The Sceptical Chymist | Reactions – Loh Kian Ping

Published in Chemistry

Loh Kian Ping is at the Department of Chemistry, National University of Singapore, and works on the synthesis and modification of functional carbon materials for advanced technological applications.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

First of all, the study of chemistry as a subject interests me because it is immediately relevant in many ways. There seems to be a set of intuitively easy to understand rules behind the game that chemists play. Chemists explain how the universe operates in a language that is appealing to the pragmatic mind. I believe if the human civilization is destroyed by some natural disasters and need to be rebuilt, the chemists will be the most needed group of people to put the basic infrastructure of human civilization back to place, which is why the first scientist or magician on earth is the alchemist.

I am also inspired by the positive image of the creator in the chemist. A chemist is basically a creator, a cook, an artist and a crafsman combined into one. He can create new molecules from simple building blocks, and some of these molecules can reduce pain and save life, others can be transformed into useful things like plastics and clothings.

2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?

I would be a lawyer. I think I can be persuasive, since the same set of presentation skills and indirect thinking is needed. As a lawyer I probably would make more money than I make now, too.

3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?

I am working on how to create geometrically well-defined nanostructures on an atomically-thin sheet of carbon. An atomically-thin sheet of carbon, called graphene, is a two-dimensional material. My team is working on how to create nanoscale periodic corrugations on this material. This has implication for changing the energy gap of graphene as well as increasing its surface area when used as a charge collection platform.

4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?

I like to have dinner with Dmitri Mendeleev who wrote the volume “Principles of Chemistry” and who was credited with the discovery of periodic table. I am curious what is the thinking process going on in his mind that led him to the discovery, given the very limited information available at that time.

5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?

I have to confess that now I am a laptop or PC chemist, directing the reactions from a computer. The last time I did an experiment in the laboratory was one year ago when I helped my postdoctoral fellow fix up a furnace needed for the chemical vapor deposition of graphene.

6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?

I would take with me my diary to write my thoughts down and to record what I have for dinner on that deserted island – like grilled gecko or crab carpacio. For the music album, that would be my favourite oldies like the Carpenters.

7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?

I would recommend Professor Klaus Mullen, for his wonderful work on the bottom-up synthesis of graphene from designer molecules. This is a good example of the ingenuity of the chemists because they can make almost anything and everything using bottom-up strategy.

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