Mao Erke: Academician Made “the First TV Channel in New China” Running at 49.75MHz —the 6th report in the series of “Stories in BIT” to celebrate school’s 80th celebration
Ed note: In 2018, in order to ferret out and rescue valuable school’s histories, the party publicity department in Beijing Institute of Technology started to organize forces to acquire school’s oral histories and commission the school library to commence specific implementations. This project has already recorded and preserved materials from 80 retired professors in the last two years, forming a collection of 15058 minutes and 1.6 million characters in words. In the 80th anniversary for school’s birth, school’s party publicity department and library launched the series of “Stories in BIT” from the well-edited oral histories. We hope all teachers and students can draw inspiration from these wonderful stories and pass on the virtues of party members to make great contribution to the construction of world class universities with Chinese characteristics for school!
Television seems to quit historical scenic time amid the technical take-off of the Internet. However, little progress had been made in transmitting and receiving images of television through radio during the 1950s in China. It was not until 1956 that four young Chinese students of Beijing Engineering Institute (the later Beijing Institute of Technology) made the history of television in China inadvertently in their graduation project.
The Narrator: Prof. Dr. Mao Erke professor of Information and Communication Engineering, academician of Chinese Academy of Engineering, professor doctoral supervisor
In 1949, after the founding of new China in Bei Ping, Engineering School of North China University (the later Beijing Institute of Technology), which was directly charged by the National Ministry of Heavy Industry, moved to the capital city to serve Communist Party of China. The school focused on establishing the first university of heavy industry in China by gathering excellent professors and scholars.
In June 1951, the national Ministry of Education decided to put the unified system of national college entrance into practice. Engineering School of North China University planned to enroll 600 undergraduates and 200 college students. After almost 2 years’ preparation, the school strength improved a lot. The average admission score ranked the first in colleges and universities nationwide, with 4321 students registering for this school, accounting for 40% of the total number of candidates for engineering colleges.
Among the college students who just entered the school after the national exam, Mao Erke, a 17-year-old man with great ambition, came to Engineering School of North China University to start his devoted scientific research.
Interested to radio since a young age, Mao Erke chose the major of mechanical engineering, which indulged him in the passion for professional knowledge. At the same time, the careful consideration of senior students from old revolutionary areas soon relived his loneliness and strangeness caused by thousands miles away from home. Feeling rejuvenated amid a school with enriched study life and strict management, Mao Erke came up with a thought that he was responsible to make contribution to the nation who cultivated him from an ordinary people to someone in the revolutionary ranks.
On January 1st, 1952, Engineering School of North China University was renamed as Beijing Engineering Institute. On March 9th of the same year, the school was required to adjust the running direction to walk into the new journey of constructing the first national defense industrial college. That is how our country developed the first series of professional defense majors and trained the first group of “Red Defense Engineers” to meet major strategic needs in new China.
The school set up the major of radar design and manufacture in 1953, making Beijing Engineering Institute one of the first institutes to teach and study the major of radar, and remote and telemetry system in China, which enabled school to raise talents in the area of radar for new China back then. And Mao Erke was among one of those students as his major adjusted to radar in this year.
With the help of experts from the Soviet Union, school established teaching and research office for radar specialty, and arranged the corresponding curriculums, teaching programs, and syllabus, which led the development of radar major on the right track. Young Mao Erke, together with his classmates, devoted great enthusiasm and energy to this new specialty.
The Hobby Group—Voyage of Scientific Research Begins
In the 1950s, while developing the first series of ordnance majors in China, Beijing Engineering Institute paid great attention to country’s demand for high-quality talents in national defense industries and made great efforts in the cultivation of them, especially encouraging students to take part in innovative activities out of class. In this backdrop, Mao Erke and other students majored in radar often made American army’s’ radio equipment received by the school department into laboratory apparatus, which gained experience for their future achievement.
Once Kurikowski, a Soviet Union expert, demonstrated how TV signals are transmitted and received by using two scopes, which aroused great interest of Mao Erke. Though television was already invented in western countries, it was still an unknown field in China as many Chinese people never even saw a TV before. With his mind on “do something to the country”, after asked by Kurikowski if he wanted to join a hobby group to produce equipment by using theories of TV, Mao Erke signed up for it without hesitation.
At that time, there were a lot of hobby groups like this in universities and colleges. In order to better construct ordnance majors and respond to the call of central government to “march towards the aim of building modernized universities of science”, Beijing Engineering Institute gave priority to teaching reforms and improvement in students’ innovation ability, successively founding more than one hundred students’ extracurricular research group and establishing “Society for Science and Technology for students in Beijing Engineering Institute” on April 21th, 1956.
The grope Mao Erke taken in, which was divided into three parts namely “scan and video amplifier”, “mechanical engineering”, and “optics”, was very popular as it was founded to develop the first set of TV launch center, and there were 20 students signed up for this group as soon as it first set up. At that time, though TV technology was not in school’s training program, Beijing Engineering Institute still offered financial support to students’ innovation research.
After the establishment of the group, Mao Erke and other students energetically made the first research object—producing a largish oscilloscope tube to display scanning images. Under the circumstances of insufficient background information, they taught themselves a Russian course book called Technical Foundation for Television, and consulted related books in library. But practical application was even harder than the mastery of theories in books. Since television tubes had not been produced in China, they made a scanning circuit out of radar tubes; as no pickup tube can be used, after scanning each highlight by using lightening tube, they uploaded characters of each highlight in different time and motion on oscilight to test and finally realized flying-spot scan. As a result, with the guidance of experts of Soviet Union, they put the theory into practice according to the existing experiment condition and made the first elementary system for television emission and display.
Everyone was inspired by this great success, and the next problem for them was to figure out how to make the images move. Students then started to gather experiment equipment, and in a schoolhouse of former Sino-French University, they finally found an old film projector, through which the controlled manual-input signals were amplified and finally moved! Consequently the device for television transmission and reception invented by students from Beijing Engineering Institute took its shape.
49.75MHz—Created “the First TV Channel of New China” in Graduation Project
Achievement made in hobby group encouraged Mao Erke and other students to do more. At the end of 1955, after the permission of school and teachers, Mao Erke, Deng Ciping, Huang Huining and Wang Hao determined the title of their graduation project as “System for Television transmission and Display” (At that time the duration of studies was five years). This time they made a relatively complete system for television transmission and reception based on the work made in their hobby group.
In order to better fulfill the graduation project, four students made specific division. Deng Cining, Huang Huining, Wang Hao were in charge of antenna, receiver, and transmitter respectively, and Mao Erke was responsible for timer. Soon they started to work every minute to unify the operation. Kurikowski also paid great attention to this program, and every day before work, he would go to the laboratory to check their work. Once he saw the equipment wiring was in a haphazard way, he asked Mao Erke to sort out the wire on a board. Without thinking Mao Erke worked all night to get the wire arranged, and the next day when Kurikowski saw the tidy board he said delightfully, “That should be the way you treat your laboratory equipment.” The seemingly easy task to organize wires turned out to be a lesson from experts to learn rigorous thinking habits and standard operation for engineers. And this virtuous quality for science taught by personal example benefited Mao Erke and his classmates for life.
Mao Erke recalled that he often worked overtime to catch up with system development, and he even slept in laboratory every day for a period of time. Though the way of scientific research was not a plain sailing, the belief of “do something for the country” would always be a light to guide them towards victory.
They gained strong support from school during the process, not only in finances, but also in a key technical problem.
Any radio signal transmission in television system cannot be permitted only after the application to the central government for an official channel. And this application was submitted by the school to Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications for undergraduate graduation project to support children’s technical innovation. On April 6th, 1956, Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of the People’s Republic of China replied in “The Official Letter of Admission for your School’s Register for Teaching-used Experimental Radio Station ((56) Non-Administration Number 30)” and agreed School of Instrument in Beijing Engineering Institute to produce and use laboratory-targeted radio station for teaching, and the frequency of the TV transmitter was 49.75MHz. Since then, “The First TV Channel in New China” settled down in Beijing Institute of Technology ever after.
Television Transmission Antenna on the Rooftop of the Central Building of BIT
In the summer of 1956, this widely known graduation project defense attracted attention from people in and around school. Experts from Soviet Union, school faculties, and even professors from other universities including Tsinghua, all came to watch this defense, with much more attenders than today’s doctoral defense. The graduation defense went well, and it can totally realize the transmission of radio signals. This was a glorious moment of history when the first device for television transmission and reception in China was born in this ordinary classroom.
Hereafter, the antenna on rooftop of the central building in Beijing Engineering Institute marked a great progress across ages, representing a huge milestone in school’s cultivation of students.
From theories to practice, the young Mao Erke felt the pleasure in scientific research from his real experience, making a successful completion for his bachelor degree in school. Young students’ aspiration and success can also be credited to the painstaking training and devotion from school, and this spirit of innovation and inclusion was also immersed in the culture of BIT, which would pass on to our offsprings.
Mao Erke graduated in 1956 from Beijing Engineering Institute and started to work there. With the solid basic knowledge learnt in class and practical training gained in extracurricular technical activities, he soon developed as the outstanding young teacher in school. And more importantly, life in school inspired him to dedicate all his life to the study of radar and the construction of this major.
China’s First Phrased Array Radar
In 1964, Mao Erke and his colleagues established the Institute of Radar Techniques in school to respond to national strategy, and they joined and successfully made the first phrased array radar in China, making our nation one of the few countries that can develop advanced large radar.
In 1995, Mao Erke was chosen as the academician of Chinese Academy of Engineering. Though in his 80th, he still teaches and researches forefront in the field of radar.
From the morality education’s “experiencer” to “practitioner”, in his life more than half a century in BIT, Mao Erke insists on cultivating talents for the party and the nation, and always keeps the promise of “doing something for the country” in mind.
Mao Erke said proudly, “Focusing exclusively on the research of radar for decades is the biggest reward in my life.”
Today, though the technic of television is no longer the cutting edge technology, but the esteemed elders in BIT would be remembered for their relentless in innovation and determination to rejuvenate our nation. 49.75MHz reaches out across time and directs the direction for students in BIT, reminding them to make great contribution to the construction of world class universities with Chinese characteristics for school!