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
I still remembered everything in details:
I graduated in 2010 and joined a Chinese company as a software engineer in Beijing. The working system is like the 996 working hour system. I worked super hard but kindly felt nobody cared about what I had done. I felt I didn’t match with the company culture there. One night after 11pm, I finished my work and biked home. It was late already, nobody was biking and walking there except for me. However I was not alone. Beijing forbidden all big trucks to transport construction materials until 11pm. Therefore, I was biking there besides those trucks. All the trucks were so full like a pyramid, and the construction material such as stone kept falling down. Due to it not being safe, I had to keep stopping and wait until all the trucks passed me. That night, I asked myself if having such life in another decade, would you like it? “No, never.” answered myself. I made the decision to quit the job and plan to go abroad to work.
I got the admission letter to ASU in March 2012. I knew nobody here, what I only learn from Google is that the place was like a desert which was super hot, coincidentally similar to my hometown Xinjiang. Then my parents gave all their accumulation to me as my first year tuition. I knew they were still worried about my second year tuition at that time. In that situation, I force myself to do my best to settle down here. I took my luggage and flew from Hong Kong to PHX on 08/08 myself. I arrived at PHX on 08/08. The amazing time zone made this period like 3h~5h which sounds like not that far. However the truth was like I dug a super deep hole to be on another side of the earth, LOL.
On 08/10/2012, I went to ASU to walk around to get familiar with all building positions. I suddenly saw my department teacher forward Erica’s hiring email to us on 08/10 around noon, that day was extremely hot I remember. When I read the hiring email content, my mind was speaking to me: “Hmmm, that position is exactly for you.” Due to the fact that I still need to prepare a lot for my settlement, I just closed the inbox and walked away.
Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors at Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University looks for a graduate student in Computer Science with experience in:
– http, xml, php
– web site development and
– client-server programing.
In addition, the student must be proficient in writing, reading and speaking Chinese.
Experience working with/in Chinese companies is a plus.
Finally on 08/14/2012(that day was actually my birthday, I didn’t celebrate it at all, nobody knows except for my families and friends in China), I finally set up my home internet in my new apartment by giving a super long call to Cox that night. I felt tired and exhausted and decided to go to sleep. Suddenly my mind jumped out and told me “Hey, did you forget? There was a hiring email.” I knew I couldn’t fall asleep without replying to that email thread on that night.
I sent out my first email to Erica on Wed, Aug 15, 2012 at 1:49 AM. Erica replied shortly on Wed, Aug 15, 2012 at 7:24 AM and asked me to join the 3pm interview on the same day. Everything happened in a sudden.
I still remembered how nervous I was in that small room. Xiaojun guided me into that room and I saw Dr. Tao, Dr. Erica, Dr. Francis, Rohit all sitting there, Xiaojun also joined the group to listen to me. Rohit was asking me the interview questions. To be honest, my English was so P….O….O….R, and somehow I just didn’t understand what Rohit was asking. At that moment, Dr. Tao said one sentence which is deeply embedded in my mind forever: “Xiaojun, make a translation to Yunlong.” Wow, that’s my feeling, “Dr. Tao is so nice and friendly.” Then I answered all the questions there. That interview was short. I remember it took one hour and MJ was also attending in the next room.
Rohit was the person who guided me outside, we chatted a little bit about the interview, I felt bad on some parts and talked to him directly. Maybe it is because I was not nervous, I understood everything Rohit asked in that casual chat. I felt so bad about not communicating well during the interview. Then I left and biked home. Rohit told me later what happened after the interview. Dr. Tao asked him about my impression, especially whether I can communicate with Rohit. Rohit told Dr. Tao we chatted well while walking outside. “That was also part of the interview”, Rohit showed his big smile to me.
On my way back home, I received an email from Erica, then I jumped off my bike and felt fully released. “I got it”. I felt I am the happiest person in the world, I am sure all people passing by must feel this man was crazy.
Then everything in my life has fully changed, I didn’t have any financial problems at all during that time. My whole family got fully released also. I learned tons of English skills from everyone in BB, Francis also helped me a lot with lots of living problems I had. Except for that I also gained lots of experience on Android development. All those skills helped me to find my first job. Attachment is the first email thread I am having with BB. Compared to the email I am writing now(although poor English still), my reply in the past kept me laughing. I am talking to myself, “this guy is so poor in English, how come he can get that opportunity?” I still cannot believe it all happened. That is amazing. I really really appreciate it.
Thank you Dr. Tao, Dr. Erica, Dr. Francis, Dr. Xiaojun and Rohit for giving such a wonderful opportunity to this poor guy. Thank you everyone in BB. I even don’t have too many connections with the computer science department where I studied. I was part of BB center in the past, now and in the future forever.
When I had found out about Dr. Tao’s passing, it was just a month after my return to Phoenix from India to continue my research after my own dad’s passing. I still wasn’t ready to fully process my emotions and comprehend my roles and responsibilities going ahead. I found out on a Sunday afternoon. I went back to bbcenter at biodesign to catch up with my work after recovering from jetlag and my long travel. When I got the second wave of news, after my dad’s passing, about Dr. Tao’s passing, I did not know how to express any of my thoughts. I had to figure out my supervisory committee for future research and graduation while working the deadlines and constraints, and then the third wave of news about Dr. Chae’s passing hit me. He was part of my dissertation committee and that was the final hit which made me reevaluate my approach to life.
I come from a humble and modest family background where I was taught to work hard until the dreams are achieved. But I did not know the means and ways to handle failures in life. Losing two fatherly figures gave me a push to learn from their mistakes, adopt their best practices, and strive hard to make wise choices. Dr. Tao has always been a life guide and mentor who I looked up to. His ideas and thought process to get to the crux of a problem is something I always aim to achieve. Once I was having a discussion with Dr. Tao about upcoming ideas for research, when he mentioned “What to solve” takes precedence over “How to solve” and that is something I will never forget. Though my interactions with Dr. Chae were brief, he mentioned that a naive & intuitive idea can become reality with a good amount of dedication and a pinch of smart choices.
Taking inspiration from their work and words helped me push through difficult times and focus on the priorities and goals at hand. After successfully defending my dissertation in Fall 2020, I now sit back and recollect my experiences at bbcenter and it has been one of the most enriching times of my life. I will always hold Dr. Tao as a benchmark in my professional life. In addition to this, the amount of help and support from bbcenter team during this time is something that I can never forget. The inspiring conversations with Dr. Xiaojun Xian to complete my research work, the belief and confidence expressed by Drs. Erica Forzani, Francis Tsow and Fang Chen in my work and timelines, the support from my fellow researchers Drs. Sabrina Jimena Mora, Jingjing Yu and Kyle Mallires is something I will always be grateful for.