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【2016 PKU Student of the Year】Song Xueyang: born for physics

MAY . 08 2017

Peking University, May 4, 2017: At the end of 2016, Song Xueyang was awarded “2016 PKU Student of the Year”. She won a gold medal at the 14th Asian Physics Olympiads, and was recommended for admission to the School of Physics of PKU in 2013. During college, Song has always been hard-working, achieving an average GPA of 3.89. She also won the first prize in the Beijing College Students Physics Contest, and did a great job in undergraduate scientific research and overseas scientific training as well. Her excellent academic performances made her stand out from the fierce competition and became a leading student in her major.

Apart from outstanding academic performances at school, she also played an active part in extracurricular activities, such as volunteering work. As a “merit student” of Beijing, she has not only won the National Scholarship but also received letters of admission with the highest scholarship from renowned overseas universities such as Stanford, Harvard and the University of Chicago.

Inspired by interest, perfected by diligence

Song has been interested in physics since she was in middle schools. After she entered PKU, her interest was further enhanced, inspiring her to explore more in this field determinedly. She said the physics study at PKU introduced her to the splendid achievements reached through the combination of the wildest imagination and the most meticulous mathematics demonstration. It was at PKU that Song fully came to appreciate the beauty of those physics breakthroughs which not only led us out of the labyrinth of abstract physical phenomena, but also exerted profound influence upon the course of human civilization through its powerful creations.

Even to many graduate students, publishing articles on internationally recognized physics journals seems a difficult goal, but Song did it as an undergraduate. It needed unimaginable diligence and devotion to reach this achievement, but certainly diligence and devotion alone were not enough. As she herself put it, "the secrets to success are mainly the solid academic training provided by the university and the meticulous and patient guidance given by my advisors and seniors.”

She devoted herself actively to the undergraduate scientific research projects, and oriented the direction of her program towards condensed matter physics. Song was once overwhelmed by academic papers and the vast number of new concepts appearing every day, but fortunately, with the help of her advisors and seniors from PKU, she gradually overcame the adversity and found her direction.

When she was receiving training of scientific research in America and Germany, her foreign faculties led her to delve deep into the research, and Song successfully published quite a few papers of high quality. In the summer of 2015, after reading a thorough and intelligible elucidation of the Weyl semimetal in an academic article, she made a trip to America to find its author. The communication with professors and postdoctoral researchers benefited her a great deal and introduced her to researches at the cutting edge of condensed matter physics and further inspired her to explore her interest in physics.  

Song Xueyang participating academic exchange in U.S. (in the middle)

Her persistent efforts finally paid off. Under the guidance of Research Fellow Wang Fa from the Center for Quanta Material of PKU and Postdoctoral Research Fellow Zhang Long, Song helped to calculate and explain the influence that the Landau energy level quantization of the Dirac semimetal and heavy fermion insulators in a magnetic field exert upon some physical quantities including conductance, and published two articles on Physical Review Letters. Soon afterwards, she went to the Santa Barbara Kovilij Institute of Theoretical Physics in US. Guided by Professor Leon Balents and Postdoctoral Research Fellow You Yizhuang, she studied the low energy spin dynamics of the Kitaev cellular model, and her research result was again published in Physical Review Letters. In March 2016, guided by Li Zhi, a faculty member from the School of Physics of PKU, she and her classmate Zhang Zhengxing, studied the functioning capability of surface plasmon polariton device, and published their studies on Nano Scale. During the summer of 2016, she went on to do an internship at the Marx Planck Institute of solid state physics in Germany, and conducted a systematic study of the influence of strong electron interaction on the classification of topological insulators and superconductors with spatial symmetry under the help of Doctor Andreas Schnyder.     

More ahead: keep on pursuing dreams

Despite these outstanding academic performances she already achieved, Song still keep a low-profile and maintain a modest attitude towards praises. “These honors certainly are a big encouragement to me, but ultimately they’re still passing clouds that will eventually fade away. What is the most important is to explore the world with the utmost kindness and gratitude, treat people nicely and faithfully, and do what needs to be done. ” She quotes a sentence from Romain Rolland, “there is only one heroism in the world: to see the world as it is and to love it.” Song said she still had a long way to go, but she would keep on trying to grow stronger to overcome every obstacle she encountered, and never yield to adversity.

Besides scientific research, Song was also devoted to various volunteering activities. She served as a guide to show the Jamaican ambassador around the campus during the International Cultural Festival, and during the Beijing World Athletics Championships in 2015, she worked for the media center as well. She said her greatest gain during voluntary services was to acquire a sense of empathy, and for Song, it was a great pleasure to serve others and give them a helping hand whenever they are in need.

Talking about her future, Song hoped that she could be more optimistic and tenacious. Just as the old saying goes, “long as the way is, I will keep on searching above and below.” The physics scientific research is a long and circuitous journey that takes a lifetime to explore. This is not only her dream, but also the responsibility of PKUers. 

Written by: Yin Xin
Edited by: Hu Rong, Xu Liangdi
Source: PKU News (in Chinese)