The commercialisation of aerogel technology is undoubtedly one of the success stories of the translation of solgel science into consumer products that benefit the global community. The unique properties of aerogels has led to applications in such diverse fields as thermal insulation, sensor technology, biomedicine, catalysis, maximising energy usage and environmental protection, to name but a few. Over the past two decades, research and commercialisation of aerogel science and technology has developed rapidly, with over half of the world’s larger aerogel enterprises currently located in China. Indeed, China’s aerogel production now accounts for over 62 % of the world’s output (as per a recent comprehensive review by Shen and Zhang (from which the Figure to the left was taken) as part of JSST’s Topical Collections series). One of the key scientists whose work has driven this remarkable evolution is Professor Shen Jun, our person in the spotlight.
Professor Shen Jun was born in 1967 in Jiangyin (Jiangsu Province). In 1985, he moved to Shanghai to ensure better access to higher education and obtained his Bachelor degree in physics from Fudan University in 1989. In the same year, he entered the department of physics of Tongji University to study for his Master and PhD degrees and then remained at Tongji University after receiving his PhD degree in 1995. In May 2000, he became a full professor. He is currently the deputy director of the Pohl Institute of Solid State Physics and the director of the Center of Nano-Science and Technology of Tongji University.
Professor Shen’s interest in aerogels began in 1992 during his PhD studies, when he began working with Professor Jochen Fricke of Würzburg University (Germany), under a Sino-German cooperation project funded by the Stiftung Volkswagen and National Natural Science Foundation of China. To date, Professor Shen and his team have been engaged in fundamental and applicationsbased aerogel research for 30 years, with significant outcomes in the fields of thermal insulation, adsorption, catalysis and electrochemistry in China. This work, which has led to over 450 publications and many patents, has involved single-oxide aerogels such as SiO2 , GeO2 and Al2O3 ; binary-oxide aerogels such as SiO2 /TiO2 , SiO2 / Al2O3 and SiO2 /ZrO2 ; carbon aerogels; polyimide composite aerogels; etc. For SiO2 aerogels, his team has systematically investigated the effects of different precursors, solvents and catalysts on their properties.
Further more, various approaches were explored and developed conditions often required for preparing such materials), the thermal conductivity of which can be as low as 0.0125 W/mK at room temperature. Based on the classical preparation method of organic resorcinol formaldehyde (RF) aerogels, he explored various approaches for controlling the structure of carbon aerogels, and identified processing conditions suitable for preparing such materials at ambient pressure with specific surface areas of up to 3000 m2 /g. These remarkable materials now find industrial-scale applications in fields such as thermal insulation and energy saving, environmental protection, energy storage and catalysis, among others.
As a leader in the field of aerogels in China, Prof. Shen Jun has made sustained contributions to promoting the industrialization of aerogels in China. In 2004, he collaborated with Chinese Nano Tech Co., Ltd. to establish the first large-scale aerogel production line via supercritical drying. Two years later, the first atmospheric drying aerogel production line was set up. In 2011, Chinese Tianjin NPCA New Materials Technology Co., Ltd. partnered with Shen Jun’s group to initiate large-scale production of carbon aerogels, becoming the first enterprise in the world to achieve an annual net output of 100 tons of carbon aerogels.
Professor Shen Jun’s career has focused on the importance of international collaboration and service to the community. Since participating in his first International Sol-Gel Conference in Yokohama in 1999, he has participated in almost all of the subsequent biennial sol-gel conferences and was one of the Co-Chairs of the 16 th International Sol-Gel Conference (2011, Hangzhou, China). He currently serves as a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Sol-Gel Science and Technology, as vice chairman of the sol-gel branch of Chinese Ceramic Society, and as vice president of the aerogel branch of the China Insulation & Energy Efficiency Materials Association. He has presided over many large-scale international and domestic conferences and promoted academic exchange and technological development in the field of aerogels between China and other countries. For example, from 27 to 31 October 2019, he collaborated with Professor Irina Smirnova of Hamburg University of Technology to organize the Sino-German Workshop, Current Trends and Challenges in Aerogel Development: Production, Modelling and Applications. The workshop invited 25 distinguished scientists from China and Germany to report on the latest progress in the field of aerogels, attracting more than 70 delegates from universities, research institutes and related enterprises. During the workshop, Chinese and German scientists shared their expertise and experience in the processing, characterization and modeling of silica, carbon and bio-aerogels, as well as corresponding industrial production and applications. The symposium provided an important opportunity for close scientific cooperation between China and Germany in the field of aerogels, and an opportunity for young researchers from both sides to initiate collaborative research programs, and to establish friendships and jointprojects as well.
Finally, the 2nd international Conference on Aerogel Inspired Material & 4 th Sino-International Symposium on Aerogels, both of which will be chaired by Professor Shen Jun, will be held in Xuchang, China during August 2022 after being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organisers look forward to fruitful academic exchanges with colleagues across the sol-gel community and to enhancing the rapid development of sol-gel science and technology in partnership.