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Sara E. Skrabalak
Professor Jinwoo Cheon interview with Chemistry of Materials
Chemistry of Materials
Date: Jan 24, 2024

Chemistry of Materials (CM) has had a fantastic 35th year! Exciting celebrations of scientists Clément Sanchez and Elsa Reichmanis. Editorials that looked at the Future of Drug Delivery by Jingjing Gao, Jeffrey Karp, Robert Langer, and Nitin Joshi; the Future of Metal Organic Frameworks by Laura Gagliardi and Omar Yaghi; and the Future of MXenes by Yury Gogotsi, each accompanied by virtual collections. These are just a handful of the initiatives inspired by the excellent research being published by the journal and the community engaging with our editorial team. The editorial team and supporting staff at the journal thank everyone who submitted, published, reviewed, and read manuscripts at the journal.
To mark the end of this year, we provide our final installment of 35 Voices, our interviews with researchers from all over the world and at different career stages. These interviews provide insight into the future of materials chemistry and materials science as the journal makes plans for the next year.
Jinwoo Cheon
We begin this installment with an interview with Jinwoo Cheon (JC), who is the Director of the Center for Nanomedicine, Institute for Basic Science, and H.G. Underwood Professor of Chemistry at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea. Examples of his group’s recent research can be read in the journal as well as Nature MaterialsHe shared the following with the journal:
JC: Although I am an inorganic chemist by training, I became intrigued by nanoparticle chemistry in the mid-1990s. Hence, since the launch of my independent career in 1998, my expertise has evolved from the shape control of nanoparticles over the past quarter century to nanoparticle bioimaging and, now, nanomedicine. To elaborate further on that development, the understanding of the synthetic approaches of shape-controlled nanoparticles and associated phenomena was a key project of my research lab in the late 1990s and early 2000s. One of the most significant catalytic moments came upon conversing with biologists; my interest shifted and became much more concentrated on molecular-level interfacing of nanomaterials for imaging and actuation of biological systems. Since nanomaterials and devices are in similar sizes in the functional units of biological systems, such as genes and proteins, it was obvious that the roles and impacts of nanomaterials and devices would be significant. However, we have yet to utilize those advantages, which comprise the potential for powerful field advances. With the spatiotemporally seamless integration and communicative feedback systems between the nanomaterials based on the physical world and the counterparts of the biological world, we could envision enormous advances in resolving some of the biggest challenges of human health.
CM: What is your research specialty and what inspired you to study and conduct research in this area?
JC: I see innovative nanomaterials systems as key to success for future medicine. It is clear that our understanding of biological systems lags behind our desired level of knowledge, and the need for precise nanoscale tools and methodologies is critical to interrogating complex biological systems. The use of molecular-level interfacing and utilization of nanomaterials and devices for biological systems is on the horizon. However, spatiotemporally precise and holistic measurement and actuation of complex biological systems such as brain circuits and deep tissue organs are still in the premature stages, and the delivery of desired cargo to the targeted areas has yet to be effective. My main focus lies in nanomaterials and their potential to facilitate molecular imaging and actuation of targets located deep inside the body, otherwise inaccessible by optical systems. Magnetic and sonic modalities could be attractive, but there are significant challenges in developing new concepts and innovative nanomaterials and tools that are effective. In such endeavors, we are slowly making exciting advances by collaborating with bioengineers, neuroscientists, and immunologists to achieve promising outcomes that will be vital for the nanomedicine of the future.
CM: What do you see as a grand challenge in the field of materials and what would help the community address this challenge?
JC: Chemistry has come a long way, expanding its scope from molecular chemistry to materials chemistry, nanoscience, and beyond. It is now playing significant roles in energy, environment, and health. However, our challenges in these areas are becoming increasingly difficult to bear. As such, continued scientific breakthroughs are essential, and the public should be well-informed about the current issues to gain a better understanding of the science behind them. Teaching in classrooms and outreach programs designed to educate young and adult generations is essential.
CM: What words of inspiration do you have to share with the readers of Chemistry of Materials?
JC: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, then go together (African Proverb)”. In the realm of science, working as a cohesive team not only leads to the resolution of complex issues that our society confronts but also provides a platform for individuals to gain insight into their capabilities and the collective values they can create. By working in unison and cross-collaboration, you will also unlock a more significant potential to understanding life’s meaning and solutions.

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