TBSI Graduate Story | ZHANG Chi: Every paper is like a “time capsule”

July 03 2020

Zhang Chi, a Class of 2020 master's graduate from Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute (TBSI), majored in Material Science and Engineering. Supervised by Associate Prof. Liu Bilu, he studied the mass production of 2D materials and their performance in producing hydrogen from water electrolysis under a high current density. During his master's years, he published three papers. One of them was published in Nature Communication (IF=12.2), and another in National Science Review (IF=15.7), both with him as the lead author. He filed for two Chinese invention patents, for one of which he was the first student inventor. He received the First-class Comprehensive Scholarship and the Outstanding Thesis Award from Tsinghua SIGS.

Every paper is like a “time capsule”

Q: What is it like to publish a paper in an SCI journal?

The first page of Zhang’s paper in National Science Review

Prof. Novoselov, who discovered graphene and received the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics, wrote a highlight article in which he applauded Zhang Chi's research.

Zhang: Publishing a paper in an SCI journal is a long journey that requires perseverance, carefulness, and patience. The research direction reflects one’s personal vision and awareness. It also has much to do with the capabilities of the author's supervisor and research group. When you choose among a variety of alternatives, have an in-depth discussion with your supervisor, because that steers you away from design flaws hard to detect on your own. When you have kick-started an experiment, work closely with peers in the research group. Besides, conduct regular reviews, and make reports accordingly, which helps parlay the experiment into a paper.

When I knew my paper was accepted, I felt grateful, for the fact that my hard work finally paid off, for the recognition of industry experts, and for the help I received from my supervisor and research group. Every paper is like a time capsule that stores memories, which are about my bond with my supervisor and research group. For me, those memory are the most precious part of the whole process.

Open eyes to the world

Q: During your master's years, you took part in quite a few international exchange program. What did you get from those activities?

Zhang: I must thank TBSI, and my supervisor for providing me with opportunities to see the world and broaden my horizons. I participated in two international exchange programs. I visited Japan as a member of Tsinghua University's delegation invited by the Japanese government to attend the celebration marking 40 years since the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China. I also went to France for E-MRS Spring Meeting 2019, where I delivered an oral report.

Visiting Japan as a member of Tsinghua University's delegation

In Japan, I stayed with a host family. It was an ordinary rural family with only two members -- a couple around age 70. The gentleman had worked a job in the city and returned to the countryside for farming after retirement. Every Friday afternoon, he learned English with an American teacher. That was a habit that he had kept for nearly 20 years. His story tells me that we should not give up on the meaning of life and the pursuit of value at any age.

Zhang Chi's oral report at E-MRS Spring Meeting 2019

On our tours of some top-notch research institutes, we found that we were almost at the same level as them equipment-wise and even outstripped them in certain aspects. Our good equipment, coupled with our strong technologies, determination, and diligence, will surely yield a larger quantity of more valuable research findings.

A witness to the construction of Shenzhen Geim Graphene Research Center

Q: What is particularly memorable about your three years at TBSI?

Zhang: I witnessed the rapid growth of TBSI. I have the clearest memory about its annual retreat, when all the faculty members and students gather to talk about life and research.

As one of the 1F lab's second batch of graduate students, I have been lucky to witness the gradual development of the research group. When I first got on board, it had only 10-odd members. Back then, we just had a handful of research directions, and the catalysis team had barely been established. At TBSI, I have had the honor of witnessing the research group set up Shenzhen Geim Graphene Research Center. Over the past three years, the membership of the research group has grown nine-fold, our research directions have become more systematic, we have fitted the lab with more equipment, and the catalysis team, which I was on, has made remarkable achievements.

Graduation photo of the catalysis team

At the institute, I got pretty close to my supervisor Associate Prof. Liu Bilu. I first saw him during the 2016 summer camp. He is always my role model, because he is passionate about what he does and keeps pushing his own limits. Associate Prof. Liu has not only taught me knowledge, but also has influenced me with his rigorousness and pursuit of perfection, which will definitely benefit my entire lifetime.

Balance life and work

Q: Could you use a single word to describe yourself?

Zhang: I would say "perseverant". That applies to learning, research, life, and relationships. I tend to make constant efforts to achieve something. Over time, there is going to be a breakthrough.

Plus, I think that duties associated with my identity really matter. As a graduate student, I must be devoted to research. As a worker, I must fulfill all responsibilities that my job entails. I am about to start my career. I will continue to explore how to balance life and work.

Group photo at Zhang Chi's thesis defense

Be an ordinary person who lives up to Tsinghua’s education

Q: What is your plan for the future?

Zhang: Over the short term, I plan to work and get married so I have my own family. Over the long term, I plan to work for five decades without any major illness. Of course, I will care for my wife and parents, and I will be there for my children as they grow up. Anyway, I want to be an ordinary person who lives up to his Tsinghua education and harbors great ambitions.

Editor: Fei