Interview with Jackie Ying

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Jackie Y. Ying was born in Taipei, and raised in Singapore and New York, and graduated with BE summa cum laude in Chemical Engineering from The Cooper Union in 1987. As an AT&T Bell Laboratories PhD Scholar at Princeton University, she began research in materials chemistry, linking the importance of materials processing and microstructure with the tailoring of materials surface chemistry and energetics. Prof. Ying has been on the Chemical Engineering faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) since 1992, and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1996 and to Professor in 2001. She is currently the Executive Director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), Singapore. IBN is a multidisciplinary national research institute founded by Prof. Ying in March 2003 to advance the frontiers of engineering, science and medicine; it has grown to 170 research staff and students under Prof. Ying's leadership. Prof. Ying's research is interdisciplinary in nature, with a theme in the synthesis of advanced nanostructured materials for catalytic and biomaterial applications. Her laboratory has been responsible for several novel wet-chemical and physical vapor synthesis approaches that create nanocomposites, nanoporous materials and nanodevices with unique size-dependent characteristics. Prof. Ying serves on the Advisory Boards of several high profile journals and she is the Editor-in-Chief of Nano Today.

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

My first ChemComm article on “Palladium-Grafted Mesoporous MCM-41 Materials as Heterogeneous Catalyst for Heck Reaction” was published in 1997. My postdoc Christian Mehnert and I were excited about using vapor grafting as a means to introduce highly dispersed nanoclusters on mesoporous supports to achieve active Heck catalysts that can be easily recycled and reused. We were very pleased that the paper was accepted rapidly.

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

My research group has now developed a variety of nanostructured materials for not only catalytic, but also energy and biomedical, applications. Our catalytic materials involve nanoporous inorganic and polymeric systems, and they are useful for pharmaceuticals synthesis and environmental applications. We have also synthesized nanocomposites of metals, alloys, semiconductors and oxides. These materials have been developed for fuel cell and battery applications. Our laboratory has also designed many nanocomposites of inorganic and polymeric materials for drug delivery, tissue engineering, bioimaging and biosensor applications. With the nano toolbox, we are able to tailor materials with unique composition, structure, architecture and morphology for various applications.

What do you like most about publishing in ChemComm?

ChemComm is excellent in its rapid review and turnaround in publication, and for the variety of topics covered.

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

Besides catalytic materials, we are working on synthetic cell culture substrates. These materials have the potential to replace animal-derived Matrigel for use in the expansion and controlled differentiation of stem cells. We are excited about developing these synthetic substrates. They have no immunogenic issues, unlike commercially available animal-derived cell culture substrates, and are much less expensive than peptide-based materials.

What is the best part of your job?

Besides running my own research group, I have the pleasure of directing the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), a national research institute of ∼180 research staff and students. The most exciting part of the job is to recruit talented researchers and shape multidisciplinary project teams to tackle complex problems at the interface of science, engineering and medicine. We have excellent chemists, biologists, pharmacists, chemical, biological, mechanical and electrical engineers, as well as medical doctors working closely together at IBN in 4 research areas: nanomedicine, cell and tissue engineering, biodevices and diagnostics, and green chemistry and energy. My work as Editor-in-Chief of Nano Today is also very interesting because I get to see the latest research in the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology first hand, and help to showcase excellent publications to the readers.

What is the secret to success in scientific publishing?

The secret to success in scientific publishing lies in pursuing exciting research directions that would make a significant impact. Although we may become very good in certain research areas, it is critical to venture into new areas and create new approaches and toolboxes to tackle challenging problems from a fresh angle.

What is your advice to young emerging scientists?

My advice would be to read broadly, take risks and develop new research directions where they can make a difference by drawing on their own strengths. Young scientist should be encouraged to collaborate with and learn from others outside their fields, so that they can tackle important problems that they would otherwise not be able to on their own.

What do you do in your spare time?

My professional responsibilities take up a very large portion of my time. I try to spend as much of my spare time as possible with my daughter.

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

I hope to have made a significant impact to society and to the community before I turn 100. Besides publications, my group members and I have established a significant patent portfolio. Many of our patents have been licensed, and we have also spun off several companies to commercialize our inventions. Besides making a technological impact through research and innovation, at IBN we have also been actively reaching out to young students through our Youth Research Program to expose them to research experience in our laboratories. I hope we will inspire more young people to pursue careers in scientific research.

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