Keep up the hard work!
9 research papers published in top international journals within 6 years
?Professor Xiu Faxian
Molecular-beam epitaxy machine, high vacuum coating equipment, semiconductor parameter analyzer, high-temperature sintering furnace... It is hard to imagine that, out from a laboratory full of these hunky devices come one after another great discoveries happening on nano scale.
This is also where Professor Xiu Faxian and his team work every day.
The most prominent discoveries of his team are 3D quantum Hall effect, 2D ultrahigh conductivity in Weyl semimetals, quantum Griffiths singularity state in a layered quasi-1D superconductor, and Chiral Landau levels in Weyl semimetal NbAs with multiple topological carriers, etc. In the past two years, the multiple scientific breakthroughs made inside have shed an admirable light on Xiu’s humble laboratory.
Delving into the realm of fundamental physics for more than a decade, Xiu and his team have been keeping at it, going to the length that most people would not. The word “leadership” perfectly embodies the role he determines to take in the world of science and how he sees himself.
Originality, the firm ground of a leader
▲Professor Xiu Faxian (first from the left) and his student Yuan Xiang
6 years ago, Xiu returned to China and joined the Department of Physics at Fudan University. In 2014, when examining topological Weyl semi-metals, Xiu tentatively experimented on NbAs and Ca2As3, which went “out of control”. Xiu called on his students to began working on a great number of materials, ranging from large chunks of materials to thin films, and to nano single crystals.
Xiu chose to go from 0 to 1. To make something from nothing is like climbing an untouched mountain or exploring an untapped route. The magnitude of difficulty is self-evident, but Xiu believes it is worth it. “I did struggle with that thought[of taking up a brand-new problem]. However, I know that only fundamental and original works make far-reaching impact and thus make our country excel in those fields.”
Xiu has a tenacious and defiant personality. 10 years ago, when he was pursuing his doctoral degree overseas, the young Xiu had to spend a lot of time following the mainstream. Unwilling to give in, Xiu remained hopeful like a tiny seed preparing to shoot out its sprouts.
Xiu never lays back on his achievements or makes judgement based on physical appearances of substances. Gradually, it became a habit of him to get to the bottom of matters. In November 2017, Xiu and his team observed quantum Hall effect based on Weyl orbits in Cd3As2 for the first time, which created a sensation in the field. Instead of taking a rest, they sped up their work and spent about a whole year preparing numerous quality samples to establish the movement mechanism of electrons.
On December 17, 2018, the team’s findings about 3D quantum hall effect were published online in Nature. Joseph Checkelsky, a professor from MIT sent a congratulatory email to Xiu, writing that a lot of people in the field were interested in his work. “I’m glad that my work has broken new ground in scientific research,” says Xiu.
Diligence, the asset of a leader
After publishing his findings, Xiu felt even more pressure. He says, “I cannot sleep well at night. I feel that I have to run fast because a whole crowd is chasing me behind.”
Liu Ran, an undergraduate from the Department of Physics, joined Xiu’s team in 2017. According to her, there are two types of explorers in the world of science: sprinter and marathoner. She says, “Professor Xiu is a marathoner who keeps up the hard work each day.”
“The timetable of Professor Xiu shocked us. It is truly unimaginable,” says Zhang Cheng, a doctoral student who is going to graduate this year. Zhang has been working with Xiu for the last 5 years. “Workaholic”, he believes, is the most accurate description of Xiu.
Xiu usually finishes correcting students’ papers within a day or two, and his office is open to students at any time. For any matters from buying equipment and reagents to discussing data with other team members, as soon as a student asks Xiu for help, they will get an immediate reply. “He never procrastinates. His action follows swiftly once a decision is made,” says another of his doctoral students, Yuan Xiang, who has also been doing research with Xiu for 5 years. “The professor always tells us, ‘If you can finish something today, then don’t leave it for tomorrow’.” Yuan jokes that Xiu helped cure his procrastination disease.
“Excellence comes with a price,” says Xiu. He believes in hard work and that only years of diligence may bring fruitful achievements. His team began their work in the laboratory in 2014, and released their first discovery in 2015. So far, Xiu’s team has published 9 original research papers in top international journals.
Good mentoring, the legacy for a leader to pass on
▲Professor Xiu Faxian (first on the left) in the laboratory
There is a greater task for Xiu when doing research than making discoveries. He says, “I am trying to shape the personality and mentality of my students, preparing them to become scientists able to carry out research independently.”
The team meets every Saturday night to discuss progress made by each member. Xiu has a lot of undergraduate students on the team and he is keen on sending them to the best universities and research institutions in the world for further study. He believes global perspectives are good for their research in the future when they return to their homeland.
However, it is not easy to turn undergraduates who spend the majority of their time reading textbooks to “quasi-doctoral-students” able to do research independently. Xiu tells his students, “Challenge yourself with a question; find out an approach to the question; read related literature; identify possible solutions; experiment on them; analyze your findings; and put up a new question.” Xiu’s undergraduate students are all exerting themselves to practice this research process cycle.
Many students from his class of 2018 have been admitted to top universities including Yale University, Stanford university, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University and the University of Maryland. Xiu proudly says, “One of my students went to an interview with Yale. He impressed the professors with his research experience and independent thinking. They said that his self-introduction was the best they had ever heard.”
Xiu backs up his students by allowing them to choose their interested subjects and provide strong support for their research. “When I told Professor Xiu that I found magneto-optics worthy of exploring, he immediately contacted partnering institutions and offered me opportunities to collaborate with other researchers and visit them to see their work. This really helped me a lot,” says Yuan Xiang.
“Though we all work on condensed matter physics, everyone has a different focus that spans across the frontier areas of the subject.” Zhang Cheng appreciates this type of teamwork where members can keep updated of and share each others’ progress. He says that his vision has been expanding in both depth and width over the years.