I Feel at Ease to Work in My Country: Professor Wang Xinran

On this year's May Fourth Youth Day, a “post-1980s” professor was awarded the “May Fourth Youth Medal." He is Wang Xinran, a professor and doctoral adviser at the School of Electronic Science and Engineering of Nanjing University. He has developed the world's first high Ion/Ioff ratio graphene nanoribbon field-effect transistor and has kept a world record of the Ion/Ioff ratio. In 2011, he gave up the good working and living conditions abroad and came back to China his motherland. He was selected as one of those in the first batch of “Global Young Experts Program” Scholars.

Breaking the spell by developing leading-edge products

When your fingers are flexibly touching the screen of your small smartphone, you should be grateful to the electronic components operating inside at a high speed. Then, can these electronic materials be upgraded? Scientists have found that graphene is an ideal choice with high information-processing speed and excellent mechanical and chemical properties. However, it is unfortunate that graphene is not a semiconductor. It cannot be made into chips and therefore, cannot be applied to integrated circuits.

Is it really true that we can’t overcome this obstacle? Wang Xinran, who had studied for his bachelor’s at the Department of Physics of Nanjing University and was then studying at Stanford University in the United States, did not believe it.

After repeated exploration and experimentation, he and his colleagues boldly proposed to use a chemical approach to synthesize graphene nanoribbon semiconductors shorter than 10 nanometers. They became the first in the world to manufacture the complementary, high Ion/Ioff ratio graphene nanoribbon field-effect transistors.

“To put it graphically, graphene can now function like a switch,” said Wang delightedly about his findings. “This, for the first time, proves that graphene can be used as a semiconductor and applied in the next generation of integrated circuits.”

This breakthrough caused a stir in the international community. Science published an article titled “Whether the age of silicon will come to an end” and believed that Dr. Wang’s graphene logic device could be expected to become the electronic materials of the next generation.

Coming back to China to work on a larger stage

Whether to stay in the United States or to come back to China after the post-doc work? Wang made up his mind quickly: to go back to the motherland!

“In a foreign country, no matter how talented you are, it still feels like working for someone else,” Wang said with a smile. “Coming back to work in China makes me feel at ease. Our nation has put forward the strategy of developing the country by making scientific and technological advancements and rejuvenating it by cultivating talented people. I firmly believe that in the 21st century, the greatest opportunities are here in China.”

In 2011, the CPC’s Central Organizational Department launched the “Global Young Experts Program” and began to invite high-level young talents from overseas. Wang became one of these talents and came back to work in his alma mater Nanjing University.

Everything is hard in the beginning. How should he build the laboratory? How should he choose the direction of research? Changing from a student to a teacher, from a participant in research projects to a director of these projects, Wang faced a lot of difficulties he had never experienced.

He worked hard and worked till late almost every day. At the very beginning after his return, he went all out for two years, and finally succeeded in blazing a new trail. He led his team to conduct research on two-dimensional materials, and over a period of four years, the team carried out ten major projects, including “973” Projects, Major National Science and Technology Projects, and National Natural Science Fund Projects.

Hard work pays off, and Wang has made great achievements: he has published 59 papers in top journals such as Science and Nature; his papers have been cited more than 9,000 times as recorded by SCI, one of the papers being cited more than 2,500 times. Because of his outstanding achievements, Wang won a National Outstanding Youth Fund Award in 2013 and was selected as a Special Professor of “Cheung Kong Scholars Program” in 2014—he was the youngest “Cheung Kong Scholar.”

Rigorous, conscientious, and devoted to education

Wang’s students like to call him “Lao Wang.” In addition to research, Wang also devotes himself to the basic academic education.

Wang’s office desk is unique in style: it is covered by all kinds of sticky notes, on reading lists, ideas of experiments, fund applications, discussions on difficult questions and so on.

“Lao Wang” is often easygoing, but with matters concerning research, he always becomes extremely strict.

“You can’t say ‘I think.’ Come up with scientific evidence since you’re dealing with science.”

This is the remarks he often makes.

He is very cautious about his reports and speeches, verifies all the data and checks all the pictures repeatedly, and he treats all his students equally.

“‘Fuzzy science isn’t working for Professor Wang!” said Pan Wei, Wang’s first graduate student.

“Professor Wang is strict and demanding and even cares about every word or number in research, and I once revised a graph more than a dozen times in a single day,” said Yu Zhihao, a doctoral student of Professor Wang for four years.

Yu knows his supervisor’s rigorous research style very well.

“I have learned a lot and also improved my own research from such experiences,” he said.

“If you find a problem and a suitable entry point, then you are half way to success in your research,” said Wang referring to his own experience.

He urges his students to read the latest papers published in international journals every week.

“Professor Wang not only gives students the fish but also teaches them how to fish,” said Yu Zhihao.  


“In this materialistic society, one who remains firm in the relentless quest for science contributes to China’s academic endeavor,” wrote Xinran, “The more we have such people, the brighter future of science China will have.”

From People Daily

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