Celebrating Suning Wang’s scholarship and dedication to her students
In the early 1980s, China sent a select group of 100 graduate students to study abroad – the first to leave the country since the Cultural Revolution. Ninety-seven young men and three young women, including the late Suning Wang, FCIC, made that ground-breaking journey.
A whip-smart, budding chemist, Wang would go on to earn an international reputation for her work in organometallic chemistry and luminescent materials. But it was her dedication to other scientists’ careers that won her a place in the hearts of students and colleagues at Queen’s University.
“She put her students first. Always,” says her former PhD student Zachary Hudson, now a materials chemist at the University of British Columbia. “She was motivated by helping us get papers out, get jobs, get prizes. Her attitude was, ‘I am where I want to be. Now it’s my job to get you where you want to be.’”
By the time Wang arrived at Queen’s in 1996, she already had a PhD from Yale and a fellowship at Texas A&M under her belt. Wang began her teaching career at the University of Windsor and was one of Queen’s first group of Distinguished University Professor recipients in 2019. Throughout her career she earned many major awards including a Killam Research Fellowship and in 2015 she was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Wang’s research interests included organic photovoltaics and nanoparticles, stimuli-responsive materials as well as OLEDs. She and her group developed a simple method of producing graphene-like lattice through light exposure.
When Hudson met her, Wang was already at the top of her game and poured her considerable energy into motivating others to make their mark. He points to a research project Wang proposed to his wife Christina Sun, who was working with Wang on her Master’s at the time. Wang suggested Sun make an unusual ladder compound of platinum and boron.
“My reaction was that my girlfriend has just been given an absurd project,” recalls Hudson. “Of course, it worked perfectly and she got a very important paper published in Angewandte Chemie.”
As a scientist, Wang was most motivated by fundamental discovery and her excitement for such experiments was infectious. “She taught us the importance of exploring the unexplored, finding the unexpected,” says Hudson.
She also understood the importance of simple human kindness. When Soren Mellerup was considering a PhD with Wang, he asked one of her students what he thought of her as a supervisor. Mellerup was taken aback to hear such a prominent and accomplished scientist described as “quite motherly.”
“At the time I thought this was an odd way of describing your boss, but I would quickly learn how true the statement was. We each spent many hours per week in her office, discussing chemistry, career, and life in general,” recalls Mellerup, now a research review officer for Mitacs. “She was always supportive, honest, and encouraging, even in times when she should have been focusing on herself.”
Wang’s friend Queen’s chemistry professor Cathleen Crudden agrees. When it became clear earlier this year that Wang’s cancer treatment was not going well, she emailed Crudden from the hospital to ask that Crudden look after one of her students.
“That was literally what she was thinking on her death bed,” says Crudden. “She was a joyful warrior. Intense, but considerate and always enjoyed her students and her work.”
Wang died of cancer in April 2020 at the age of 61. In remembering Suning Wang, the Queen’s department of chemistry is looking for friends and supporters to help establish a lecture series in her name.