Young NTU scientist wins top global award for up-and-coming innovators
Zhang Baile only started to speak at two years of age. While in elementary school, he was slow in solving math problems compared to his classmates.
However, he had an enquiring mind and sparked off by his keen interest in science, he eventually made it to Tsinghua University, one of China’s top two universities and went on to receive his PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he dabbled in the cutting edge field of optical cloaking.
Today, Assistant Professor Zhang Baile, 31, who joined Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2011, has been recognised by the prestigious MIT’s Technology Review as one of the top 35 young innovators in the world.
Earlier this year, Asst Prof Zhang was named by Technology Review as one of the inaugural TR35@Singapore award winners. He is the only one from a Singapore university this year who makes it into the TR35 Global list which recognises the world’s top 35 innovators under the age of 35, spanning biotechnology, computer and electronics hardware and software, energy, the Web, and nanotechnology, among other emerging fields.
With this award, he joins an illustrious global league of past honorees which includes Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin (2002); Mark Zuckerberg (2007), the creator of Facebook; Jack Dorsey (2008), the inventor of Twitter; and Konstantin Novoselov (2008), the inventor of Graphene who was later given the Nobel prize in 2010.
The assistant professor from NTU’s School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences is honoured for his work in developing an ‘invisible carpet cloak’. He was chosen by a panel of expert judges and the editorial staff of Technology Review, who evaluated more than 250 nominations.
The up-and-coming scientist credits his success to his mentors at MIT, where he had studied Electrical Engineering & Computer Science.
“I am very lucky I met great mentors and very helpful friends who changed my life, gave me confidence, and taught me what science is,” said Prof Zhang, who now wants to pass on this passion for science and enquiry to his young charges at NTU.
“In my interactions with my students at NTU, I’m impressed by their answers to my questions. Having imagination and creativity in innovation are very important, apart from having detailed knowledge of a subject. NTU students are no doubt on par with other students internationally whom I have taught previously, which makes them a real joy to teach,” he added.
NTU Provost, Professor Freddy Boey said: “At NTU, we place great emphasis on the learning process of our students. As knowledge is readily available everywhere in books and on the Internet, today’s professors don’t just teach; more importantly, they need to inspire students in their learning.
“Professors with international recognition like Zhang Baile show our students that they should aim to make a mark globally, not just locally. With good mentors and hard work, global achievements are well within our reach.”
Now you see it, now you don’t
Asst Prof Zhang is recognised by Technology Review for his major contribution to the field of optical cloaking. He is continuing his research into invisibility cloaks and light manipulation techniques at NTU. Through the use of Calcite crystals - an inexpensive natural mineral - he created an invisibility cloak which can hide objects such as a coin from visible sight.
This crystal carpet cloak is a major science breakthrough as all invisibility cloaks invented previously were made from meta-materials painstakingly produced in the laboratory. These were nano-sized - smaller than the width of a human hair - and thus unable to be seen by the naked eye.
The 31-year-old scientist came up with the idea of joining two blocks of Calcite to form the cloak as it had a unique way of bending light. By immersing this crystal cloak in a liquid called laser oil and putting it over a piece of rolled-up pink paper, light is bent over the pink paper by the crystal, making the paper invisible. This work was published in the academic journal Physical Review Letters, a highly cited publication.
“Discovering this crystal carpet cloak is serendipity. I first came across this crystal in high school when my teacher passed around a piece of Calcite in class,” Asst Prof Zhang said.
“We played with it, without understanding much of its properties. However, that demonstration was repeated again by a professor when I was doing my PhD, which helped me to understand its unique abilities deeply.
“I believe ‘serendipity is the mother of all good things’. As long as we do our best to search, there are still many good things waiting for us to discover them. I hope my research can eventually be of use to society and my teaching can have a positive effect on my students at NTU.”|
Asst Prof Zhang will join other TR35 honorees to discuss their achievements at the EmTech MIT 2012 conference at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge from October 24-26, 2012. All of the TR35 winners for 2012 will be featured the September/October issue of Technology Review and online at www.technologyreview.com/tr35/.
“This year’s TR35 recipients are applying technology to some our generation’s greatest challenges, and innovating to improve the way we live and work,” said Jason Pontin, editor-in-chief and publisher of Technology Review. “We look forward to watching these young technology leaders grow and advance over the coming years.”
Launched in 1899, Technology Review, a highly regarded publication from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a history of more than 100 years. It started the TR35 Global awards in 1999, initially known as TR100.
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About Nanyang Technological University
A research-intensive public university, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has 33,500 undergraduate and postgraduate students in the colleges of Engineering, Business, Science, and Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences. In 2013, NTU will enrol the first batch of students at its new medical school, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, which is set up jointly with Imperial College London.
NTU is also home to four world-class autonomous institutes – the National Institute of Education, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Earth Observatory of Singapore, and Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering – and various leading research centres such as the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI), Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N) and Institute on Asian Consumer Insight (ACI).
A fast-growing university with an international outlook, NTU is putting its global stamp on Five Peaks of Excellence: Sustainable Earth, Future Healthcare, New Media, New Silk Road, and Innovation Asia.
Besides the main Yunnan Garden campus, NTU also has a satellite campus in Singapore’s science and tech hub, one-north and is setting up a third campus in Novena, Singapore’s medical district. For more information, visit www.ntu.edu.sg
About Technology Review, Inc.
Technology Review is leading the global conversation about technologies that matter. An independent media company owned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), more than 4.5 million business leaders, innovators, thought leaders and early adopters around the globe read our publications, in five languages and on a variety of digital and print platforms. We publish Technology Review magazine, the world’s longest-running and most respected technology magazine (established 1899); daily news, analysis, opinion, and video; and Business Reports, which explains how new technologies are transforming companies, disrupting markets, or creating entirely new industries. Technology Review also produces live events such as the annual EmTech MIT and international EmTech conferences, Technology Summits and Salons. The publication’s entrepreneurial community organization, the MIT Enterprise Forum, hosts events around the world.
Additional information about past and present TR35 winners and judges is available at www.technologyreview.com/tr35/. For more information about EmTech MIT 2012 please visit: http://www.technologyreview.com/EmTech.