Zhongfan Liu is the Cheung Kong Chair Professor at Peking University whose research is focused squarely on the fundamental properties and applications of graphene. Just last year, he established a new institute, the Beijing Graphene Institute (BGI), to push for the commercialization of graphene materials. At present, BGI has nearly 170 research staff and that number is expected to reach 1000 in only 10 years time.
When asked to nominate figures that have served as an inspiration over his career, Prof. Liu focused particularly on his early career mentors, Prof. Akira Fujishima, Prof. Hiroo Inokuchi and Prof. Shengmin Cai. Of Prof. Inokuchi, he said “from [him], I learnt the philosophy of doing high quality research and the ability to do interdisciplinary research.”
Reflecting on the influences that helped to shape his early career, Prof. Liu offered some thoughts on the differences between the western style of education, and that which he encountered in China: “We lack the interactions between teacher and students in the classroom. We pay too much attention to teaching the knowledge itself but less attention to encourage students to be self-thinking and have self-motivation.”
Self-motivation has clearly not been a problem over the course of Prof. Liu’s career. For many years, he has been seeking to close the gap between pure science and industry. A range of new technologies have originated in his lab including the use of controlled vapor deposition to make high-quality graphene films, graphene-tailored optical fibers, and a technique for using graphene to improve the performance of LEDs.
Currently, BGI is directing its efforts to find a scalable technique for the bulk synthesis of graphene. Such a breakthrough would play a key part in unlocking its economic potential.
When asked about his thoughts on the future of graphene research, he was upbeat, “For graphene materials, although only about 15 years have passed since the first paper in 2004, the fundamental research has very quickly moved to practical applications. We expect a lot for the future of the graphene industry.”