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Top Talk with Dr. Michael Hoffmann from California Institute of Technology

It is our pleasure to have invited Dr. Michael Hoffmann from California Institute of Technology to our GEP top talk on 18th of August, 2017. His research area covers a variety of aspects including atmospheric photochemistry, wastewater treatment, solar fuels and so on.
First and foremost, Dr. Hoffmann briefly introduced his academic career. He mentioned that his research started from sulfur compounds, in which he focused on the relationship between those compounds and particulate matters in air pollution. Then he moved to wastewater treatment and many other fields. When we asked why he could cover so many fields, he responded “when you keep working in a certain field for a long time, it’s natural for you to want to try something new.” It is his passion in different fields that leads to his academic success.

Then Dr. Hoffmann introduced some of his personal experience, including how he became a professor from a college student. He also mentioned many of his students and colleagues. The most impressive one for us is his student Daniel J. Jacob, who is the author of Introduction to Atmospheric Chemistry, which is our textbook on the course Air Quality Management.  When we asked him what took him to be a researcher rather than entrepreneur, he said that it is a different kind of attitude and philosophy. “They just want the result. You couldn’t pursue the fundamental truth.”He has a passion to pursue the fundamental truth in everything. And he thinks that it’s an important character for one who wants to become a researcher.

In the final part of Q&A, when asked about differences between Chinese and American doctors. He said that in America, when students are trained to be a doctor, the professor just give them a wide research area and let them go ahead; while in China, professors not only tell their students the focus of research, but also how to do the research. He thought that this in some degree limits students’ ability to create new ideas. When asked for the impression of Chinese students, he thought that Chinese students all have good English skills and can communicate fluently with their colleagues.
90 minutes passed so fast. In this interview, what touched us most is the spirit of a distinguished scholar—keeps passionate and be innovative. It inspired us to be curious and creative in our student careers and even in the future.