After 20 years at the College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics, Zhuangjie Li, professor emeritus of analytical and physical chemistry, is enjoying some well-deserved rest and relaxation. The newly retired professor recently returned from a cruise to New England and Canada and plans to set off on many more adventures around the world – his travel is no longer restricted to short stays in various academic conference locations.
But before he set off to enjoy his dream retirement, Li took steps to improve reality for his former colleagues and the future of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, establishing the Dr. Zhuangjie Li Chemistry Faculty Research Fund and the Dr. Zhuangjie Li Endowed Chemistry Faculty Research Fund.
Drawn to the college’s emphasis on both teaching and research, the beautiful weather, and a good high school for his daughter, Li moved to Southern California from Illinois in 2003 and put down roots as a professor and researcher that would last for two decades. He reflects fondly on teaching and mentoring many students who have now found success in industry, research labs, federal agencies, and academia.
“Research is often challenging, but if you keep working and exploring – and if you’re determined – you’ll eventually get new findings and discoveries.”
Zhuangjie Li, professor emeritus of analytical and physical chemistry
At NSM, Li’s research focused on uncovering kinetics information for the reactions of volatile organic compounds with atmospheric oxidants, exploring ways to remove inorganic air pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide, and high molecular weight VOC air pollutants, as well as detecting and quantifying levels of organic contaminants in water and exploring ways to remove them.
“High molecular weight VOCs have been associated with the production of tropospheric ozone, smog, and air pollution throughout Southern California, the nation, and the world, and there were very limited studies on the kinetics of their oxidative oxidation,” Li says. “My lab was focused on getting data out there to help people understand the role inorganic pollutants and high molecular VOCs play in air pollution and to help policymakers make critical decisions. These pollutants are a major culprit in global warming, and their accumulation in the air can lead to acid rain and erosion, among other negative environmental effects. Reducing their emission is essential.”
Grateful for all the support he received in his own research from colleagues over the years and recognizing that a large percentage of donations and sponsorships are focused on helping students conduct research, Li decided to express his thanks for 20 years of collegiality by establishing these incentives for faculty.
“These funds are not a lot, just a total of $10,000 per year, but I hope it will help motivate my colleagues and future faculty researchers to keep going with their work and allow them to buy some equipment, chemicals, or whatever other research items they need,” Li says. “Research is often challenging, but if you keep working and exploring – and if you’re determined – you’ll eventually get new findings and discoveries. I think this college is doing a great job in its research and teaching endeavors, and I hope that this excellence of education continues for years to come.”