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Lighting the world

Updated: Oct 14, 2016 China Daily Print


Playing ping-pong is Grunberg's hobby during his stay in the country.[Photo provided to China Daily]

German physicist Peter Grunberg, co-winner of a Nobel, not only inspires Chinese researchers but also plays ping-pong with them, Liu Xiangrui reports.

German physicist Peter Grunberg, who won the Nobel Prize in 2007 along with fellow French-born scientist Albert Fert for their work in the field of magnetism, has always urged Chinese researchers to target "simple but important discoveries".

The Fert-Grunberg discovery revolutionized reading data on hard disks and even made disk sizes smaller.

"Simple is not easy," Grunberg, 77, says in Beijing in a recent interview.

He believes more effort should be made in basic studies to achieve deeper understanding of the physical world, which can provide better service to humanity.

Since 2012, Grunberg has been a professor at Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications in East China's Jiangsu province, where he spends almost four months a year, and has played a crucial role in helping the university's researchers.

His connection with the university started in 2011.

He then met Wang Yongjin and Jiang Yuan, two faculty members of the university, who were in Germany on a program at Grunberg's research institute under the Juelich Research Center. The program was sponsored by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, established by the German government to promote international academic cooperation.

The university invited Grunberg to its 70th anniversary celebrations the following year.

"He had a good impression of the university, so we discussed the possibility of him coming to work here," Wang recalls.

Grunberg, who accepted the invitation, asked the university to take advantage of its specialty in information and communications.

With support from the provincial government, Grunberg was able to establish an international-level research center at the university to conduct experiments in materials, devices and integrated systems.

Under his leadership, the university researchers successfully manufactured a high-performance membrane-type InGaN/GaN LED (based on compound semiconductor materials) in 2014.

The research results were reported by Semiconductor Today, a British science journal.

Based on the results, they soon proposed and made the first integrated chip for visible-light communication and achieved other exciting results.

A scientific development plan recently released by China's government says "this direction" has been placed as top priority, Grunberg says.

"Through continuous exploration, scientists will obtain new concepts, which will bring revolutionary changes to GaN optoelectronic and optical communication industries," he says. "We are lighting the world."

Wang, who works closely with the German scientist in Nanjing, says Grunberg has greatly enhanced the university's academic status.


Nobel laureate Peter Grunberg, now a professor at Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications, plays a crucial role in helping the university's physics researchers.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Besides research, Grunberg, who sees the importance of international cooperation, has taken advantage of his own connections and resources to help the university to go global.

For example, he worked as a bridge between the university and the Juelich Research Center to help them to establish a collaboration.

Grunberg has visited a number of Chinese universities and research institutes in different cities to give lectures.

He has also worked as a senior consultant to Jiangsu's Innovation and Entrepreneurship Promotion Society, a local government platform, and has shared his advice on boosting innovation in the province.

In 2015, Grunberg was included in the central government's 1000 Talent Plan. It aims to attract high-level foreign experts for long-term projects in China.

Earlier this month, Grunberg was awarded the Friendship Award, the highest honor given by the Chinese government to foreigners who have made significant contributions to the country's social and economic development.

Grunberg was invited to give a speech at the awards ceremony in Beijing.

"The award is also the greatest encouragement to me and my team," says Grunberg, adding that an open China is attracting people from all over the world.

Grunberg is confident that his research team, which he calls his "Asian family", can achieve a lot more in the future.

In the eyes of the younger Chinese scientists on his team in Nanjing, Grunberg is an easygoing elder who sometimes even plays ping-pong with them.

"He always motivates us to get in touch with different phenomena and find the reasons behind them," Wang says, adding that he is impressed by Grunberg's scrupulousness in science and his attention to detail.

According to Wang, Grunberg spends time examining data by himself after each experiment in the university, no matter if the outcome is a success or failure.

Grunberg visited China for the first time in 1989. He recalls China being a "fast-growing country" even back then, and was especially impressed when he heard that it took a construction team only a day to build one level of a building.

"I have visited China many times over the past years and felt the great changes in this country," he says.

Grunberg, a fan of Western classic music, plays the guitar even at speeches.

"Music can be my source of inspiration," says Grunberg.


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