Scientific research is the yearning of the heart for PhD ECNUer


“In addition to exploring the unknown, scientific research can also enrich our spiritual world and improve our core competitiveness” said Bai Leiyang, a PhD student of the Class of 2017 studying at the School of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering, ECNU.

After graduating with his master’s degree, Bai Leiyang was full of longing to be employed by a company as a chemical synthesis researcher. However, he soon found that he was still interested in researching total synthesis of natural products, so he resolved to resign and pursue his doctorate.

After receiving an email from Prof. Jiang Xuefeng from the School of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering of ECNU, he took an overnight journey to Shanghai. “I went to Prof. Jiang’s office and discussed three projects I had worked out on the blackboard. Then, I was enrolled into his team to study earlier, starting my exploration journey of total synthesis.”

Bai Leiyang and Jiang Xuefeng

“During my research, I gradually found that, due to my weak foundation in organic synthesis, I was unable to discuss the literature and sort out the topics. Therefore, I began to read a wide range of cutting-edge literature in various fields. Not knowing what method to take, I adopted the simplest approach: follow all chemistry journals, track every article that was updated every day and then summarize my insights.”

Bai Leiyang said he has been always sticking to this habit until now. In this process, he feels more impressed by what his mentor said, “Cognition always improves in an upward spiral manner.”

During this period, Mr. Jiang Xuefeng always encouraged and enlightened him patiently. During the most difficult days of his research, when he groped lonely and helpless in the dark without a sliver of light, Mr. Jiang encouraged him to “See the unseen, think the unthought”.

The journey to success is always lonely. Many people did not believe that he could succeed in the path he had chosen, nor did they believe that he could accomplish such a challenging project.

With perseverance, he achieved significant breakthroughs on total synthesis consecutively as the first author during his PhD, including Total Synthesis of (-)-Calycanthine via Iron-Catalyzed Stereoselective Oxidative Dimerization published in J. Am. Chem. Soc on December 6th, 2021 and Total Synthesis of (+)-Asperazine A: A Stereoselective Domino Dimerization published in Chem on November 10th, 2022, with impact factors of 16.4 and 25.8, respectively.

These two achievements developed a novel protocol for one-step construction of the skeleton of 4N-featured dimeric alkaloids, making the total syntheses of complex natural products an efficient method to obtain the active molecular library as fast as the methodology, and laying the foundation for a “direct access” synthesis for drug discovery.

Looking back on his entire doctoral career, Bai Leiyang has a deeper understanding and appreciation of life and career after the improvement of his abilities, the sharpening of his mind, and the baptism of his heart. He added that more interesting and meaningful research will come soon, and he is looking forward to bringing new ideas and inspiration to natural product total synthesis.

Source: ECNU School of Geographic Sciences

Copy editor: Philip Nash

Editor: Wicky Xu


East China Normal University