An earthquake in Taiwan on 3 April has destroyed the chemistry department at the National Dong Hwa University (NDHU). It is hoped that the department will be rebuilt by September 2025, but in the meantime students are being transferred to other universities to complete their studies.

The earthquake, which was the most powerful to hit in Taiwan in 25 years, happened just three days after the end of the annual Chemistry National Meeting.

One of the delegates was Fun Man Fung, a researcher in the department of chemistry at the National University of Singapore, who, at the time of the earthquake was in the capital, Taipei. ‘It was about 8am and I was having breakfast in my hotel, then everything started to shake … it stopped shaking for a while and then it started shaking more violently … everyone started standing up and saying “let’s run!”, he recalls.

Fung had meetings to attend at a university based in Taipei that day but he said that the whole city ceased functioning as water pipes burst and the metro came to a standstill. However, the epicentre of the earthquake was on the east coast of Taiwan, close to Hualien City, the location of the NDHU, where some of Fung’s colleagues are based.

He says many of them posted live videos and photos depicting the department of chemistry at the university going up in flames. ‘It’s devastating,’ says Fung, who is good friends with the incoming NDHU chemistry department chair. ‘Their whole chemistry department has gone, all of the labs.’

Although no lives were lost, the earthquake resulted in the loss of valuable instruments and significant research data and, Fung says, will affect the students and faculty members for a long time to come. ‘Every day since the earthquake, the faculty there are meeting to see how they can help the students to finish their studies … some of the students are going to be posted to other universities, maybe in Taipei or elsewhere, for the process … they are getting donations from all around the country and even overseas … but there were several aftershocks so there’s no clarity on what is going to happen [with the repairs].’

Fung says he too was ‘shell-shocked’ after the earthquake. ‘After the national meeting everybody was so happy – the atmosphere was great … you just never know what’s going to happen.’

In a letter in Nature, Fung and his colleague Yi-Hsin Liu said that the scientific community needed to extend its collaborative mindset to sharing knowledge and resources, both to help colleagues affected by such disasters and to bolster resilience against future calamities. ‘While sending our heartfelt sympathies to all colleagues at the NDHU, we call on the community to support those affected by extending cross-institutional collaborations,’ they wrote.