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Friends’ talk | Top British Academician in CAS aims at great science in Shenzhen

03/17/2023 Source: newsgd.com


Editor's Note: Guangdong recently awarded the "Guangdong Friendship Award" to 49 foreign friends from 23 countries, acknowledging those who have made outstanding contributions to Guangdong's economic and social development, as well as international exchanges. GDToday presents Friends' Talk and shares the award winners' stories with Guangdong.

When he received the news that he had been awarded the "Guangdong Friendship Award", John Speakman, Top British Academician in Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), was working in his office in Shenzhen. "My assistant came and told me excitedly that I was going receive an award," Speakman said, who felt honored to receive the first Guangdong Friendship Award. He told GDToday that the first thing he did after receiving the award would be to share his joy with his Chinese colleagues. It's an acknowledgment of the achievements of the whole team. 

As an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the UK Royal Society, and a foreign member of the US National Academy of Sciences, Speakman has received numerous awards and honors, and he keeps the Chinese Government Friendship Award he received in 2021 in the most obvious place in his office. Speakman said, "Winning an award is a rare event. When it happens, it always brings unexpected joy."

After resigning from his position in the UK in 2011, Speakman came to China with his family and has worked and lived here ever since. He became a chief scientist at the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology (SIAT) of CAS in 2020. 

Falling in love with China by chance and coming to Shenzhen for his dream 

Speakman is dedicated to energy metabolism research and has published more than 600 papers in internationally reputable academic journals, and served on the editorial boards of Science. He has been elected as a foreign academician of CAS, a foreign member of the US National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the UK Royal Society, and a member of the European Academy of Sciences. He is one of the very few researchers working full-time in China with memberships in the Chinese, UK, and US science academies. 

Speakman had his first connection with China in 2005. Before that, Speakman knew nothing about China but he fell in love with China during a short six-week visit. For the next five years, Speakman would set aside at most one and a half months out of his busy schedules to enjoy the eastern charm with his family. 

When the CAS extended an offer to Speakman in 2011, Speakman, who was then teaching at the University of Aberdeen in the UK, resigned and moved to the other side of the world with his family. After that, he lived in Beijing for ten years. According to him, life in China was a nice experience. "It's very safe here. I think if you live here and you never go to other places, you don't really realize how nice it is to be here. The people are really friendly. There's no sort of aggression or animosity against people from the West." he said. In 2017, Speakman received his permanent residence permit from the Chinese government. 

About three years ago, Speakman went to Shenzhen to deliver a speech. During that trip, Speakman got attracted by Shenzhen, a city of innovation and vitality. When he heard during his visit that the BGI wanted to resurrect the mammoths, he was extremely excited. "People are excited here and they really want to move forwards and do things. So, I noticed a lot of people are walking around with a T-shirt that says, don't wait for the future, create it. And I think that is a real slogan for this place." And that "ambition" was the reason that Shenzhen became Speakman's next stop.

When he came to Shenzhen to serve as a chief scientist of SIAT in 2021, he felt right at home. According to Speakman, if he could, he wished he could have come to Shenzhen ealier. Now, Speakman's goal is to do some great science in Shenzhen. "And over the next decade or so, that's what my aim is just to do it in a nice place." Speakman said.

High-quality development is about locating the issues and providing specific solutions

It has been 45 years since reform and opening up. During its endeavor of almost half a century, Guangdong has accomplished numerous significant achievements. Guangdong's GDP has ranked first in the country for the 34th consecutive year in 2022. At the beginning of 2023, Guangdong held a provincial high-quality development conference, and it's the province's determination to create a "New Guangdong". 

Speakman witnessed China's outstanding achievements in solving environmental pollution over more than a decade, which made the blue skies return. He also witnessed how fast Shenzhen transformed from a fishing village into a metropolis with buildings coming up from the ground in just a few days. He believes that the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA) will realize high-quality development. As he said, "With the complete reintegration of Hong Kong, the GBA will be a real amazing dynamic force, because it's a large and productive area with lots of people living in it and great technologies developing in it. So, I think the future for this area is very big.

As a top scientist, Speakman took scientific work as an example to explain his interpretation of high-quality development. According to Speakman, his current work focuses on how many calories people consume and the attempt to improve predictions on how much people have to eat so as to reduce the risk of people developing diabetes and developing other complications that come from having too much body fat."

Looking at people as individuals rather than trying to treat the whole population is very individualized. And that's the way that medicine is moving in the future. And so, we're trying to push forward precision nutrition as part of precision medicine." Speakman emphasized the concept of precision. "High quality is about being precise enough and not echoing the views of others."

Science makes it possible to seek common ground while preserving differences

Speakman is actively helping Chinese scientists go out to the world and calling on more European and American scholars to look toward China. He believes that science can be used as a common language and can help people overcome nationality barriers. From Speakman's point of view, having more scientific exchanges will facilitate the harmonious development of all the countries in the world and the development will also be a driving force for science. 

Shenzhen's open and inclusive spirit has deeply influenced Speakman. During the interview, he sees a connection between Guangdong's economy with his work, which he hasn't been aware of previously, and "our connection to the larger world can be made by interacting with more people."

He has an ambition to break down these boundaries and encourage many more exchanges where people go back and forwards between countries and they speak to each other. "Science is a universal language, and it is a great vehicle for that."

Reporter | Hannah, Steven, Li Fuying (intern), Yao Jingsen (intern)

Script | Hannah

Video | Axin

Poster | Lulu

Editor | Wing, Jasmine, Jerry