Interview with Prof. Daping Chu
Release Time:2020-08-02Pageviews:357

Original scientific research and achievement transformation are the core of the complex function of the Centre. In the operation of the Centre, how to carry out cutting-edge scientific research? How to ensure the efficiency of achievement transformation?

Recently, Professor Daping Chu, tenured chair professor of the University of Cambridge, the Director the Cambridge Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics (CAPE) and Centre for Photonic Devices and Sensors Group, and the Academic Director and CEO of the Cambridge University – Nanjing Centre of Technology and Innovation, discussed the Centre's development path under the industry law from the perspective of the entire value chain from technological innovation to achievement transformation.

Positioning of the Centre - Focusing on applied research

In the opinion of Professor Daping Chu, scientific research can be roughly divided into three complementary stages: basic research - original applied research - technology development.

Basic research in mathematics, physics and chemistry, etc. mainly explores the unknown and understands the world. On this basis, scientific researchers engage in further application and engineering research based on the understanding of nature obtained in the basic research process. A considerable part of these applied research is of the original type (such as computers, the Internet, video calls and other scientific and technological applications and products that do not exist in nature). Transfer these applied researches into specific manufacturing technology, develop into specific products, achieve mass production of low-cost and highly reliable products, promote into the market, be accepted by users, and finally form the complete value chain from scientific innovation to transformation and industrialization of scientific achievements. In this chain, the value of Cambridge University is precisely the basic research and original applied research deepened from basic research.

Original applied research is the key to innovation. At present, when domestic enterprises purchase overseas technology, normally they can only purchase the near-term or even long-used technology. Carrying out applied research from the upstream and carrying out original innovations are the only way for industrial transformation and upgrading to achieve technological leadership. Cambridge University hopes to apply the latest and leading technologies to China through the Cambridge University - Nanjing Centre of Technology and Innovation.

"The Nanjing Centre is a link embedded in the industrialization chain of research achievements. This model is rare in China," Professor Daping Chu explained, "In other words, the Nanjing Centre focuses on innovation in the process of transforming applied research into technology and industry, and makes breakthroughs at both ends: guided by market demand in the downstream, benchmarking in combination with industry, developing specific products and manufacturing processes locally, and driving local manufacturing innovation and upgrade; at the same time, through the demand of the market and industry, reversely driving upstream original research to form a virtuous circle and promote industrial upgrading. This is the original intention of establishing the Centre."

Cognitive remodeling - Technological innovation and achievement transformation are different from basic research

Professor Daping Chu said that although the both are scientific research work, there is a big difference between basic research and achievement transformation. Basic research focuses on exploring the unknown, often trying different possibilities, looking forward to discovering something new, and having a greater randomness; while achievement transformation emphasizes goal-driven, which needs to consider all aspects at the same time, and all conditions are indispensable for progress. "If explained in computer language, basic research is an OR operation, and the transformation of scientific achievements is an AND operation."

Specifically, in basic research, a variety of new situations will be encountered. Researchers may continue to study along the established direction, and may also study forward along the new situation, and even get achievement with more academic value than the original plan. As long as the research conditions and funding environment required by the scientific researchers are given, there will always be some kind of experimental results, "A" or "B".

As far as the transformation of scientific achievements is concerned, scientific researchers need to move towards the expected goal, and the realization of the expected goal involves a variety of factors, including the possibility of technological realization, financial support, market users, etc.. There is an indispensable "AND" relationship among various elements. Each element involves different aspects. There is no relationship where an element is more important than other elements. The so-called focus is only a relatively shortcoming under the circumstances. These elements include but are not limited to:

Firstly, technical threshold. On the basis of the existing industry, the technology itself can support low-cost mass production, thereby paving the way for large-scale promotion, which is the prerequisite for the transformation of scientific achievements. On the contrary, from the perspective of basic research, many research results have excellent concepts, but if they only stay in the laboratory stage, they can only prove the concept and cannot be engineered, so they do not have the conditions for transformation.

Secondly, financial support. Even if there is a low-cost manufacturing route, capital investment in the process of industrial mass production still cannot avoid an exponential rise. Funding for general basic research is maintained at the order of hundreds of thousands of pounds, and investment for applied research is at the order of millions of pounds. If a product is entered into the production stage, it may require tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of pounds. Faced with such a high amount of investment, venture capital injection is needed, and far-sighted enterprise participation and government policy support are also needed.

Thirdly, user recognition. Technical excellence is not a decisive factor in the transformation of research achievements and achieving low-cost mass production does not mean a smooth transformation. Consumers' "buying" is also critical. If mass production restricts the lower limit of the technology market space, then user demand restricts the upper limit of the technology market space.

"The transformation of scientific achievements is a systematic project in which multiple factors are integrated and indispensable," Professor Daping Chu concluded, "The good economic and social benefits brought by the transformation of research achievements can further feedback scientific and technological innovation and basic research. The so-called using the best products to promote the best scientific research is a closed loop."

Platform operation - Strengthen the construction of scientific research and innovation ecosystem

It is precisely because there is a value chain from basic research, original applied research, low-cost development into technical products, to finally the realization of the industrialized commercial in the research work, the smooth transfer of scientific achievements requires multiple guarantees. The Nanjing Centre, which is oriented to applied research and is positioned on the platform for the transformation of scientific research achievements, must focus on technology R&D layout, operation investment management, and market user expansion in order to build a multi-party collaborative and sustainable development scientific research and innovation ecosystem.

For the development of research projects

The Nanjing Centre currently focuses on the four major areas of biomedical healthcare and medicine, information technology and renewable energy, smart city and environmental protection, zero carbon and sustainable development, and maintains a high degree of integration with local industry orientation.

Two projects launched by the Centre last year, "Multi-modality and Hybrid 3-D Ultrasound/Photoacoustic Imaging System" and "Obesity associated metabolic complications: Pathogenic mechanisms, diagnostic biomarkers and therapeutic targets", focus on high-end medical device development and special inspection and testing, and closely follow the industrial positioning of Jiangbei New Area. Among the three projects just approved in June this year, "DropBioApp Engineering droplet-based microfluidic platform for biological applications" is devoted to solving the problem in China's biological microspheres, and developing biological microspheres in the histological engineering application; "Holographic interferometer for 3D surface profiling" achieves high-precision measurement of various parameters through high-precision laser interference signal processing system and high-performance computer control system technology, aiming at the frontier industry of IC, and serving Jiangbei New Area’s strategic planning to build a "chip city"; the construction of big data centers is the cornerstone of the rapid development of China's Internet and 5G communications industry. The "High power density DC converters of 48V power supply systems used for datacentres" is mainly applied in the next-generation big data center, which reduces the energy consumption of the traditional data center power system and promotes the construction of data centers.

In terms of project execution

The Centre is committed to promoting the continuity of research projects, exploring the potential value of individual projects, and jointly building technology innovation platforms and special laboratories with local enterprises, schools and institutes. This means that the applied research projects carried out by the Centre are not independent, short-term, or would be shelved after the results are produced within specified time; instead, there will be a targeted layout, which will continue to expand into the corresponding research fields along with the previous results, and constantly produce new results for innovation and transformation, so as to play a leading role in the transformation from simple results to upstream innovation, contributing to the construction of an innovative Nanjing.

In terms of platform operation

The Centre encourages companies to directly participate in the corresponding research projects by attracting venture capital funds, attracting social capital participation, and carrying out industry-university-research cooperation with leading enterprises; at the same time, with the policy and support given in Nanjing City and the New Area at the initial stage, the Centre takes scientific and technological innovation as the main line, with academic activities, forum meetings, and publication training as the branch lines. Scientific research and commercial operation are simultaneously carried out to maximize the transformation and industrialization of scientific research results, deepen technology transfer services, and strengthen cooperation with local universities and top global universities to build long-term operating laboratory platforms, establish high-level specialized research bases, expand the influence of the Nanjing Centre, and strive to create a good atmosphere for Cambridge University's wider cooperation in China.

In addition, we will protect the soil for innovation and growth in the process of industrialization. The Centre will improve the intellectual property and patent management system and technical property rights trading system by introducing the experience of Cambridge University to ensure the interests of inventors and investors, and mobilize the enthusiasm of R&D and investment to escort the smooth transformation of scientific research projects.

"The Centre should not only focus on the transformation of achievements, but also form characteristics," Professor Daping Chu finally concluded, "We must combine the industry and market needs, adhere to the application-oriented original application research, and take the unique advantage of the Nanjing Centre, make the best of the innovation policy support of governments at all levels, vitalize the first-class resources of scientific research institutes in Nanjing and domestic and international universities to jointly create an ecological environment of an innovative value chain. Only by doing so, the Nanjing Centre will become bigger and stronger, and continue to develop into a global centre in scientific research and transformation, serving the human society."