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Diligence pays off for devoted chemist

By Zhang Zhihao | China Daily | Updated: 2022-09-28 07:34
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Editor's Note: A total of 2,296 delegates have been elected to attend the upcoming 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. The delegates, covering a broad spectrum, are all outstanding CPC members and have made remarkable achievements in their work. China Daily invited some delegates to share their stories with our readers.

The motto of Yu Jihong, a renowned inorganic chemist and a professor at Jilin University, is "heaven blesses the diligent". For years, Yu, 55, has drilled this philosophy into her students by setting an example, from working overtime in the lab on New Year's Eve to helping them revise their papers many times before publishing.

Her rigorous work ethic has paid off. Since becoming a full professor in 1999, one of the youngest professors in Jilin University at that time, Yu has instructed around 70 doctoral students, 40 of whom have become associate or full professors.

In 2019, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the Ministry of Education granted Yu the honorary title of National Model Teacher. Three years later, she received the National May 1 Labor Medal for her role in nurturing quality talent and making original breakthroughs in scientific research.

Since entering Jilin University as an undergraduate student in 1985, Yu has blossomed into a globally recognized expert in the field of zeolitic nanoporous materials, which are important solid catalysts in the chemical industry.

She has also been elected as a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the World Academy of Sciences, and as a foreign member of the Academia Europaea and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

In addition, Yu has won the National Prize for Natural Science, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry's 2017 Distinguished Women in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering Award, and the Ho Leung Ho Lee Science and Technology Progress Award.

Given all her accomplishments, Yu was elected as a delegate to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which is proposed to be convened in Beijing on Oct 16.

"Being a member of the Party, I will fulfill my duties, infuse my scientific aspirations with the Chinese dream and contribute more to science, education and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation," she said.

"Achieving high quality self-sufficiency and self-strengthening in science and technology is a historical mission for every science and technology worker in this new era," she said. "We have the confidence and the will to make more original breakthroughs in basic sciences and core technologies."

When commenting on how she became the scientist she is now, Yu said it was largely thanks to her mentor Xu Ruren, who was one of the key scientists who founded the chemistry department at Jilin University.

"Mr Xu told us that we should strive to be better people before pursuing knowledge, and he always taught by example. This has had a huge impact on my life," she said, adding that her mentor was also very rigorous, humble, friendly and industrious, even during difficult times.

"When I was his graduate student, I discovered a new microporous crystalline structure that challenged our traditional understanding of zeolites. But in order to validate the result's accuracy, Xu asked me to repeat the experiment for a whole year," Yu said.

In 2015, Yu's team was on the verge of a new discovery, so she asked her students to repeat the experiment for more than a year to thoroughly validate the work. The result was later published by the journal Science.

Yu said she always believed every student is a "diamond in the rough", and their potential can be unlocked with the right care and polish. This is why despite her grueling work schedule, Yu has always dedicated time to talking with and guiding her students personally.

In 2019, Yu and her team established a new curriculum system that incorporates frontier research into undergraduate teaching, essentially using cutting-edge research to educate students.

"I hope our younger generations can seize the day, live it to the fullest, and unleash their full potential when bravely forging their path forward," she said.

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