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In the Focus

MIT Professor Chen Gang shares academic road to success

Dec 5, 2018 Lecture Series

November 19 saw the College of Engineering Frontier Forum invite Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Chen Gang to speak to the students of Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech). He spoke about “Succeeding in Academia.”

Chen Gang is a Fellow of the National Academy of Engineering. He is currently the Carl Richard Soderberg Professor of MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and director of the Solid-State Solar-Thermal Energy Conversion Center (S3TEC Center).

Chen Gang took the 2010 Nobel Prize winner Konstantin Noveselov as an example. He clarified that in the process of doing scientific research, it is necessary to dare to think during the course of scientific research. Graphite is found in our usual pencils, and Konstantin used tape to remove individual layers of graphite, thus revealing a single layer of graphene. Other scientists have won the Nobel Prize for finding the arrangement of carbon represents a football. Scientists have also discovered that carbon nanotubes can be formed by rolling graphene in different directions that have different characteristics, which has created a new research field. Chen Gang believes that it is necessary to break down conventional thinking in the process of scientific research in order to be successful.

 

Boelter-Tien paradigm: Pushing to the Extreme

Chen Gang talked about his doctoral tutor Chang-Lin Tien, who was anAuthority in heat transfer, and his mentor is Llewellyn M. K. Boelter, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Chang-LinTien has always kept Boelter's teachings in mind. He said, "To do research, you need to understand the most important thing in the field of research and push to extreme."

He also used this knowledge to conduct cryogenics and Combustion research in low-temperature and high-temperature fields, research heat pipes and thermal insulation in high heat flux and low heat flux fields respectively, research nanotechnology and spacecraft in small scale and largescale Chang-LinTien understood the truth that in the process of scientific research, we must pursue the limits, break the limits, and fail to give up and continue to do so.

 

Von Karman Research Philosophy: Picking the right field at the right time

Chen Gang also cited the example of Von Karman, who had famous Chinese scientist Qian Xuesen as a doctoral student. Von Karman has pointed out that doing research cannot always be in one area, and it is necessary to enter the right field at the right time. It’s too early for anyone to do it alone. When we reach the peak of scientific research, we need to find another field.

 

Nam Pyo Suh: basic research and applied research are most important

Chen Gang explained that Professor Nam Pyo Suh, former Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, pointed out that basic research and applied research are both ends of the research. Scientific research needs to understand the basics and innovate on the basis of foundation and application. Mechanical Engineering MIT Professor Yanni Yannas was named to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015 for inventing artificial skin. He published many articles on Science and Nature in the 1860s, but there were basically no articles after 1970. He instead turned to research on how to make scarred skin quickly heal and invented artificial skin in practice. At present, many burn patients in the world use the artificial skin he invented.

Chen Gang spoke about Professor Xuanhe Zhao who has developed the basic theory of hydrogel. He has developed hydrogel materials and has many applications in biotechnology. Amos Winter, an associate professor at MIT, designed a variable-speed wheelchair using leverage as the dominant principle behind it. His invention achieved low-cost design and had helped poor areas develop high-tech. This shows that if scientific research contributes to the foundation, it has a significant effect on the application.

 

Doing research needs to aim at a truly creative direction

Chen Gang finally listed examples of his own postdoctoral fellows and students. He pointed out that many students had received letters of appointment from well-known universities before they had graduated, or started their own business after graduation. He explained that scientific research must provide a beneficial social impact, and more research needs to focus on solving significant challenges facing humanity and society.

Chen Gang pointed out that in scientific research, language skills, writing skills, presentation and communication are also essential.

After the lecture, the audience was full of questions. Professor Chen Gang has had many supporters at SUSTech, and the SUSTech community has always believed that Professor Chen Gang provides much to inspire and reflect on.

Contributed by: College of Engineering

Translated and Adapted: Chris Edwards

Proofread: Xia Yingying

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