Students gain research skills and explore Chinese culture at Peking University

UCLA SRP 2015 students biking in Xi'an, China.

Students gain research skills and explore Chinese culture at Peking University


Undergraduate and graduate students were teamed up with PKU faculty mentors and student researchers to focus on a 10-week research project in such diverse subjects as air pollution to mathematics to brain cell biology and beyond.

The Peking University – UCLA Joint Research Institute’s Summer Research Program offers a rare international experience for students in the sciences to develop their research collaboration skills while also exploring Chinese language and culture.

Some 12 UCLA students from across the sciences researched at Peking University (PKU) in Beijing, China during Summer 2015. Undergraduate and graduate students were teamed up with PKU faculty mentors and student researchers to focus on a 10-week research project in such diverse subjects as air pollution to mathematics to brain cell biology and beyond. Among them four students were awarded 100,000 Strong Scholarships* from Coca-Cola, and all 12 received stipends from both PKU and UCLA. Their research program culminated in a closing ceremony attended by JRI faculty co-director Jason Cong (UCLA) and Manli Zhou, Assistant Director
Chief, Division for Exchange Programs (PKU).

Students focused on both theoretical studies and topics that affect life in China including the surprising biodiversity of Beijing. “Amazing biodiversity still exists in Beijing,” said Runyang “Nic” Lou, UCLA 2016, environmental science, “as long as you pay attention, you can notice it. The perfect camouflage of the dark-spotted frog, the dazzling golden stripes of the gold-stripe frog, and so on, are all so fascinating. It is very inspiring to see that wildlife and humans are not inevitably incompatible, even in the eighth most populous city in the world.”

A number of students had a chance to connect with their heritage. “I have a far better understanding of Chinese culture and life,” said Brandon Liauw, a recent biophysics graduate. “By living among the Chinese for an extended period of time, I now understand why they do the things they do. As a Chinese American, many differences between Americans and native Chinese confused me for most of my life. It was not until this summer that much of this confusion was clarified.”

It’s not just students who benefit from these research programs, so do the faculty. “The JRI summer exchange program is crucial to my research. It allows my students to work in PKU faculty labs which stimulate and strengthen [our] intellectual collaborations,” says UCLA Public Health Professor Yifang Zhu. “It also provides a great opportunity for us to conduct a natural experiment by tracking JRI exchange students to better understand the impacts of Beijing air pollution on human health.”

After completion of the SRP, PKU faculty and UCLA students are encouraged to continue collaborating. “Our joint project had very interesting results,” said PKU College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering Professor Mei Zheng. “Now we will work closely to analyze the data and we will have a joint publication in the near future. My group and I enjoy working with Michelle very much and she is always welcome to come back to Peking University.”

Applications are open now for the summer 2016 cycle. Please visit the JRI website to learn how to apply: http://pku-jri.ucla.edu/jri/.


*The 100,000 Strong Foundation formally launched in 2013 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help answer President Barack Obama’s call to deepen Americans’ understanding of China through study abroad