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Superb Xu Dehao: Dreams of Designing Aircraft, Persists in Pursuing the Terror of Turbulence

May 3, 2018 Special Reports

Xu Dehao was the first student to sign up to the Department of Mechanics and Aerospace Engineering at SUSTech and he was in the first cohort  to enter  graduate school  without taking the national admission exam. He was first in his class when he started with us and remained there until he graduated.

He returns home with a heavy trophy cabinet, having received the National Inspirational Scholarship, the Shuter Academy Scholarship and the First-Class Scholarship for Outstanding Students. Xu also received a 2nd place in both the National College Student Mathematics Competition and the Guangdong Provincial Physics Experiment Design Competition, as well as a 3rd place in the National Zhou Pei-Yuan Mechanics Competition. To top his awards off, he also earned an Honorable Mention as part of a team at the American College Mathematical Modeling Competition.

After four years of studying at SUSTech, he has published thought-provoking papers, written ground-breaking patents, constructed wind tunnels and helped make unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). With his graduation rapidly approaching, Xu Dehao is opting to head north to Peking University to pursue his doctoral studies and continue to explore the field of turbulence.

Xu Dehao came to SUSTech from Hefei, in Anhui Province. After residing at Shude Residential College for four years, this story covered by SUSTech Student News Agency is ready to unveil this excellent graduate, to show how SUSTech has been an excellent university for him.

Xu Dehao first said, “I hope everyone can live as they like, without complaint, without giving up, with freedom and with light… Enrolling in a university and participating in its creation is bound to be a very different life choice.” As he returned from his hometown after his winter vacation, Xu expressed, “Come to SUSTech; you will have no regrets.”

Made Painstaking Efforts: Quickly Adapted to All-English Classes

When first arriving at SUSTech, Xu Dehao was a little unsure about his English ability and how he would adapt to classes entirely in English. “When I was a first-year student, my English was rather poor. When I was signed up for English, I was somewhat out of place. I listened to what was said but didn’t know what the teacher said, floating through class. The only way I could fit into the class was to prepare for every class. I would learn the new vocabulary and other components of the class ahead of time so that I could adapt to the English learning environment bit by bit.  I also recited the new vocabulary and phrases to learn more English while others were resting. After about two weeks of hard work, I could understand most of what the English teachers were telling me, and my self-confidence was slowly growing.

With his growing self-confidence, Xu started to become an active participant in a wide variety of academic competitions. Some of the competitions he took part in included the National College Students Mathematics Competition, the American College Mathematical Modelling Competition, the National Zhou Pei-Yuan University Mechanics Competition and the Guangdong Physics Experiment Design Competition.

Find Your Point of Interest: Join the Department of Mechanics

With SUSTech’s unique “2+2” educational training mode, students do not declare a major until after their second year of study. This model gives them the opportunity to take on a solid general education foundation while finding their ideal major based on their interests and expertise.

In his second year, Xu Dehao took some physics courses which got him into the laboratories to conduct experiments. During his year of studying physics, he investigated several different physics laboratories but found that the professor's research was not of interest to him and believed that he was not a good fit for the physics major. It was towards the end of his second year that he discovered that SUSTech had established the Department of Mechanics and Aerospace Engineering. With his original dream around aerospace still intact, Xu went to find Associate Professor Yu Peng to find out more.

In his conversation with Yu, Xu Dehao found Yu personable, charming and full of academic accomplishments. Xu had no hesitation in choosing to study in the Department of Mechanics and Aerospace Engineering, requesting Yu Peng as a tutor. "My happiest time was when I was at the Department of Department of Mechanics and Aerospace Engineering. The teachers at the Department provided me with all kinds of help, and their excellence was also subtly guiding me.”

Find the Bright Spot: Filing His First Patent Application

During the summer before he started his third year at SUSTech, Xu Dehao worked on a major research project team under the leadership of Professor Han Pinlian. They were studying the airplane engine, and due to a lack of relevant knowledge, Xu spent many long days and nights in the Lynn Library poring over volumes of professional books and volumes, ensuring that the team had the information that they needed to complete the project. Not a single step could be missed, from the literature review; to designing parts of the engine structure or the code for the software to properly simulate the strength requirements of the structure.

It was during this time that Xu Dehao took part in the filing of his first patent: “How to Reduce the Weight of Various Ball Units in The Engine Structure.” To solve this problem, he must use parametric design to reduce weight while enhancing the stiffness. At first, the ball units would not fit together, so the model needed regular refinement. With this in mind, Xu Dehao spent several days modifying the model, drawing more than sixty different mock-ups to achieve an appropriate standard. Once he reached a standard he was somewhat happy with; he tested it within the simulation software. After repeated design changes, Xu showed that hard work pays off, just like his English studies, and everyone’s teamwork resulted in their filing for their first ever patent.

“We all have just one moment in time, but most people will soon forget those creative, bright spots. I was fortunate enough to get to meet the imaginative Professor Han Pinlian, and while I was under his mentorship, I was able to grasp his ideas and develop them.”

Experiment Time: Wind Tunnels and UAVs

During his third year, Xu Dehao’s life changed with a shift into high-level experiments, with him making a wind tunnel and an unmanned aerial vehicle.

In his fluid mechanics class, Xu Dehao and his teammates opted to make a simple wind tunnel, before discovering that a “simple” wind tunnel is, in fact, a misnomer. Xu explained that constructing a wind tunnel is the hardest of all projects because it is the most demanding and difficult to make. When the team discovered their lack of knowledge, they read vociferously to discover the important data references, to then design the size and structure of their model wind tunnel. Due to their budgetary and processing equipment restraints, the team was forced to amend their model numerous times before they came up with their ideal design. Once they had their design set, they used 3D printers to produce various components of the wind tunnels, but in assembling the tunnel, they found a new set of problems. By working together, the group overcame the challenges and were able to test the internal flow and properly acquire appropriate field data. Even though it was a challenging process, Xu Dehao and his teammates all benefitted from their efforts, receiving the “Best Team” award from their professor.

Later, in his Aerodynamics class, Xu Dehao needed to work with his teammates to design a vertical take-off and landing unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone. The initial designs did not fly properly, which forced the team to redesign the structure, based on a summary of the failure reasons and how to rectify those problems. The team constantly adjust their flight control parameters to keep the drones stable under external disturbances, which results in them debugging their software until 3 am or 4 am for almost a week, trying thousands of times. Eventually, their drone could fly smoothly under almost any circumstances, and in that moment of sweet success, the team embraced each other, the sweat of all those nights together finally worth the effort in seeing their hand-crafted drone aloft over their heads.

Internship: Making Large Drones

“I had a dream through high school, a dream to design airplanes by myself. When I went on my internship to COMAC, I found that such a dream was too simple, and I was too young.” Ahead of his final year at SUSTech, Xu Dehao completed an internship at Shanghai Aircraft Design and Research Institute. As an intern, Xu needed to draw, to study what problems needed to be considered when designing the structure of an aircraft, and how to optimize the structure of an aircraft. His first models always had a variety of problems but improved slowly under the guidance of his teacher. Under this process, Xu Dehao gained a lot of experience, particularly around the structural design methods of aircraft, and he reflected on the great differences between his theoretical knowledge and industrial reality he has since become aware of.

He then joined the drone production team, learning to construct large unmanned aerial vehicles. Due to the machining errors of the parts, it is impossible to match parts perfectly so grinding parts to match became almost a compulsory course. Under his teacher’s guidance, Xu Dehao learned to use a variety of pieces of industrial equipment to design and debug the fight control equipment inside the drone. He talked of the rich and substantial experience of experimenting with new equipment and processes.

Xu Dehao said that the most enjoyable experience at Shanghai Aircraft Design and Research Institute was the opportunity to practice flying an aircraft in a simulator. Even though his flying ability is average, he hopes that he will get the chance to obtain a flight license to pursue his “flying dream.”

Direct to Peking University: Successful Application for First Batch of Exam-exempted Graduate Students

Throughout his four years of study at SUSTech, Xu Dehao maintained a high professional standard in his academic record, along with publishing papers, writing patents, constructing wind tunnels, designing UAVs, assembling large drones and simulating flights. With Xu Dehao’s publication of an SCI Paper and joining of the research project of Associate Professor Yu Peng, you’d think Xu Dehao would be ready for a rest.

That’s certainly not the case. In 2018, SUSTech had its first group of independent graduate students, who sought further studies at alternative campuses. Xu was successful in his application for a Ph.D. position at Peking University and was honored to be independently guaranteed for his position. “To be honest, I never thought I’d get the chance to go to Peking University when I graduated. I want to do everything one step at a time and do the things I want to do, without any regrets.”

Going forward, Xu Dehao is grateful for being able to follow his passion and continue to examine the world of turbulence through his doctoral studies. “I know that there are so many deficiencies in this field, and within myself. I want to be better in the future, and I hope that I can make some significant breakthroughs in this field.”

Original Text: Huang Nan, Student News Agency

Picture: Wang Yin/Wang Kaiqiang, Student News Agency

English Text: Chris Edwards/ Xia Yingying

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