Award-winning student champions the importance of curiosity

Today, all manner of approaches can be employed in order to succeed in the fields of science and technology. Studying hard, gaining hands-on experience in a laboratory or during field work, and working alongside eminent scientists are all methods that can lead to scientific greatness. One of the most important personal characteristics for all budding young scientists – and a quality that is often overlooked – involves curiosity, a vital attribute that allows for scientific enquiry and the development of hypotheses, as well as the formation of inventions, theories and discoveries. Many young scientists today are embracing the importance of curiosity, and in China this is no exception. The rising appreciation for the importance of curiosity was championed by Jie Hu, a Chinese university student who won the prestigious Chinese Youth Technological Innovation Prize in 2016. 

An Inspiration To Young Scientists

Jie Hu, a doctoral student based at the Bioinspired Engineering and Biomechanics Center in the Xi’an Jiaotong University, China, was awarded the tenth China Youth Science and Technology Award. Prior to accepting the award, Hu led a delegation from his university and represented Chinese higher educational institutions at the Entrepreneurial Action World Cup in 2014. At the World Cup event, Hu won first place despite strong competition from 34 other teams, which included groups from Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. Hu is currently studying for a PhD in biomedical engineering and specializing in diagnostics, a branch of science the uses biochemistry to develop devices that can help diagnose diseases and monitor health and hygiene standards. 

Throughout his student life, Hu had continued to state the importance of curiosity, which had helped him to form personal interests across various subject disciplines and forge a lifelong bond with science. This attitude was complimented by Hu’s academic supervisor, Professor Xu at the Xi’an based university, who stated that the encouraged other students to follow in Hu’s foot steps. For Hu, it is apparent that embracing curiosity enabled him to consider new ideas for diagnosing diseases, which brought new perspectives to his research and innovations in the biomedical sciences, as well as inspiring him to publish 21 academic papers. In fact, embracing curiosity can broaden all our perspectives, and help us to analyze and solve an array of problems – including many day to day events – from different angles. Like Hu, when we are more curious about the world around us, we can be more appreciative of others and also more respectful of our surroundings, which can bring many psychological benefits. 

  A scientist examining drawings of molecule structures   A scientist examining drawings of molecule structures

Rekindling Old Ideas

Although modern science is based on objectivity, observation, experiment, measurement and repeated trials, it has become apparent that a major driver for contemporary scientific research and development concerns generating profits. For instance, pharmaceutical industries invest heavily in developing drugs to combat certain diseases, rather than discovering all the potential properties a substance might have, which can then be used in the potential treatment of various diseases.However, Hu has a different perspective, claiming that “Scientific research requires a level-headed mentality, the curiosity to discover questions, and the research to further understand them”. Indeed, rather than creating new technology or generating novel inventions, which are quickly patented and marketed to drive profits, Hu believes that scientific research should arise organically, developed through curiosity, creativity and employing new perspectives. Hu notes, “I often encourage my peers to be curious and identify societal problems, in order to pave their path towards scientific research, backed by personal interest”, which demonstrates his attitude regarding the importance of curiosity.

From terrestrial ecology and nuclear physics, to petroleum geology and material chemistry, all the natural sciences have made tremendous advancements over the past century. However, a growing trend in the 21st century has been geared towards designing technology and developing concepts that quickly generate fortune (and occasionally fame). However, the attitudes of Hu and his contemporaries indicate that a rising trend among the next generation of scientists and engineers is one that opts for a more holistic approach to science. Hu clearly bases his scientific research on curiosity, and a burning desire to question the wider world, in order to acquire knowledge and understanding. It is hoped that more of today’s younger scientists will follow in Hu’s footsteps and appreciate the direct link between curiosity and scientific innovation. If so, it is possible that there will be a paradigm shift in scientific research and development, and rekindle the scientific method based on diligence and inquisitiveness, which is how all the natural sciences originally began all those years ago.

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