Physics Matters

Physics Matters

Tuesday, 01 December 2015

Media Type
NIE News, December 2015,

By Public, International and Alumni Relations


What famous scientists like Sir Isaac Newton, Mr Albert Einstein and Mr Stephen Hawking may have in common is their passion for Physics that led to a discovery of immutable laws.

In his own way, Professor Xu Shuyan (above), from the Natural Sciences and Science Education Academic Group, hopes to leave his mark in the field of Physics too.

It was from his humble beginnings growing up in a small village that Prof Xu found much fascination in everything. He often looked at the starry night skies and wondered about the mysteries of the cosmos which probably fuelled his curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. In school, it was inevitable that Prof Xu gravitated towards his scientific passion; later majoring in Semiconductor Physics at Nanjing University in China. He pursued his PhD in Plasma Physics at Flinders University, Australia thereafter and the rest, as they say, is history.

Prof Xu first joined National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, in 1994 as a lecturer and ten years later, he was promoted to Professor at NIE. Over the course of his tenure, he has tutored many aspiring students and conducted extensive research in Plasma Physics and Photovoltaics. Currently, he is the Principal Investigator of a new project funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) that aims to develop a new generation of ‘green’ plasma propulsion systems of high specific impulse and high thrust to enable real-time and robust manoeuvre of satellites in low-earth/geostationary orbits and for deep-space exploration in prolonged missions.

“To put it simply, this project allows us to develop a new plasma thruster that will equip a satellite with a propulsion speed of up to a 100 kilometres per second. In contrast to the conventional chemical propellant thruster of less than 5 kilometres per second, this is a revolutionary step for building up key capabilities in space propulsion for Singapore!” he explained.

Upon its completion, Prof Xu aims to collaborate with various schools and education institutes to further inspire other youths, once like him, to grow to love Science. “It is a great opportunity for the students to learn more about space exploration in their own backyard,” he says.

For Prof Xu and his team, the project would bring much knowledge to the study of Physics for learning and teaching. He credits NIE for providing him with a unique environment for knowledge creation and translation via both scientific research and pedagogical practice.

“It has been over 20 years and I have always been proud to work here at NIE. Its reputation as a research hub is growing. To date, we have been visisted by many eminent scientists, including 12 Nobel Laurates!”

11222453_10153027709039011_7349986319188361370_o (2)

One person who can attest to Professor Xu Shuyan’s passion for Physics and how he has imparted this to his students is Mr Sean Lee Xu En (above). The former Bachelor of Science (Education) student teacher remisces that he is grateful to have Prof Xu as his supervisor on his final year project.

“I researched on the topic of using laser ablation to improve the efficiency of a solar cell. Thanks to Prof Xu, I was able to analyse the data to its full extent and this helped me greatly. Having state-of-the-art equipment in his laboratory is one thing. But being able to scale and translate complex equipment usage that applies to my project is what made my learning and research much more fruitful,” he quipped.

Indeed it did. At the Teachers’ Investiture Ceremony July 2015, Sean received the IPS Book Prize for having the best performance in Physics in the Bachelor of Science programme. To top it off, he was also awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal for attaining First Class Honours.

“I am grateful to Prof Xu for being my mentor. He has impeccable knowledge which makes his teachings very enjoyable. He is able to show the big concept and break down complicated concepts into easy-to-understand parts. I am very grateful for his leadership and honoured to have been under his tutelage,” he said.

On his future plans as an educator, Sean hopes to make the same impact that his mentor has had on him. “I hope to inspire my students just like how Prof Xu has inspired me. I want to show my students how Science can be both fun and enriching. In the future, I hope to be able to return NIE and impact future teachers as well,” he shared.

This article first appeared in NIE's quarterly publication NIE News in December 2015.