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My Graduation Story – Living in the fluorescent moment

Release date:2020-06-01

In the tenth year of our existence, Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) has been supported by its three pillars of “Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship.” As our student community has passed through our campus over the years, they have excelled in many areas.

SUSTech has long encouraged perseverance in its students, given the rigor needed for high-impact scientific research. We have also promoted a balanced lifestyle across our entire community, ensuring that our students and faculty can perform at the highest levels.

A perfect example of that is Guoxin YIN (’20, Materials Science and Engineering). When he received his Ph.D. offer from the University of California San Diego (UCSD), he was lying in bed, soothing himself with light music lilting through his headphones. The gentle tunes immersed him, calming him down in the face of all the challenges that he might, and persevering with humility and calmness.

Before arriving at SUSTech, Guoxin YIN was not satisfied with his National College Entrance Examination score. With the encouragement of his family, he met with SUSTech faculty members. The faculty members filled him with the inspiration to reach out for every opportunity and ultimately apply for SUSTech. Once he arrived all the way south, he was full of confusion. However, he turned it into motivation to explore every avenue, finding a new role for himself in this new world.

Guoxin YIN had initially dreamed of being a civil engineer, working to build vast pieces of infrastructure that towered over the landscape. However, as he commenced his studies, he found a new direction that allowed him to fulfill his desire to build differently – materials science and engineering.

He would use his spare time to learn basic skills through MOOCs, listening to group meetings, and conducting simple materials science experiments. Guoxin YIN commented, “when you find something you love, you will immediately have a sense of direction, and you will no longer be lost.”

His good high-school learning habits followed him to SUSTech, focusing on consistent practice and summarizing of the fundamentals. His detailed notes were the envy of many students, not just in the Department but around campus.

For his scientific research focus, Guoxin YIN was intrigued by the prospects of biomaterials and their full applications in the health industry. When looking for a laboratory, he became the first undergraduate student studying under Chair Professor Hsinglin WANG.

Guoxin YIN was first interested in connecting silicon-based electronics to carbon-based organisms. Unfortunately, he found that it was perhaps a few steps too far from what current science and engineering could achieve. On the positive side, the colorful and fluorescent materials used in ultrafast spectroscopy attracted his interest. He wanted to understand the principles behind their properties and their optimal use.

One of Guoxin YIN’s more unusual inspirations came from Poor Charlie’s Almanack, a collection of speeches and talks by Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman Charlier Munger, compiled by Peter D. Kaufman. When looking at the thinking of both Charlie Munger and Guoxin YIN, the most important influence was rationality. Guoxin YIN strove to be objective, considering arguments on both sides, being able to handle mistakes, and willing to be wrong.

He brought this into his scientific research, as he had to spend a lot of time thinking and putting his experiments into action. Guoxin YIN had had a keen interest in experimental science since childhood and relished the opportunity to use the myriad experimental equipment in the laboratories.

During one experiment to measure fluorescence, Guoxin YIN found that a common light source could produce two-photons absorption. It excited him as it was not supposed to happen since two-photon absorption could only be produced by a laser. He showed his mentor this phenomenon, and together they explored the possible reasons for this to occur. The reason was remarkably mundane, as it turned out that the instrument could not separate some lights with different wavelengths. Guoxin YIN followed up with the manufacturer of the instrument, who confirmed this phenomenon with him. Even though he had made a mistake, he was pleased as he had a further understanding of the complex mechanisms behind what had happened.

Guoxin YIN experienced significant struggles through his experiments. Sometimes the phenomena he was trying to explain were too complicated, or he hit a bottleneck that was too hard to break open. The struggles saw him frustrated for six months or more. One experience saw his samples from the United States so severely deteriorated on arrival that his work had been completely wasted. However, his lab mates could count on Guoxin YIN, finding peace in his music, and putting him in a state of calm that blows away the challenges.

However, it was not long until he found the success to get out of his emotional funk. By pure accident, Guoxin YIN placed a specific metal ion in the experimental solution, which changed the fluorescence of the solution. It was, therefore, possible to make a metal ion detection solution based on this inadvertent finding. With the support of his lab partners and mentors, he contributed to two papers on the topic, which were then published in Advanced Materials (IF =25.809) and Nanoscale (IF =6.970).

Despite his strong GPA and scientific research background, he made a lot of friends through his active social life. He was involved in the Breaking Club and played guitar at the annual freshman party. He was also involved in the Times Higher Education Asia Summit 2018 as a volunteer.

Guoxin YIN has met many wonderful people at SUSTech. His dorm mates have worked with him to develop good habits, learn new skills, and take part in holidays overseas. In reflecting on his time at SUSTech, he is willing to pay the price as long as the process is meaningful. “A clam works hard to make a pearl, and that is worth so much.”