The vow of a "lunatic" Chinese geophysicist

by Chen Ziqi China Plus Published: 2017-07-13 19:10:58
Share this with Close
Messenger Messenger Pinterest LinkedIn

Reporter: Zhang Wan

Photo of Huang Danian [Photo: from China Plus]

Photo of Huang Danian [Photo: from China Plus]

Late geophysicist Huang Danian, was dubbed a lunatic for his dedication to scientific research. He is remembered for returning to China after studying and working in Britain for nearly two decades and his great contribution to deep earth exploration technology. 

Today, Huang has become a great inspiration to the scientific community as well as to regular people. CRI visited Jilin University, where Huang Danian worked following his return to learnt more about his legacy. 

The song you are hearing is "I Love You, China," Huang Danian's favourite song. Regarded as a top scientist in the field of aero geophysics, Huang Danian gave up the luxuries he received from living abroad, and returned to China to help meet the country's scientific needs. 

Leading a team of over 400 scientists, he made numerous breakthroughs through his Avant-guard research methodologies, such as closing several technology gaps for China's aerospace technology, deep earth exploration, and deep dive technology. His colleagues, students, secretary, and driver are filled with admiration when talking about his dedication to work.

After graduating from Changchun Geology Institution, Huang Danian studied abroad in the United Kingdom, where he earned a Doctorate degree, and served as the Director of Research and Development Department at ARKeX Ltd., Cambridge. Like many others, Zhou Wenyue, his former student, used to be curious as to why he chose to give up such a great opportunity to return to China. 

She said: "So I asked him, 'Professor, what is the reason behind your repatriation?" Wang Danian responded: 'Having the chance to travel abroad, pursue a degree, and learn from others is merely temporary; it is my duty to return to my birthplace so serve my motherland, and it isn't purely dedication, like you put it.'"

Zhou Wenyue, a student of Huang Danian [Photo: from China Plus]

Zhou Wenyue, a former student of Huang Danian [Photo: from China Plus]

Former Vice President of Jilin University, Han Xiaofeng, was a close friend of Dr. Huang's for over thirty years. He says Dr's Huang's decision to return was not difficult to understand.

Han Xiaofeng recalled: "He said, 'I left with the determination to come back.' He told his students, 'You've got to leave, you've got to come back.' And these two statements are connected both emotionally and logically – that is what we call 'patriotism for the home and the nation'. It's crucial for Northeastern China as well as Jilin University."

Han Xiaofeng, Former Vice President of Jilin University [Photo: from China Plus]

Han Xiaofeng, Former Vice President of Jilin University [Photo: from China Plus]

Upon his return in 2009, Dr. Huang immediately got down to business devoting most of his time to his research. His office, located on the fifth floor of Jilin University's Geology Hall is still intact. The lamps in this office used to be lit until 2:00 or 3:00 am every day.

Listed on his board, is his agenda for the whole year. Countless places including Changchun, Beijing, Nanning, Chengdu, and London are among places that bear Dr. Huang's footprints. His secretary Wang Yuhan recalls that any day the lamps weren't lit , that would be proof that Prof. Huang was away on business. Wang Yuhan said: "Nearly four months each year were spent traveling; and every time he'd tell me to 'book the latest flight' without hesitation. Then he'd start calling people right after stepping into the car on his way to the airport. He knew there wouldn't be any more chances to make those calls while on an airplane, he had to tell us what he was thinking about, and assign duties for when he was away. Thus when he's on the way to the airport all of us would have to pay attention to our phones – incase he called."

Zhou Yuhan,Secretary of Huang Dayuan [Photo: from China Plus]

Wang Yuhan,Secretary of Huang Dayuan [Photo: from China Plus]

Because he was constantly working, Dr. Huang was known to people close to him as the "lunatic scientist". Ma Guoqing, was one of his first doctoral students, and said: "I used to be unable to understand his attitude towards research. Many called him a 'lunatic.' He indeed was a lunatic. He traveled a lot in order to grasp the general research direction for the nation. He often told me, 'Why do you devote most of your time to research? Why do you devote yourself so much to research? Then he would say; Rather than strengthening and developing yourself, it's to contribute to the nation's development; you cannot merely think for yourself.'"

Equipped with the newest knowledge from abroad, one of Dr. Huang's core tasks was to acquire the high-precision airborne gravimetry technology, especially, to build the airborne gravity gradiometer; both technologies are of significant importance. This equipment is a fluoroscope which can be used to detect fossil fuel resources as well as detection and defense against submarines. Ms. Yu Ping, Dr. Huang's assistant and professor at Jilin University's College of Geo-Detection Science and Technology, shares the significance of the job. She said: "On the one hand, this technology is key to economic development, on the other hand, it's crucial to national security and defense. Thus our nation strongly needs it. Very few countries have acquired this technology, and China is denied access to it. Before the twelfth "Five Year" plan, this was non-existent technology in our country. 

When Dr. Huang returned he gathered hundreds of scientists from more than ten national institutions together to work on this project. The gap between the international level and our own, in terms of our equipment capability and precision of data collection, is worth twenty years of research and exploration; now it only cost our country five years to bridge that gap. And theoretically speaking, we've already reached international standard level."

When he graduated from Changchun Geology Institution, Dr. Huang wrote in the yearbook that his goal was "To revitalize China as our collective mission." It is this unchanging determination to contribute to the nation that has continuously encouraged him to maximize every single second for his research, even after acute physical symptoms of his illness began to emerge.

Liu Guoqiu, his driver, recalls: "One time I picked him up in front of his home. He suddenly collapsed and fell forward. I rushed and caught him. When he regained consciousness, he said he must have been exhausted. I said, 'It's not okay, Dr. Huang. You have to go to the hospital. Don't go [to the conference]. I'll drive you to the hospital right now.' But he said, 'absolutely not, Mr. Liu. The two conferences in Beijing are very very important. I have to be there.'"

Zhou Guoqing, a driver of Huang Danian [Photo: from China Plus]

Liu Guoqiu, a driver of Huang Danian [Photo: from China Plus]

In the eyes of those close to him, he cherished his time much more than his life. The urgency of his scientific exploration continuously pushed Dr. Huang to race against time. Overworking resulted stomach cramps and fainting on several occassions. When a medical examination was done, and almost "forcefully" obtained. It revealed that Dr. Huang had bile duct cancer.

However, the diagnosis and hospitalization didn't stop Dr. Huang from working either. Ms. Ren Bo, Deputy Director of United Front Work Department of the Communist Party Committee in Jilin University, recalls: "The afternoon before his last surgery, a few alumni and I brought some fruits and went to visit him at the hospital, hoping to spend time with him that night. When we arrived at the hospital, he was nowhere to be found. We called and looked for him everywhere only to trace him back to his office. We rushed there, and persuaded him to take time off to get some much needed rest before his surgery. But he said, 'No!. I still have a lot of work to complete. I need to organize things so that I know where to find them when I come back.' Only after did he return to the hospital but very late."

Sadly, unbeknown to him and everyone else, that trip to the office would be his last. On January 8th, 2017, Dr. Huang Danian took his last breath, at the age of 58.

Although the man himself is gone, his spirit lives on through his goals that are yet to be accomplished. The people who once worked besides him are gradually bringing his ambitions of deep earth exploration equipment to life.

Related stories

Share this story on