Despite only arriving in China three years ago, Australian professor Jeffrey Reimers has already had a significant impact on Shanghai’s scientific community.
His research center has published a series of academic papers in major scientific journals, including Nature, which has helped raise Shanghai University’s international profile.
He has also forged greater cooperation between the university and the University of Technology Sydney, where he is also a faculty member.
He currently works on a project that involves protein crystallography, a vital element in drug design, and also collaborates with prominent Chinese scientist Hong Guo on research into silicon electronics.
“Hopefully when I’m done with my work here, the connection between the two universities will be further strengthened, and through that I will leave a legacy,” Reimers said.
“I’m very happy to work on the advancement of science in China. It’s all part of developing a better world.”
The scientist was awarded the Shanghai Magnolia Silver Award, on Sept 6, for his contribution to the city’s efforts to build a global science and technology hub.
What do you feel has been China’s biggest achievement in recent years?
I read a report that about 95 million people were taken out of poverty in China over the past decade, and that’s a really significant achievement that reflects 40 years of amazing achievements in China. To see that happening and to be a part of it in my own little way is very special.
I find China to be an extremely friendly place. Three or four years ago, when my family and I were on the subway or a bus in Shanghai, people around would talk to us.
But what I have found disturbing is that this happens rarely today, as everyone is glued to their phones. Society has become much more insular, and people are more focused on themselves and their toys.
Traffic is also becoming much more pleasant. When we first came, it was chaos. I once had a student come visit me and he was almost in tears after having to cross a road.
But all that is changing for the better due to efforts from the Shanghai government. Similarly, the ban on car horns happened overnight, and it made life so much more pleasant.
What three words would you use to describe China?
Unified, together, vision. People have very different incomes, but everyone you talk to is interested in building a better China, and they see that as their job. People moving together as one, and with a vision, is a great strength to have indeed.
What’s the biggest challenge China faces today, and how do you think the country can overcome this?
People focusing too much on themselves and the building of wealth, instead of interest in the community and the country. That is a great problem in the West, and I feel it is becoming more prevalent in China.
In terms of challenges in the field of science, environmental damage and sustainability would be core issues. Coming up with better, cleaner methods for creating chemical reactions when generating power is going to be important.
All these things are global issues that affect China, and China is doing its share to address these key issues.
To have real development in the applied scientific fields, we need to continue funding the core science underpinning it. To turn your back on that and just focus on applications is the demise of science and technology.
You have met President Xi Jinping. What was your impression of him?
It was a wonderful meeting. President Xi is very learned in many areas. He showed interest in the recommendations and comments that were put together by the foreign experts and even described how the recommendations would be looked at by the appropriate committees.
He made you feel valued. Being at that meeting made us scientists feel like we were contributing to China and, in turn, to the world. President Xi came across as someone who cares for his people, his country and the world.
How do you view China’s role in today’s world?
China needs to become a world leader and inspire other countries, particularly in terms of friendship and cooperation to show countries how not to be bullies, and how to be friends. China needs to expand its reputation and abilities in these areas.
Do you believe some of China’s experiences or practices could be used to solve pressing global problems?
Many countries are in the position China was 40 years ago, and the lessons learned here in China are certainly appropriate for them.
China needs to teach people in these countries how to go about managing certain issues, such as ensuring good government, how to prevent corruption and how to focus on development in a sustainable way with clear end goals.
China’s five-year plans provide a purpose and focus, and any developing country needs such plans to have a long-term future. China needs to teach other countries how to do this.