Xue Qikun, 59
Xue Qikun, 59 [Illustration by Yang Liu and Li Xiaotian]
A world-renowned experimental physicist in condensed matter physics, superconductors and topological insulators. He is an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Physical Society.
Xue received the first prize of the 2018 State Natural Science Award for his discovery of the quantum anomalous Hall effect in a lab experiment. He became the first Chinese citizen to win the Fritz London Memorial Prize in 2020. He is currently the president of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.
Resilience, determination, and a strong drive for excellence toward solving a major scientific question are the qualities that transformed Xue Qikun from a poor student from rural Shandong province to one of the country’s most accomplished physicists.
In early 2013, after four years of rigorous experiments, Xue and his team published their discovery of the quantum anomalous Hall effect in the journal Science, sending a shockwave through the global physics community.
The journal’s reviewers called Xue’s discovery a “milestone” and “one of the most awaited phenomena in topological physics”. In April 2013, C. N. Yang, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1957, called Xue’s work “the first Nobelprizeworthy physics paper from a Chinese lab”.
The effect can create “highways for electrons” in topological insulators, a class of exotic material that is conductive on the outside but insulating on the inside, without the use of a strong magnetic field.
If used in everyday gadgets, the effect may greatly reduce energy consumption and heat dissipation, allowing engineers to design more compact and powerful electronics and photonics, Xue said.
“Creating new scientific theory and discovering new phenomena and effects are the crown jewels of fundamental research,” Xue said. “The discovery of the quantum anomalous Hall effect represents a major contribution by Chinese physicists to humanity’s treasure trove of knowledge.”
In 2020, Xue left his position as the vice-president of Tsinghua University and brought his teaching philosophy to the Southern University of Science and Technology, where he hopes to continue to cultivate a wealth of world-class scientific talents capable of creating major original breakthroughs in basic research.
Xue said a quality research university should encourage scientific exploration, tolerate failure, uphold academic freedom and enhance basic research.
It should also have an evaluation and support system that is beneficial for nurturing young talents, providing sustained support for basic research, and creating original innovations and breakthroughs, he added.