From left: (Top row) Huansheng Cao, Binbin Li, Ming Li (bottom row) Xiaoqian Xu, Xiawa Wang and Chuanhui Gu
By John Butcher
Six Duke Kunshan University professors have received funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China toward cutting-edge research. Totaling more than 2.9 million RMB (US$450,000) the grants will cover costs of equipment, travel and labor across projects focused on the environment, energy and technology.
“We have a great set of professors at Duke Kunshan working on research that is more than theoretical,” said Xin Li, DKU’s associate dean for research. “It will have a real impact on the future of the world, from shaping the development of future technology to informing us how to better protect the environment.”
The grant winners are Xiaoqian Xu, assistant professor of mathematics; Xiawa Wang, assistant professor of material science; Huansheng Cao, assistant professor of environmental science; Binbin Li, assistant professor of environmental sciences; Chuanhui Gu, associate professor of environmental sciences; and Ming Li, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.
Xu was awarded 240,000 RMB toward research into the mixing of fluids, touching on several areas of theoretical and applied science, including the study of turbulence in physics, biology and industrial engineering.
He hopes through mathematical modelling to shed light on several issues, including the effect of stirring on diffusion and the problems of mixing liquids on a smooth surface, as well as broadening understanding of the mechanics of the mixing process through mathematical modelling.
Wang received 240,000 RMB toward a study of the use of high temperature photonic crystals to improve the efficiency of radioisotope thermophotovoltaic batteries, which use heat as an energy source, converting it directly to electricity. Because they can generate power for long periods without sunlight they are particularly suitable for exploration into space, deep oceans and underground.
The funding will be put toward improving battery efficiency and creating testing systems that can measure their performance.
Cao received 590,000 RMB toward research into assessing the relative contribution of causative factors on the formation of toxic cyanobacterial blooms in the eutrophic waters of Taihu Lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes in China, situated in the Yangtze River Delta close to Shanghai.
Cyanobacteria are algae that under favorable weather conditions in eutrophic lakes and the ocean can reproduce to form a bloom (a large covering), which produces cyanotoxins in such concentrations that it poisons and even kills animals and humans. It can also accumulate in animals such as shellfish and lead to food poisoning.
Inside one of Duke Kunshan’s research laboratories
Li was awarded 687,800 RMB to study the impact of forest age and landscape pattern on mammal diversity in the Larix kaempferi plantation in the Qinling Mountains, in Shaanxi Province, southwest of Beijing, China.
The study will focus specifically on how landscape and forest age affect giant pandas and could provide scientific evidence to better inform conservation management.
Gu’s funding of 570,000 RMB will help reveal whether sediment in tidal rivers can act as a nitrate sink, taking it out of the water before it reaches coastal regions where it could cause severe environmental damage.
Human activities related to energy and food production add large amounts of nitrogen to the landscape, some of which is washed into rivers and travels to the coast. This can cause excessive algal growth and low-oxygen conditions, which can kill off sea life in an area.
The research will look at whether microbes in sediment beneath and near rivers can remove much of this nitrogen, providing a means to tackle this form of coastal environmental damage.
Li’s grant of 570,000 RMB will fund a project focusing on speaker diarization, the process of understanding who spoke when, in automated speech recognition technology.
He will aim to improve the quality and accuracy of speaker diarization in a variety of complex scenarios including noisy, far-field, overlapping, multilingual and multimodal environments. The funding will be used mostly for computing equipment, labor and publication.
“These awards are a reflection of the faculty and students we have at DKU,” said Scott MacEachern, vice chancellor for academic affairs. “We are not only teaching, we are also extending the boundaries of knowledge through research. Thanks to the NSFC for helping us continue to do that.”
Opened in 2014, Duke Kunshan University is committed to building a world-class liberal arts university that offers a broad range of high-quality, innovative academic programs. It was established as a partnership between Duke University in the United States and China’s Wuhan University.
DKU’s state-of-the-art campus covers 200 acres in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, China, close to Shanghai and welcomes students each year from across the globe.
The National Natural Science Foundation of China is a government body that manages Beijing’s National Natural Science Fund, which aims to promote research across China.