Published: 14:54, June 13, 2024
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Scientist with a winning formula
By Xing Wen

Esteemed academician makes dream of building a world-class university in Shenzhen a reality, Xing Wen reports.

Fan Jianping (center), founding dean of the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology and director of the preparatory office for the establishment of the Shenzhen University of Advanced Technology, participates in the 2023 Shenzhen Marathon. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

When a scientist with entrepreneurial experience makes establishing a world-class university in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, a thriving industrial center, his life's ultimate goal, anticipation swells — what kind of institution will emerge?

At 61, Fan Jianping, an esteemed academician of the International Eurasian Academy of Sciences, started this endeavor in 2018.

We aim to pioneer a new path in interdisciplinary fields and nurture a large number of versatile talents who are urgently needed by the nation.

Fan Jianping, director of the preparatory office for the establishment of the Shenzhen University of Advanced Technology

That year, Fan assumed the position of director of the preparatory office for the establishment of the Shenzhen University of Advanced Technology.

READ MORE: Technology university established in Shenzhen

On June 5, the Ministry of Education announced the founding of SUAT, which is set to officially begin enrollment this September. The ministry hopes that the university will focus on serving the development of national strategic emerging industries and future industries. It aims to promote the integration of industry and education, as well as the convergence of science and education.

Additionally, the university expects to attract a top-tier faculty, develop world-class disciplines, cultivate talent, produce outstanding achievements, and actively explore new models for operating research-oriented universities.

Fan's expertise spans high-performance computing, cloud computing and parallel and distributed computing.

Fan's illustrious career, marked by significant contributions to the development of China's renowned "Dawning Series" supercomputers and the founding of the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, underscores his capabilities for this venture.

After earning his PhD from the Institute of Computing Technology at the CAS in 1990, Fan was engaged in the development of the Dawning I high-performance computer.

As a key founder of the "Dawning Series" supercomputers, he played a pivotal role in driving the large-scale industrialization of high-performance computing in China.

In 2006, his leadership extended to his role as the founding dean of the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, which has fostered close collaborations with enterprises in Shenzhen, addressing industrial challenges and pioneering key technological breakthroughs.

SIAT was jointly established by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Shenzhen government and the Chinese University of Hong Kong in February 2006.

Over the past 18 years, it has evolved into a flagship institution among China's new research entities. SIAT has successfully incubated nearly 2,000 enterprises and has attracted over 150 national-level talents and more than 800 overseas returned talents. Furthermore, 77 individuals from SIAT are named in the world's top 2 percent of the most cited scientists by Stanford University.

Fan says that establishing a remarkable university is his "final destination".

"There is no other pursuit in my life," he says. "We aim to leverage the research institution SIAT to establish a first-class university."

The university aims to build a campus that is open to local communities. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY) 

The SIAT currently boasts three national key laboratories specializing in medical imaging science and technology systems, quantitative synthetic biology and integrated circuit materials, as well as four national-level innovation centers focusing on high-performance medical devices and intelligent engineering biology, among other frontier areas.

These platforms will be valuable resources for SUAT, according to Fan.

Freshmen at SUAT will rotate through different laboratories to explore diverse fields and choose their desired majors. Starting in their second year, they will commit to a specific major and participate in weekly lab research. Over four years, they will spend at least 20 percent of their time in the lab.

"Think about a young student starting in a top national lab from their first year of university. Being in that research-rich environment will definitely make them stand out," says Fan.

Opportunities for freshmen to engage in research are rare in traditional Chinese universities. This is what Fan emphasizes as the need for innovation in running a university.

Another innovative move at SUAT will be the absence of typical science and engineering schools. Instead, all schools will emphasize interdisciplinary studies.

For instance, the School of Life and Health at SUAT will establish four departments dedicated to biology, neurobiology, intelligent cross-science, and mental and public health, with a primary focus on nurturing talents in brain science-related fields. Students will be required to take courses spanning various disciplines such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and engineering, among others — an approach seldom found at traditional universities, Fan explains.

The other six inaugural schools are the School of Synthetic Biology, the School of Computer Science and Control Engineering, the School of Biomedical Engineering, the School of Materials Science and Energy Engineering, the School of Pharmacy and the School of Computing and Microelectronics.

Notably, these schools will all boast international faculty. For example, Pan Yi, an academician of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering who previously taught at Georgia State University in the United States, is scheduled to be the dean of the School of Computer Science and Control Engineering. Wang Yutian, an academician with the Academy of Science of the Royal Society of Canada in Ottawa, will lead the School of Life and Health. Chen Youhai, also an academician of AIMBE and who once taught at the University of Pennsylvania, will serve as the dean of the School of Pharmacy.

"We aim to pioneer a new path in interdisciplinary fields and nurture a large number of versatile talents who are urgently needed by the nation," says Fan.

Noticing the growing preference among Chinese youth for stable government positions and the high regard for official roles, Fan expresses his ambitious vision.

"We want to foster individuals with a strong sense of citizenship, capable of changing the world through science and technology."

A designer's rendering of its stadium. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Fan was raised in the remote pastures in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. Before his first trip abroad to Japan in 1990, the then 20-something envisioned the world as portrayed in Hong Kong movies, with long hair and bell-bottom pants seen as trendy.

Later, he underwent several eyeopening experiences during his visits to universities in the US.

In 1998, he founded a startup in Chengdu, Sichuan province, engaged in computer technology development and application.

These experiences of engaging in the industrialization of cutting-edge technology made him aware that "entrepreneurs can create new ways of life".

And Shenzhen is a fertile land that has nurtured numerous private entrepreneurs. Since China's reform and opening-up, Shenzhen has evolved from a rural fishing village into the country's leading city in industrial output value.

In recent years, the city has been endeavoring to develop such strategic emerging industries as semiconductors, integrated circuits, high-end medical devices, biomedicine and new energy. It has also positioned itself in eight future industries, including synthetic biology, brain science and neuromorphic intelligence.

Fan aspires for SUAT to embody the scientific ethos and the spirit of reform and opening-up in Shenzhen, emerging as a university capable of guiding enterprises in innovative development and nurturing talents in the aforementioned emerging industries, rather than solely concentrating on research.

China has been actively implementing an innovation-driven development strategy in recent years. Efforts include enhancing cooperation between industries, universities and research institutes, supporting leading scientists in conducting original and pioneering research to achieve scientific and technological breakthroughs and ensuring self-reliance in critical areas and key sectors.

Around SUAT, there are not only incubators such as the Shenzhen Engineering Biomedical Industry Innovation Center and the Guangming Brain Science and Technology Industry Innovation Center but also resources such as the Neuromorphic Intelligence Industrial Park and the Synthetic Biology Industrial Park. These resource and geographical advantages allow students to have intimate contact with industries and grow together from the moment they enroll, he says.

To enhance the industrial application of research outcomes, the Shenzhen Engineering Biomedical Industry Innovation Center is structured with enterprises located downstairs and SIAT's research team and equipment upstairs.

Cui Junfeng, CEO of a biotech company in the innovation center, fully supports this talent development approach.

"To commercialize the synthetic biology industry, having both an engineering and high-end research team is paramount," says Cui.

While having excelled in China's exam-oriented education system, Fan stands firm against the sole emphasis on test scores.

He believes that mental and physical well-being matters far more than the purported wisdom represented by test scores.

As an enthusiast of long-distance running, he likens life to a marathon.

"There's no need to overly concern oneself with current test scores, feeling the need to outperform others at every kilometer. Why bother?

"It's important to nurture each person according to their nature, recognizing everyone's uniqueness."

The SUAT has established a college system where mentors will assist students in creating a community environment conducive to holistic personal development.

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There will be two colleges at SUAT — Dawning College and Yuangeng College.

Song Junfeng, a senior student from Hebei province, is among the beneficiaries of SUAT's educational model, as it has collaborated with universities such as Hebei University, Shenyang Aerospace University and Nanchang University in an attempt at joint student training.

"The college feels like home, with each undergraduate student having three mentors: an academic mentor, a career mentor who is a corporate expert and a college mentor who provides us with psychological counseling and organizes various activities to diversify our daily lives," says Song.

He says that the opportunity to work in high-end laboratories ignited his interest in research.

Fan says that creating an educational institution is like cultivating a garden.

"It should be vibrant and diverse, with trees, grass and flowers each finding their own place."

The soil is fertile for sowing seeds that will grow and develop the future of science and technology.

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