2017 ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces Young Investigator Award Winner Announced

ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, in partnership with the ACS Division of Colloid & Surface Chemistry, is pleased to announce the selection of Professor Yanli Zhao of Nanyang Technological University, as the winner of the 2017 ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces Young Investigator Award.

Professor Zhao was selected for this Award for development of advanced multifunctional nanomaterials for application in cancer therapy and diagnostics.

We recently spoke with Professor Zhao to get his thoughts on this Award, his current research, and his advice for young researchers.

How did you become interested in materials science and how did your career progress?

My research background was supramolecular chemistry by training. In particular, I conducted cyclodextrin-based molecular recognition and self-assembly during my PhD studies, and the fabrication of switchable rotaxanes and catenanes in my postdoctoral research. During my postdoctoral studies, I had great opportunities to work in collaborations with some excellent materials scientists, and I became interested in integrating supramolecular chemistry with materials chemistry. After I joined Nanyang Technological University Singapore to start my independent academic career in 2010, I decided to take self-assembled nanosystems as my major research direction in my research team. While carrying out interdisciplinary research is always challenging, I have been fortunate to have talented graduate students and research fellows working with me, achieving some exciting results in the fields of nanomedicine as well as gas capture and catalytic conversion.

You undertook your postdoctoral research under one of the joint 2016 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry, Professor Sir Fraser Stoddart. How was that experience, and what’s the most significant learning experience from your time working with him?

Working with Fraser changed my life, and it is the most remarkable and memorable experience for me. I met Fraser during a cyclodextrin conference in Nankai University China in May 2005, right before my PhD oral defense. When I asked him for a postdoctoral position in his group, he quickly accepted my request. Over the years working with Fraser, I learned how to rationally design research projects, write scientific proposals, supervise students, polish manuscripts, deliver oral presentations, and many more. The most significant learning experience from him is working with students with great care and patience, and being supportive to their careers. After working with Fraser for several days and nights in order to finish my remaining manuscripts before my leaving for Nanyang Technological University in 2010, an important piece of advice from him was to choose a research topic different from my original research to start an independent academic career.

Could you give us a short overview of the research you’re currently undertaking?

Our group in Nanyang Technological University conducts research in an interdisciplinary area of applied chemistry and materials with an emphasis on the design, synthesis, and applications of integrated nanosystems for targeted bioimaging and therapy as well as for gas capture and conversion. I have outlined an independent blueprint for the research program that leverages my experiences in synthetic chemistry and advanced materials. For nanomedicine, our research has innovatively discovered therapeutic platforms that can simultaneously target diseased cells, enable the location to be imaged by optical methods, and release therapeutic drugs to the diseased cells by commands. The approach paves the way for developing the next generation of therapeutics in cancer therapy. For gas capture and separation, we have tackled an environmentally important matter of using cost-effective porous materials to selectively capture CO2 from polluted air, followed by catalytic conversion of CO2 into some value-added chemicals and materials. In particular, we have innovatively incorporated nitrogen-rich units into porous materials that exhibit enhanced CO2 capture capability and selectivity. A laboratory-scale prototype facility using the developed nitrogen-rich porous materials has been home-designed and set up by us for high-performance CO2 capture and conversion.

What advice do you have for young scientists who are just starting out in their career and want to make an impact?

My personal experience rather than advice is to spend some time to come up with a new idea or something more creative by integrating your previous research experiences with a different area. Be prepared to fine-tune the topic based on the research progress, and summarize the experimental results timely. Do not get too disappointed when the outcome is negative, and always be optimistic to work toward the goal.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I would like to take this special opportunity to thank the former and current group members as well as our collaborators for their great contributions. I also would like to thank Nanyang Technological University for providing me with excellent research platforms and administrative supports. The last but not the least, I would express my great appreciation to my family for their consistent support to my academic career.

View selected articles published by Yanli Zhao in ACS Publications:

Understanding Pathway Complexity of Organic Micro/Nanofiber Growth in Hydrogen-Bonded Coassembly of Aromatic Amino Acids
ACS Nano, Articles ASAP (As Soon As Publishable)
DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.7b01161

Tuning Synergistic Effect of Au-Pd Bimetallic Nanocatalyst for Aerobic Oxidative Carbonylation of Amines
Chem. Mater., Just Accepted
DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.7b00544

Halogen-Assisted Piezochromic Supramolecular Assemblies for Versatile Haptic Memory
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2017, 139 (1), pp 436–441
DOI: 10.1021/jacs.6b11057

Anticancer Effect of α-Tocopheryl Succinate Delivered by Mitochondria-Targeted Mesoporous Silica Nanoparticles
ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2016, 8 (50), pp 34261–34269
DOI: 10.1021/acsami.6b13974

Emerging Applications of Metal–Organic Frameworks and Covalent Organic Frameworks
Chem. Mater.
, 2016, 28 (22), pp 8079–8081
DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.6b04677

Photopolymerization of Diacetylene on Aligned Multiwall Carbon Nanotube Microfibers for High-Performance Energy Devices
ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2016, 8 (48), pp 32643–32648
DOI: 10.1021/acsami.6b12171

Dual-Responsive Carbon Dots for Tumor Extracellular Microenvironment Triggered Targeting and Enhanced Anticancer Drug Delivery
ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2016, 8 (29), pp 18732–18740
DOI: 10.1021/acsami.6b06695

Professor Zhao will be honored at a special award symposium which will be held on Tuesday, August 22, 2017 at the Fall ACS Meeting in Washington, DC as part of the Colloid Division (COLL) program. We hope to see you there!

 

If you have comments or questions for the author of this post, please e-mail: Axial@acs.org.