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From China to Israel: Weizmann Welcomes Dr. Binghai Yan

How did a Chinese physicist who grew up in a remote farming village in Shandong Province in eastern China make his way to the Weizmann Institute?

After completing his BSc at Xi’an Jiatong University in Xi’an in 2003, Dr. Binghai Yan earned a PhD in physics at the Tsinghua University in Beijing in 2008. He did postdoctoral research at the University of Bremen in Germany, when the field of topological research was beginning to take off. He then spent eight months at Stanford University learning from a leading expert in the field.

Yan returned to Germany to become a group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics and Solids in Dresden. It was then that he began collaborating with Weizmann Institute colleagues—thanks to an introduction by Prof. Ady Stern at a conference in Germany—including Prof. Erez Berg and Dr. Haim Beidenkopf, all from the Department of Condensed Matter Physics. The collaboration was enabled by an ARCHES Award given by Germany’s Minerva Foundation, which stimulates collaborative projects by German and Israeli scientists. He visited the Weizmann Institute for the first time in 2013 to advance this work.

Last year, he received a competing offer from a university in China, but took the Weizmann offer “because of my existing collaborations and potential collaborations, the depth of theory and experiment work here, and the fact that Weizmann is one of the few places that is advancing this field,” he says.

Dr. Yan has already discovered a new class of topological materials: a three-dimensional, layered, metallic insulating material which he grows in the lab. He has done so by way of his expertise in electron charge and spin, and so this research has implications for the new, hot field of “spintronics”. Spintronics differs from traditional electronics in that it leverages the way in which electrons spin—not only their charge—to find better efficiency with data storage and transfer. This, in turn, has relevance for the new age of quantum computing, and he hopes to collaborate with quantum computing pioneers at the Institute.

For his wife, Huanhuan Wang, the decision to make a potentially permanent move to Israel—a country she’d never before visited and about which she had little knowledge—was not as obvious as it was for Dr. Yan. “It took a little bit of convincing my wife to come; if you’ve never been here, all you think is political strife,” says Dr. Yan. “But the reality is different. We are really happy here and it is quickly starting to feel like home.”

The family arrived in February and moved into campus housing. His wife is now pursuing a PhD under the guidance of Prof. Dan Yakir in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. They have two kids, a boy and a girl, who just began learning German, and now are getting used to Hebrew—and they speak Chinese at home.

Dr. Yan is finding opportunities to collaborate with scientists in Germany and China, and has already begun organizing a workshop on topological systems at the Weizmann Institute (together with Dr. Haim Beidenkopf and Dr. Nurit Avraham, also of the Department of Physics of Condensed Matter Physics), to which he has invited leading European and Chinese physicists and other leaders in the field.

“Being in Israel, at Weizmann, is not something that I would have anticipated five or 10 years ago,” he says. “But life—like the materials of the future—holds many mysteries.”

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Israel BDS – building dialogue through science – aims to promote the kind of international collaboration that can lead to true understanding between people. Israel BDS stands for the free and open exchange of ideas among scientists everywhere. By reporting on the benefits of Israeli-international scientific research and the web of connections that these scientists create around the world, Israel BDS takes a vibrant approach to highlighting the global necessity of continued international scientific collaboration.

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Dr. Binghai Yan,

Dr. Binghai Yan, has joined the Israeli physics community