Blog Prof. Ed Brinksma: Strategic collaboration tour in Asia - Spring 2014:
On Wednesday, June 4th, we visited the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC). USTC is the only Chinese university that operates under the umbrella of the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS). It is located in Hefei, a big city (8 million) located three hours west of Shanghai (by train). USTC is an excellent institution, which has many similarities with the UT. In terms of disciplines, quality, size and location we appear to be very similar. The fact that our profile is more or less the same, results in a fruitful cooperation at institutional level. The vice president of USTC, Prof. Chuseng Chen, is an alumnus of UT. He conducted his PhD research in the field of membranes. He is still very involved with the UT and publishes regularly with our colleagues Louis Winnubst and Henny Bouwmeester, who are also 'visiting' professors at USTC. Also, Prof Jaap van der Vegt has a similar relationship with his colleagues from USTC in mathematics and Prof Gerrit Brem cooperates with USTC in the field Biomass. We also have student exchange programmes of bachelor, master and PhD students. In addition, PhD candidates are jointly supervised. For some undergraduate students of USTC the summer internship at the UT was such a great experience that they are now opting for an integrated MSc-PhD program at UT. One of them, Jason Song starts in September in the Inorganic Membranes group (MESA +).
The research collaboration between UT and USTC dates back to 1988. Exactly one year ago, I was here to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to further boost collaboration at the institutional level and in the disciplines of Chemical Engineering, Energy Technology and Mathematics. My personal ties to USTC even go back much longer than all of the above. In 1981 I visited USTC as a member of the first study tour of Dutch students to visit USTC. I have vivid memories of a soccer match we played against a USTC team. Also Prof Hans Hilgenkamp, who was part of our delegation, visited USTC in 2008 already as a supervisor of a study tour in physics and chemistry. The atmosphere on the campus of USTC is still very pleasant, with the big plane trees and tropical temperatures.
We visited Hefei again to confirm the relationship between UT and USTC and to discuss further intensification of our cooperation. The president of USTC, prof. Hou, emphasized that he is looking forward to continue working with the UT and broaden the cooperation to additional fields like Technical Medicine and Enterpreneurship. It is important that, in addition to their relationship with many American universities (USTC is jokingly called the "United States Training Center"), USTC students and staff are also exposed to quality academic culture in Europe. From our perspective, it is important that we maintain and expand a strong network of high quality partners. Networks are becoming increasingly important in the future, I predict that in the future the most prominent educational and research programs will be offered by networks of universities.
In addition to the existing fields of cooperation, USTC also showed particular interest in our Technical Medicine program, as well as our established position as an entrepreneurial university. I invited the president and his staff to visit the UT to learn more about our activities in those areas. For USTC, entrepreneurship becomes increasingly important because also the Chinese government would like to see more impact on the big societal challenges.
In the morning, we visited the Institute of Advanced Technolgy, a new kind of science park in Hefei that relies heavily upon the expertise of USTC. Subsequently, we visited the spin-off company IFlyTEK. This company is a very successful USTC spin-off on speech recognition speech and other language technologies, with currently more than 4000 employees. They gave us some very impressive demos of their products and services for Mandarin and English. Their strong research department might be an interesting partner for some groups of our EWI faculty.
Hans Hilgenkamp visited the USTC Physics lab. Some highlights of this lab include research in the field of quantum information technology, new materials and surface science.
In the afternoon we visited the School for Gifted Young at USTC, and we gave a presentation for about hundred students and staff who were interested in what our university has to offer. Especially the multidisciplinary character and research areas like physics, nanotechnology and chemistry were of interest for the students. Immediately after the session, we already approached by a number of students who would like to start their PhD at the UT.
Overall, I was impressed by the talented and international orientation of the students at USTC. Because of their fierce entrance exam, students belong to the absolute top of China. They speak very good English and almost all have the ambition to study abroad. This was even more so with students from the School of Gifted Young. This school focuses on prodigy students who can enroll at a very early age (some as young as 11). The majority of the students go to top institutions like Berkeley, Yale and MIT to continue with their PhD. During a meeting with the students from this school, they indicated that also Europe and the UT were options they would really like to consider, but also needed access to more information to make such decisions.
Usually, students choose their future education mainly on the basis of the experience of their predecessors. Therefore, it is important that USTC students get to know UT during their undergraduate program.
Also, our students can do an internship or summer school at USTC and we welcome Chinese students in similar projects on our campus. USTC hosts every summer a prestigious summer school called 'Future Physicist International Summer Camp " organized in collaboration with MIT and Stanford. Prof Hans Hilgenkamp was invited to participate in this Summer School as a speaker next year.
As a farewell, we had a very nice dinner with the president, vice president and some of the top researchers in physics. The atmosphere was very open and pleasant, which strengthened our confidence in the successful further development of our cooperation.