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A British Environmental Organic Chemist's Decades-long Collaboration with China

Sep 07, 2021

Kevin C. Jones, Distinguished Professor at Lancaster University (LU) in the UK, received the Guangdong Science and Technology Cooperation Award earlier this year for his outstanding contributions to scientific collaboration between the UK and China’s Guangdong Province, with the Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry (GIG) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) as one of his nominators.
"It has been such a pleasure to work with colleagues at GIG for many years now, so it is a great honour to be nominated for this prestigious award by friends and collaborators,” said Kevin, “Actually, it feels like the award is shared by all our team or ‘research family’."
 As one of the world’s leading environmental organic chemists, Kevin has pioneered research into the sources, fates and effects of environmental pollution over the last three decades. As recognition of his achievements, he was elected as a foreign member by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in 2007 and awarded CAS’s Visiting Professorship for Senior International Scientists when the programme was first introduced in 2009.
Boasting an extensive network of international partners, Kevin has collaborated intensively with a number of institutions in Guangdong Province in southern China, with GIG as one of the most important. “My links to GIG started with my friend and colleague Prof. ZHANG Gan, who came to work with me in the UK nearly 20 years ago now. We have maintained our links ever since,” said Kevin.
The outcomes of the collaboration have been fruitful and multi-dimensional. One of them has been the establishment of the monitoring network of atmospheric persistent organic pollutants (POPs) across countries such as China, Japan, Korea, India, Pakistan, Thailand and Russia. The monitoring system, which has become a recognised tool for assessing global atmospheric POPs, contributes substantially to China’s compliance with the Stockholm Convention and control of POPs.
Kevin also played a leading role in founding the International Research and Innovation Centre for the Environment (I-RICE), a joint initiative by LU, GIG, and the Institute of Urban Environment of CAS, in 2012. This has enabled LU and GIG to complement each other in research, share staff and equipment, and deliver joint PhD programmes. The impact has reached far beyond that. As Kevin put it, “We have been able to build links, collaborations, teams and partnerships with many other scientists and organisations in China, and across the world.... I think the GIG team have actually helped to pioneer this open and friendly spirit to international collaboration as a ‘model’ for other Chinese groups and research organisations.”

Kevin (front row, middle) and Prof. ZHANG Gan (back row, third from the right) are at the signing ceremony of the joint announcement of I-RICE.
In recent years, Kevin has been providing powerful support for GIG’s endeavours to create an international research mechanism focusing on environment pollution and health in coastal zones along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. With his active participation, a training course was launched by GIG in Guangzhou in 2018, providing training on monitoring and risk assessment of persistent toxic substances for more than 20 professionals from 12 countries, including several countries involved in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In 2019, he assisted GIG in organising the SETAC A/P Focus Meeting, where excellent scientists from around the world gathered to brainstorm international research schemes to address concerns on environment pollution and health.
Kevin lectures at a training course held by GIG for professionals from 12 countries.
Kevin’s influence on early-career scientists must also not be overlooked. So far he has hosted 17 visiting scientists and PhD students from GIG in his laboratories, and thanks to his coordination, six PhD candidates from EU countries spent 1-2 years conducting joint research at GIG with the support of the EuropeAid-funded project SEW-REAP.
"We have seen young students grow up to become mature and leading scientists in their own right – establishing research expertise, labs and teams of their own – a very rewarding experience!” said Kevin.
A postdoc from ZHANG’s research group recalled her first visit to LU years ago, “On a sunny afternoon, Kevin popped up in our office and treated us to ice cream, which was so lovely! His team had guest scientists from all corners of the world, Thailand, Turkey, Nigeria, Pakistan, Italy, Spain, China and more. He was open-minded and always welcomed discussion.”
Kevin (back row, fourth from the right) visits an atmospheric supersite in China, together with GIG members and LU visiting students.
Looking back on his decades of collaboration with Chinese co-workers, Kevin said, “One of the wonderful things about international collaboration is experiencing different cultures and learning about different countries, their people and perspectives of the world. I remember some great trips around China, always shared with my friendly and kind hosts. We have enjoyed fantastic Chinese cuisine together in many provinces! It has been a special highlight for me to bring some of my UK, European and North American colleagues to China for the first time, and to see their eyes opened to the wonders of China, and to share travels and experiences together.” (Photos by Kevin C. Jones and GIG) 

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