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Director's Message

The preparation of the Institute of Natural Sciences (INS) started in 2009. Then Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) President Jie Zhang invited Professor David Shen-ou Cai of the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University, Professor Weinan E of Princeton University, and myself to participate in the planning and design of INS. INS was officially founded in 2010, with President Zhang serving as the its inaugural Director. Since 2011 late David Cai and myself have jointly served as its Directors.

The purpose of INS is to create a high-level academic platform for cross-disciplinary scientific research at SJTU, which is a prominent institution mostly known for its engineering programs. By gathering a group of outstanding talents, and through the interactions of researchers from applied mathematics, statistics, physics, biology, computer science and other disciplines, INS aims to create new scientific directions and frontiers, to produce academic achievements of international impact and of relevance to the development of the societal and economic needs of China, and to train outstanding young researchers. At the same time, INS strives to promote oncampus cross-disciplinary research between physical sciences and engineering and biological sciences in order to promote the overall development of SJTU. The ultimate goal of SJTU is to become a world-renowned academic research center for both top-notch research and training of excellent cross-disciplinary researchers for the future generations.

Since its establishment nine years ago, INS has earned a good reputation in both domestic and international academic communities, and produced a number of outstanding research results. Its advantages and characteristics are mainly reflected in the following aspects. Firstly, INS has gathered a large number of outstanding talents. High quality researchers are priority of any research institutions. INS has attracted a group of academic leaders at frontiers of science with international influence. Professor David Cai is an outstanding example. Under the influence of these academic leaders, a group of excellent young talents has been attracted to INS. Most of them are from top universities overseas, with strong research background. Up to now, more than 20 young researchers have joined the Institute of Natural Sciences, 80% of whom have received national-level awards. It is remarkable to have such a high proportion of outstanding young people within one research institution in China.

Secondly, INS builds a soft environment that is in line with international academic institutions. First, INS advocates for academic freedom. INS doesn’t limit the research direction and research topics of its researchers. The institute encourages interest-driven research of high standard, as well as interdisciplinary projects that have impact on national economic and social developments. Second, we use external letters for research performance evaluation, which is similar to the tenure evaluation system at universities in the US. Finally, at INS, we have built a professional staff team which strives to free our researchers from administrative works, so they can concentrate on their research works.

Thirdly, INS creates an attractive academic atmosphere. We have ample academic exchange opportunities. We hold many international academic conferences every year, and there are several seminar talks every day. Such atmosphere allows our researchers to know state-of-the-art in their research fields as soon as possible. At the same time, through various seminars and discussions, researchers can exchange their ideas together, which could naturally lead to collaborations and spark new ideas. In addition, we encourage young researchers to organize international academic conferences. On the one hand, this can enhance their communication and leadership skills, which are also important for their future career. On the other hand, this also increases their international visibility. Finally, INS closely cooperate with Zhiyuan College, the honor college of SJTU to train future generations of researchers and academic leaders. Both were established almost at the same time, with the purpose of cultivating future researchers with strong mathematical and physical backgrounds, creative thinking, and international perspective. The course design of Zhiyuan emphasizes the interaction of mathematics and physics, which provides strong preparation for future cross-disciplinary research. The INS provides quality courses for Zhiyuan students. Since INS and Zhiyuan are in the same physical location, Zhiyuan students can easily join in open discussions with researchers. The INS faculty interact with Zhiyuan students not only in the classrooms. Their passion and devotion to scientific research also greatly affect the students. The interaction between faculty and students create a unique and mutually beneficial academic atmosphere.

We sincerely welcome outstanding scholars at home and abroad to join INS. We also welcome domestic and international scholars to visit INS. Here, you will meet energetic, curious and creative young people, and your interactions with them will surely make your visits worthwhile and unforgettable.