|Robert O. Ritchie, a professor in University of California, Berkeley and the chief scientist of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. (People's Daily Online)|
Robert O. Ritchie talked with confidence and assurance to a reporter from People's Daily in his office in the new main building in Beihang University. "A study on the structure of scales enables us to make more solid armor, while research on the plantar structure of the gecko enhances our capabilities in terms of the stickiness of glue," he said. "Thus, why not create new materials featuring bright colors based on research into butterflies' wings. I am always amazed that we have these animals in our great nature and enjoy inventing new artificial materials based upon research into their structures."
Ritchie, a tall man with thick brown curls, has calm and wisdom in eyes veiled by rimless glasses. He is not only a professor in University of California, Berkeley and the chief scientist of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, but also an internationally acclaimed expert in fatigue and fracture of materials and an academician of the National Academy of Engineering (USA) and Royal Academy of Engineering (UK). He has won more than thirty prizes, written fifteen books in collaboration with others, and published more than five hundred papers.
Ritchie, one of the few Americans with no facebook accounts, has little time for leisure. He prefers to stay in the libratory or the office and keep in contact with his fellow scientists during the day. In that sense, he is a typical scientific researcher.
The cooperation between Ritchie and Beihang University grew following an academic conference. He was appointed an honorary professor of Beihang University in 2009 and recruited into the sixth "Thousand Talents" program in 2011. In September 2012 he was invited to head the International Research Center for Biological and Nature-Inspired Materials of the International Research Institute for Multidisciplinary Science (IRIMS), which was founded by Beihang on the basis of the innovative and venture bases for overseas top talents. Ritchie says that he "made the right choice" by joining the institute. He believes that the importance of interdisciplinary science lies in the fact that the innovations often emerge at the border of two fields, and this new job, related to his academic research in University of California, Berkeley, has provided him with a brand new platform.
Ritchie sees the "Thousand Talents" program as a huge success in the sense that it has not only attracted top-notch Chinese talent back home from overseas, but also helped recruit many foreign experts. He urges the Chinese government to encourage the foreign experts to become involved in innovation or start businesses, help them to overcome language and cultural barriers, and to invest more in the "Thousand Talents" program.
"The 21st century is the century of Asia. Asian countries must ensure their creative capacity for development. It is generally known that Asian nations are capable of making better products. At the same time we are not sure whether Asian countries can enhance their capacity for innovation. Asian countries are facing the challenge of growing thier innovation capability", Ritchie stresses. "Foreign experts will come to work in China on condition that China has real capacity for innovation and offers them exciting jobs."
Education is the soil that fosters such capability. Some institutions of higher learning such as Tsinghua University are striving to build world-class universities, and China has surpassed most other nations in the field of scientific research. Ten years ago, there were few Chinese papers in key scientific journals while today, many Chinese papers get published in these journals, some of which are very good. China's educational community should not be afraid of failure and should promote equal exchanges between teachers and students in the pursuit of improving the capacity for innovation, Ritchie added.
During the conversation he emphasized the importance of cooperation. He was very impressed by the cooperation among scientific researchers in China. A scholar from the University of Science and Technology Beijing came all the way to his laboratory and provided him with a special material which he desperately needed for an experiment, free of charge.
He makes several visits to China every year and thus China has become his oriental home. After work, he relaxes in a bar with his colleagues near the university, where he enjoys a drink and shares experiences of scientific research. These exchanges inspire a great many new ideas. "I have good relationships with my Chinese colleagues. Many colleagues of mine have already achieved remarkable successes," Ritchie says. He showered praise on several students from Beihang University who were his assistants, and expressed his hope that they would have a bright future - they were just as smart and diligent as any of his former students.
He believes China's infrastructure projects overseas provide important opportunities to expand the application of material science in China. Ritchie told the reporters: "Precious orchids will bloom as long as you are willing to spend time and energy cultivating the seeds. Today, I am planting the seeds in China. Material science will be full of vitality and make its contribution to transforming China into an innovative country."
This article was edited and translated from 《在中国培育创新的种子（中国，我的第二故乡）》, author: Ji Peijuan, source :People's Daily.