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Women scientists win recognition

Award ceremony honors outstanding achievements in variety of disciplines, Li Yingxue reports.

By LI YINGXUE | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-25 12:27
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Five laureates among the award winners (from left): Chen Yuli, Wang Lianrong, Fan Xuanmei, Chen Siyu and Feng Xiaojuan. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Polygonal warriors

All the award-winning female scientists wear multiple hats — they are not only researchers but also mentors to students, leaders of their teams and often administrative heads of their departments. Many are also mothers.

As they navigate the balance between work and life, they serve as role models and guides for the next generation of female researchers, imparting their dedication and care to their successors.

"Researchers have to be 'polygonal warriors', balancing teaching, research, management and family life. It sounds difficult, and it truly isn't easy. My 'polygon' isn't perfectly balanced," says Chen Yuli, a professor at Beihang University. "Sometimes, I feel guilty for not spending enough time with my child."

Chen excels at finding inspiration in everyday life. For example, a hedgehog's spines deter predators and cushion falls, with damage to one spine rarely affecting the others. To Chen, this discrete structure offers exceptional performance and a broad design space.

Chen's team introduced the concept of "three-dimensional pixels", using hundreds of flexible straws to create an impact-resistant material similar to a hedgehog's spines. This innovative structure provides new ideas for designing deformable aircraft and reusable impact protection systems for rockets and spacecraft.

Chen also teaches, in addition to doing research.

"At Beihang University, we believe in blending teaching with research. We learn from teaching, and we research through teaching. They complement each other," she explains.

She has her own special way of mentoring students in her research group.

"Besides our weekly meetings, once a year, we have a 'Life Chat, Dream Talk' session. It's a time for everyone to share stories and insights from their lives and studies over the past year. We keep it light, sometimes even making funny PowerPoint presentations," Chen says.

She puts her best effort into everything she does, but tends to be cautious when dealing with others.

"I usually only apply for projects when I'm confident in the research plan and sometimes even when the most critical parts are nearly done."

She believes this cautiousness is common among female researchers.

"When presenting work, women may tend to underrate themselves out of caution. While a project might deserve a score of 90, a female presenter might only rate it at 70."

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