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An explorer in the world of science

By Chen Liubing | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-04-30 06:12
An explorer in the world of science

Zhou Shuyun, professor of Physics Department, Tsinghua University in a lab on April 26, 2017. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Scientific research might not be everyone's idea of fun, but for physics professor Zhou Shuyun spending time in the lab is just that.

"Scientific research has been a lot of fun for me, and I enjoy the excitement of discovering something new," Zhou Shuyun, professor of physics at Tsinghua University, says.

The 37-year old professor was awarded the L'Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science China Award in February for her contributions to the electronic structure of novel two-dimensional crystals and heterostructures.

Heterostructure is an emerging field and Zhou's group at Tsinghua is continuing to explore this new world.

"In simple words, our job is to advance the understanding of material properties, or the 'DNA' of materials. We hope that such understanding can lead to new materials with improved properties for the sake of future application, such as making a lighter laptop or a transparent mobile phone," Zhou explained.

An explorer in the world of science

Zhou Shuyun in a special outfit in the lab on April 26, 2017. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Never an easy path

"Scientific research is never an easy path. It requires dozens of hours of concentration on each experiment, and years of perseverance," Zhou said. She recalled an experiment on Graphene/ Boron nitride VDW heterostructure, which took her group two years to finish, with dozens of experiments.

"Each experiment took a whole 24 hours, and we would adjust our experimental program constantly. It is a process of trial, feedback, and progress. One needs to keep concentrating hard during the 24-hour experiment, and I would ignore other staffs' conversation if they were not experiment-related."

The competition to spend time in an advanced lab is furious, because you need to compete with rivals from all over the world. "The chance for the best groups to get access to an advanced lab is less than one third, so we will pour ourselves in if we get the chance," the professor said.

Sometimes Zhou stays up late for an experiment, and gets so excited by the results she can't fall asleep. "I will be very excited with every single step forward, and will never feel frustrated or exhausted in the lab, because doing research on novel materials itself is exciting enough."

The period of fundamental research varies from years to decades, and is very useful to society, for we not only invest in current life, but also our future, Zhou said proudly.

"We scientists are all smart ones," Zhou said with a big smile. "But those who can accomplish big achievements are by no means simply smart, but hard-working as well. The impetus should always come from deep inside your heart, not from other people. All good scientists are picky, thus we can constantly push our boundaries and surpass others."

Her husband, also a physicist, remains a solid pillar of support for her career. "He would do all the household chores when I was busy on a big project," the professor said.

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