Westlake News PEOPLE

Young Westlake Faculty Members Recommend Favorite Books

Jocelyn Eikenburg
23, 2022

Email: zhangchi@westlake.edu.cn
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World Book Day, which falls on April 23 every year, is a time when people around the globe are encouraged to read more. To mark this occasion, we asked several young principal investigators at Westlake University to share some of their favorite books.

Lei Wei, Principal Investigator in the School of Life Sciences

Prof. Lei Wei, who obtained his Ph.D. in molecular biology and genetics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and did his postdoctoral research on the molecular mechanism of hepatitis B virus replication at Princeton University, will join Westlake's School of Life Sciences and the Center for Infectious Disease Research in May 2022.

He wrote on his faculty webpage: "Science and humanity are one. Science leads humanity to evade superstition, while humanity guides science to escape disaster."

Based on these words, we invited him to recommend some books. He responded with three short biographies -- which could be finished in one or two hours -- on scientists who changed the world. After all, Tian Xu, chair professor of genetics and vice president, has often encouraged students to read more biographies of scientists to understand their lives, ways of thinking as well as why they succeed, which can benefit the students' own growth.

Prof. Wei also selected the biographies of these three scientists for another reason. "The world we live in now can be regarded as a magical one in the eyes of people who lived 200 years ago. Planes and mobile phones have put the world within our reach. Once upon a time, these technologies only existed in dreams. Fortunately, there has been a group of people who transcended the times and chased the stars, bringing magic into our world."

Here are his recommendations:

"The Wright Brothers: A History From Beginning to End"

Why he recommends it: "Flying like a bird is a dream that Leonardo da Vinci never realized. Controlled continuous flight in devices heavier than air had always been thought impossible. In 1903, the Wright brothers achieved a breakthrough with their own aircraft, enabling people to travel around the world. This short biography of the Wright brothers records the story of how this extraordinary invention finally took off."

"Alexander Graham Bell: A Life From Beginning to End"

Why he recommends it: "Have you ever imagined what the world would be like without the telephone? The emergence of this device has revolutionized the world. Familiar voices can reach our ears across thousands of miles. Bell invented the first telephone, giving us an invaluable gift."

"Nikola Tesla: A Life From Beginning to End"

Why he recommends it: "Tesla was a genius beyond his era. He designed the AC power supply system, and also pioneered wireless transmission technology. Every time we turn on the lights and use wireless smartphones to communicate, we should remember Tesla made it possible."

Wenjie Dou, Principal Investigator in the School of Science

Prof. Wenjie Dou, who received his Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania and did postdoctoral research at UC Berkeley on quantum chemistry, has since January 2021 been a principal investigator at Westlake, where he heads the Laboratory of Theoretical and Computational Chemistry.

As Prof. Dou has spent much of his career exploring the depths of chemistry and physics, he also enjoys books filled with philosophical thoughts and insights.

Reading, a habit he formed since childhood, has also helped him become an independent scientific researcher.

Prof. Dou said: "I enjoy reading books about literature, art, philosophy and the social sciences. In my independent study classes in high school, I liked reading, even though my teachers thought it meant I wasn't doing my work. My course load was heavy back in college, but I still went to the library every Sunday afternoon to flip through books on the humanities, which was a way to recharge myself. Now e-books have made reading very convenient, but I still miss those days of quiet reading in the library."

Because he loves books so much, Prof. Dou looks forward to the completion of the main library building on the Yungu Campus.

Here are two books he recommended:

"Physics and Beyond" by Werner Heisenberg

Why he recommends it: "This book is Heisenberg's memoir, recounting his conversations with well-known physicists in the early era of quantum mechanics. I especially like the philosophical speculation on science in the book, and how it records a turbulent and spectacular time in history."

"Wisdom of the West" by Bertrand Russell

Why he recommends it: "I find that people are very interested in philosophy nowadays. This book is a popular edition of Russell's "A History of Western Philosophy" for a general audience. Russell's writing is simple and clear. Albert Einstein once said he spent countless hours of enjoyment reading works by Russell."

Dixia Fan, Principal Investigator in the School of Engineering

"The most valuable things at home when I was a child were the books in our cabinet," said Prof. Dixia Fan, who still fondly recalled the set of 22 copies of books on China's history which he received at age 11 as a birthday gift, a testament to how much he appreciates reading.

Prof. Fan received his master's degree and Ph.D. from MIT. Then he went to MIT Sea Grant, first as a postdoctoral associate and then a research scientist, and later worked as an assistant professor in the department of mechanical and material engineering at Queen's University in Canada. In spring of this year, he joined the School of Engineering at Westlake to head the Intelligent and Informational Fluid Mechanics Laboratory.

For more than 20 years, books have been an integral part of Prof. Fan's life -- so much so that he can hardly recall how many titles he has read. "When I was young, I liked to read novels," citing "The Three Musketeers" among his favorites. "When I got to college, I started to read more profound books," such as "The Diamond Sutra". "Now, I'm more interested in rereading books. Many times, the same book will evoke different feelings when you read it at different stages in life."

As such, Prof. Fan has recommended three of his frequently reread titles:

"The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Why he recommends it: "What a poetic, philosophical and romantic book filled with serious ideas. In writing 'The Little Prince,' Exupery brought to life a world that resonates with everyone's different emotions. When I was young, I thought the geographer was a very knowledgeable character. But later, I came to better understand his convictions and 'armchair strategy.'"

"Liao-Fan's Four Lessons" by Liaofan Yuan

Why he recommends it: "This book, which promotes the idea that life is up to each of us and we are responsible for our own good fortune, was written by a father to pass on this wisdom to his children. It also serves as a good lesson for how to face the world in the new era. Yuan used the ups and downs in his life to explain to us how to create our own destiny, reform, accumulate virtue and have humility."

"Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman

Why he recommends it: "When faced with a problem, should you use rational thinking to find the best solution or use emotional intuition to help you get ahead? If you're in doubt, follow the guidance of Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman in this book to learn more about how we humans think."