The Joint Research Institute (JRI) in Science and Engineering of Peking University (PKU) and UCLA enters its fifth year of operation this summer, heralding a busy upcoming year.
International Institute, June 25, 2013 — The Joint Research Institute (JRI) in Science and Engineering of Peking University (PKU) and UCLA is continuing to spark cooperative ventures on both campuses, with July 2013 promising to be a particularly busy month.
Co-Director and UCLA Professor of Computer Science Jason Cong and UCLA Program Coordinator Larissa Harrison are both headed to Beijing to coordinate multiple events. JRI’s annual mini-symposium and summer exchange program kick off at PKU on July 1st — just in time for a UCLA Alumni Association event in China. The reception, for which JRI has provided substanital administrative support, will be attended by Chancellor Gene Block, Vice Provost Kathryn Atchison and the International Institute’s Vice Provost for International Studies Cindy Fan.
Some 16 faculty at PKU are actually UCLA alumni, having completed Ph.Ds. here in such diverse fields as mathematics, life sciences, economics, finance and, of course, engineering and computer science. Among them is Guojie Luo (UCLA 2011), a computer science student of Cong — himself a PKU alumnus.
JRI was officially launched in June 2009 and actively engages the top leadership of both institutions. A flexible and farseeing collaboration, it promotes collaborative research between the faculty of the two universities in the fields of science, engineering and medicine.
It also jointly trains students in these fields to become future leaders with a global perspective through several educational programs:
Annual mini-symposium: Speed dating, academic style
The Institute’s annual symposium, hosted this year by PKU on July 1–2, offers faculty from both universities an opportunity to hear about current research being conducted at one another’s institutions, then tour the host institution’s research facilities. (The symposium alternates between the two campuses each year.)
Following a plenary session that will feature presentations by senior faculty of both universities (including Paul Weiss, director of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, and Rao Yi, dean of the PKU School of Life Sciences), the 2013 symposium will run four parallel sessions at which researchers from both universities will discuss research on, respectively, cell communication and biological mechanisms, climate and the environment, semiconductor materials and devices, and mobile computing and big data.
Collaborative relationships develop slowly over time, with Cong at UCLA and Li at PKU helping their colleagues identify peers with similar interests. Both co-directors thus interact with diverse departments across their respective campuses, working with colleagues in very different fields. “The work is eye-opening,” says Cong, “we learn a lot.”
The 2013 symposium in Beijing will be the first time that Larissa Harrison and her PKU counterpart, Program Coordinator Cecca Yun-li Yang, meet face-to-face. “Cecca and I have worked closely together for two years on opposite sides of the world,” remarks Harrison. “It not only feels like we’ve met, but are in the same office! We email constantly, Skype — even share photos of our families. I’m excited to finally meet her and give her a big hug,” she says.
In fact, the entire JRI team will be in the same place for the first time. Following the symposium, the Institute’s Co-director at PKU, Professor of Computer Science and Technology Xiaoming Li, will host a welcome luncheon for UCLA summer exchange students on July 3.
Although unable to attend the symposium this year, Li regularly hosts UCLA visitors and facilitates faculty introductions. In addition to his teaching and JRI responsibilities, he also directs the Institute of Network Computing and Information Systems and the Office of Academic Program Development at PKU.
Students reap enormous — and often life-changing — benefits from research exchanges
To date, 48 UCLA students have participated in the summer exchange program (including 12 that travel to PKU this summer), and 45 PKU students have conducted research at UCLA under the mentorship of UCLA faculty, 8 through JRI’s graduate research exchange and 37 under the aegis of the broader agreement between the two universities.
For many of these students — who typically do not attend “year abroad” programs — it is their first international experience. Their feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The remarks of Jonathan Chiang, a third-year human genetics student at UCLA when he participated in the 2012 summer exchange, have been echoed by virtually all students who have participated in the program in either direction:
“The opportunity to experience the sociocultural dynamic and nuances of daily living in China under structured oversight make for a truly unforgettable experience in a foreign country. . . . The intangibles that I gained through this program have broadened my understanding of Chinese culture and will no doubt continue to impact my perspective on science at the global scale.”
The experience of going to China was life-changing for UCLA student Robert Cunningham (UCLA 2011, physics/applied mathematics), who was a junior when he participated in the first summer research exchange at PKU.
Not only did Cunningham apply for and win a Princeton in Asia (PiA) fellowship in his senior year at UCLA — going on to teach physics at Raffles Institution in Singapore for a year and a half after his graduation from UCLA — he is now living in Shanghai and working for a Chinese firm. There, he is helping the manufacturer of laboratory furniture develop export markets around the world. As Cunningham explains it:
“I can attest, wholeheartedly, that the PKU-UCLA exchange was the single most important program I participated in during my time at UCLA. The reason I even applied to PiA was because of how amazing the JRI program was, how it opened my eyes to the future of our globally interconnected planet. . . . Now that I am on the international business side of things, I can take my American upbringing, mix it with this Chinese business, and spread the combination out into the furthest pockets of the world.”
Faculty collaboration yields publications and new initiatives
PKU and UCLA faculty and graduate students have written well over 26 joint research papers since 2010 (with many more prior to that year). A large number of these papers have been published in such peer-reviewed journals as the Journal of Geophysics Research, Applied Physics Express and the Chinese Journal of Electronics.
Roughly 13 collaborative projects are currently in progress between the two institutions’ faculty. Among the major initiatives facilitated by JRI over the past four years are the:
In addition to launching the new “3 + 2” Program for PKU students at UCLA this fall, JRI will expand its efforts to secure outside funding for the summer exchange program, beginning with a donor reception in October.
All in all, the efficient JRI staff are helping build a growing network of mutually supportive relationships across UCLA and PKU – a relationship “octopus” in the words of Harrison. At only four years old, the Joint Research Institute is clearly flourishing.
Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013
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