Los­ing a ‘lu­natic’ sci­en­tist

Huang Da­nian was a ti­tan among geo­physi­cists. His death is mourned and life cel­e­brated for his achieve­ments and spirit. re­ports in Changchun.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

Huang Da­nian was a sci­en­tist and a self­pro­claimed “lu­natic”. His mad ap­proach to tech­nol­ogy, duty and ed­u­ca­tion en­abled China to make great strides to­ward un­cov­er­ing the mys­ter­ies that hide un­der the ground we stand on.

He led some of China’s top deep-Earth ex­plo­ration projects to map the world be­neath our planet’s sur­face, in­clud­ing valu­able min­eral de­posits.

But over­work meant sac­ri­fic­ing his health and time with his fam­ily.

Huang died of can­cer in Jan­uary. He was 58.

More than 800 peo­ple at­tended his fu­neral, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the in­ter­na­tional sci­en­tific com­mu­nity.

As he lay in a coma in Jilin prov­ince’s Changchun, his daugh­ter in Lon­don gave birth to a son, whose name Huang had picked.

His grand­son’s name, Chun­lun, is a port­man­teau of Changchun and Lon­don’s Chi­nese pro­nun­ci­a­tion, lun­dun.

These were the cities that meant most to Huang — and he, in turn, made his mark on them.

Huang went to the United King­dom in 1993 to earn a doc­tor­ate in geo­physics from Leeds Univer­sity. He grad­u­ated top of his class. The sci­en­tist later took an elite pri­vate-sec­tor job.

But he felt he’d hit a ceil­ing after 18 years in the UK. It was time to come home. He was wel­comed back to China in 2009 through the coun­try’s Thou­sand Tal­ents pro­gram that seeks to re­cruit world-class in­no­va­tors, who are over­seas Chi­nese and for­eign na­tion­als, to work in China. The pro­gram was ini­ti­ated the year be­fore.

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping praised his achieve­ments and spirit in May.

The last time Huang saw his daugh­ter was in May 2016, when she got mar­ried in Lon­don.

“We danced. That was our first dance to­gether — and the last,” me­dia quoted her as say­ing

Huang lost his fa­ther while he was work­ing 1,000 me­ters be­low the ocean’s sur­face in 2004.

And Huang post­poned his own med­i­cal ex­ams to honor the com­mit­ments of his hec­tic sched­ule.

“He rarely men­tioned his ill­ness,” Jilin Univer­sity’s deputy head Han Xiaofeng says.

“He re­tained his pas­sion for his team’s projects. He cher­ished his re­search more than life.”

Huang typ­i­cally worked into the wee hours and caught flights at the last minute, col­leagues.say.

It was tir­ing but mean­ing­ful for his driver Liu Guo­qiu.

“It was stress­ful to al­ways rush him to the air­port,” Liu says.

But Liu says he came to rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of Huang’s work. “I didn’t im­me­di­ately re­al­ize he was a sci­en­tist be­cause he seemed as or­di­nary as any­body.”

One day, Huang seemed to sense Liu’s re­luc­tance to take him to the air­port at mid­night.

“He said: ‘ I’m serv­ing the coun­try. And you’re serv­ing me. So you’re con­tribut­ing to the coun­try’. I thought he was brag­ging. Now, I re­al­ize what he meant,” Liu re­calls.

Huang of­ten asked his of­fice build­ing’s gate­keeper to stay late.

“He fre­quently worked un­til mid­night or even day­break,” says the Party sec­re­tary of Jilin Univer­sity’s geo-ex­plo­ration fac­ulty, Huang Zhong­ming.

“The build­ing should close by mid­night.”

Even­tu­ally, the guard stopped ask­ing him to leave.

Col­leagues called him a worka­holic. But Huang Da­nian pre­ferred a dif­fer­ent la­bel.

“China needs lu­natics to be­come stronger. I would be sat­is­fied if I could be one of them,” he said ear­lier.

His stu­dent Zhou Wenyue says Huang Da­nian’s stu­dents still wa­ter the plants in his of­fice.

They brought him meals when he was hos­pi­tal­ized.

“We just wanted to see him,” says his stu­dent Wang Tai­han.

He says peo­ple should not only mourn Huang Da­nian’s death but also cel­e­brate his life’s vi­sion and ded­i­ca­tion by car­ry­ing on his legacy.

“We shouldn’t sink into grief but use our time well. We should try to fo­cus on com­plet­ing what he has started,” Wang says.

“The big projects he ap­plied for are ap­proved. We should work hard on those in the com­ing years.”

Con­tact the writer at erik_nils­son@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

China needs lu­natics to be­come stronger. I would be sat­is­fied if I could be one of them.”


Huang Da­nian, geo­physi­cist


Huang Da­nian works in his of­fice in Changchun, Jilin prov­ince, in this file photo from 2010. The sci­en­tist died of can­cer in Jan­uary.


Huang (cen­ter, front row) on a hik­ing trip with his stu­dents. A 1982 por­trait photo of Huang and his wish, in writ­ing, to con­trib­ute to the coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment. Huang in­structs young col­leagues in their re­search.

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