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CPC members among us: A scientist's love of country,November 13, 2017 Adjust font size:

Eight years after returning from the U.S., Professor Zhang Xueji has made a habit out of waking at 5 a.m. and jogging around the school grounds of Beijing University of Science and Technology. He said it gave him energy to lead his research team of bioengineering and sensor technology. His team is conducting research on early diagnosis methods for cancer and diabetes.

Zhang Xueji is a professor at the School of Chemistry and Biological Engineering in Beijing University of Science and Technology. [Photo by Zhao Na/]

"I never thought that I will stay abroad forever," he said. "So when I finished my study and had enough working experience, I decided to come back to contribute my knowledge and experience to China."

Zhang is one of a few thousand Western-trained scientists who have returned to China under the "1,000 Talent Plan," an elite recruitment program China launched in 2008 to attract global experts. He is now the director of the Research Center of Bioengineering and Sensor Technology at the university's School of Chemistry and Biological Engineering.

But when he first landed back home, life was not as smooth as he expected. He called it his reverse culture shock.

"When I was in the U.S., I was just a scientist. The research and the administration work were both at my disposal," Zhang said. "But in China, many things can be very complicated." He said that, thanks to the support from his university and the government, he was very lucky to get to the top of his field in China in just three years.

Starting from a laboratory with an area of only 100 square meters, Zhang bravely took responsibilities in leading his research group. His team was shorthanded -- with only two people at the beginning -- and he had to lend the program 1 million yuan (roughly US$150,000) from his own pocket first while the government funding was yet to be in place. But Zhang said he never regretted coming back, and the challenges only pushed him harder to make breakthroughs.

"Without the education and support I had from my country, I would never reach such high as today," he said. "I believe it's my duty to close the gap between China and western countries in terms of science and technology."

Zhang has published 385 articles in major journals, developed 78 patents and trained 12 young scholars for China's bio-engineering innovation, and he is also combining his expertise and scientific findings for practical applications. His recent study on applying high-tech nanometers materials for the use of heating has already been put into production in Anhui Province. He said that this project would greatly reduce the energy consumption in rural areas.

Having led the team in bio-engineering research for eight years, he has been bestowed with dozens of awards and honors. "Among all these titles, I prefer to be called a teacher," Zhang said, adding that students are the most important part of any university. Despite his busy research, Zhang still finds time to teach undergraduate courses.

"'Work hard and work smart' is what Prof. Zhang always tells us to bear in mind," said Xu Tailin, one of Zhang's students. The 28-year-old was recently promoted to associate professor. "Prof. Zhang encourages us to study abroad to broaden our view on scientific research. With the spirit and knowledge learned from him, we all want to make our own contributions to China. Just like him."

"One's life is full of opportunities to accept and give," Zhang said. "In the past, I was lucky enough to accept a lot from my country. Now is the time to give."

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