Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University News and Events

Biological sciences students visit insulin processing facility

Year Four students from the Department of Biological Sciences at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University visited the new insulin processing facility of the Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly.

This trip was part of the Biotechnology module in the degree programme in Biological Sciences, which is taught by Dr Boris Tefsen, and provided a unique opportunity to see parts of the production plant that will be inaccessible when manufacturing commences.

Two members of academic staff accompanied 17 students to the new facility in Suzhou Industrial Park, which is currently in the testing phase and will produce insulin cartridges for the Asia market.

Dr Xiaoming Wang, consultant microbiologist in the quality assurance department at Eli Lilly, is a strong proponent of such visits and has enabled similar events by other students in other parts of the world where she has previously worked.

She is very enthusiastic about these interactions:

“Students will have the chance to see what is going on in the real world and see how the knowledge they acquired at XJTLU can be applied in a pharmaceutical company,” she said.

The on-site visit consisted of three sessions. First, a seminar about Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient manufacturing was given by Dr Wang, who described the entire process of pharmaceutical drug production, from functionality testing and production to purification.

Next, Ahmed Tarek, Senior Manager of the Technical Service & Material Science Department, which is responsible for sterility assurance, explained how his team members ensure that the products provided to patients have the highest possible probability of being sterile and have the required quality.

Dr David Chiu, a new member of academic staff in the Department of Biological Sciences who participated in the visit and who has experience working in start-up biotechnology companies, commented that the facility was “a real eye-opener” to him and “incomparable” to his previous experiences.

“The maintenance measures required to ensure clean room conditions across the entire facility are just jaw dropping,” said Dr Chiu.

The final part of the visit consisted of a tour through the facility, which required all students to wear protective clothing (hairnet, gloves, safety shoes and goggles), and was accompanied by explanations from qualified personnel.

Student Yuewei Xu was excited about the site visit:

"The trip was both enjoyable and informative,” he said. “I learnt a lot about what happens in a pharmaceutical company of this scale. The tour of the factory showed me another possibility for my future career."

Dr Tefsen commented that the visit was not the only chance for students to interact with experts from the pharmaceutical industry, as he has two guest lectures planned for the remaining weeks of the Biotechnology module.

“The contents of this module are not only about the theory behind biotechnology, but just as much emphasis is laid on ethical, regulatory and economic aspects,” he said.

"The interaction with guest lecturers working in industry and the site visit to the Eli Lilly facility therefore fit perfectly in the scope and learning outcomes of this module”.

Such site visits also help students to consider pharmaceutical drug manufacturing as a possible career option. As with several other major drug companies, Eli Lilly encourages XJTLU students to learn even more by working with them via an internship programme.

The company, which was founded in 1876, sells its products to around 125 countries and last year had a net income of US$2.73 billion.

Photography was forbidden inside the facility, due to the sensitivity of the company’s intellectual property.




Harvard dean visits XJTLU

Academic staff from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University visited Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University.

Dr Fawwaz Habbal, executive dean for Education and Research in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University, visited XJTLU to learn about the experiences of setting up an international university in China. He was accompanied by Yu Jiqiang, deputy director of the Science & Technology and Information Bureau of Suzhou Industrial Park Administrative Committee.

Professor David O’Connor, head of the Department of Biological Sciences, welcomed Dr Habbal and they discussed different educational approaches and the challenges of establishing high-calibre science departments.

Dr Habbal was interested in XJTLU’s experience in designing labs from scratch as well as the necessity and challenges associated with importing scientific equipment and reagents from outside China.

After the meeting, Dr Habbal toured the Department’s research laboratories and said that he was impressed.

Commenting on the visit, Professor O’Connor said: ‘It’s always enjoyable to show visitors what has been achieved at XJTLU. It was also fascinating to find out more about how Dr Habbal’s School at Harvard organizes its teaching programmes’.

Before joining Harvard in 2002, Dr Habbal founded two companies, and also served as vice-president and director of Research for the Polaroid Corporation.


AI research projects at XJTLU: Intelligent scene understanding

It was reported in online magazine The Atlantic that China is becoming the world leader in research into artificial intelligence (AI). Furthermore, global developments in AI technology are contributing to the merging of the ‘real world’ and the digital world in a Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Several research projects by scientists at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University are contributing to China’s AI boom, and the University is training the next generation of AI experts who will help to navigate this brave new world.


Dr Kaizhu Huang, Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, has developed a research project into Intelligent Scene Understanding (ISU), a technology that allows computer systems to recognise objects.

Kaizhu (pictured below), who spoke about his research at the Data Intelligence and Algorithm Economic Forum at XJTLU, explained how the project is dependent on ‘deep learning’:

“Deep learning is one aspect of machine learning algorithms,” explained Kaizhu. “These algorithms allow performance that is even higher than human beings in many learning and vision scenarios.”

Computers can already outperform people in recognising written language and symbols, and even in recognising human faces. Computer processors can also handle far greater amounts of data than the human mind is able to, analysing data from hundreds of sensors or cameras simultaneously.

Kaizhu’s ISU project utilises multiple sensors to detect various subjects (humans, vehicles, and objects) within real-world scenes. Pattern recognition and state-of-the art deep learning models are employed to create a system able to recognise, analyse, and understand objects more accurately and efficiently.

Typical applications of ISU include supermarkets such as Amazon-Go that have no need for employees, queues, or checkouts, and ‘intelligent suspect-hunting systems’, where public video cameras might be used to automatically identify suspected criminals or their vehicles.

Kaizhu’s project may lead to many significant applications in public security, tourism services, smart-city construction, and manufacturing. One such application could be to create an automated photographic service at tourist sites, as Kaizhu explained:

“The key technology here is object recognition – the system recognises individual tourists as they enter a site, and cameras take photos of them as they go around,” he said.

“At the end of the visit tourists can be presented with multiple photos to take away as souvenirs. This eliminates the need for people to take their own photos and will improve efficiency and mobility, especially at crowded tourist sites,” said Kaizhu.

Kaizhu is setting up a demonstration version of this system at XJTLU, and hopes to perform a real-world trial in one of Suzhou’s famous gardens.


Dr Holger Briel, Associate Professor in the School of Film and TV Arts at XJTLU, commented on the ethical and societal implications of Kaizhu’s project, and of developments in AI in general.

“Scene recognition technology is appealing from a consumer’s perspective,” said Holger (pictured below), “As there are certain things you don’t have to do anymore – for example with Amazon Go supermarkets, you don’t have to queue up at a checkout and get your wallet out, you can simply take what you need and walk out.”

“A tourist monitoring system would also be very useful for those running tourist sites, as it could gather data on tourists’ movements – how long they stay in each part of the site, and that information could then be used to make improvements to the site,” he said.

However, along with this convenience comes the issue of individuals being introduced into a system that monitors them, and of technology encroaching on privacy and personal freedoms.

“Such a system would also function as a surveillance system, reducing the need for security guards. If a tourist did something inappropriate or illegal, it could be detected instantly. On the other hand, you could argue that this impinges on the tourist’s freedom.”

Holger argues that technology in general is ‘double-faced’ in nature, and that it can always have positive and negative effects. One such possible negative effect is that AI will make many jobs obsolete:

“I’m not sure how precise these projections are or can be, but it is certainly the case that a lot of processes will become automated,” said Holger.

“Previously, automation was only affecting blue collar jobs. Now, white collar jobs are being replaced by automation. Teaching itself is also under threat by automation [as was discussed in the opening debates at the Annual Learning and Teaching Colloquium at XJTLU],” he said.

Kaizhu, too, is very conscious of the implications of his research, but remains optimistic:

“Although I’m involved in AI research I’m also concerned about how the latest technologies could be applied,” admitted Kaizhu. “However, I think overall the benefits for society will far outweigh any drawbacks.”

Holger stated that he too is optimistic for the future, but also stated that, “Academics must look at these issues and collaborate to help devise solutions.”


Cheng Lyu, alumnus of XJTLU, whose start-up Raven Technology created a popular AI-based music application, was recently appointed to an important role at technology company Baidu.

Cheng’s appointment exemplifies how XJTLU is helping to train the next generation of AI experts through its academic programmes in the departments of Computer Science and Software Engineering, and Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

Academic collaboration is encouraged at the University, with events that bring different academic departments together such as the Annual Learning and Teaching Colloquium, and even in the design of the University’s new South Campus that was planned by international architects BDP to better facilitate inter-departmental collaboration.

The XJTLU FabLab, ‘a place where anybody can make virtually anything’, gives students a space to try out their digital fabrication ideas, and organises guests talks by AI experts to inspire the next generation of digital entrepreneurs.

Additionally, there are many internship and work placement opportunities for XJTLU students at tech companies in Suzhou Industrial Park, China’s Silicon Valley.

Training strengthens Sino-foreign cooperative joint ventures' education quality

Training for members of Sino-foreign cooperative education committee at China Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE) was held at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University yesterday.

The training attracted over 100 managers from 57 universities and colleges who are in charge of Sino-foreign cooperative education management issues.

Deputy Secretary-general of CEAIE, Wa Zong (pictured below), said that XJTLU has good experience in how to run a Sino-foreign cooperative university and its educational philosophy is worth learning from. “That’s why we choose XJTLU to co-organise the training,” he added

Professor Youmin Xi (pictured below), executive president of XJTLU, said: “The training provided XJTLU an opportunity to present our exploration, experiences and achievements. It also provides a chance for XJTLU to re-think and re-recognise itself.”

Wa Zong showed his recognition of XJTLU’s ten-year achievements as a Sino-foreign cooperative joint venture, saying “XJTLU’s educational model is an innovative model. It’s innovation in higher education management is especially useful for Chinese higher education reform to learn from and think about.”

The training was jointly organised by the Sino-foreign cooperative education committee of CEAIE and the Institute of Leadership and Education Advanced Development at XJTLU.

The Sino-foreign cooperative education committee was established in July 2012 with the approval by the Ministry of Education of China. The committee is a sub-branch of CEAIE. It is a national professional association voluntarily formed by educational institutions implementing Sino-foreign joint programmes at upper and post-secondary levels.

The committee provides services to Sino-foreign cooperation in education including accreditation, consulting, capacity building, as well as communication and promotion.



Symposium fosters idea exchange and community among EAP teachers

English teachers from various higher education institutions across China met at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University to exchange ideas at the second Sino-Foreign Collaborative Institutions EAP Symposium.

The symposium comprised a day of presentations and discussions about topics related to the field of teaching English for Academic Purposes, and attracted teachers from Sino-foreign collaborative institutions in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Liaoning provinces of China.

XJTLU has for several years shown leadership in the field of EAP, organising various events and workshops through its Language Centre. The symposium was followed by a day of training for EAP professionals with lectures and workshops on topics such as helping students think critically, designing an EAP curriculum, and how to adapt and create EAP classroom materials.

Marion Sadoux (pictured below), director of the Language Centre at The University of Nottingham Ningbo China, presented on the benefits of online language learning exchanges, found the symposium beneficial.

“Some of the things that were raised today are things many of us are already doing in some shape or form, which is reassuring, and it’s good to hear other people’s perspectives,” she said.

She described her involvement in a work placement module enabling students to teach languages in local schools that was an example of ‘service-learning’, the topic presented by Paula Heuser and Kepler Neuman of GIST International College and Staffordshire University.

Paula and Kepler (pictured below) both previously worked as tour guides in Alaska and bring their understanding of that type of work to planning service-learning activities, such as enlisting their students to act as English language tour guides in Suzhou.

“Service-learning is about students having experiences in the real world,” explained Paula. “It is about going out and doing something that contributes in their community whilst aiding their own development, and allowing them to put into practice what they’ve learned in the classroom.”

The symposium provided a valuable opportunity for teachers working in different institutions to share their classroom experiences and confirm notions that many had come to through their own work.

For example, Edie Allen from Duke Kunshan University (pictured below) found that students finishing their undergraduate degrees were lacking in English vocabulary, a problem that she sought to remedy through collaborating with professors at her university to teach subject-specific vocabulary.

“I’ve found that too,” added Paula, “and it’s nice when other teachers find similar things going on in their classrooms. It’s great to find people are coming up with solutions to problems you yourself have thought about. It makes you feel validated.”

Markus Davis, chief organiser of the symposium and short courses manager at the Language Centre at XJTLU, commented on some of the content that he found useful:

“There were some interesting talks on comparative linguistics and on the use of corpora [samples of “real world” texts] in teaching high-level writing,” he said.

As well as facilitating the exchange of ideas, Markus also remarked on the value of the symposium in promoting a sense of community amongst EAP teachers, an idea which Paula supported.

“Sometimes as a language teacher you can feel alone, especially if you’re not talking regularly with other teachers, so I find this kind meeting is doubly important for us,” she said.

The first Sino-Foreign Collaborative Institutions EAP Symposium was held at Beijing Normal University - Hong Kong Baptist University United International College, Zhuhai, China, in March 2016. This year's symposium establishes it as an annual event to be held at participating higher education institutions across the country.




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