Skip to main content


Education and outreach

Harvard physicist Liujun Zou wins inaugural Physics World science-communication award

06 Dec 2018 Matin Durrani
Photo of Liujun Zou from Harvard University with a certificate as the winner of the inaugural Physics World science-communication award

Physics World is pleased to announce that Liujun Zou from Harvard University in the US has won the magazine’s inaugural science-communication award, which was set up “to celebrate the huge advances that China is making in science, engineering and medicine”.

Entrants to the competition were asked to answer the question: “How is your research contributing to China’s rise as a leading science nation?”

Zou, who is doing a PhD in condensed-matter physics at Harvard, picked up the prize, which comes with a $2000 travel grant, for his essay entitled “The spirit of science”.

In the article, Zou says that while basic science is recognized by many countries, it has largely been overlooked in traditional Chinese culture because it is seen to lack immediate applications.

China, however, needs to devote more resources to fundamental research, Zou writes. That’s because basic science not only leads to “great discoveries” that are important in their own right, but is also vital to develop technologies of the future.

“Through all our efforts, I hope we can contribute to the spirit of China in a positive way, however minor it may appear in the short term,” Zou concludes.

Zou’s article, which will also appear in the January 2019 issue of Physics World magazine, responded brilliantly to the challenge of the competition, by showing how seemingly abstract theoretical physics can have a huge long-term impact on society. Zou, who is originally from China, has been based at Harvard for more than five years.

The photo shows him picking up the award at Harvard on 30 November, which was presented to him by Physics World reviews and careers editor Tushna Commissariat.

Entries to the competition were judged by a panel of senior Chinese scientists and science communication specialists, with the winning entry best meeting the guidelines, which were to convey complex ideas with clarity and flair, have a persuasive and creative line of thinking, be technically accurate, and have an enjoyable and accessible writing style.

The panel was chaired by Matin Durrani, the managing editor of Physics World magazine. The rest of the panel consisted of: Shi Yu (Department of Physics, Fudan University); Xiaoxue Chen (science journalist at The Intellectual); Yi Rao (School of Life Science, Peking University); Zhihong Xia (Department of Mathematics, South China University of Technology); Lv Li (Institute of Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences); Yang Ji (Institute of Semiconductors, Chinese Academy of Sciences); Feng Pan (Deptartment of Material Science, Tsinghua University); Jingkang Deng (Director, Tsinghua University Library); Long Xiao (Deputy Director, Peking University Library); and Zexian Cao (Institute of Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences).

For more about Physics World’s coverage of physics in China, check out the latest Physics World China special report.

Copyright © 2021 by IOP Publishing Ltd and individual contributors