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Mechanical And Energy Engineering Department Chair Professor Bi Zhang: Diligence And Attitude

Bi Zhang obtained his BS from Jiangsu University in January 1982 and was admitted to the Graduate Program of Zhejiang University for overseas studies in the same year. He obtained MS and PhD degrees from Tokyo Institute of Technology in 1985 and 1988, respectively. During 1989-1992, he conducted post-doctoral studies at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Oklahoma State University. Starting from 1992, Dr. Zhang served as an Assistant Professor, Associate Professor and Professor to the University of Connecticut. Dr. Zhang was the Director for Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Mechanical Engineering during 2009-2013, Director of the Management and Engineering for Manufacturing (MEM) Program during 2011-2013, both at the University of Connecticut. From 2014 to 2017, he was a  leader of the Precision and Nontraditional Machining Team at “The Collaborative Innovation Center of Major Machine Manufacturing in Liaoning”, a national research center in China. Dr. Zhang has been in the research area of precision machining for over 30 years and is currently working on additive/subtractive hybrid manufacturing. He authored and co-authored over 200 research papers. He is a fellow of The International Academy for Production Engineering – CIRP, and of The American Society of Mechanical Engineers – ASME.

[Learning is not only for GPA]

With smile on his face, he talked about "A Dream in Red Mansions" after being seated. The fact that a specialist in mechanical engineering loved the fiction "A Dream in Red Mansions" reminded us of a popular topic: how did undergraduate students select courses out of their profession? Professor was surprised about the question and laughed after we repeated: "Course selection? There is never a standard! It should be based on your interests." "Don't make your life boring." He even told us with laughter that he had swam across the straits when he was young.

Professor Zhang said, learning was never for only one purpose, especially for GPA. Life was long and dancing with rhythm while walking along the path of life was not a bad choice. It was learning that provided us with different styles of dance. His words changed our stereotype about a mechanical engineering professor's life, which was boring and dull.

[There is no "new" or "old" mechanical engineering]

It was the professional knowledge and thoughts of professor Zhang that deeply impressed us. Currently, the public always considered precision machining as a "new" type of mechanical engineering while the conventional manufacture was the "old" one. "It is the first time that I hear of this word, 'new' mechanical engineering'," He said, "SUSTech have many disciplines, such as manufacture, design, mechanics analysis and computation, control etc." Macroscopically, "There are physics, mechanics and mathematics, which are the foundation of mechanical engineering. In details, mechanics can be divided into solid mechanics and fluid mechanics."
How did professor Zhang determine his mind among such a variety of disciplines? "After the frontier research direction in manufacture is selected, the fundamental knowledge you learnt can help accelerate your progress." Fundamental knowledge was essential, he emphasized. "You may change your research direction in the future. As long as you have the base you can go ahead and do it " Interestingly, professor Zhang studied agricultural machinery when he was a undergraduate student. The fact that he became a scholar in precision machining engineering surprised us. However, professor Zhang insisted that: "The core of agricultural manufacture and precision machining are the same. They are both based on mechanics."
"Laying a good foundation" was an old saying in our life but it was never easily achievable. Professor Zhang had his own prospective: "Challenges always exist. It is achievable if you have your work nicely done." "A nice foundation will provide you with a good start. When studying professional courses, it is just the matter of experience."
Hardworking and courage would bring you success. There was no essential difference between "new" and "old" disciplines. Sweating was inevitable in the path of work. Only the spirit of hardworking would help you enter the palace of science.

[Knowledge rather than ideology]

Professor Zhang is an experienced scholar. He has worked as the principal investigator of "Liaoning Major Equipment Manufacturing Cooperative Innovation Center", Distinguished Professor at Dalian University of Technology and now, SUSTech. It was the reason why he chose to leave northern part of China that caused our curiosity. "The atmosphere in the north is not flexible," professor said. "Many people have been influenced by the atmosphere and wish to enter state-owned enterprises and government institutes." When talking with us, professor Zhang expressed his expectation for SUSTech in his words.
Ask yourselves. Are you willing to work for a project for ten years without promotion or achievement? Are you willing to spend your youth on research which may not produce any result? In history, many grandmasters have spent their efforts on research and obtained great achievement, such as florescence protein and autophagy. How could they find these treasures if they restrain their minds?


[Virtues and talents]

It is well known that SUSTech adopts tenure track in employment. As a tenured professor, Zhang had a deep feeling about it: "To grant a person a tenured position or not depends on his or her funds and achievements within several years." "These factors are important. However, other aspects seem less important." Professor Zhang told us a story happened when he worked at UCONN: A famous professor in China sent a paper to an ASME journal and it was found that the paper was plagiarized from a professor at UCONN. Professor Zhang said: "The time when people are ashamed of academic offence is the time when the establishment of academic virtue become promising." To him, the event that a North Korean Kim Il-Sung Medical University professor Kim Bonghan who fabricated results on discovering human meridian conducted suicide had different meanings. Professor Zhang had a simple wish on SUSTech: Promotion should be based on virtue rather than talent.

【Vision and knowledge】

What is the requirement of professor Zhang to his students? -- Vision and experience. "Generally, the graduates from different universities who work either in companies or research institutes have similar knowledge. What is the major difference? Vision." Professor Zhang encouraged students to attend various conference, exhibition and training lessons of equipments so that they can know about the latest achievements. "You may not know the time when it will be applied. Even though it is not immediately useful, you could possibly use it in the future." Broadening vision took time and required students to be patient. "Useful" knowledge attracted plenty of people for its effectiveness and efficiency. However, one traditional Chinese saying told us that "Sharpening the tools never waste the time of work."

【SUSTech, where new stars rise】

In the end, we invited professor Zhang to summarize the interview with one sentence. What he said astonished us: "The future Nobel Prize winner will come from SUSTech first!"
Professor Zhang's expectation and confidence on SUSTech's students inspired us to chase big dreams with courage and manipulate the power of science to contribute to our motherland. 

Translator: Xiaochuan Xiao