World-famous physicists debut at ECNU Master's Class


PHYSICIST and Nobel laureate Chen-Ning Yang and his disciple Zhang Shoucheng, an acclaimed physicist, made their debuts at the ECNU Master's Class on Oct. 16 at the 67th anniversary of the founding of the university.

Physicist and Nobel laureate Chen-Ning Yang and his disciple Zhang Shoucheng, an acclaimed physicist, made their debuts at the ECNU's Master's Class.

ECNU president Qian Xuhong kicked off the event with a speech about the history of exchange between Mr. Yang and the university. As early as 1985, Yang paid a visit to ECNU and was hired as an Emeritus Professor, Qian said. Today, we welcome back the 96-year-old as the most precious gift ECNU has received for its 67th birthday.  

Qian paid high respects to the world-class physicist, saying Yang has cherished deep love for the motherland and repaid the country by promoting all-round development of China's physical science research and teaching.  

In the past decades, Mr. Yang has volunteered much of his time to improving the status of physics and dedicated his life to teaching it. He helped to build more than 60 first-class physics labs across China. He gave countless free lectures and provided guidance to numerous physical experimenters. He helped open China's gate to international academic exchanges and has made significant contributions to China's scientific and technological development.  

Chairman of ECNU University Council Tong Shijun presented gifts to Yang, which outlined a set of Collected Works of Chen-Ning Yang published by ECNU Publishing House in 1998 along with an album of photos taken during Yang's visit to ECNU in 1985.  

The next speech was given by Chinese-American Zhang Shoucheng, a tenured professor of StanfordUniversity, member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the AmericanAcademy of Arts and Sciences. He is also a foreign academician of the ChineseAcademy of Sciences. Zhang is a condensed matter theorist known for his work on topological insulators, quantum spin Hall effect, spintronics, quantum Hall effect and high temperature superconductivity. His notable work in physics is evidenced by the accumulation of top physics awards around the globe attributed to his research findings.

ECNU president Qian Xuhong presided over the event.

Walking into a fully-packed auditorium at the Yifu Building, the scientists were greeted by a standing ovation and loud applause where they addressed more than 300 attendees. The scientists urged the students not to bury their heads in textbooks and instead to do more thinking outside of the box.

Zhang's lecture themed "Seeking Beauty and Truth".

In a lecture themed Seeking Beauty and Truth Zhang reminisced about the bumpy road to success he had taken by shifting from high-energy physics to condensed matter physics. Under the guidance of Mr. Yang, he admitted that he struggled to live up to his teacher's ideals to seek the beauty and truth in research and patriotism. Mr. Yang is my idol. He has changed my research direction for life. All great scientific inspirations and processes to prove them are driven by the spirit of seeking beauty and truth, Zhang said.  

He also recalled the unforgettable days he spent at ECNU, where he encountered the woman who would later on become his wife.  

In the company of his wife and Ms. Yu Xiaofan, a 1979 Class student of the Mathematical Department of ECNU, Zhang visited ECNU last September and was hired as a honorary professor. This year, the surprise gift for the couple was a suit of ECNU school uniforms presented by president Qian Xuhong.

The surprise gift for the couple was a suit of ECNU school uniforms presented by president Qian Xuhong.

In his speech, Yang gave an account of the experiences and insights that he has gained from years of academic research. It is of course important to be smart and diligent. But what really matters is to take the right path. Taking the right path will yield twice the result with half the effort, Yang said.  

He then went on to mention two more teachers that had a big impact on his life, Wu Dayou and Wang Zhuxi, whom he met while studying in the NationalSouthwestAssociatedUniversity. It was at that time when I determined to choose symmetry in physics and statistical mechanics as my research areas, Yang said. Now you learn how important it is to pick the right path.  

He stressed the value of the mentor in guiding students on their path to research areas that will be promising in the next five to 10 years, instead of teaching them skills. At a proper time entering an area with good prospects for development that you happen to be keenly interested in is crucial to success, he said.

Yang gave an account of the experiences and insights that he has gained from years of academic research.

Chairman of ECNU University Council Tong Shijun presented an album of photos as a gift to Yang.

Needless to say the people in the audience were impressed with the two scientists' backgrounds and accomplishments; meanwhile, the passion, critical thinking, strong sense of humor, and rigorous academic attitude left the audience in awe of their speeches.  

Following the lectures, the scientists interacted with the students, answering questions about topics ranging from the beauty of physics and conservation and non-conservation to laser physics. Yang said the beauty of physics lies in the theory that the whole world is concentrated in simplicity. It is an objective existence and has nothing to do with the subjective implications in mankind.  

In Zhang's point of view, the beauty of science rests with simplicity and its ubiquitous features. For an example, the Einstein energy-mass formula E=mc2 describes virtually all physical phenomena from atom to the universe. Isn't it beautiful? he said.


They also received video Q& A calls from students of No. 2 Secondary School Attached to ECNU. The 96-year-old Yang wished for such a conversation between apical science and the flowers of the motherland, which would help pass the torch of science from one generation to the next, nurture a younger generation of scholars, and cultivate a pioneering ambition topped off with a global vision.

Live video Q& A from students of No. 2 Secondary School Attached to ECNU.

Prior to the lectures, ECNU launched the ceremony of a three-year countdown to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the university. Unveiling a three-year action plan for the future development of the university, the Master's Class is opened to serve as a top-class academic reporting platform. It aims to promote the future growth and improvement in the livelihood of its faculty and students. Moreover, lectures given by the two scientists have not only set the benchmark for the success of its implementation. It also set the tone for building ECNU into a world-class university.  

Later that day, Yang held talks with student representatives from MengXianchengAcademy, College of Economics and Management, DaxiaAcademy, GuanghuaCollege, School of Physics and Materials Science, School of Mathematical  Sciences, State Key Lab of Precision Spectroscopy and No.2 Secondary School Attached to ECNU in the Yifu Building.

Friendly and in-depth discussion with students.

They conducted friendly and in-depth exchanges with the students on a wide range of topics, allowing the students to freely interact with the scientists and further understand the relationship between basic research and application research in physical sciences. Some other themes such as inheritance and innovation in sciences, cross-disciplinary physical science, and interest and contribution in scientific research also stood out during their meeting.  

Yang also talked about the late Charles Kuen Kao, known as the Father of Fibre Optics, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2009. He told the story behind the indissoluble bond between nuclear magnetic resonance imaging and the Nobel prize, and encouraged young people to develop themselves through innovation.  

The meeting was also attended by Zhang Shoucheng and his wife, ECNU University Council chairman Tong Shijun, president Qian Xuhong, and Tian Peiqing, a member of the 1980 Class of the Mathematical Department who is now president of Four Seasons Education Group.

In conclusion, Zhang inspired the students to enhance their awareness of trans-boundary thinking in physical sciences and to develop an interest in more disciplines other than their own majors.

Translated by Siyuan Zhang    Proofread by Joshua Mayfield    Reviewed by Wenjun Guo


East China Normal University