especially Professor Xian-He Bu.
Posted by Rob Davies on Oct 26, 2010 9:31 AM BST

This morning I had the opportunity to meet with a number of other academics at Nankai University and hear about their research and visit their labs. I was extremely impressed with what I heard and saw, but this is perhaps not surprising as I had previously been told that Nankai is consistently ranked in the top two for chemistry research in China, and is also one of largest Chemistry Departments in China.  I was also able to talk to some of the students and find out a bit more about life as a student in China. Although many aspects of student life would be familiar to students in the UK, there are also some significant differences. For example in China, both undergraduate and masters students are expected to live on campus for the full duration of the course and usually in shared dormitory rooms of up to 8 students. I know that some of my students in the UK have difficulty being in the same room together, so dread to think how they would cope with such an arrangement, but perhaps it would do them some good!

After lunch (and siesta!) I was taken by the same two students as yesterday, Lifu Wang and Li Xue, to see some more attractions in the city. These attractions included a new and large museum containing historical artefacts and treasures, and also a traditional shopping street with many local arts and crafts shops selling items such as painted scrolls, Chinese opera masks, jade carvings and painted snuff bottles. The students very kindly commissioned one of the local artists to write my name on a scroll with the individual letters fashioned from pictures of a dragon, a phoenix and a goldfish (all apparently good luck in China). I think it will look great on my office wall when I return. As is becoming the norm, in the evening I was treated to the best in Chinese hospitality involving plenty of good food, drink and conversation.

Posted by Rob Davies on Oct 26, 2010 9:28 AM BST
My last day in Tianjin. I was picked up by my host for the day Prof Xiaojun Zhao and we travelled to Tianjin Normal University, home to approximately thirty thousand students. I was first given a tour of the University by car, necessitated by the sheer size of the campus. I then gave my lecture in the Chemistry Department to a large turnout – I did feel a bit conscious of the fact that everyone there had given up their Saturday morning to come and see me talk, but apparently the weekends tend to be a lot less sacrosanct in China than the West.
The Chemistry building in Tianjin Normal University is only a couple of years old and after my talk I was keen to see around it. The building itself was very large, and I tried hard not to look jealous as I was shown the new staff offices which were 6 or 8 times the size of my office in London, and also a basement corridor full of brand new equipment including several X-ray diffractometers,  a SQUID magnetometer and an AFM machine. It was good to see that China is willing to invest so much money into the future of its Universities, and it reminded me of the old Chinese saying that if you plant a tree in your youth it will provide you with shade in your old-age. In a time of large funding cuts in the UK, it is a shame that the UK Government cannot be persuaded to see the benefits of a similar longer-term approach.
After a sumptuous and pleasurable lunch in a famous local fish restaurant with Professor Zhao and several other members of the faculty, I set off in the company of Drs Zhong-Yi Liu and En-Chan Wang to visit the Shi-family mansion. This is a large house dating to the 19th century which was owned by one of the richest people in the city, and provided an interesting perspective on life in the city at the time as well many insights into Chinese culture and heritage. The day ended with another large and fine dinner, this time at a Chinese Muslim restaurant. I am now back in my accommodation and reluctantly packing for my early departure tomorrow to Beijing where I will spend one day before returning to London.
Posted by Rob Davies on Oct 26, 2010 9:27 AM BST

Today I was picked up at my accommodation by Professor Tie-Zhen Ren, and we battled the traffic to drive across town to Hebei Polytechnic University where she is based. Although Hebei Polytechnic University was noticeably less well funded and less prestigious than Nankai University, the staff and students were particularly welcoming and there was a large turnout to see my lecture. Before arriving in China I had provided the title of three possible lectures to all the Universities I was visiting, however virtually all of them asked to see my presentation on MOF chemistry. It seems that this field of chemistry has really taken off in China with many groups involved in research on crystal engineering, coordination polymers and MOFs. I am feeling confident that as a result of my trip I will be able to forge several new research collaborations in this area.
After my lecture I was able to talk informally to some of the undergraduate students and give them some advice and help with specific problems they were encountering, such as determining the topology of networked materials. I always enjoy talking to keen and enthusiastic students, and this was no exception. I also had a good chat with some of the staff about challenges facing academics the world over – namely funding and publications! I was very pleased to be able to recommend the RSC publications to them, not least because the RSC was sponsoring my trip to China, but also since the RSC now have several permanent offices in China and a constantly growing number of editors and reviewers based in the country.
In a change from the usual Chinese food, for dinner we went to a boutique pizza restaurant. This choice was particularly well received by Professor Ren’s young son who joined us, since pizza was one of his favourite foods (and mine too!).
Posted by Rob Davies on Oct 26, 2010 9:21 AM BST

The end of my first day in China and I am sitting in my very pleasant, large and thankfully air-conditioned rooms in the “Foreigners Guest House” on the campus of Nankai Univeristy. Yesterday I did finally make it onto the plane, though sadly no upgrade! I arrived in Beijing at 10am after a ten hour flight and was met by Rosemary from the RSC’s Beijing office. It was great to see a friendly face, and she briefed me on my schedule before whisking me off to the Taxi rank and a trip to the mainline train station in Beijing. From there I took the impressively fast express train (up to 350 kmph) to Tianjin, which at this speed was just a 30 minute ride away.

My main host in Tianjin for the week is Professor Xian-He Bu at Nankai Univeristy, and I was met at Tianjin station by two senior members of his research group, Drs Tong-Liang Hu and Yong-Fei Zeng . It was at this stage that I got my first experience of Tianjin traffic – an exhilarating mix of aggressively driven cars, scooters and bikes taking seemingly random routes through the wide but congested streets. All this was accompanied by the constant cacophony of car horns. We somewhat miraculously made it to the University without any accidents and I was able to check into my rooms for the week.

After unpacking I set off to the Chemistry Department to meet Professor Bu for the first time. Professor Bu is renowned expert in the area of magnetic materials and Metal Organic Frameworks (or MOFs for short). This is an area in which we ourselves have recently published several articles, so I hope we may be able to initiate some kind of collaboration. He and his group were extremely welcoming and I was given a tour of his well-equipped labs, with the occasional stop for photo-opportunities. Several of us then left the campus for dinner in one of Tianjin’s best restaurants. This was a great experience as not only was the Chinese food delicious, but it also allowed us to get to know each other a bit more informally. Luckily I am familiar with chopsticks and am quite adventurous in my eating which I think helped too! I am now back in my rooms and looking forward to a much needed early night to catch up on sleep and recover from the jet-lag.



Posted by Rob Davies on Oct 25, 2010 4:04 PM BST

Tuesday started with a walking tour of the main campus of Nankai University. This took several hours since the place is much larger than I expected. The university is home to approximately twenty thousand students and the campus is over 1km in length, containing no less than eight separate chemistry buildings spread throughout its length.

I was glad at the end of the tour to escape from the heat and humidity, and return to the main Chemistry Department where I was to give a lecture on some of our recent work on MOF materials with silicon-based connectors. My talk seemed to be well received and there were many questions, particularly from the postgraduate and undergraduate students who all seemed enthusiastic and keen to try their English language skills on me. After talking shop for a while, we then left for lunch at one of the University restaurants where I was again spoilt by the quality and quantity of the food.

Apparently it is common in China for people to go home after lunch for a short nap or siesta. Since I wanted to experience as much of the culture as possible, I also returned to my rooms for an hour’s rest! Two students came to pick me up later and we took a Taxi to central Tianjin for some sightseeing. The city itself is one of the five largest cities in China with a population of over 13 million, and although most of the city is very new and not really on the tourist trail, there are several interesting historic sites and shopping areas and a number of large parks and lakes to stroll around. In the evening we met up with Professor Bu again for dinner at a famous dumpling restaurant (a local specialty). Despite my best efforts to resist I was plied with far too much Chinese ‘white wine’ (actually a 40% spirit!) over dinner, but at least I will sleep well tonight.

Posted by Rob Davies on Oct 25, 2010 10:49 AM BST
I am currently sitting and waiting with my luggage in a very over-crowded coffee shop at Heathrow airport. I am supposed to be on my way to China as part of a new joint initiative between the Royal Society of Chemistry and the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs (SAFEA) in China. The plan is to visit several universities around the city of Tianjin in order to enhance bilateral cooperation between the UK and China, and to build new research collaborations. It will be my first time in China and I am feeling excited but also a bit nervous about what to expect. However, my trip has got off to a rather inauspicious start as my airline have overbooked my flight to Beijing and I have been asked to wait around until the flight has closed before they decide whether they can fit me onboard or not!
Posted by Rob Davies on Oct 25, 2010 10:45 AM BST