Photo of Qian Liu

Energy & sustainability

Qian Liu

In the battle against smog, his novel methods are vital to tracking down and identifying pollution sources

Year Honored


The increase in smog has had a grave impact on people’s lives. These tiny particles often have very complex compositions with devastating effects on air quality and human health. But no technology exists today that can quickly and accurately detect and analyze these pollutants. Techniques currently used for pollution detection involve numerous complicated steps, taking a lot of time and effort, and cannot reliably pinpoint the sources of pollution. This has become one of the biggest challenges for scientists hoping to study pollution in the environment and the human body.

A researcher at the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Qian Liu spent most of his career studying analytical chemistry. In his field, the most important task is identifying the chemical make-up of a substance: its various constituents, its structure, its state, and its physical properties. An expert in his field, he chose to use analytical chemistry as a tool to find the relationship between environmental factors and human health. In doing so, he invented a technique to quickly detect and track down dangerous pollutants in both the environment and the human body.

Faced with the urgent need to find a way to research the effect of pollutants, Qian used a variety of new ultra-trace detection technologies to target particulates in the environment and the human body in the nanometer to micrometer scale. His technique can quickly screen and identify a particulate, locate its source, and track its activities. 

One of Qian’s major discoveries is the stable isotope fractionation phenomenon in silver nanoparticles in the natural environment. The differences in isotope fractionation from different sources provided a reliable method to distinguish these sources, immensely aiding the effective management of particulates. In recent years, Qian has been focusing on discovering new analytical techniques for smog particulates, hoping to leverage new technologies to better identify the sources of these particulates and the risks they pose to our health.