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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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U Chemistry Professor Peter Stang Honored in China and the U.S.


The walls of Peter Stang’s office speak for themselves. Awards in English and Chinese overlap, while about 100 nametags from conferences all over the world lay stacked in a corner. Among these many plaques and photos with famous scientists, one award stands out.

Stang, a professor of chemistry, recently received China’s 2015 International Science and Technology Cooperation Award. He traveled to Beijing to attend the award ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, where he shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The ceremony, which took place Jan. 8, honored seven scientists from around the world, including one other scientist from the United States, as well as scientists from Russia, Sweden, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands.

For Stang, the event could be summed up in one word: “It was fun,” he said. Stang received his award, shook hands with the president, and said, “thank you” — the only words he knows in Chinese. Although Stang doesn’t speak the language, he has a long history with the country. About 11 years ago, Stang led a seminar at the Institute of Chemistry at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and has continued to collaborate with researchers there.

“Since 2004, I have been to China every year at least twice, sometimes three times,” he said.

Stang, currently a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, went to the country last year to accept China’s Friendship Award for 2015 — the highest award China gives out. Stang also received the U.S. 2011 National Medal of Science and shook hands with President Barack Obama.

Stang researches self-assembly, or how to make complex molecules.

“It’s sort of like what you do in a Lego set,” he said. “What I currently do is basic fundamental research, but it has very important potential applications in drug delivery, sensing compounds and in related areas. It has pharmaceutical implications, biomedical implications and material science implications.”

He has worked on this research for more than 20 years — about the same amount of time his colleague, Cindy Burrows, has known him. Burrows, a professor of chemistry, said his research is just one of the ways Stang stands out.

“He is an icon in chemistry,” she said. “[Stang] is a person who has an excellent research program on his own, but he also champions the work of others.”

As editor-in-chief of The Journal of the American Chemical Society, Stang helps researchers publish their work and enjoys connecting researchers to one another. He has hosted several Chinese scientists in his labs and encourages U professors to visit China.

This “great enthusiasm” comes from Stang’s pure love of science, which he discovered as a young boy growing up in Europe. When he was 15, a chemistry teacher inspired him to do experiments at home. From making gun powder with a kit as a teenager to building molecules that can cure tumors, what drives Stang has never changed.

“It’s the fun of it — the sheer, unadulterated fun of chemistry,” he said. “I’ll be doing this for the next 100 years.”

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