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“Interdisciplinary” the theme of the 2013 JRI symposium

“Interdisciplinary” the theme of the 2013 JRI symposium

International Institute, July 31, 2013 — Peking University (PKU) in Beijing hosted the fourth annual symposium of the PKU-UCLA Joint Research Institute in Science and Engineering (JRI) in early July. Close to 200 faculty and students attended the event, including 18 UCLA faculty who traveled to Beijing to attend, meet with PKU colleagues, strike up new relationships and expand existing collaborations. They represented the UCLA departments of computer science, engineering, electrical engineering, environment, life sciences, neuroscience, and public health.


PKU’s President Wang and UCLA’s Chancellor Block opened the event on July 1st, addressing welcome remarks to a full auditorium. Prof. Jason Cong, co-director of JRI, reported the progress of the institute, which sees a steady increase in the number of participating faculty members and joint research publications since its inception in 2009.  Plenary speakers, who addressed topics ranging from nanoscale technologies, to environmental sciences, to the sexuality of flies, included UCLA professors Paul Weiss (director, California NanoSystems Institute, UCLA) and Suzanne Paulson (vice chair, department of atmospheric and oceanic science, UCLA,), together with PKU professors Yi Rao (dean, life sciences, PKU), Tong Zhu (dean, college of environmental sciences and engineering, PKU) and Wen Gao (school of electronic engineering and computer science, PKU).


True to established tradition, the plenary session was followed by an afternoon of presentations and discussions in four parallel tracks. This year, the topics addressed were biological communication, climate and environment, semiconductor materials and devices, and mobile computing and big data. All sessions were well attended, some with standing room only (program available here.)  Faculty from all disciplines then share ideas for collaboration on the second day of the symposium when participants are brought together again.


“I’m realizing how interdisciplinary the issue of environment is today,” said PKU Professor Tong Zhu. “Just recently, computer and engineering companies have contacted my department about research. Our fields have to work together.” Prof. Zhu, who gave a plenary talk on air pollution and its health impacts, is currently participating in a PKU-UCLA Beijing pollution research group (story here) with UCLA Professor Yifang Zhu and PKU Professor Mei Zheng, PKU, both of whom also participated in the symposium.


Students also benefited from the event. “I learned a lot,” said first-year PKU Ph.D. student Chen Zhang, who is studying reconfigurable computing. “This broadened my horizons, particularly talks by Professor Wei Wang (UCLA) and Kaigui Bian (PKU). We discussed a lot.” A total of 11 UCLA students were also in attendance, fresh from their cross-Pacific journey to participate in the ten-week JRI UCLA Summer Research Exchange at PKU. Joonhee Kim, a third-year UCLA life sciences major, chose the semiconductor materials and devices track in the afternoon. “Although I could not fully understand the complexity [of the discussion], I was exposed to diverse topics. . . . I was amazed by the idea of a joint institute between UCLA and PKU — a collaborative effort to research and learn more about global and international issues. At PKU, I saw how focused professors and students were about academics and felt inspired to remain interested in research.”

Noted Suzanne Paulson, “The symposium also had some surprising outcomes. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the group, I met several UCLA colleagues I didn’t know already, and observed that the Chinese delegation did the same. This will likely result in new collaborations and synergies within each institution, among researchers from very different fields who otherwise might not ever have met. I personally observed two such nascent collaborations myself, and I am sure there were more.”

“PKU has attracted a number of ‘stars’ in neuroscience, beyond its existing top talent,” commented Anne Andrews (department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, UCLA). “Since neuroscience is also a strength at UCLA, this enables many exciting opportunities for collaboration between PKU and UCLA."


If the past is any indication, the introductions and ideas for collaboration from this symposium will now percolate on both sides of the Pacific and eventually lead to more joint PKU-UCLA projects and publications.

Joint Research Institute in Science and Engineering by Peking University and UCLA