Interview with Tony James

image file: c4cc90217c-p1.tif
Plate1 (born October 7th 1964) is a Professor at the University of Bath and Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. He completed his first degree in Chemistry in 1986 at the University of East Anglia. He then moved to the University of Victoria in 1986 to do his PhD under the supervision of Thomas M. Fyles. After finishing his PhD in 1991 he moved to Japan as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow where he worked at the Chemirecognics Project with Seiji Shinkai. In 1995 he returned to the UK as a Royal Society Research Fellow in the School of Chemistry at the University of Birmingham, moving to the Department of Chemistry at the University of Bath in September 2000. He has been a visiting professor at Tsukuba, Osaka and Kyushu Universities and is a guest Professor at East China University of Science and Technology, Xiamen University, Shandong Normal University, Nanjing University and is a Hai-Tian (Sea-Sky) Scholar at Dalian University of Technology. In 2013 he was awarded a, which are awarded in recognition of significant scientific collaboration between British and Japanese research teams. His research interests include many aspects of supramolecular chemistry, including molecular recognition, molecular self-assembly and sensor design. Within the area of molecular recognition his research has a particular focus on boronic acid based receptors for the fluorescence sensing of saccharides. He has developed a broad interdisciplinary approach to research, with an underpinning focus on the development of modular sensors where he has pioneered a range of reporting regimes.

Do you remember what it felt like to publish your first ChemComm article?

Having moved to Japan as a Research Fellow for the Research Development Corporation of Japan (JRDC), I was excited by the possibilities offered by a recently rediscovered supramolecular receptor unit (boronic acids). Working with Seiji Shinkai and the late Takaaki Harada, we discovered a colorimetric system for reporting the chirality of sugars. The base liquid crystal system was green in colour but with addition of our D-glucose boronate complex the colour changed to red, while the L-glucose system changed to blue (DOI: 10.1039/c39930000857). On seeing these amazing colours, we knew where we should publish the work, especially given that our system was “ChemComm” green (at that time the journal cover was green).

How has your research evolved from your first to your most recent article?

While the most recent paper does not report on a colorimetric system for chirality it has direct lineage to this earlier paper. The current paper uses the same receptor unit (boronic acid) in the preparation of a sensor for copper(II) (DOI: 10.1039/c4cc03453h). Also, while the detection method is fluorescence rather than colorimetric, the “read-out” mechanism still relies on the sensor system’s modification of transmitted light.

What do you like most about publishing in ChemComm?

The great thing about ChemComm is that after 50 years it still provides exactly what it “says on the tin” which is “urgent high quality communications from across the chemical sciences.” As an author, the great thing about publishing in ChemComm is that the format is easy to write; as a reader the concise nature makes the papers quick and easy to understand. When this is coupled with rapid refereeing and speedy publication times, ChemComm is a real pleasure to both read and write for.

What aspect of your research are you most excited about at the moment?

Two areas of research are very exciting at the moment. One is developing new sensors for reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (ROS and RNS) (DOI: 10.1039/c3cc43265c, DOI: 10.1039/c4sc01417k). ROS and RNS are signalling molecules for the regulation of a variety of biological processes, such as immune response, cell signalling, dementia and cancer. The other area is the analysis of glycated proteins, which are formed by the irreversible reaction of the amine groups of amino acids and proteins when excess D-glucose is present in blood to afford Advanced Glycation End (AGE) adducts. These AGEs are important biomarkers for sugar-related non-communicable disease states, such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, autoimmune diseases, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

What is the best part of your job?

There are many wonderful aspects to my job, but being able to use my expertise to make a real-world impact on the health and well-being of others is by far the most rewarding aspect. For example my research has had a direct impact in the area of D-glucose sensing. A D-glucose selective fluorescence sensor (DOI: 10.1039/b105994g, DOI: 10.1039/b108998f) based on the Photoinduced Electron Transfer (PET) mechanism introduced 30 years ago in ChemComm, (DOI: 10.1039/c39940000477) has been industrialised in collaboration with Glysure Ltd. The molecular sensor is an integral part of a fibre optic system used to continuously monitor D-glucose levels of patients in intensive care units (ICU). Controlling a patient’s D-glucose levels in the ICU within tight normal ranges (tight glycemic control) improves patient outcomes including a 46% reduction in incidence of sepsis, 41% reduction in renal failure, 50% reduction in blood transfusions, and 34% reduction in mortality.

What is the secret to success in scientific publishing?

For me the secret to success in scientific publishing is collaboration, since a shared problem is solved much faster, and the research is also much more rewarding when you work with others. For example, I have established a number of stable research networks in the UK (DOI: 10.1039/b814379j, DOI: 10.1039/c3nj00017f, DOI: 10.1039/c0nj00166j, DOI: 10.1039/c3an01233f, DOI: 10.1039/c3an01234d), China (DOI: 10.1039/c4cc03453h, DOI: 10.1039/c3cc43265c, DOI: 10.1039/c3cc43083a, DOI: 10.1039/c1cc10210a, DOI: 10.1039/c3cs60148j) and Japan (DOI: 10.1039/c0cc02921a, DOI: 10.1039/c0cc02920c). In particular, with Steven D. Bull and John S. Fossey, the Catalysis and Sensing for our Environment (CASE) network has been established. The network’s free-to-attend symposia have been held at the University of Bath (UK, 2008), ECUST (China, 2009), the University of Birmingham (UK, 2011), SIOC (China, 2012), University of Texas at Austin (USA, 2013) and future meetings are planned for Xiamen (2014) and Dublin (2015). These CASE symposia have proven to be hotbeds for collaborative discussion, with numerous papers and successful funding applications resulting from the interactions initiated through the networking opportunities provided by these meetings. These networks are the life blood of my research and are extremely beneficial to my group in Bath. The networks both provide fresh insight into old problems and provide new challenges for the next generation of researchers in my group. New insights allow us to view both sides of the coin and develop more effective ways to present our results to the wider scientific community. For scientific publishing this means the referees can better understand our research and more importantly, recognise why it is important.

What is your advice to young emerging scientists?

My advice for emerging scientists is to not be scared of collaborating with others. We as scientists often hold on to our precious ideas way too tightly, in order to protect them. However, sometimes letting them have more space can often help them to flourish and deliver more than you would have ever thought possible. It is worth remembering that when you compete there is always a loser, but when you collaborate everyone wins.

What do you do in your spare time?

In my spare time I enjoy playing tennis with friends and going fishing or shopping with my son and daughter.

By the time I’m 100 I would like to have…

I would love to have played a small part in educating the next generation of scientists. This will repay in some small way the scientists who motivated me to become an academic through their inspirational guidance, i.e. the lectures of Donald J. Cram, who sent a 3D model of a carcerand around the audience, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart who used language and colours to convey difficult scientific concepts and last but not least Seiji Shinkai, who taught me to love the basic processes involved in research. With the help of Itaru Hamachi and Kazuo Sakurai a collection of articles dedicated to Seiji Shinkai on the occasion of his 70th birthday have been assembled and are available on the RSC Publishing Website (

This journal is © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2014