Socially Responsible Top Scientist
2011-02-21Editor:Zhao Chenxi 
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Wang Zhizhen []
Wang Zhizhen []
Wang Zhizhen, of the Han ethnic group, was born in 1942. She is university educated, vice-president of the Jiu San Society, fellow of the Chinese Academy of Sciences & The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, researcher and Ph.D. advisor at the Biophysics Research Institute of Chinese Academy of Sciences, member of the Tenth National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), and vice-chairperson of the 11th National Committee of the CPPCC.

"When the mountain flowers are in full bloom, she will smile in their midst…" This verse fits 64 year-old Wang perfectly. She and her students have reclaimed wasteland over the last ten years by plowing, sowing and raising crops.

In 1996, Wang was awarded the honorable title of Expert of Outstanding Contributions (Young and Middle-aged Group) from the National Human Resources Bureau. She won first prize for Natural Sciences from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1999, and second prize in the year 2002.  In 2001, meanwhile, Wang became a fellow of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and in 2002 won the prize for Basic Sciences (Biology) from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In 2005, Wang was awarded the Science and Technology Achievement Award by the Ho Leung Ho Lee Foundation.

Wang lives frugally. Her consists of a narrow passageway between two bookcases. Other than a new glass tea table, which cost 99 yuan (US $15.1), all her furniture is from the lab. "The appearance of my office has no affect on my scientific experiments. China is still a developing country, and taxpayers' money should be spent on scientific research," Wang said.

Wang was nearly forty when, at the beginning of 1979, she won the Alexander von Humboldt Scholarship and became one of China's first visiting scholars after the Cultural Revolution. She first went to the German Wool Research Institute, which was at that time one of the three institutes in the world that carried out insulin research. She went on to the UK and the United States to continue her research into insulin.

Wang was part of the second wave of Chinese overseas students in the 1990s. She returned to China in 1993 to work in the new foldase and chaperone field of protein fold research.

Her theories on protein disulfide bonds have won international commendation.

"I feel gratified that all my prize-winning work was done in domestic laboratories," Wang said. Wang listed the names of her colleagues and students in her prize-winning report at the 14th Session of Academicians Congress of the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) in 2003, saying that her accomplishments would not have been possible without their assistance. "What we do in China does not consist in practical extensions of work I carried out abroad, but in its domestic foundations. I believe Chinese scientists will continue to excel and to produce original and creative accomplishments."
Solitariness of Scientific Research

"I focus on basic biological research, something new in medical practice. As breakthroughs can only be based on long-term studies, I and my team must endure loneliness and solitude."

Wang strictly arranges her seven-day work schedule into morning, afternoon and evening shifts. She is even in the laboratory on the first day of the Lunar New Year." Scientific research requires full commitment. Since the reform and opening up of the last 30 or more years, I have been working at full tilt. Most people from my generation do not have doctorate degrees, but we have the opportunity now to do what many young people today do. I wish one hour today was worth two tomorrow. We have to work against time," Wang said.

"My work proceeds from a design or picture that shows my point of view and summarizes the topic. I then meet and discuss it with gifted, diligent students and consider their suggestions."

Wang sets a good example to her postgraduate students by helping them clean the laboratory. She also guides their choices of topics and gives suggestions for experimental designs. She is not a boss, but a researcher and teacher. Some of her students have won awards such as the Special and Excellent Presidential Award from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the National Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation. Wang has twice won the Chinese Academy of Sciences Excellent Teacher award.

Vice-Chairperson of the National Committee of CPPCC

In answer to the question, "Has your life changed since becoming vice-president of the Jiu San Society( a political party and alliance based on high and intermediate level intellectuals in the S&T fields that accepts the leadership of the Communist Party of China)?" Wang said, "I'm involved at the Jiu San Society in a part-time capacity, and participate only in the important activities that are relevant to my work. I spend most of my time on research and teaching, not on being a social activist."

Wang said that as a member of democratic parties and the CPPCC National Committee, it is her duty to be involved in government and political affairs. "I used to think it inappropriate to attend social activities, but now realize that as a scientist and academic, it is my duty and responsibility to be involved in the management of state and social affairs. We all have social responsibilities!"  

Wang Zhizhen has been elected vice-chairperson of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) fourth plenary meeting on March 13, 2008 in Beijing of the First Session of the 11th CPPCC National Committee.

Gender Equality

As a successful woman scientist, Wang's view on gender equality within scientific research is surprising. "In all honesty, I am seldom aware of my gender, perhaps because gender equality was ingrained in my school education, when we were all taught that women can do everything men can do."

Wang said that relatively more women major in biological sciences than other scientific fields, but when viewed as a whole, account for a comparatively small proportion, for example, in the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering. The situation is similar in the US, where women are scarce in top strata of the scientific hierarchy.

Wang thinks that, compared with her own generation, young women today pay more attention to superficial than spiritual beauty. She disagrees with the dictum, "Finding a good husband is better than finding a good job".

In her profession, women and men have equal rights, such as when applying for funds and employment. In the scientific world it is research achievements, not gender, that matter.



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