Strengthening Connections with Peking University

The School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS) hopes to establish a joint degree program with top Chinese research institution Peking University (PKU), which is why the school has hosted a workshop for PKU undergraduates for the past two summers.

PKU has an advantage when it comes to making that joint degree program a reality: PKU Professor of Environmental Science Mei Zheng worked at Tech for 10 years before joining Peking University in 2010.

“I will do whatever I can to help to make this degree program happen,” Zheng says. “When I have an opportunity to bring my students overseas, I think about Georgia Tech. I know the professors here, and I want my students to benefit from this experience.”

Nine PKU students, all majors in environmental sciences/engineering/management, came to this year’s workshop. They visited Tech on July 25-Aug. 1 for classroom lectures and field research.

Georgia Tech faculty and senior researchers presented on topics related to air and water quality, energy and sustainability. The field research included a trip to an air quality monitoring site at Jefferson Street in Atlanta, which is a U.S. Geological Survey Southeastern Aerosol Research and Characterization (SEARCH) network site. Georgia Tech researchers have set up equipment to monitor air quality for related studies. The goal was to expose the visiting students to Tech’s high-level research on air and water quality, atmospheric chemistry, and climate science.

The PKU students got a chance to work with Georgia Tech professors along with graduate and undergraduate students, and they sampled Atlanta’s unique culture and cuisine.

This workshop, says EAS Associate Professor Nga Lee (Sally) Ng and one of the workshop organizers, built on last year’s success. “The students last year were really enthusiastic, and we got good feedback,” Ng says. “They enjoyed their trip to Atlanta and they learned a lot, so we said we should keep doing this.”

Second-year PKU student Yanchu Ke was interested in learning how air pollution could be affecting China’s population and was thrilled at the chance to see how researchers study the effects of pollution.

Another second-year PKU student, Xiang Chen, was impressed by the experience. “The professors here are very patient and enthusiastic,” he says. Coming to the workshop, he adds, gave him a chance to “learn about the American experience and the problems America had with air pollution.”

Zheng says that many of the students were already aware of certain Georgia Tech professors, thanks to their research publications.  “Now they are very excited to meet these professors in person, who are very easy to talk with and very helpful,” she notes

Zheng wants her students to know the hard work that awaits them if they decide to pursue graduate research. “I want them to see real life here as a graduate student, so they know the challenge,” Zheng says. “People might think graduate study is boring or scary or creates too much stress. When they see researchers enjoying their work, they say, ‘Okay, I could consider a Ph.D. degree in my future.’”

The passion of Tech’s EAS researchers for their work, Chen says, “motivates me the most. They have taught me that if you are really enthusiastic about the research, you can do it. But if you are not sure, it would be wise to think about it seriously.”

Ng is also a professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Faculty and students from that school and the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering also participated in the workshop. EAS Professor and Chair Greg Huey and EAS Faculty Support Coordinator Natasha Hackley-Lawson co-organized the workshop.

The Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, PKU, and Emory University have had a joint Ph.D. program in BME since 2009.

Peking University Students at 2017 EAS Summer Workshop:

Juniors: Xiaorui Liu, Yunxiu Shi, Yenan Xu

Sophomores: Xiang Chen, Zehua Jing, Yanchu Ke, Fangshu Ye, Dandan Zhang, Yazhen Wu

Renay San Miguel