Interview with Professor Zhou Yan from SSE: Up to Sky & Down to Earth
Dr. Zhou Yan obtained his bachelor degree from the University of Science and Technology of China in 2003 and MPhil degree from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 2005. He got his PhD degree from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH, Sweden) in 2009. He mainly works on next-generation spintronics devices including spintronic oscillator, Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory, and magnetic skyrmions for information processing and storage application.
Dr. Zhou has published more than 140 papers including 1 Proceedings of the IEEE, 1 Nature Physics, 5 Nature Communications, 1 NPG Asia Materials, and 1 Nano Letters. His Google Scholar citation is ~2700, with 5 papers selected as Web of Science Highly Cited paper. Dr. Zhou received the awards of "China Outstanding PhD Student Abroad", and "Top 100 citation Badge by Scientific Reports". His work has been reported by Phys.org, Science daily, IEEE Spectrum, Storage Newsletter etc.
Prof. Zhou is a senior member of IEEE, editorial board member of Scientific Reports and editorial review board member of IEEE Magnetics Letters. He is reviewer of Nature Nanotechnology, Nature Communications, Science Advances, Nano Letters, Physical Review X, Physical Review Letters, Physical Review B, Applied Physics Letters and IEEE Transactions on Electronic Devices etc.
In addition to conducting cutting-edge research, he is also devoted to high-quality teaching. He was awarded the first "Presidential Exemplary Teaching Award" in CUHK-Shenzhen in 2018.
Copywriter: Yanan He, apprentice journalist from the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily
Zhou Yan, Associate Professor at the School of Science and Engineering, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, is a highly competitive researcher despite of his young age. During the interview, two post doctorates were busy conducting researches in Zhou Yan's laboratory. One of them said, "Professor Zhou's research in spintronics oscillator and magnetic skyrmions is well-known home and abroad and that's why we are here."
The scientific research project with Zhou Yan's team involved——directly observed the skyrmion Hall effect in the magnetic film for the first time and revealed its similarity to the traditional charge Hall effect. Their achievement was published on the Nature Physics. In December 2017, his team published a paper on the Nature Communications and revealed the novel dynamics of a kind of frustrated magnetic material, the topological magnetic structure.
A one-way ticket with stories
Zhou Yan majored in Space Physics when he was an undergraduate. Compared with Applied Physics, Space Physics is more theoretical, which has little to do with our daily life. “I was looking for a major that is more relevant to practical application. Therefore, I chose the Applied Science programme of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University for my further study.”
After Zhou Yan completed his master degree, he was advised by his supervisor to continue his study in other countries. Since Zhou Yan was interested in spintronics, he chose to pursue his doctor degree in The Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. “It was the first time for me to live so far away from my home. I had to live in a different country for 3 to 4 years and need to get familiar with their environment, language, food, local customs and culture. Also, I need to make new friends. Everything made me feel like I was a fish out of water.”
For the first 2 months in Sweden, Zhou Yan felt lost in such a strange environment. He even bought a one-way ticket to China before he talked with his parents and supervisor over the phone. "They persuaded me to stay there for one more month and if I still felt uncomfortable, I could go back home." Luckily, Zhou Yan gradually fitted in that environment, but he did not throw away the one-way ticket, as it is a valuable reminder of the experience.
"We should pay persistent efforts in life and be brave to step out of our comfort zone. When difficulties passed through you, you will feel thankful for the encourage and lessons they gave to you."
Professor Zhou Yan at work. Rongbao Mo/photo
Success can be defined in many ways
Zhou Yan was doing scientific research all by himself when he first left his supervisor. At that time, he felt quite anxious. "It was different from the days when I was doing this with my experienced supervisor in a relaxing environment. I felt overwhelmed when I had to take charge of everything. Back then, only two choices were left to me: one is to continue my previous project and move forward based on the former preparation, which could be smooth, but boring and ordinary; the other is to find a new leading edge project totally on my own.”
In face with the two choices, Zhou Yan chose the second one. The most difficult part for him was the mental suffering. During that period, he had to spend 13 to 14 hours every day to read different literature to find problems and solve them, and then repeated this pattern over and over again. In the second year of his independent research, Zhou Yan succeeded in publishing two of his papers on Nature and hosting 3 scientific research projects (1 RGC and 2 IFT).
In 2016, Zhou Yan's team, together with many other international teams from Tsinghua University, Argonne National Laboratory and The University of California, Los Angles, directly observed the skyrmion Hall effect in the magnetic film for the first time in the laboratory.
The outsiders believe that Zhou Yan has made great achievement. He said, "many of my colleagues are doing even greater job. I enjoy everything I have now and I believe healthiness and happiness are success."
Research can be cutting-edge and down to earth at the same time
Zhou Yan had lived in Hong Kong for a dozen years and had been familiar to the culture and system of the universities in Hong Kong. Therefore, he chose to continue his research for spintronic devices in The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen. "This is my dream environment and platform for scientific research."
Spintronics sounds strange to many. Zhou Yan explained, "Generally speaking, I mainly study the chip. Chips are important, but our country still lacks the core technology of chips." Difficulties are not necessarily a bad thing as they may force us to figure out solutions. Sometimes, it is the difficult situation that creates talents. Zhou Yan said, in the following one to two years, he will figure out how to apply the chips to the autonomous driving assistance system and industrialize devises to make automatic drive and the cruise driving system with high and low auxiliary safer.
Zhou Yan described his future working plan as "up to sky and down to earth". “On the one hand, I will do more cutting edge and innovative scientific researches and publish them on the international periodicals, which could be called as 'up to sky'; On the other hand, publishing papers will only be the first step. What I really wish to do is to industrialize my academic fruits to change people's life with the technology. I wish to contribute to the building of Shenzhen, a "city built on its technology", and that's why I call this “down to earth.”