Gifted teenagers contribute to a genome database that will change the way new materials are discovered and used
A group of young scientists from the University of Science and Technology of China has built a database for the genomes of materials.
"As we know, it was after Thomas Edison had tried nearly 1,600 materials that he finally found the right one for the electric lamp," said Jiang Jun, a material scientist at the university, which is based in Hefei, the capital of East China's Anhui province.
Though more than 100 years have passed since Edison's work, the way scientists and enterprises develop new materials for certain purposes is often similar to how the great US inventor worked.
Jiang Jun (second right), a material scientist at USTC, discusses building a material genome database with his students. Xu Minhao / For China Daily
"They have to try different materials before they can find the right one, and in modern times this can be quite a waste of time and money," said Jiang.
Advanced materials are essential to the economy and human well-being, yet it can take years after initial discovery to move a material to the market.
The professor, a PhD of the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology, has devoted himself to building a material genome database since he was recruited by USTC in 2011 through a national high-profile talent recruitment program.
Working at the USTC-based Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at the Microscale, Jiang also became head teacher of the university's special class for the gifted young, or the junior class, in 2012.
Established in 1978, the special class offers gifted youths the opportunity to skip a few years of middle and high school, so that the students in the class are years younger than normal university students. Some of the students are only 14.
The junior class initiative was the first of its kind in China and considered a major innovation in the nation's higher education system.
In a class for the young students, Jiang proposed the idea of forming a geek team to build the database system and three students immediately volunteered.
Although the students are in the same class, they are majoring in different scientific fields.