Wed, Jan 29, 2020 - Page 2 News List

FEATURE: NTHU professor not taking the easy route

ALWAYS LEARNING:Lin Hsiu-Hau called his move from physics into neuroscience a sort of midlife crisis, saying that he wants to learn about how humans tell lies

By Lin Chia-nan  /  Staff reporter

National Tsing Hua University physicist Lin Hsiu-Hau, second right, and his students Sam Mei Ian, left, Lin Chia-Ying, second left, and Lin Yu-Hsuan, right, pose in front of a picture of Albert Einstein at Lin Hsiu-Hau’s office on Jan. 10.

Photo: Lin Chia-nan, Taipei Times

Becoming a full professor might signal the start of an easier work life for some academics, but for National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) physicist Lin Hsiu-Hau (林秀豪) it means embarking on a new research trajectory — neuroscience.

After receiving his doctorate in physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Lin obtained an academic position at NTHU at 30 and was promoted to full professor at 38 — faster than most academics.

Specializing in statistical physics and spintronics, Lin, now 50, has published nearly 80 research papers, including several that have been cited more than 100 times and one that has been cited more than 350 times.

Well-known for his unconventional way of teaching general physics, he years ago decided that instead of using colossal textbooks for first-year students, he would focus on 10 classic questions each semester and use handwritten materials to teach the course.

Despite initial objections from other lecturers, Lin’s energetic teaching won him the admiration of his students, some of whom even made him a book — a collection of his random yet acute remarks that push students to reflect on learning and life.

His two courses, thermal and statistical physics and general physics, in 2013 and 2014 received the Outstanding Course Award for OpenCourseware Excellence from the US-based Open Education Consortium, which selects only five courses from around the world each year.

Some companies have also invited him to design digital learning courses for their employees.

His drive to trigger meaningful change has manifested in his research, as he began to review his career around 2009, after he was promoted to full professor in 2007, Lin said, speaking to the Taipei Times at NTHU earlier this month.

“I found studying physics was no longer the thing I wanted to do the most,” he said, adding that he could find no more interesting physics questions to explore.

Before that critical juncture, he had never doubted his passion for physics, as he had aspired to be a physicist since he was a second-year junior-high school student, he said.

“That can be called a midlife crisis; when your life has achieved certain balance and you expect no more surprising changes before retirement at 65,” he said.

After thorough reasoning, Lin turned to neuroscience, as he was curious to learn about how humans tell lies, he said.

He spent two months making the change in career, but it took him nearly six years to publish papers in the field, he said.

During that period, he worked with material scientists to publish papers and “cover up” his publication gap, he said, adding that being an unproductive professor can invite attacks from other academics.

Some academics might dream about switching to other disciplines, but only a few really do, and even fewer succeed in publishing something significant, Lin said.

“I like adventures, but I am not an idiot,” he added.

Lin said he managed to use quantum theory while studying biochemical receptors in human bodies, and might be the first person to propose a complete theory related to that, although the idea was first broached by late UK physicist Marshall Stoneham.

Lin joined academic conferences and introduced his novel concepts on posters, facing harsh challenges from other established experts as if he were a student, he said.

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