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Having fun with science

By Yu Fei/Xu Haitao | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-17 07:20

Having fun with science

A station in Ngari prefecture, the Tibet autonomous region, is connected with the quantum satellite, which was launched by China last year. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Bewildering start

Born on March 11, 1970 in Dongyang city, East China's Zhejiang province, Pan was an excellent student and a playful boy. He went to study at the University of Science and Technology of China in 1987, where the academic competition was fierce.

In 1990, Pan first came into contact with quantum mechanics, which totally confused him: "How can there be such a phenomenon as quantum superposition? (Whereby particles exist across all the possible states at the same time) It's like a person being in Shanghai and Beijing at the same time."

In college, he read the collected essays of Einstein. "For me, Einstein's essays are the most profound and beautiful sound of nature," he says.

But Pan almost failed in the midterm exam on quantum mechanics.

Desperately trying to figure it out, Pan chose quantum mechanics as his research direction-and he's still entangled with it.

He realized all the theories about quantum physics had to be tested in experiments. However, China lacked the conditions to do such experiments in the 1990s.

After graduation in 1996, Pan went to Austria to do his PhD at the University of Innsbruck, studying with Anton Zeilinger, a world-renowned quantum physicist.

"When Pan came to me as a young student, he was a theoretical physicist. He had not done any experiments before. But I very soon realized he had the gift for doing experiments," Zeilinger says in an interview with China Features. "I assigned him to do the experiment on teleportation with a group, a very complicated experiment. He accepted it and immediately got started."

Pan was full of enthusiasm. Soon he was leading the experiment. When there was a problem, he was never discouraged. He saw it as motivation to do something that had not been done before, Zeilinger says.

He was optimistic, always found solutions for problems, and always wanted to work to find something new, says Zeilinger.

Now he is a global leader in the field of quantum physics.

"I'm very proud of him," says Zeilinger. "I encouraged him to go back to China. Because I could see there was a big opportunity for him in China."

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