Character – NdNing Dan

Jaq’s former student, from a time when she was a visiting industrial lecturer at Teesside University, goes missing in China while visiting a factory on her behalf. After searching high and low, Jaq finds him back in his Shanghai flat.

Extract from The Chemical Reaction

Jaq pushed ahead … taking the stairs two at a time, bursting into the flat at a sprint. If you could call it a flat. It was just a one-room bedsit: a worktop barely wide enough for the rice cooker and single gas burner on top, the fridge below. A futon rolled under a table with two chairs, and sitting in one of them, a young man in a bright orange robe.

‘Dr Silver.’ He looked up and made a little bow. ‘I am very sorry to have caused you so much trouble.’

She took in his shaved head, sunken eyes, gaunt cheeks and bare feet. A shadow of the student she had once known, but there was no disguising his lilting, musical voice. Ning Dan. No doubt about it; she had found her old student. Alive. Graças a Deus.

Jaq came forward, pulling out the other chair, removing a blue velvet roll which she placed on the table before sitting down. ‘Where have you been? Everyone has been so worried.’

‘I haven’t been well.’ Indeed, he looked terrible, pale and drawn. Always a thin boy, he was now almost skeletal. There was a grey tinge to his skin.

‘I had to get away from the pollution in Shanghai. All the disulphur oxide was making me ill.’

Disulphur oxide? Did he mean SO2 – sulphur dioxide? Don’t be a pedant.

Emperor Qianlong treasure – Carved jade cave


White jade ‘Louhan’ boulder, China, Qing dynasty, Qianlong (1735-1795) 22cm wide

Neodymium metal – Atomic number 60, Atomic mass 144.24


In 1841, Swedish chemist Carl Gustaf Mosander extracted a rose-colored oxide from cerite, which he named didymium, as it was a twin of the element lanthanum. In 1885, Austrian chemist Carl Auer von Welsbach separated didymium into two new elemental components, neodymium and praseodymium.

Neodymium is  used in welders googles and tanning booths, in lasers and as a polymerisation catalyst.

In 1983, the development of super strong permanent magnets using neodymium in an alloy with iron and boron, made it possible to miniaturise many electronic devices, including mobile phones, microphones, loudspeakers and electronic musical instruments.

On a larger scale the magnets are used in electric cars and wind turbines.

Back to Praseodymium

Forward to Promethium

The Chemical Reaction by Fiona Erskine is published by the PointBlank imprint of Oneworld and is available here