Vietnamese chemist's journey: from academic excellence to national dedication

At the pinnacle of her career, with 15 patents in the field of materials processing for a major steel group, she decisively returned to Việt Nam. 

Dr Vũ Thị Tần in the laboratory. — Photo

HÀ NỘI — Working at the Institute of Chemical Engineering, Department of Inorganic Chemistry Technology, at the Hà Nội University of Science and Technology, lecturer and Dr Vũ Thị Tần is renowned as a scientist with numerous research projects and inventions for environmental protection.

The laboratory serves as Dr. Tần's sanctuary, the place most closely associated with her throughout her academic journey and professional work related to chemistry. 

It is also where she completed many scientific projects and introduced Việt Nam's first dishwasher tablet during a long period of development.

Born in Lý Nhân District, Hà Nam Province, Tần obtained her engineering degree in Russia and her PhD in Spain. 

She worked at a world-leading steel producer based in Spain, achieving her dream of reaching the West after years of academic effort, exploration and seizing every opportunity.

At the pinnacle of her career, with 15 patents in the field of materials processing for the steel group, she decisively returned to Việt Nam. 

It was a choice fuelled by a desire to foster growth, seize opportunities and cultivate a meaningful life, leaving behind the allure of settlement and positions in the West.

Accepted as a lecturer at the Hà Nội University of Science and Technology in August 2017, she found it to be a dynamic working environment where the university provides opportunities for young teachers to teach and conduct research, not unlike the working environment abroad.

In addition to teaching and conducting scientific projects, she devotes much of her enthusiasm to researching and producing environmentally friendly products. 

One of her passion projects is Việt Nam's first dishwasher tablet, 'Made in Việt Nam'.

In Spain, she recalled discovering that dishes could be washed by machine for the first time. Upon returning to Việt Nam, she immediately sought a similar machine to ease women's burdens in the kitchen. 

However, she found it challenging to purchase dishwasher tablets, often having to rely on friends to bring them back from abroad.

After starting a family and having children, in 2020, she and her colleagues came up with the idea of creating Việt Nam's first branded dishwasher tablet, prioritising safety, eco-friendliness and efficacy. 

From then on, alongside her teaching duties, she delved into the laboratory for research and experimentation.

"Compared to imported products, I initially lacked experience with such cleaning chemicals. Despite initial hurdles, I firmly believed that with perseverance and foundational knowledge, success would eventually shine through," Tần told Dân Trí, an online newspaper.

After dedicating herself to hundreds of failed experiments, she finally reached the refinement stage. Her first 'Made in Việt Nam' dishwasher tablet was certified by the Centre for Technical Standards and Quality Measurement 1 under the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Tần's 'Made in Vietnam' dishwasher tablet.— Photo

The quality of Tần's dishwasher tablet is equivalent to imported products from countries such as France and Germany.

But the product did not receive positive feedback when it first hit the market.

Only later, as customers experienced the product and decided to continue using it, did she truly feel confident in the production capacity and domestic market opportunities.

"Vietnamese intelligence is not inferior. Therefore, Vietnamese products will gradually find their own position," Tần affirmed.

Supported by this validation, she remains steadfast in her commitment to innovation, diversifying her product range to include laundry detergents, calcium descalers and grease removers, catering to niche markets within Việt Nam.

Her journey represents the essence of lean entrepreneurship, advocating for gradual yet sustainable growth in her field of expertise.

Effort and sacrifice

Having her current successes, she always remembers the childhood memories that led her to the field of chemistry and shaped her educational journey.

From a young age, with her father working far away and her mother balancing farming and winemaking while also caring for children, Tần was helping her mother in the rice wine-making process by the age of 7.

In the curious mind of a child, she was amazed to see rice turn into liquid during fermentation. 

She asked her mother about it, and her mother simply nodded, explaining it was a chemical process. 

Those questions lingered in her mind until they were finally answered in her 8th-grade chemistry class. 

Fascinated by the magical transformation of substances, Tần fell in love with chemistry. 

Excelling in the subject nurtured her love for chemistry - a passion she has pursued ever since.

In 2004, she became a chemistry major. After a few months at university, she set her sights on a new challenge: winning a scholarship to study in Russia.

"After rigorous selection rounds, I went from nervous expectancy to utter disbelief, then pure joy upon receiving the official news that I was among the top students awarded a 100 per cent scholarship to study in Russia," Tần said.

"While my father was filled with sorrow and my mother wept uncontrollably at the airport, I walked straight ahead without looking back. This story is still recounted by my parents to this day as a reminder of their eldest daughter's indifference."

Tần (first row) with her colleagues at the steel group in Spain. — Photo courtesy of Vũ Thị Tần

After receiving her prestigious engineering degree in Russia, she wanted to broaden her horizons and explore other countries, rather than continuing her doctoral studies in Eastern Europe.

She prepared her applications and reached out to professors in Spain, Singapore and Italy in search of new scholarships. 

After striving to secure a scholarship for her doctoral studies sponsored by the Spanish government, she finally set foot in this Western European country at the end of November 2010.

Life here was entirely different from Việt Nam, or even Eastern Europe. She realised this was where she wanted to establish herself, work and settle down. 

Obtaining a doctoral degree, she sought job opportunities and aimed to live here.

Facing a daunting 27-30 per cent unemployment rate, she courageously pursued the talent engineer programme of Arcelormittal, the world's leading steel producer based in Spain. 

"With 3,000 applicants and a 1 in 100 chance, I wanted to test my mettle," Tần said. 

After enduring seven rigorous selection rounds, she emerged among the 60 finalists, facing intense scrutiny about her life and studies during the interview.

As the sole Vietnamese applicant, Tần often felt outmatched, but her perseverance paid off when she received news of her acceptance a week later. 

"After months of grueling interviews, tasting success was incredibly rewarding." 

These 30 new engineers, including Tần, faced a two-year challenge before permanent employment was decided, enjoying a comfortable salary and extensive business travel.

During her tenure, Tần contributed 15 patents in materials and surface treatment, joining the company officially in 2016 with a substantial salary.

At that time, she believed she would spend her entire life in this beautiful country by the Mediterranean. 

She had decisively parted ways with her military boyfriend to pursue her own dreams and aspirations.

After all this, she made the choice to leave everything behind and return to Việt Nam to work, dedicating herself to the homeland's education sector, as well as entrepreneurship in the field of cleaning chemicals.

Now, she is satisfied with her work, current life and achievements on her entrepreneurial journey in her homeland, continuing to pursue her dreams and passion for chemistry.

From her own story, she believes that trained Vietnamese individuals, with their accumulated knowledge and work experience abroad, will become valuable human resources contributing to the country's development upon their return.

For returnees like her, besides personal considerations and weighing new opportunities, the driving force is also the desire to contribute, bringing back knowledge and experience to support the development of the country and homeland. — VNS

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