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A Low-Profile University Aims High

Jun 29, 2017     Email"> PrintText Size

Low-profile and practical are the best words to describe a university in Hefei in east China's Anhui Province.

Not as well-known as Tsinghua or Peking universities, the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) has achievements equal to the top universities in China.

From the hydrogen bomb to satellites, the USTC has blazed trails across scientific and technological frontiers.

Each year, the university admits only 1,860 new students, but for every 1,000 alumni, there is one academician and more than 700 who go on to take master's or doctoral degrees, ratios far beyond any other Chinese university.

Recent contributions to quantum telecommunications, iron-based superconductors and other technology have enhanced its reputation and the term "USTC Phenomenon" was coined by the media.

For Wang Zhizhen, a USTC alumni and member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the university provides a sense of dependence, purity and tranquility.

"There is no room for bureaucracy in USTC. Respect for knowledge is of the essence. Its denial of bandwagons and bigotry brings a distinctive quality and charm," he said.

The qualities of the university appeal to overseas scholars. Pan Jianwei, chief scientist on the quantum satellite project, was among the first Thousand Talent scientists to come back to China and is now a professor at USTC, his alma mater.

Pan's team, including his student Lu Chaoyang, who also returned from overseas, has made great strides in quantum communications.

They launched the world's first quantum satellite in 2016 and unveiled the world's first quantum computer based on single photons in May.

"USTC is my cornerstone and my dream place to serve the country," said professor Lu Zhengtian, another returnee renowned for his achievements in K-Ar dating.

Lu was enrolled in a special program at USTC at the age of 14. He said it is the university's respect for science and innovation that brought him back.

Students here have more opportunities than elsewhere to meet acknowledged leaders in scientific fields.

The university set up an innovation fund in 2015 for students who need financial aid for research projects. A total of 5.4 million yuan (800,000 U.S. dollars) was granted to the first 55 projects.

As inter-disciplinary research and cooperation becomes the norm around the world, USTC has established new subjects such as quantum information science, nanoscience and chemical biology.

Inter-disciplinary research platforms have been set up. For example, the Hefei national laboratory for physical sciences at the microscale combines physics, chemistry, materials science, biology and information technology.

Established in 1958 in Beijing, USTC moved to Hefei in 1970.

"Some say it is a geographical disadvantage, but for me, it is the other way round. The city provides us with a tranquil environment," said Pan.

For Song Guoquan, secretary of Party committee of Hefei, USTC has, in return, influenced the city.

"The spirit of keeping a low key, of being practical and innovative, has to some extent transformed the image of Hefei," he said.

Hefei has, in the past decade, risen to a leading position in many emerging industries, such as integrated circuits, robotics and medical equipment. The number of high-tech enterprises has increased almost five-fold.

By 2016, high-tech sector was contributing 71.6 percent of industrial growth in Hefei. USTC has been vital to the growth of that sector, Song said.

Over nearly 60 years, USTC has become a top-notch university and was listed in 2009 as one of the C9, an academic conference comprising China's nine top universities. (Xinhua)

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(Editor: CHEN Na)

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