High-flying student making his mark on green innovation

By Cecily Liu in London | | Updated: 2017-04-06 23:52

Next-generation green aircraft may sound like a mindboggling area of science, but 32-year-old Chinese scientist Gao Fei has made a unique contribution to the concept after four years of hard work, and this week he picked up the Best Clean Sky Award in Brussels to celebrate his achievement.

High-flying student making his mark on green innovation

Gao Fei at Clean Sky PHD Award 2017.

Gao discovered a scientific way to improve the power management of aircraft, contributing toward the realization of next-generation green aircraft.

"What made me most happy was discovering my own ideas that were tested in the lab-setting were feasible," Gao said. "When I make little breakthroughs like this in the lab, I feel so much fulfillment."

Gao is a friendly and charismatic young man, who experienced his fair share of struggles while studying in the United Kingdom after arriving in the country in 2012.

Despite his good academic grades, he struggled with the language and British food and initially felt homesick.

He buried himself in hours of laboratory work, and gradually built confidence through his research.

"The hardest part is the feeling that you're on your own, and no one can really help you, because research is about discovering new knowledge. It is a lonely task but also highly rewarding," he said.

The European Union presents the Best Clean Sky Award each year in celebration of outstanding young people who are at the beginning of their scientific careers. The award is affiliated with Clean Sky, the largest European research program, in terms of the money involved,which has a budget of 4.6 billion euros ($5 billion). The project is aimed at developing cutting-edge technology to reduce carbon emissions from aircraft.

While not a groundbreaking discovery on its own, Gao's research charts detailed scientific methods related to power management, voltage control, and weight and volume control of aircraft's electric power systems, all of which help lead to improvements in efficiency and power quality.

Gao was born in China's Anhui province and studied electronic engineering at Shanghai Jiao Tong University where he earned his master's degree. He then studied for a PhD at the UK's University of Nottingham.

Gao graduated from the University of Nottingham last year and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford, where he specializes in energy and power.

He still clearly remembers the difficulties he encountered in his early days in Nottingham.

"My English was not very good, I couldn't competently communicate all my ideas to my supervisor, and reading highly specialized academic articles was also a challenge."

But Gao said living in the UK encouraged him to pick up basic life skills, such as cooking for himself and finding accommodation, tasks he had not had to complete in China.

After the initial difficulties, Gao settled into his new life in the UK and became competent in cooking Chinese dishes, such as stir-fried meat and vegetables.

His supervisor at the University of Nottingham, Serhiy Bozhko, spoke of his achievements.

"I am delighted that he has been recognized for his stellar academic efforts," Bozhko said. "His research makes an innovative contribution toward the next generation of aircraft electric power systems."

Gao is the second Chinese student to win the award. Last year,it was won by Yang Tao, another PhD graduate from the University of Nottingham, who has since become a member of the university's engineering faculty.

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