USTC Day 2016 at PQI

  • By Aude Marjolin
  • 31 August 2016

Wednesday, August 17, 2016, 9 AM. One dozen physics students, who are both undergraduate and graduate level, arrive at the PQI office for the kickoff of the first annual PQI & USTC Day, where they are greeted by PQI Director, Jeremy Levy.

The University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), which is located in Heifei, is one of China’s leading universities. USTC recently made international headlines due to the work of physics professor Jianwei Pan, the chief scientist on the project that culminated with China’s recent launch of the first quantum satellite.

University of Science and Technology of China, Heifei

Over the last several years, USTC and PQI have been establishing strong ties and collaborations. In recent years a number of USTC graduates have joined the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) physics departments to work in the groups and labs of PQI faculty. Some PQI faculty are themselves USTC alumni, and other PQI groups often welcome USTC undergraduate students for summer internships or research projects.

In fact, a summer research program was recently set up to bring USTC physics majors to Pittsburgh for a research experience at CMU and Pitt.

This summer program that started in 2014 is coordinated by PQI member and CMU physics professor Di Xiao. For the past three years, third-year USTC students have arrived in Pittsburgh in July and stayed for about two months, working in various labs until mid-September. This year, they have been working on projects ranging from calculating the effective mass of an effective Hamiltonian for pion and kaon fields with Monte Carlo methods, to exfoliating 2D materials such as graphite and boron nitride.

The success and impact of this program has been tremendous. Students have enjoyed their overall experience so much that several of them have applied, and have been accepted, to graduate programs in Pittsburgh following their summer internship.

The number of graduate students at Pitt or CMU whose alma mater is USTC is quite significant. This year alone, a half dozen students from USTC are part of the Pitt graduate program in physics.

The purpose of the PQI & USTC Day is to bring together the undergraduate interns, the incoming graduate class, as well as other USTC alumni who have been in Pittsburgh for few years or more. The inaugural event included about 15 participants from the USTC community, including Prof. Jin Zhao and Prof. Guanglei Cheng, who are both USTC alumni and professors.

Prof. Jin Zhao

Prof. Jin Zhao obtained her B.S. and Ph.D. from USTC, after which she moved to Pittsburgh to work as a postdoc, then a research assistant professor in Prof. Hrvoje Petek’s group. She currently is a professor at USTC, however she has retained an adjunct position at Pitt and therefore spends a few months in Pittsburgh every year. Similarly, Hvroje Petek has a guest position at USTC and stays in Heifei regularly.

Prof. Guanglei Cheng obtained his B.S. from USTC and his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in Prof. Jeremy Levy’s lab. He remained in the Levylab as a postdoc and a research assistant professor. He recently has joined the USTC faculty and is returning in September to start as a professor.

Prof. Guanglei Cheng

Jin Zhao and Guanglei Cheng shared their experiences with the undergraduate and incoming students in two very insightful talks during the PQI & USTC Day. They both joked about the time they’ve spent in Pittsburgh, but more seriously mentioned the city’s local scene (Go Steelers!); the welcome and help they received from professors and colleagues; and the quite active USTC alumni club in Pittsburgh. Jin Zhao stated that, “one should not underestimate a female USTC graduate”, while Guanglei Cheng told us about fly fishing, his favorite sport!

In addition to the alumni presentations, the day consisted of an informal meet and greet session with lunch, and a two-campus lab tour. The students enjoyed the opportunity to visit several labs at Pitt and CMU:

The lab tour was greatly helpful and gave us a glance at the research at both Pitt and CMU,” says Yang Huang, a summer student in Michael Widom’s lab who spent the summer investigating the thermodynamic stability of high entropy alloys.

Professors made very interesting and detailed speeches about their work. The idea that people are doing experiments about what I've seen in books are pretty cool and I'm excited to join them,” added Xinyi Wu, an incoming graduate student who is joining the Levylab at Pitt.

With a few more weeks to go, the students still have some time to finish their projects and enjoy the city.

At the end of the day, it seems that they all agreed on two things: the PQI & USTC Day was a great experience, and what they like best about Pittsburgh are the rivers and the wonderful views across them.

Meet and greet, USTC Day 2016