Zhou Yao: Making efforts to catalyze new progress of BIT

Strengthening Party Spirit and Emphasizing Practice to Build New Achievements

Aiming to combine theme education with the promotion of the “double first-class” construction of the university and to effectively transform the results of the theme education into the impetus for the reform and development of the university, as all BIT members are carrying out in-depth study and implementation of Xi Jinping's thought of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era, the Publicity Department of the Party Committee will launch a series of character reports themed “Teachers” to show the spirit of BIT's teachers who are teaching-oriented and committed to first-class education, so as to promote the high-quality development of the university.

She focuses on the needs of the country and creates new ideas for catalyst design; she resolutely sets out to return to China to contribute; she is gentle and affable, a teacher and a friend. She is Ms. Zhou Yao, a young faculty member of the Advanced Research Institute of Multidisciplinary Sciences of BIT.


Shoulder responsibilities and overcome difficulties

"Scientific research should be cutting-edge and efficient, but also grounded, and basic research must be combined with practical applications. I think practical work is the label of scientific research at BIT, which is also the direction of my scientific research." In 2022, Zhou Yao, the young faculty member of the Advanced Research Institute of Multidisciplinary Sciences of BIT who has just joined the university, has been following the scientific research idea of "cutting-edge, efficient, and grounded" to integrate the new mechanism and new strategy accumulated in the precise design and rapid development of efficient and highly stable catalysts with the research of high-energy laser atomic manufacturing, special hydrogen fuel cells and new fire explosives. The research focuses on developing green energy supply systems under extreme conditions.

Unremitting efforts has brought Zhou Yao's team more than 30 types of multifaceted single-atom high-efficiency catalysts since her joining the university, to cope with the extreme requirements of catalysts in different latitudes, harsh environments and intermittent working modes. Through fine and precise processing at the level of a few atoms on the surface of the material, they are able to achieve a win-win situation of activity and ultra-high stability. "By constructing a brand new electron channel of just 2 to 4 atoms on the surface of the amorphous material, we are able to turn a completely water-soluble and unstable material into ultra-stable and efficient water system catalyst with acid and alkali resistance." Zhou Yao said excitedly. At the same time, the use of precious metals can be reduced by 1 to 2 orders of magnitude compared to traditional catalysts, significantly reducing the cost of catalysts for industrial applications and enabling efficient green hydrogen energy preparation for high-current alkaline electrolysis of water under extreme operating conditions. This series of catalytic systems is expected to be extended to the cost reduction of new pyrotechnic-related catalysts, achieving “multiple benefits”. Some of the above results have been published in top international journals such as Nature Materials, Advanced Materials, Energy & Environmental Science.


Low-cost, ultra-stable, highly active single-atom catalytic system

Cold-starting of hydrogen fuel cells has always been a challenge in the field of new energy. Combining her background in materials, chemistry and physics, Zhou Yao has innovatively created a cathode catalyst for low-capacity water fast cold-start fuel cells considering the characteristics of material hydrophobicity and topology, and realized the continuous adjustment of contact angle from 0 to 160 degrees, so that the catalyst material has completed the metamorphosis from completely hydrophilic to completely hydrophobic, which has laid the foundation for the realization of high-efficiency hydrogen fuel cells with low water capacity and less icing.

In the past year, Zhou Yao has not only made important breakthroughs in scientific research, but has also been approved for projects such as the “Long Moon” Project and Advanced Multidisciplinary Science Project, and participated in National Key Research and Development Programs as the backbone. "I want to blend into the 'Red Research Melting Pot' of BIT as soon as possible, and walk in the same direction with the development of the country, and interpret the heart of serving the country with scientific research results." Zhou Yao said.

Over the years, Zhou Yao has worked tirelessly and diligently on the precise design and rapid development of new high-efficiency catalysts. She has published 52 papers in SCI journals and 18 papers as first/corresponding (including co-) author in international journals such as Nat. Mater., Nat. Commun., Adv. Mater., ACS Nano, Energy Environ. Sci, with 5059 citations in total and an H-factor of 36. She also serves as a young editorial board member of Chinese Chemical Letters and Rare Metals journals in Region I of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Be an exemplary teacher

"The competition between countries is ultimately the competition of talent and technology. As a college teacher, we should not only impart knowledge to students, but also cultivate their own learning ability and stimulate their innovation potential, while building their belief of serving the country with sincerity." Zhou Yao shared her thoughts on philosophy of education.

In graduate education, Zhou Yao has always blended cutting-edge research dynamics with basic knowledge from textbooks. She insists on the concept of "integrating the textbook with actual scientific research work makes the textbook alive". In her teaching, she uses the latest literature as the introduction and guiding light to make a catalytic reaction mechanism more comprehensible; she uses the academic report of front-line researchers as the medium to stress the importance of basic knowledge in frontier scientific research.

Undergraduate education is the foundation of a university's teaching and an important indicator of the level of a university's operation. In order to enrich the strength of the undergraduate education team, Zhou Yao was appointed as the assistant dean of Jinggong College in September 2022, and was responsible for the work section of students’ science and technology innovation. She assisted the dean in promoting the construction of the creative research platform of Jinggong College. She has actively docked the demonstration teaching centers of professional colleges such as the School of Mechanical Engineering, the School of Aerospace Engineering, and the College of Integrated Circuits and Electronics, and conducted four basic scientific research and hands-on practical courses for freshmen and sophomores. A series of special courses, such as Fighting Robot Dream Factory (LIDAR), Miniaturized Simulation of Earthquake Rescue Scenario, and BIT Precision Hammer, have been opened to provide hands-on practice opportunities for junior undergraduates and to equip senior undergraduates with innovative practical skills.


Zhou Yao hosting the "Dan Feng Forum" event

In order to create opportunities and platforms for famous teachers and experts to come into BIT and communicate with teachers and students face to face, she invited several outstanding overseas high-level talents from both inside and outside the university to communicate with students about their majors, study experience, life perception and life planning based on the brand activity of "Dan Feng Forum" in Jingong College. In addition, she also provides information matching for students who are going to pursue their graduate studies, so as to help them with their studies, competitions, future research and life planning.

"It is my honor to be able to join BIT, a university with great education atmosphere, to engage in my favorite education and research, and I’m eager to pass on what I have learned over the years to my students." said Zhou Yao.

A good teacher, a dear friend

"Ms Zhou not only teaches us the cutting-edge professional knowledge in teaching and research, but also shared with us her schooling and life experiences, helped us aiming high and establish the right direction on the road of life." Du Yuanfu, a student from Jinggong College of class of 2021, said about Zhou Yao.

"I learned the importance of interdisciplinary integration and the development trend of multi-disciplinary integration of biology and engineering in the ‘Dan Feng Forum’”, Du Yuanfu shared, "Mr. Zhou encouraged us to take the first step, start small, explore bravely for innovation, then we can achieve something. This also strengthened my determination to dive into my favorite profession and made me more confident about the future development of the industry!”

"Ms. Zhou paid great attention to cultivating my ability to think independently and to coordinate resources. Ms. Zhou also cares about our lives. She prepares medication for us in advance when the flu season comes; she is always with us to carefully sort out problems and tell us the reasons when research is not going well. Ms. Zhou is about our age and she is a good teacher and a dear friend to us." said Li Jing, a master of the Advanced Research Institute of Multidisciplinary Sciences of BIT, class of 2022, a student of Zhou Yao.


Zhou Yao (second from right) instructing students in experiments

Rather than imparting textbook knowledge, Zhou Yao prefers to cultivate students' ability to acquire knowledge and efficient methods. Whenever the students encountered difficulties in their research, Zhou Yao would give timely and pertinent advice and was happy to discuss some research ideas with them. "At the beginning of the school year, since we are not familiar with the field of electrochemistry, Zhou would systematically sort out the fundamentals of electrochemistry needed in our research, share good literature and lectures, and show us the logic between knowledge before we enrolled." Li Minghui, a freshman in master’s program, said that Zhou Yao had set an example for her in scientific research.

"Literature is the source of experimental ideas," Zhou Yao said. Zhou Yao set a rule for her students when they enter BIT that they had to read literature in the relevant field every day. To this end, she sets an example for her students by taking time to study literature even when she works late into the night every day." Ms. Zhou Yao is our role model and motivation to move forward," Li Minghui said, "It is a delightful and meaningful thing to be able to conduct research under the guidance of Zhou Yao."

Resolutely return to China to contribute

"Take up the mission and cherish the valuable opportunities to serve the society in the new era. We should think what the country needs and serve the major strategic needs and economic and social development of the country. I hope more young talents can resonate their growth with the development of the times and join BIT to contribute to the comprehensive construction of building a great modern socialist country together!" Why BIT in the first place? Zhou Yao said that the remarks of academician Zhang Jun, the then president of BIT in 2021, made her look forward to her future and to BIT.

In 2021, Zhou Yao, who was engaged in postdoctoral research at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, was facing an important decision. Many foreign universities, research institutions and multinational companies have offered her olive branches, some even promise to join foreign nationality, high salaries, but she refused them all, because she clearly knows that where to show her talent after graduation is the most crucial step of her life after years of study.

"BIT is the ideal place in my heart, where I want to realize my dream and show my value." At the beginning of 2022, Zhou Yao decided to join BIT, and embarked on the road to "catalyze" her dream. 

Looking back on his work at BIT for more than a year, Zhou Yao said frankly that she has mixed feelings, "As a young research worker and young teacher of the new generation at BIT, I deeply feel the great responsibility and honorable mission. Thanks to the valuable opportunities and broad platform provided by the university, I believe that I will be able to catalyze my dream and help the university become a world-class university as soon as possible!"

Producer: Publicity Department of the Party Committee

Source: Advanced Research Institute of Multidisciplinary Sciences of BIT

Photography: Zhou Yao

Author: Guo Guangze

Editor: Guo Guangze

Reviewer: Lin Wei, Liu Xiaoqiao