Weisun Tao: a pioneer of biochemistry in China
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KeywordsJilin Province Cultural Revolution Rice Starch Young Teacher Pumpkin Seed
Prof. Tao was born in 1895 in Wuxi, Jiangsu province. In 1902, she attended elementary school in Shanghai. She went to Japan with her father in 1906, who was then studying in Meiji Law School (now Meiji University). In 1914, after finishing her elementary and middle school studies, Prof. Tao was enrolled in Tokyo Women’s Higher Normal School. After graduation, she came back to China in 1918, and started teaching chemistry in Beijing Women’s Higher Normal School. In 1919, Prof. Tao went to America for further education. She obtained Master’s Degree of Science from Columbia University in 1921 and Master’s Degree of Education from Cornell University in 1923 (Tao, 2003). During that time, Prof. Tao has visited and studied at multiple famous chemical research institutions in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. In the winter of 1923, she came back to China and was appointed as a professor in chemistry at Utopia University in Shanghai. In September 1927, Prof. Tao decided to go to Japan again for the doctoral study under the guidance of Shigeru Komatsu, a famous organic chemist in the College of Science, Kyoto Imperial University. There, Prof. Tao carried out a systematic study on the chemical change in the starch storage before and after rice germination, sugars change in rice germination at different temperatures, and hydrolysis of starch by diastase at different temperatures. In the autumn of 1931, Prof. Tao went back to China and continued to work as a professor of chemistry in Utopia University. In July 1932, Prof. Tao completed her doctoral dissertation entitled Biochemical Studies on Rice Starch and received her Doctoral Degree of Science (Komatsu, 1996). She was the first Chinese woman who obtained a doctoral degree in Japan. In the same year, she founded and served as the head of the Department of Chemistry. During that time, Prof. Tao took education as her priority and taught more than ten courses. Besides teaching, she also conducted researches on chemical components of ripe Huangyan orange and the essential oil in the ripe Fu orange fruit. From 1935 to 1944, Prof. Tao also held the position as a researcher in the Shanghai Science Institute. In 1940, Prof. Tao developed the first batch of glucose that can be used for injection in China. In the 1940s, Prof. Tao participated in the establishment of Shanghai Datong Chemical Industry Factory and Shanghai Yixin Chemical Manufacturing Factory, which was a pioneering contribution to chemical reagent industry in China.
When the “Cultural Revolution” ended, Prof. Tao at the age of 80 years old was still full of enthusiasm in education. She encouraged the young teachers to go for advanced studies and trainings in high-level research universities and institutions worldwide to increase the quality of the faculty. Prof. Tao also helped the young teachers with their foreign language studies, guided them to choose their research focuses and encouraged them to write articles and compile textbooks. The Molecular Basis of Protein, a textbook about protein chemistry, was published by Higher Education Press in June 1981 and was widely used by peers within the discipline. Prof. Tao played an active role in academic activity. In 1979 and 1981, she participated in National Biochemistry Conference held in Hangzhou and Nanning respectively, and was elected as honorary director in the first and second conferences.
On December 11th, 1982, Prof. Tao passed away at the age of 87 in Changchun, Jilin province. According to her will, her husband Prof. Shizhi Guan donated their savings of 24,000 RMB to Jilin University for establishing the Weisun Tao Scholarship to sponsor the distinguished undergraduates in the Department of Chemistry.
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