David G. Evans:My Two Great Hobbies are Chemistry and China

作者: 何星华(指导老师:吴梅红)发布时间:2022-10-10

Have you ever watched a video made by Dr. Dai's Lab that an amiable grandfather doing eye-catching chemistry experiments? That is David G. Evans from the UK, who has many tags: a Ph.D. student in Chemistry of the University of Cambridge, a professor at Beijing University of Chemical Technology, an Internet celebrity with ten million followers on Kuaishou…

David usually posts videoes about experiments on Kuaishou, trying to explain boring science theories in an interesting way. The science videos made by David attract many people. Until now, David Evans‘s account-Dr. Dai's Lab has already posted more than 500 videos on Kuaishou, most of which have been viewed over a million times.  

David: If you only study chemistry theory, you learn the equation and learn the periodic table, you will say “chemistry is boring.” That’s what turned me on to chemistry that was doing experiments. If you don't do chemistry experiments, it is very difficult to get interested in chemistry. 

Today, let's listen to the story of this Internet celebrity in China and enjoy his special story with chemistry and the Asian country.

David Evans started to be interested in science at a young age. In his eyes, chemistry is charming and attractive. Science is like a friend and accompanies him throughout his growth. David got his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Cambridge. Later on, he worked as a professor at the University of Exeter. And in 1996, he made a courageous decision that quit his job in the UK, transferred to Beijing, and worked at the Beijing University of Chemical Technology.

David: When I was 11 or 12, I had two great hobbies or interests. One is Chemistry and my other great interest is China. What got me interested in China is the fact that we knew everything about America but nothing about China. There was lots of news about America. And then there was another huge country with its huge population. I knew absolutely no news at all. The fact is that scientists want to find out new knowledge by doing experiments. But then I wanted to find out something about China, there was like, this is a great black hole that nobody seems to know anything about. So I was interested in finding out the new chemistry and finding out new things about China.

At that time, he had no idea what gonna happen between him and that mysterious eastern country. In 1987, David decided to take an adventure by visiting China in person.

David: It was in 1987, I have been to a lecture for a couple of years. It’s one of the main conferences in our field. We held it every 2 years. So in two years time, that is in 1987, it would be in China, in Nanjing. And wow, I would go anyway, for sure. And because it’s China, I definitely have to go. So I came and took part in a conference in Nanjing and then had a week or ten days holiday traveling around China. So that really confirmed my interest in China. Then I decide to keep coming back regularly. From 1987 to 1996, I came back a couple of times a year, visited museums, gave lectures, and had some holidays. So each year I can see how China was beginning to change.

For David, it’s a kind of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to see how all the dramatic changes take place in the country in the past decades. Until now, he has been living in the country for 26 years and he is definitely an observer, a participant and a contributor to the development.

David: If the first time I came to China was 1996, I wouldn’t move here in 1996. It’s a long way behind the UK in every way. But because I have seen the changes from 1987 to 1996, although the changes are much slower than they are now. Because I’ve seen the changes, I could see the real potential to be something big. And it is like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be near the beginning of something which is obviously going to be big. I could foresee exactly how big I don't know, but I can see. And I think maybe I can make my own small contribution to society.

He did it, making a great difference by using his knowledge in chemistry. Besides those attractive videos which disseminate scientific knowledge, he focuses on the chemical research of layered and intercalated structural-functional materials. The structure of this kind of material is quite like a sandwich as David describes. Also, he promotes the construction of a relevant high-end research base at the Beijing University of Chemical Technology.

David: I was in the UK, at Exeter University, we were researching a type of materials that like a sandwich structure, or turn out layers as you do the sandwich. But just as with a sandwich, you can get any number of sandwiches with different flavors, different types of bread and sweet fillings. So our materials are the same. So by changing the chemicals that make up the layers of the filling in the sandwich we can get materials of different properties.

By applying that new type of materials, David and his group work on the issues that concern people’s normal life. He hopes to help people in China pursuing a better life and he did that successfully. One of his works is a new additive material for plastic greenhouse film. At that time, because of the cold weather and poor technology, the choices of vegetables for the Chinese in winter were limited. And cabbage was the most commonly eaten vegetable. David studied this issue and designed a new additive for plastic greenhouse films with his group. Thanks to this special material and farmers’ hard work, we now have more choices for vegetables in winter.

David: The first material we developed was used in plastic films. Because of the cold weather in the north of China, you need plastic greenhouses covering all of the crop. So you need a material mixed with the plastic before you blow the film which absorbs the radiation given off at night and that's what caused cools down the greenhouse. so we have a material that actually blocks that and keeps it in and keeps the temperature inside the wiring house higher. Or the other way, you need to burn less oil to keep the greenhouse at the temperature you want, cause our material is helping.

Another work he joined is to develop new flame-retardant materials for cables that could reduce smoke concentrations even if they caught fire. This material gives people more time to run and more chances to be rescued.

David: It can be used as a flame retardant. Electric cables that you have all around in the studio here all have plastic insulation covering the metal. So if the metal gets too hot, then the flame retardant should hopefully stop the plastic catching fire. So we have a material which is a very good flame retardant. And a lot of traditional ones are banned because if there is a fire, the traditional flame retardant gives off toxic fumes. But our material doesn't give off any toxic fumes. So if you have our flame retardant and when the wire gets so hot that the insulation catches fire, there is much less smoke. And it saves longer time for people to get out of the building.

David G. Evans has received many honors and awards in China. His works are highly regarded and make big contributions to both chemical science and people’s life. In addition to scientific research, David has a great passion for teaching young students.

David: We do a lot of work working with very young kids, secondary year olds, the beginning of primary school, but also working with high school students as well. So I going to a lot of high school students and gave lecture demonstrations. With high school students you can tell a lot of theroires linking to their classes. The high school students told me: “This is the first time in three years that I have seen the chemistry experiments.”

David finds a new way to teach chemistry. He makes videos about science and posts them online. So people from different places can all easily get access to science. In that way, David Evans popularizes the knowledge of chemistry. He feels very proud and excited to spread chemistry knowledge to those people who have no chance to do the experiments. It’s David who brings more changes to people in remote areas and lets them enjoy the charm of chemistry.

David: When my assistant went back to his home last spring festival, he said all his friends were talking about kuaishou. Because Kuaishou is used by people in the smaller cities, the third and fourth cities which are the countryside mainly. People in the small cities and countryside don't have so many opportunities. So we thought let’s target kuaishou and give people who wouldn’t normally have the changed to see science or chemistry and see that’s interesting. So we are actually targeting the audience hard to reach by normal means.

David had and still has been devoting himself to the study of chemistry and the education of science. Also, the stories about David Evans, science, and China are still going on.