Westlake News WEMEET

Jianwei Pan and His Journey through Quantum Physics

11, 2020

Email: fengyi@westlake.edu.cn
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Who is Jianwei Pan? 

For people outside Westlake, Jianwei Pan is a famous Chinese physicist, a Chinese Academy of Sciences academician, an Executive Vice President of the University of Science and Technology of China, and by many other titles; but, for Westlakers, Jianwei Pan is much more. Since the establishment of the Westlake Institute for Advanced Study until today’s Westlake University, he has been accompanying us all the time. Jianwei Pan is one of the founders, a major donor, a trustee, a council member of our foundation, an advocate and advisor – a supporter of Westlake University in any imaginable way.

In the 2020 “WeMeet” series and at Westlake University's talk series "Face-to-Face with the University Board", we invite several trustees who are also prominent leaders in society. Jianwei Pan was just the guest speaker for the very first face-to-face meeting. 

During the event, Jianwei Pan shared his thoughts on Westlake’s vision and mission, and his personal experience in conducting research with us. With everyone sitting on sofas with coffees in their hands, this face-to-face meeting with a trustee felt more like a family gathering. As Jianwei Pan is one of the very first members of the Westlake Family, he was also able to tell us some interesting anecdotes and funny stories from his journey since the idea of establishing Westlake University first came into fruition.

The Quintessence of Westlake University

“The most important mission of a university is to disseminate knowledge,” Jianwei Pan declared, and continued that the people are the quintessence of a university and that getting the right people on board is crucial by creating an environment attractive to talented faculty and students.

How Jianwei Pan Came to Study Quantum Mechanics

To the audience’s surprise, Jianwei Pan revealed that quantum mechanics was his worst subject at university and that he preferred electromagnetism, in particular, Faraday’s Law. He achieved marks above 90% (with 100% as the top mark in the Chinese grading system) in every other subject but quantum mechanics. He also told us that he found the experiments of quantum interference and quantum superposition “most disappointing” and that quantum theory was very confusing to him. Just to prove the theory wrong, he decided to study quantum mechanics in more depths. In the end, Jianwei Pan did not prove the theory wrong, as he literally told us, but he started earning money with it.

Jumping between Experimental and Theoretical Physics

Before he found his true interest area, he jumped forth and back between experimental and theoretical physics. However, after he went abroad, he noticed that he could understand experiments much faster than experimental physicists, and he could even instruct them how to design the experiments. From this experience, he concluded that one could understand and learn to do experiments much easier if one mastered the theoretical basis. So, he strongly advised our faculty and students to also emphasize theoretical training. 

The Deep Myths and Unknown of Quantum Mechanics

If one thinks deeply about the very basic concepts of quantum mechanics, it is impossible to not get confused. Since the Einstein-Bohr Debates about the very basics of quantum mechanics, the debates have stayed unresolved. Jianwei Pan used an analogy to explain this kind of perplexity that quantum mechanics raises:

It is like tossing a coin. Normally, we do not know whether the coin will show heads or tails, but at least we know that the outcome must be either “heads” or “tails”. But in quantum mechanics, it is like tossing a coin while we do not even know the outcome. As long as there is no outcome, the possible future outcome simply doesn’t even exist.

Jianwei Pan said that after 30 years of studying quantum mechanics, he has slowly come to terms with its perplexity and that now he is looking at it from a more positive perspective. Students as well as full-fledged researchers always encounter numerous perplex phenomena and problems that are very complex all the time. Perplexities may be nerve-wracking, but they are also fascinating and able to grasp the attention and curiosity of scientists, such as Jianwei Pan.



Jianwei Pan and His Journey through Quantum Physics