How should we view the new research model of "Double Non-Green Pepper" Liu Xiaochun "crowdfunding" an electron microscope and establishing a "Pragmatic Research Institute"?

Today, I read the article “A Decisive Counterattack by Double Non-Educated Green Peppers” by @知识分子 and found it thought-provoking. The concept of scientist-hub by Liu Xiaochun from Changsha University of Science and Technology is truly innovative within the domestic research system. Here is an excerpt from the original text:This time, he proposed the idea of “100 scientists jointly contributing 10 million yuan” to create a practical research institute where scientists can “make independent decisions, integrate intelligence, and collaborate on innovation” to overcome crises. Many strangers who had never met him started joining the Electron Microscope Center, investing tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of yuan. Now, he has over seventy scientists behind him. Some came from afar to tell him, “This is like the ‘Xiaogang Village Model’ in the research community, independent and self-reliant.” Others wanted to establish a stable and ongoing cooperation to fill the gaps in their own fields. Some even said, “He did what we wanted to do but couldn’t, even if it fails, it’s worth it for the dream.” These people share some common ground, not at the pinnacle of the academic pyramid, and have experienced or are experiencing the stages of having no money or equipment.Rarely, in just over two years, Liu Xiaochun managed to operate nearly 20 electron microscopes, including FIB, SEM, TEM, and aberration-corrected, achieving financial balance and gradually developing a positive cycle. His research achievements were published in top international journals such as “Nature” and “Acta Materialia.“A junior once told him, “Senior, I have no money or equipment, but I have good ideas. Can I use your equipment for some work?” He replied, “Feel free to develop your research plan, my research assistant and equipment will fully support your work, and all the results will be attributed to you. The expenses incurred in this work will be covered by you in advance. Here, I have a horizontal project from a titanium alloy company, and the experiment data collection workload will be handled by a research assistant. Your research background is in titanium alloys, so I invite you to review the rationality of the experimental plan and complete the final data processing to deliver a presentation to the company. You can have 30% of the project funding (negotiable), which can be used to offset the experimental costs of in-situ TEM, and the remaining funds will be transferred to you.” The Practical Research Institute operates similarly, where everyone invests as shareholders, enjoys discounts for the Electron Microscope Center’s use, and obtains greater profits and company dividends through joint horizontal projects.He did not select participants based on all conventional standards such as hats, funding, projects, titles, or school rankings but only required different research directions. He promised that if he is not satisfied with the institute’s development within two years, the founding scientists can withdraw their investments, providing everyone with peace of mind.The establishment of the Practical Research Institute may be Liu Xiaochun’s concrete practice in exploring new models of research development. “Even with so many people, there is still a possibility of failure. Once the research technology lacks competitiveness, there will be no more orders,” says Liu Xiaochun. At the end of last year, the school allocated 40 million yuan from subsidized loans to the Metal Research Institute to purchase two aberration-corrected electron microscopes and establish a high-end Electron Microscope Center. Efforts have been recognized on one hand, while heavy pressure looms on the other. To this day, the Practical Research Institute remains a loose alliance, and horizontal projects are not easy to come by. The direction of the scientific community is still an unknown.Full Article: A Decisive Counterattack by Double Non-Educated Green Peppers

Inspiring Journey of Scientist Liu Xiaochun

Sharing a few points that made a deep impression on me.

First, the concept of a “desperate counterattack” is embodied in the story of how Liu Xiaochun sold his house to buy an electron microscope:

As Liu Xiaochun approached the age of 35, he made the biggest transaction of his life - selling his house. This age is a critical juncture, as many scientists see their careers falter at 35. After 35, one can no longer apply for the National Youth Fund, and universities generally do not recruit doctoral candidates over 35. Meanwhile, his younger daughter was about to be born, adding to the urgency of life’s burdens. Perhaps it was his two years of setbacks that made him more determined. Recalling that period, Liu Xiaochun showed no signs of pressure or worry, nonchalantly stating, “I just dealt with it. I won’t go back to Shenyang, nor did I consider leaving a way out.” With the 2 million yuan from selling his house, along with gift money and settling-in fees from his colleagues, Liu Xiaochun finally owned his first electron microscope, a Thermo Fisher Scientific Focused Ion Beam (FIB) microscope. With such determination, money became a secondary concern. Providing services, saving money, and buying another microscope became a cycle, acquiring Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEM), Transmission Electron Microscopes (TEM), and other equipment worth millions.

Second, the rapidity of producing results is notable. In just over two years, his team published a cover article in Nature, creating a historic moment for Changsha University of Science & Technology:

On May 24, the prestigious academic journal Nature published a breakthrough research result as a cover article, accomplished by the “Huxiang Scholars” special professor Liu Xiaochun’s research team in collaboration with multiple domestic and international scientific research institutions. The paper, titled “Flexible solar cells based on foldable silicon wafers with blunted edges,” listed Changsha University of Science & Technology as the third signing unit. Dr. Liu Xiaochun and Dr. Liu Yujing from the School of Materials Science and Engineering were the co-corresponding authors and co-first authors, respectively. (Source: Official website of Changsha University of Science & Technology)

Third, the speaking and thinking style of Professor Liu Xiaochun:

On the official website of the Pragmatic Research Institute, one can find a series of his videos explaining why this research institute was established and discussing practical issues like intellectual property ownership in its operational model. His words, just like the name of the institute, are “pragmatic.”

Moreover, his deep contemplation is evident in the proposal document above. Without such profound thought, such a large system would not have operated smoothly so quickly.

Background of the project: Why establish the (Pragmatic) Innovation Research Institute?

The fundamental difficulty in the development of young scientists is the lack of means of production, which prevents the formation of effective productivity. Joining together to establish the (Pragmatic) Innovation Research Institute is the best (and for some scientists, the only) solution to break through the impasse. … Ultimate vision for development: Building a massive-scale materials science laboratory, far surpassing any national laboratory level, where experimental technicians are devoted to and fascinated by technical research, achieving high income and a dignified life respected by others; where researchers are dedicated to creation and innovation, owning the technological dividends brought by innovation, recognized by society for their innovative strength, and making substantial contributions to enterprises, society, and humanity through technological breakthroughs, and thus revered. Here, the “scientific research ecology” and evaluation mechanism will be redefined: Publishing papers will no longer be about competing over journal rankings and impact factors, nor constrained by the format of writing, but about whether there are real breakthroughs and value to others' research, rather than misleading; The evaluation mechanism for the laboratory hardware platform will not be about how much machine time is used or how long it has run smoothly, but about whether it has truly mastered the technology, exported it to the outside world, and achieved significant profits. The laboratory hardware platform is not a burden, but a crucial tool supporting technological innovation and profit-making; Scientists are not just PowerPoint presenters, but the driving force behind technological innovation and creators of knowledge. The sole reason for the existence and development of this materials science laboratory is technological monopoly and immense wealth.

Liu Xiaochun’s understanding of scientific research, as reflected in the hiring requirements for PIs on his laboratory’s website, is about “having the ability or potential to lead a specific research direction, seeing through the ‘bustling’ academic status quo to the essence of problems, avoiding pitfalls, skipping over obstacles, and conducting research worthy of sustained investment; having the ability, with ‘unlimited scientific hardware and personnel,’ to design research plans, analyze experimental data, and produce valuable scientific results.”

Finally, the fundraising status for the research institute’s official website is updated in real time, and participation and adjustments are still possible.

Reflections on the Complexities in Research Funding and Management

Although one could call him a “double non-pepper” (a term indicating someone from a non-prestigious university and non-key discipline), it’s more apt to describe him as a scion of a powerful family. Not every “double non-pepper” has the fortune of having a vice-gubernatorial academician as a mentor.

The intertwining of official and civilian resources can easily lead to complications.

Before the boss (leader of the initiative) faces any setbacks, this novel model of scientific research will be heralded as revolutionary, attracting supporters from all corners.

However, once the boss encounters a downfall, the same model might be criticized for things like national asset loss.

One might argue that this is about generating funds for the university, or about personal contributions to the official cause. But, is this approach fundamentally flawed or beneficial? Whether it’s about patching up or funding, whether external fees are charged or not, whether every penny of crowdfunding comes from scientists selling their houses, and whether there are any units' financial audit fees involved – these questions always linger. There’s always something that could lead to a downfall. This is why many institutions prefer to steer clear of such complexities – it’s too risky to handle. The perception and consequences really differ based on whether the leader remains in power or not, even for the same initiative.

Of course, the future might not be so bleak, and the downfall might never happen.

In that case, it would certainly be deemed an extraordinary success.

The entrepreneurial story of Li Xiaomin, just like the successful KonaMi.

This business model can work, but there is an issue with the customer base, and it lacks sustainability in terms of profitability.

I admire Professor Liu’s spirit, but if I were an investor, I would not invest in this project.

The enduring years in the research community.

This is why one should never even think about seeking American advisers from a hundred books to mentor Chinese students. These individuals are devoid of wealth, taste, culture, and ethics. The only skill they possess is psychological manipulation.

In the end, it’s either you kill me or I kill you.

Moreover, these subpar institutions are perennially on the brink of bankruptcy. They don’t even consider their own faculty as human beings. As for Chinese individuals who become faculty in such places, they are undoubtedly the most peculiar among the peculiar.

Research and Equipment: A Key to Scientific Progress

Research often requires equipment. Cryo-electron microscopy is a powerful tool for studying the microscopic structures of biological cells and more. With such tools, one gains access to the treasure trove of corresponding microscopic research.

Publishing numerous papers, some may call it “paper flooding.” However, many papers are published in reputable journals, representing valuable research achievements.

Using private funds to purchase research equipment for scientific research can be sustainable and ultimately profitable, which undoubtedly benefits the advancement of research. This is often challenging for basic research. For non-prominent institutions and researchers with strong scientific aspirations, there should be a way to encourage public funding support.

The Real Challenge Confronting Idealism: Funding for Scientific Research

Going off-topic for a moment, when I came across this story, it reminded me of [Lab Girl], a book I recently finished reading. Besides being impressed by the author’s carefree yet dedicated self-driven scientific spirit, what struck me most were the passages about funding.

After failing to secure funding, the author found herself in a state of anxiety…

Ultimately, after breaking free from the constraints of funding…

In summary, this is the most practical issue that stands in the way of idealism. Finding a solution path in such situations is always beneficial.

The issue of policy risk spillover is significant. Self-funding is the kind of thing you can handle on your own, but it’s best not to talk about it publicly.

Research version processing, nothing more.

At first, I thought he was going to develop his own electron microscope.

Turns out, he ended up buying foreign electron microscopes.

Role Models!!