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XIAO Jianliang: Limit vs. Infinite
Date: 2022-07-27

"I'll dedicate my limited life to seeking unlimited knowledge." This is the motto of Dr. XIAO Jianliang, a post-90s researcher of ZJ Lab's Research Center for Humanoid Sensing. 

"I'm a little bit embarrassed to share my qualifications and achievement" said Jianliang, looking at the invitation to the "Scientific Results Release" sent by Zhejiang Association for Science and Technology. I replied, playfully, "You're young!" Jianliang accepted the invitation.


In fact, Jianliang has an admirable research result.

Early this year, Jianliang published his research "Optical fibre taper-enabled waveguide softactuators" on top journal Nature Communications, less than two years after he joined the Lab.

In addition, he participated in the Lab's key projects and national and provincial research programs, and has been granted the National Natural Science Foundation, China postdoctoral Science Foundation, and seven patents for invention both at home and abroad. In April, he became one of the first "Best Youngsters of ZJ Lab".   

Jianliang says he's one of the average, persistent and unknown scientists, who are the "unseen part of an iceberg".   

Jianliang delivered a speech at the "Scientific Results Release", which is quoted as below.  

Why me? Maybe because I'm average.

I'd like to introduce myself before we kick off the event. I got my bachelor degree in 2013 and my   doctoral degree in 2018 from Zhejiang University. I joined ZJ Lab in 2020, mainly engaged in the research of humanoid tactile perception and soft actuators. So far, I've published some papers, and received some foundation supports. That's all what I've done.

My CV is embarrassing, if compared with those of the seniors. Well, I think I'm standing here today for a reason. I'm not good enough, but average and decent. I am a small part of the underwater iceberg,  maybe more representative of the state and thoughts of most young scientific researchers of my generation.


Here's a story. Last year, we invited a researcher to give a lecture. He has published some papers on Nature and Science, and is one of the "hundred talents program" researchers of Zhejiang University. When the lecture was concluded, I said to my project team leader Prof. ZHANG Lei, that that researcher was my junior schoolmate. He was two years younger than me. I will not forget the way then teacher Zhang looked at me, mixed with surprise, sympathy and encouragement. 

The story tells us a fact. There're always young scientists and some of them have and will become   somebody. But many of them, like the underwater part of an iceberg, are not known. They're the majority of our community.

I'm one of the average, persistent and unknown scientists, who are the "unseen part of an iceberg".   We're not the shining tip of an iceberg, but hold the curiosity, respect, and primitive yet loyal faith in science.   

In fact, most of the people grow and get to know they're average and choose to stay humble. They might have been arrogant, fighting, stubborn and confused. Slowly, they get to know and accept the fact that they're as average as a nobody, and then try to go beyond this. This is one of the essences of science: perceiving our own smallness and the infinity of truth, and expanding the boundary of human perception. I'll dedicate my limited life to seeking unlimited knowledge.

I didn't dream to be a scientist.

I have to be honest that I didn't dream to be a scientist, until my third year in my college. In that   year, I had to make a critical choice: change my major or change a college, or apply for a doctoral degree.

Doctoral study really mattered. Like most of schoolmates, I was anxious but vacillated. 

I still remember the breezing summer holiday night when I had a talk with my schoolmates, on the roof of lecture building 4, Yuquan Campus of Zhejiang University. The talk enlightened me on something. I got to realized that I wasn't afraid of the doctoral study. Actually, focusing on something is an enjoyment to me. I had been fully impacted by others' points of view. I had lost the courage to be myself.

I figured it out, and things happened themselves. I passed the interview and qualified for my doctoral study.

So, my scientific career neither begin at the moment I got my doctoral diploma, nor at the moment I published my first paper. It began at the breezing summer night in July 2012, when I decided to give myself to science. Sometimes we need just a decision-making moment.


There was a sub-plot in my scientific career. After graduation, I went to the industrial sector. I found   my first job in a manufacturing company; sadly, it didn't give me a sense of belonging. So I tried to review myself.

It is said that if you're not sure of what you really want, toss a coin, and when the coin is tossed, what   you expect is the answer. I've turned around back to science that I love and   fits me. I appreciate ZJ Lab for giving me a platform and opportunities, making my dream come true, and relieving my misgivings.

I'd like to share two phrases that matter a lot to me. One is from Mr. YANG Shilin, former president of Zhejiang University. Sadly, he passed away. I interviewed him when he was in his nineties. I asked him why he had chosen chemistry as his career and hung in there for so many years. He replied that one won't really love something unless he devoted himself to it. The second is from a girl, a senior schoolmate of mine, who told me when I began my doctoral study, "I love science sincerely. Nothing brings me more fun than discovering new things and solving scientific problems one after another.”

I hope you'll like my quotations.

Dedication to Science and National Prosperity

"Dedication to Science and National Prosperity" are the core values of ZJ Lab shown on the Lab's wall and cast in our mind.

A theme of the event is how personal goals are associated with national development. I think ZJ Lab shapes a favorable example. ZJ Lab is committed to building a world-class lab. President of ZJ Lab ZHU Shiqiang says this commitment requires us to make the country's needs our founding aspiration and say no to utilitarianism.    

Combining personal goals with national development is the ultimate goal shared by everyone in ZJ Lab. What are the necessary qualities of a scientist?  

My team has talked about this and summarized some: courage and patriotism, respect to science, proactive ownership consciousness, ability to conquer challenges, ability to progress, and willingness to learn from models.


I'd like to elaborate on identity from an everyday point of view. A scientist who wants to do something in his discipline shall not think he's working for his employer.   Instead, he shall make science his career. Science is his label, his name, and his ID. I had many teachers when I was a student, and I noticed most of them are characterized by the fact that they care about how to help make   progress in their disciplines, and have shaped a strong bond between personal improvement and the discipline's progress.

In other words, one shall work with many others to drive the development of the entire line and field if he wants greater influence. My team leader Prof. ZHANG Lei is always full of passion. He loves sports, life, and of course, science. He's always full of energy. He   used to come back home after 10:00 at night after jogging, share the nightscape of the Qiantang River in our WeChat group, and then tell us he's going to fixing two papers. In the next morning, he complains in the group   that he's packed in like a sardine in a 7 o'clock subway line 5 train. How   many hours he sleeps a day remains a mystery. It is Prof. ZHANG's personality and appeal that makes the vibrant and aggressive team.

We devoted ourselves to the team and made fruitful achievements. Last year, for example, we succeeded in intelligent perception of pressure, temperature, humidity, texture and hardness in the field of humanoid tactile perception, and explored into application to intelligent perception and human health. Our waveguide softactuators showed world-leading comprehensive performance.  

Anyway, we're just one of the many successful teams in ZJ Lab. Our intelligent super computer team has won China Youth May Fourth Medal, was referenced in the composition section of Zhejiang's college entrance exam, and become an icon of ZJ Lab. Some of our teams are working in Xinjiang and Tibet. And some teams are on offshore scientific expeditions.

Every team, including mine, is making contributions to expanding the boundary of human perception and technical limits. We're average scientists trying to go beyond this.