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Chen Jia'er: "Listening to him lecture was really a pleasure!"

Peking University, Mar. 1, 2011: Professor Zhu Guangya, one of the pioneers of Chinese nuclear science, CAS and CAE member and distinguished alumnus of Peking University (PKU), passed away on February 26, 2011. His student, former PKU President and CAS Member Chen Jia’er recalled his teacher’s glorious life after paying condolence to his family. In a heavy tone, Chen reminisced, “He was my teacher. He once taught me atomic physics. You know, listening to him lecture was really a pleasure!”


Professor Zhu Guangya (File photo)


“He wrote all of the lecture notes himself, meticulously. During lecture, he tended to teach in a Socrates’ way; that is, raising questions for students to ponder before telling them how the masters of physics solved the problems.” What gave Chen Jia’er the deepest impression? The way Professor Zhu answered students’ questions. “Once I asked him a question. He called me to the blackboard, listened to me carefully while putting key points onto the blackboard. After I was finished, he didn’t answer immediately. Rather, he began to ask me questions, such that step by step he guided me to finding the answer myself.” Chen also remembered his teacher’s seriousness in academic research and strict attitude toward his students, “When I was writing my thesis, he would routinely take my bibliography notes, returning them with corrections and annotations, with the purpose of teaching me how to read and understand the work of those who came before me.”


In May 1955, Professor Zhu Guangya was transferred to PKU to set up a physics research lab. “It’s an important move for the government to cultivate physics talents. I was also transferred to PKU under his advice. Our research lab was known to the public as Mailbox 546 at that time. He taught students nuclear spectroscopy personally and instructed me to set up the first nuclear physics teaching lab in China, providing the first batch of students with nuclear physics experiments. In 1956, 99 students of the first batch graduated - six of them became academics eventually.”?


Chen remembered the caring attitude Professor Zhu Guangya had towards his students. He spoke of visiting the professor one year with General Qian Shaojun. Upon seeing this pair of his former students, the professor quipped that the two of them, one fat and the other skinny, made a good duo. Discussing this event Chen became visibly moved.


“I was elected director of the National Natural Science Foundation in 2000 and was in charge of basic research when the government was planning for medium and long-term development in 2003, so I went to consult Professor Zhu Guangya. He was not in a good state physically at that time but still he attentively listened to my reports and pointed out that there are two driving forces of basic research, the first being frontier development of science, the second being the nation’s need. This impressed me a great deal. His idea became widely accepted.”


“Patriotism ranked most important for his whole life,” Chen Jia’er said, “During the anti-Japanese war, the government wanted to build atomic bombs so they asked renowned professors like Wu Dayou to select talented young students to study in the US. Zhu was of one of the two selected. He went to the University of Michigan to study nuclear physics -- research in atomic weapons was not open to foreigners at the time.


During the time in the US, Zhu not only received top marks in every course he took but also took part in a number of social activities, including serving as president of the Chinese students’ union. When news came that the New China had been established, he called upon the Chinese students to return home and contribute to their motherland after finishing learning. In 1950, Zhu Guangya, with the other 51 students who studied in the US, jointly wrote an open letter on the ship back to China to Chinese students studying in the US, in which he wrote: “Fellow students, it’s time to go back and take part in constructing our country. Our country needs us badly!"


Chen Jia’er commented, “You have no idea how many students studying in the US came back to China because of this letter!"


Extended Reading:

Pioneer of China's nuclear science passes away




Translated by: Chen Long

Edited by: Jacques

Source: PKU News (Chinese)