Nongjian’s passing away was highly unexpected and a great shock to me. I have known him personally for 25 years and met with him recently both in 2016 and 2019. in 1996 he came to Denmark, when we had the chance to organize an ESF workshop trying to merge the modern experimental and theoretical electrochemistry with the then somewhat more traditional oriented bioelectrochemistry. I have been fortunate to initiate recently a very rewarding cooperation with Nongjian and his group, Yueqi Li in particular. Nongjian Tao was a true scientific superstar and a very pleasant personality.
He will indeed be greatly missed.
Prof. Jens Ulstru
Department of Chemistry, DTU
NJ and I first met in 1991 at Arizona State University, where we both are postdoctoral researchers in Prof. Stuart Lindsay’s lab working on nanoscience and technology. Later, he became a professor at Florida International University, and I started a company with Prof. Lindsay. Fate brought us back together in 2004, after he had gained great recognition from his pioneering research on surface plasmon resonance and hoped to commercialize the technology for real-world applications. We cofounded Biosensing Instrument Inc. with Prof FM Zhou, a renowned professor on analytical chemistry and biosensing at Cal State LA. NJ was the driving force at the early stage of the company, spearheading product design, applications, and customer support. He had devoted a significant part of his effort into this young and dynamic startup. After a year of endeavor, we sold the first unit to University of Texas at Austin for gas-phase applications. Realizing the diverse applications of our SPR instrument, we developed fully automated, multichannel SPR instruments and microscope-based variants along with various analysis modules for diverse fields ranging from surface chemistry, single cell analysis, and studies of cancer and neurological disorders, to integration with other analytical techniques for detections of species of biological, pharmaceutical and environmental importance (Figure 1). As our sales grew, so did the size of the company and the recognition of the instruments by the industry (cf. awards shown in Figure 1). NJ has been a great innovator and a renowned scientist, as testified by his impressive list of high-impact publications and awards. He will be greatly missed as a dear friend and remembered by us for his kindness and intellectual brilliance.
Dr. Tianwei Jing
President and Co-founder of Biosensing Instruments
I was truly shocked by Dr. NJ Tao’s unexpected passing away, because I have got his last working email a few hours before his passing. NJ was a brilliant scientist, great mentor, inspiring boss and warm-hearted friend to me over more than two decades. He was a light house on my career path. I just want to share a few of my unforgettable memories on him. NJ is always care more for others than himself. When I apply the postdoc position at his lab, he actually recommended me to find a position at a better university and provided me a few names of professors that he thinks I will be fit. Also, near the end of my postdoc life, NJ introduced me to my first industrial job, even before I was starting to look for a job! Once again, he persuaded me back to academia as a research faculty, when he became the director of Biodesign Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensor in 2008. Science is really NJ’s passion. When he moved back to ASU in 2001, he asked me and another postdoc to move all the lab equipment from FIU to ASU by driving a rental truck all the way from Miami Florida to Tempe Arizona, because he trusted us would not damage any equipment. NJ is always inspiring people around him with great ideas and easy to understand examples. I still remember the movie clip he showed us on the first aircraft and the transcript: “Someone makes it happen, someone watches it happen, and someone spend the rest of his life to finger out what is happened.”. NJ will live in my heart forever and his spirit will guiding me on the path to the future.
Prof. Shaopeng Wang
Biodesign Institute, ASU
The first time I heard about NJ’s name was 17 years ago when I was a college student. As an undergraduate research assistant, I worked on a research project on studying molecular electronics. During the group meeting, one of the graduate students introduced NJ’s paper that published on the Science Magazine about “measuring single-molecule resistance by molecular junction method”. I still remember the admiration I had for the novelty and significance of this research work. I believe this research idea must come from a genius.
I got my PhD in 2009 and started looking for Postdoc position. After I sent NJ an application email, he replied in 20 minutes and said he would interview me when he attended the International Conference on electrochemistry in Beijing. He met me in the campus after his presentation. I was expected to be asked all kinds of questions, but he only asked me one question regarding my research, and then he started to introduce his research. I still remembered that he said, “I am only interested in doing research that is either new or useful”. Based on my observation these years, this is NJ’s research philosophy that he has always followed.
I accepted his offer and came to ASU in 2009, stayed for the following 10 years. NJ is the only supervisor I had in my research career after I got my PhD. Sometimes, I ask myself why I stay in one place for so long. The answer has never changed, it’s because of NJ. NJ is a perfect research idol, a great mentor, and an excellent supervisor. I have learned so much from him: how to do innovative research, how to be critical thinking, how to write winning proposals, how to manage the team, how to supervise students… This list can be very long. I still remember a few years ago, during our discussion, he told me “as long as I am alive, you don’t need to worry about your job security”. I don’t worry about my job security because he has already transferred me from an immature postdoc into a mature, experienced, and strong scientist. He gave me the experience of being deeply understood and truly supported, and I will carry that with me always.
NJ is a pure scientist. He is curious about the nature, the technology, and always thinks about how to provide a technical solution to an unmet need. He is very interested in figuring out how the ants and mosquitos can sense the smells in the environment and communicate the message with each other. He encourages us to develop a sensing system that can be as intelligent as the ants and mosquitos. One time, he told me that he thinks simplicity is the key to achieve complicity. He then gave me two examples: very powerful processors are made from very simple transistors; and all kinds of DNA molecules are just the stack of five kinds of nucleobases. Just a few weeks ago, he told us that it may be a good idea to collect coronavirus for diagnostic by using facemask, since people always wear it.
NJ is a great mentor. He likes to inspire us. He constantly shares research news, interesting papers, and inspiring youtube videos with us. He set aside time to have blue-sky discussion with us, in which we can talk about anything related to research. He is very knowledgeable. When I encounter challenges in my research projects, he always can talk a story about how other scientists or inventors solve similar problems in their works to trigger my thinking.
NJ is a warm-hearted friend. He tried his best to help his colleagues and students. He wrote very strong recommendation letters to support my green card application and career promotion. He gave Kevin’s toy, a drone, to me and asked me to give the toy to my son. (Kevin, you may need to check the inventory of your toys to see whether something is missing.) Exactly two weeks ago, on Friday, around this time, he stopped by my office and gave me a sandwich for lunch. He said “this sandwich has the taste you like, just try it, I am sure you will like it”. NJ is like the air. When he is around, everything is so natural and smooth that you even cannot feel anything. But when he is gone, it’s hard for you to breathe. I am sure I will face different kinds of challenges in my life in the future. But nothing will be more challenging than the sudden loss of NJ. Though NJ left us, his spirit will keep leading me in my research career, just like the beacon that always shines light for navigation, and he will always be alive in my heart and memories.
Prof. Xiaojun Xian
Biodesign Institute, ASU, VP of Production at Breezing.co