In this installment of Senior Member Insights, OPN talks with Jiayang Wu, a senior research fellow at the Optical Sciences Centre, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia. Wu received a B.Eng. in communication engineering in 2010 from Xidian University, Xi’an, China, and a Ph.D. in electronics engineering in December 2015 from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China. After that, he joined the Swinburne University of Technology and became a postdoctoral research fellow in 2016.
Wu’s current research fields include integrated photonics, nonlinear optics, 2D materials and optical communications. As of 1 November 2023, he has 100 publications in SCI journals.
Wu is a senior member of IEEE and Optica. In 2021, he was named by The Australian’s “Research Magazine” as the top researcher in the field of optics and photonics. He also ranked in the top 2% of global highly cited researchers in the discipline of optics in 2021 and 2022 in Elsevier’s science-wide author databases of standardized citation indicators.
What first interested you in pursuing science?
My curiosity has been a constant companion throughout my entire life. I can vividly remember my earliest days in primary school when I first learned about optics and circuits. It was the first time I did a science project, where I endeavored to create a functioning lamp. I meticulously recorded my observations and conducted repeated tests to refine my understanding.
Furthermore, my upbringing was steeped in the world of science. My uncle, who pursued a bachelor’s degree in physics, played a pivotal role in shaping my scientific interests. During my childhood, he introduced me to a plethora of engaging and educational experiments, including classics like Newton’s Cradle, the balloon in a bottle experiment, the car science experiment for air resistance and mass, etc.
What aspect of your current work do you find the most interesting or exciting?
I have been conducting research on integrated photonics and 2D materials for years. I am thrilled about the recent discoveries and developments in these fields. Integrated photonic devices can provide a compact device footprint, low power consumption and the capability for large-scale manufacturing, thus ensuring the research outputs can be of benefit to the end users.
2D materials, distinguished by their unique atomically thin film structures, exhibit many distinctive properties compared with bulk materials, positioning them at the focal point of substantial research endeavors.
What tips for successful networking do you have for early-career professionals?
“Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from your network. Ask questions, seek guidance and show curiosity about others’ experiences and insights. ”
Start early. It’s never too early to start building your professional network. Ph.D. candidates/early-career professionals should take advantage of networking opportunities such as academic conferences, alumni events and industry associations to connect with professors, alumni and professionals in their field of interest to build relationships and learn from their experiences.
Ask for advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from your network. Ask questions, seek guidance and show curiosity about others’ experiences and insights. Be open to feedback and be willing to learn from others’ perspectives.
What professional resources do you rely on to stay active and engaged with your field?
First, I have developed the habit of continuously reading the most cutting-edge academic papers in my research fields every day since I was a Ph.D. student. After long-term accumulation, now I find reading research papers as natural as reading the daily news in a newspaper. This habit has equipped me with a firm understanding of the forefront of my research areas, and these papers have become a wellspring of inspiration that accompanies me on my journey to explore fresh research prospects.
Second, I am now working for the newly founded ARC Centre of Excellence in Optical Microcombs for Breakthrough Science. This project aims to explore the society-wide transformations that will flow from optical frequency combs—thousands of highly pure light signals precisely spaced across the entire optical spectrum—by leveraging and building upon the latest breakthroughs in physics, materials science and nanofabrication.
It expects to generate a wide new base of knowledge in fields as diverse as astronomy, spectroscopy, chemical sensors and precision measurement. It provides professional resources including the capability to realize complete comb systems on a chip the size of a fingernail, tailored to specific applications, with significant benefits spanning from imaging live cells to autonomous vehicles, satellite communications and the search for exoplanets.
What skills do you think are most important for someone interested in a career like yours?
Solid theoretical foundations and experimental skills. The ability to collaborate and communicate effectively with others. Maintaining a dedicated and focused approach without being impulsive. Thoughtfully scheduling and allowing sufficient time for rest. A rigorous and professional approach to text handling. A willingness to step out of your comfort zone and maintain enthusiasm for learning new things.
What advice do you have for young scientists who are discouraged about their current work or career path?
“It’s important to re-frame the way we think about failed experiments and instead see them as learning opportunities.”
Learn from the failure. It’s important to re-frame the way we think about failed experiments and instead see them as learning opportunities. A failed experiment is still useful in determining how to move the research project forward.
Confidence and emotional stability are important conditions for becoming an excellent researcher. Be kind and patient with yourself, understanding that the failure rate in research is high. The experiment may fail, but that doesn’t mean you have.
Think big, while paying attention to details. It is very easy to focus on the next problem and make incremental developments, but it’s much harder to see the big picture. As a scientist, it is important to have the capability to think big and dream big, while we need to work very hard on details to achieve a rigorous scientific attitude. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” is a common saying that originated from a famous Chinese proverb.
What is one piece of advice that you wish you were given as a student/early in your career?
Be professional and get well prepared. Avoid using networking solely for self-promotion—as an academic, it is required to equip yourself with true knowledge and professionalism. Keep improving your professional skills and focusing on building authentic relationships based on mutual respect and value. In other words, give as well as take.
What has been the most motivating factor throughout your career?
It is my friendly and supportive research team. It is always exciting for me to work with them. With the continuous support from David Moss, Baohua Jia and Arnan Mitchell, we have had a long and successful research collaborations. We have published more than 70 SCI journal papers since 2016. I look forward to more exciting research achievements fueled by the newly founded ARC Centre of Excellence in Optical Microcombs for Breakthrough Science.
What habits do you frequently rely on that help you to succeed?
Organization: I am an organized person who plans ahead and sets priorities and goals.
Exercise: I exercise five times a week to get enough relaxation.
Sharing: I know the value of sharing and believe I can do something in the community to help others. I actively participate in volunteering activities and make donations to charities in Australia and China.
Talk to my wife: I believe: happy wife, good life. Whenever I am worried or uncertain, I always listen to my wife’s opinions. She has always stood beside me as a spring of inspiration in the moments of emotional ups and downs.
If your ten-years-younger self was looking at your career now, what would he/she be most surprised by?
It would be surprising to see myself achieve this, whether in good or bad times, and to always stick to my dreams. I pursued my beloved career as a researcher to continue researching in the cutting-edge field. I manage my career with care and responsibility, have become a Ph.D. supervisor that helps other young scholars achieve their dreams and I have the ability to contribute to society.