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Hong Qin promoted to executive dean at the University of Science and Technology of China

Hong Qin bestrides the globe as a leading scientist and educator. For the past four years he has shuttled between PPPL and a teaching post at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), which named him executive dean of its School of Nuclear Science and Technology in October. Hong takes up the position while maintaining his agenda as a principal research physicist in the PPPL Theory Department and his teaching in the Program in Plasma Physics at Princeton University, where he is a lecturer with the rank of professor in the Department of Astrophysical Sciences.

Hong’s promotion coincides with another form of recognition that he received in October: The American Physical Society (APS) named him an APS Fellow — an honor given annually to one-half of 1 percent of the society’s nearly 50,000 members.

A win-win

Hong’s new role at USTC “is a win-win for everyone — PPPL, USTC and Princeton University,” said Nat Fisch, director of the Program in Plasma Physics. “The Chinese fusion program is advancing rapidly,” Fisch said, “and Hong has played a pivotal role in our collaboration with it. With his new role, Hong will be even more valuable to us in pursuing collaborative research and teaching initiatives with the expanding and vibrant Chinese program.  Lucky for us that Hong can manage so much on his plate.”

The promotion puts Hong in charge of the entire program in plasma physics and magnetic fusion at the nuclear science school. Among his tasks will be supporting the design of a Chinese fusion facility that is to mark a step beyond ITER, the international fusion experiment under construction in France. At the same time, Hong will continue to collaborate with researchers on the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), China’s main fusion facility. USTC participates in EAST under the auspices of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. 

Two sides of the same coin

Teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin for Hong. “I don’t know if I’m a teacher or a student,” he said. “What excites me is that I want to see new things and not the same old stuff.  Students are fast-thinking and ask questions that point to new things that can be discovered, and that benefits both them and myself.”

As a researcher, Hong’s interests range from advanced mathematical methods for modeling fusion plasmas to exploring the physics of high-intensity charged particle beams — a subject he works on with former PPPL Director Ron Davidson. Hong, together with Davidson, published a graduate-level textbook on nonlinear beam dynamics in 2001. “Hong is extraordinarily bright and enthusiastic and a fun person to work with,” said Davidson, now a senior research fellow and professor emeritus in the Princeton Department of Astrophysical Sciences. “He has an extensive tool kit and tackles very difficult problems in a very creative way.”

A native of Zhengzhou, an ancient capital of China, Hong enrolled in the Program in Plasma Physics in 1993 and joined the Laboratory’s research staff after earning his doctorate in 1998. In 2004 he became one of just six scientists from U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories to win both a U.S. Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and a DOE Office of Science Early Career Scientist and Engineer Award. The prize citations noted Hong’s contributions to research on magnetic fusion energy and high-intensity particle beams.

Hong began teaching graduate courses in 2005 and quickly became a magnet for students at PPPL. “He is very engaging and always thinks about problems in interesting ways,” said Greg Hammett, a fellow graduate-program instructor and Theory Department member who is developing a course with Hong on computational methods in plasma physics. Concurs Amitava Bhattacharjee, who heads the Theory Department: “Hong is a person of very broad scholarship who brings a great deal to the table. We are very fortunate to have him.”

Hong joined the USTC faculty in 2011 as part of China’s Thousand Talents Program that recruits outstanding scientists in a variety of fields. Among his jobs has been interviewing and helping to select Chinese undergraduates who gain admission to the Program in Plasma Physics.

Zest for new ideas

Hong’s zest for new ideas appeals to both students and practicing scientists. When he lectured at PPPL on advanced mathematical methods in plasma physics a few years ago, “You could just see the seminar room filling with graduate students, post-docs and researchers,” Nat Fisch recalled.

Among those attending the talks was John Krommes, a colleague in the Theory Department and the Program in Plasma Physics. “Hong is a world-class expert in advanced methods of mathematical physics,” said Krommes. “That expertise, as well as his clear and enthusiastic teaching style, has attracted not only graduate students but also senior faculty to his lectures.”

Such attraction reflects Hong’s knack for educating by example. “You don’t teach people by telling them what to do,” he said. “You teach by showing them what you do and pointing out unsolved problems that they can work on. That excites students. They want to see a world where they can make a contribution.                                                       

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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