Rewards come to home-bound researcher studying far from his lab


This epidemic has made me grow up a lot. As a part of Wuhan, I also must work with everyone to overcome the difficulties.

Xu Xiao

Doctoral Candidate, SUSTech

Department of Physics

On January 31, Department of Physics doctoral candidate Xu Xiao published his paper on thermoelectric materials in the high-impact academic journal, Chemistry of Materials. The article was titled “Realizing Improved Thermoelectric Performance in Bil3-Doped Sb2Te3 (GeTe) 17 via Introducing Dual Vacancy Defects.”

His paper examined further improvements of thermoelectric materials, a field that has drawn considerable attention from researchers, scholars, and industry across the globe.

However, thermoelectric materials are not the subject of the story. This is the story of Xu Xiao. Like millions of people around China, he returned to his hometown for the Chinese New Year. Such a scene would usually be uneventful, but this is not a typical year, and particularly for a young man whose hometown is the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Locked in his childhood home with his family, surrounded by panic, grief, fear, and sorrow, what is a young man to do? In the case of Xu Xiao, he buckled down and got on with his research.


Xu Xiao and his family live in Caidian District in southwestern Wuhan. It is the same large district in which the thousand-bed Huoshenshen Hospital was built in ten days. He and his family were not allowed to leave their home for an extended period, with community staff delivering food and supplies to their door at regular intervals.

“Once our family received permission for one person to go out at certain times, I would wrap myself tightly with a shopping list. I would travel carefully, get everything as fast as possible before returning home. Everything I touched got thrown out, everything I bought or wore got disinfected and washed. I’d even have a shower as soon as I got home.

He has learned to take on significantly more responsibility than he expected. Xu Xiao had previously taken many things for granted as a student but now appreciates that he must play his role in protecting his family, as well as supporting society.

Despite his youthful rebellion against his hometown, Xu Xiao is a proud Wuhan-er. The Wuhan spirit, “dare to be the first and pursue excellence,” is a philosophy not significantly different from the SUSTech spirit. His actions of working at the cutting-edge of scientific development and progress reflect the Wuhan and SUSTech spirit. Xu Xiao believes that Wuhan will come back stronger after all of this is over.

In some regards, being stuck in his hometown has helped him concentrate on his paper. With little to distract him from the comments from peer reviewers, Xu Xiao was able to put his head down and make appropriate changes to his manuscript. His family got used to his late working habits, understanding his research styles.

What was of greatest importance to Xu Xiao was the support he received from his colleagues and supervisor. Professor He Jiaqing and his colleagues never resisted his phone calls over three days as he sought recommendations and guidance on ways to change his article. Professor He Jiaqing also sent a box of masks to Xu Xiao’s home on discovering that they did not have enough protective equipment. Such scientific and emotional support incentivized him to push harder in his pursuit of scientific excellence. “I always feel that I can’t live up to those who have helped me. When I feel that many are supporting me through difficult times, I want to make things better.”

Looking back on the last few weeks of being housebound, Xu Xiao reminded other fellows that maintaining an inner sense of order has been vital. He has focused on continuing to learn and broaden his mind. Consistent use of the skills has been crucial, and he reminded students that are housebound across the nation to reduce anxiety, keep learning, and seek self-improvement.


Xu Xiao was born in Wuhan in May 1991 and commenced a SUSTech-Harbin Institute of Technology joint Ph.D. training program in 2016. He studies in the laboratory of the Department of Physics head Professor He Jiaqing, which focuses on the preparation and performance of thermoelectric materials. Xu Xiao has published more than ten papers in high-impact SCI-standard academic journals, including four as the first author. Of the three patents he has applied for, he has received authorization for one of them. In 2018, Xu Xiao won the National Scholarship for Ph.D. students.


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