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Xu Guangxian
Xu Guangxian

Xu Guangxian, chemist, was born in Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province in 1920. From 1940 to 1944, Xu studied at the Department of Chemistry, SJTU. From 1941 to 1944, during the Anti-Japanese War period, SJTU had to rent classrooms from Aurora University (now Luwan Campus of SJTU) in French Concession to secure safety. The Laboratory of the Department of Chemistry then was in a deserted factory building. "Despite the poor condition of the labs, all the students were extremely hard-working, and the professors were very strict with us," Xu Guangxian said, recalling his college life during that peculiar historical period. "We were truly well trained and laid firm foundation for future studies." Xu remained first in his class during those four years; he also met Gao Xiaoxia, the love of his life and the only girl student that graduated and earned the degree. One year after graduation, Xu Guangxian returned to SJTU to work as a teaching assistant for Prof. Gu Jidong. Shortly after that, he won the chance to study in America.

Xu went to USA in 1948, and studied in the graduate school of the Washington University in St. Louis for six months. Then he studied at Columbia University in New York with a university assistant teaching scholarship, majoring in quantum chemistry. Here he also won the first place in the class and received a PhD after only two years and eight months. The first peak of his academic life appeared when he was selected as an honorary member of Phi Lamda Upsilon and of Sigma Xi. During Xu's stay in America, the People's Republic of China was founded and the Korean War broke out in June, 1950. Soon after that, American government passed an act to forbid Chinese students and scientists in America including Qian Xuesen to return the new Communist China. At that time, Xu Guangxian thought: "If I don't go back to China now, I will have to stay in the foreign country forever." So his wife Gao Xiaoxia and he immediately decided to return to China even though she was just about to get her PhD. On April 15, 1951, after acquiring the short stay visitor visa, Xu Guangxian and his wife boarded the "General Gordon" cruise, which was the one of the last three cruises heading toward China right before the act was put into force.

In May 1951, Xu Guangxian was hired by Peking University. Now he is a professor in the College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering of Peking University, Director of Research Center of of Rare Earth Chemistry, PhD supervisor, Director of Division of Chemical Sciences of the National Natural Science Foundation of China, chairman of the Chinese Chemical Society, and vice chairman of The Chinese Society of Rare Earths. He is also member of the international advisory board of International Journal of Quantum Chemistry and Lanthanide and Actinide Research. In 1980, he was elected member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Xu Guangxian has long been engaged in teaching and research in physical chemistry and inorganic chemistry which involves the fields of quantum chemistry, chemical bond theory, coordination chemistry, extraction chemistry, nuclear fuel chemistry and rare-earth science, etc. By summarizing a large number of literatures, he put forward the new concept of nxcπ format and atomic covalence and the definition of quantum chemistry which have a broader universal validity. The stability of metal organic compounds and atomic cluster compounds can be speculated according to the molecular structure. He established the quantum chemistry calculation method which is applicable for the research of rare earth elements and the chemical bond theory of inorganic conjugated molecules. He synthesized a serial of dual-oxygen complexes of quad-core rare earth. He has made a large number of research results in the cascade extraction theory, laws of synergistic extraction, research method of extraction mechanism and rare earth extraction process, etc.

In scientific research, he published nearly three hundred papers and two monographs of Principle of Extraction Chemistry and Rare Earth Solvent Extraction. In teaching, he revised and published the book The Structure of Matter which is the most influential teaching material nationwide and compiled and published all the three volumes of the book for postgraduates, which is named The Basic Principles of Quantum Chemistry and Ab-initio Calculation. In 2008, Xu Guangxian won the State Supreme Science and Technology Award.

Reported by Chen Meihe