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Visit Laboratory: “Subtle Details” Create “Outstanding Article”

Visit National Key Laboratory of Crop Genetic Improvement: “Subtle Details” Create “Outstanding Article”

Key points: The National Key Laboratory of Crop Genetic Improvement, immersed in the professional ethics of the “bellwether”, shows an atmosphere of “work as the first priority”. Strolling on campus in the evening, you do not need to be surprised that the Laboratory is still bright with lights, because there are always a group of workaholics---scientists and students--- working there.

Nature, one of top international academic journals, published online the latest research progress by Professor Yin Ping’s structural biology team on the crystal structures of the METTL3-METTL14 complex—both being N6-adenosine transmethylase on May 25th, 2016.This team belongs to the College of Life Science and Technology and the National Key Laboratory of Crop Genetic Improvement of HZAU. It created a sensation that the young post-80s doctoral supervisor, based on the public protein research platform of the National Key Laboratory of Crop Genetic Improvement and his long-accumulated scientific data, produced an “outstanding article” shortly after working in HZAU. The place where the article was born enjoys its unique culture. Here, we’ll have a look at the “subtle details” in the Laboratory’s daily management.


Facade of National Key Laboratory of Crop Genetic Improvement

The Young are Advised Not to Take Lifts Empty-Handed

One needs to go through a number of procedures before being permitted to enter the building, including waiting for the entrance guard to swipe a card to open the gate, specifying reasons for visit, contact persons and time of entry and exit on the registration book, and wearing shoe covers. After all is done, one would be hesitant whether to take a lift because a yellow notice stuck to the lift door says “The Young are Advised Not to Take Lifts Empty-Handed”.

The Young are Advised Not to Take Lifts Empty-Handed.

In this 26,000-square-meter-building, teachers and students do climb stairs and leave the two lifts spare unless they are loaded with large-scale instrument and equipment or feel weak.

Zhang Qifa, director of the National Key Laboratory of Crop Genetic Improvement, thinks that young people are healthy and are advised not to take lifts empty-handed. Once, he criticized a young student who was about to take the lift empty-handed: “You are still young and not as old as me. Isn’t it better for you to climb stairs to do exercise?”

In addition, in order to encourage young people to do exercise and save precious electricity, the Laboratory checks the elevator monitoring irregularly to find out members who violate the regulation that “the young are advised not to take lifts empty-handed”. Once caught, people who violate the regulation should not only write a written self-criticism stuck to the bulletin board on the 1st floor, but also pay fines.

Special “Ticket”

A bulletin board on the first floor of the Laboratory is somewhat special, for besides notices of academic meetings and regulations, there are sometimes students’ written self-criticisms. Each written self-criticism should be presented on the board for 3 days and be attached with information such as student’s subject team and supervisor.

Written self-criticisms presented on the board before

Written self-criticisms involve everything in daily life: not putting bicycles at designated positions, not turn off lights when leaving, not tidying test beds up, taking lift empty-handed, not returning reagent kits to its previous statuses, not closing windows and watching videos on working time. There are occasionally notices of fines. Teachers and students in the Laboratory said that there did have those “tickets”, and the fines are deducted directly from students’ subsidies and teachers’ allowances, at least 50 yuan.

“Ticket” is the last resort with an aim to regulate daily work and ensure normal operation of the Laboratory. Zhang Meidong, Secretary of the Laboratory for scientific and administrative affairs, told our journalist that all rules mean nothing to you if you observed rules and did not violate operation regulations.

Yuan Dejun, director of the Laboratory, told our journalist that “ticket” was designed for the air’s sake at the beginning.

In the 1990s, the relatively backward buildings were often polluted with much dust. However, most molecular biology experiments required ultra-clean work environment, for just a grain of tiny dust could pollute material and interfere with experiment results. Campus environment could not be improved within a short period, so measures could only be taken in Laboratory management details. Since 1994, the Laboratory had regulated that all windows should be closed to avoid pollution sources brought by airflow. Students were not accustomed to the stuffy Laboratory at the beginning and opened windows casually. Therefore, fines, deducted directly from students’ subsidies, were imposed to ensure clean Laboratory environment. Students said their money was deducted by air after being fined several times, and thus bore in mind the regulation of keeping windows closed.

Non-Laboratory people must put on shoe covers to enter the Laboratory

It was right at that time that Laboratory personnel were required to change shoes and non-Laboratory people to put on shoe covers when entering the building. [This regulation has been kept in use till now without any exception even for state leaders. It was also from that time on that the Laboratory started to employ particular staff to do cleaning work, which has cost 200,000 yuan per year in recent years. But Yuan told our journalist that the money spent was worthwhile.

Chang Jiang Scholar’s Self-Criticism

Members of Yan Jianbing’s subject team are conducting experiments

The Laboratory Administrative Office is in charge of the cleaning work. The mere five staff in this office also provide public services of logistic support, device maintenance, activity arrangement and funds management to over 600 Laboratory members. The office conducts an overall management over the Laboratory and allocates various resources in a centralized way so as to relieve the work pressure among scientific staff.

For energy-saving and environmental protection, the Laboratory installs central air-conditioning and double-layer thermal insulation windows, controls indoor temperature strictly in accordance with state regulations, and uses light switches that can only control one set of energy-saving lights. “Usually, the Laboratory can get enough sunlight. Lights in the rooms in the sunny side are turned on only in severe weather conditions. Like today’s heavy rain, we only need to turn on one set of lights out of three in our office.” said Zhang Meidong.

She tells our journalist that according to requirement, some devices are also managed by each sub-Laboratory, and some cleaning jobs are done by teachers and students. They divide the Laboratory into many areas and each is managed by some graduate students and supervisors. Graduate students are responsible for cleaning and safety of test beds and devices, and supervisors should ensure that students can conduct experiments safely. In addition, building A and B have altogether 12 floors, and each floor has a young teacher as its “floor administrator”.

Professor Yan Jianbing, Chang Jiang scholar, serves as floor administrator of second floor of building B. At one time, room 202, a public glue leaking room, had its sewer blocked. Zhang Qifa found that problem and sent e-mails to criticize involved people. Contents of the e-mail were as follows: Involved teachers should be strictly criticized. How much management have the floor administrator done? Dare you write a written self-criticism?”

After seeing the e-mail, Yan, representing the maize subject team, wrote and sent self-criticism e-mail to all teachers on second floor and briefly informed them of related measurements. It was later found out that public glue leaking room 202 was used by too many students. Some students did not clear up residual gommures in time when making glue and washing electrophoresis tank. Some even removed the filter mesh to accelerate the draining speed. Consequently, sewer was blocked.

In the e-mail, Yan wrote in earnest:” Through this event, I realize that good management of Laboratory depends mainly on the awareness and time. Related things are trivial but very important. Teachers should often hold meetings, discuss with and notify each other to find and address problems in time. We should also often hold meetings for all students to tell them things about Laboratory management and trivial issues…Let’s protect the new building, the home of all of us. Let maintain and carry forward the hard-to-get brand.”

Academician Wrote “Log Book”

Illumination culture room on fourth floor of Laboratory building A

In addition to fines and regulations, scientists set themselves as examples. Zhang Qifa once said: “A doctoral student who does not put Laboratory work first is not an eligible one.” He believes that strenuous spirit and the life outlook of “work as the first priority” are the most important foundation the doctoral phase laid for the future.

Early in the 1980s, Zhang had scarcely enjoyed holidays for a long time since he returned from America. He took a half-day vacation on the Spring Festival’s eve and started to think about work the second day of the Spring Festival. He once said:” For doctoral students, working 12 hours a day is normal, and working less than that time is not usual; working more than six days and a half in a week is normal, and working less than that time is not normal. That is the concept I got based on the four-year school system of American PhD. Above time is the minimum work time required under current three-year school system, what is more, half a year is compulsory English-learning time.

Zhang Meidong told our journalist that Zhang Qifa was on duty on the Spring Festival, the second and third day of Spring Festival. “Patrolling” each floor of the Laboratory during those days, he recorded in detail all problems of Laboratory operation. What is more, he wrote a long Essay of my Laboratory Shift and sent it to all Laboratory members.

In this essay, Zhang Qifa listed minutely 17 problems, for example, ultra-cold storage freezer alerting, disorderly placed devices and articles and no administrators’ name on doors, etc. He also made three suggestions: first, to standardize exterior marks on all freezers by making unified exterior marks framework and sticking them to freezers with double-faced adhesive tapes; second, to restrict purchase of freezers and other devices without arrangement for storage space; third, teachers on duty should be responsible and the shift system should keep pace with times.

With regard to the problem that nobody sees to rooms of subject teams, Zhang Qifa wrote:” Once problem appears, there will have severe consequences. We should discuss how to do on duty.”

The National Key Laboratory of Crop Genetic Improvement, immersed in the professional ethics of the “bellwether”, shows an atmosphere of “work as the first priority”. Strolling in campus in the evening, you do not need to be surprised that the Laboratory is still bright with lights, because there are always a group of workaholics---scientists and students--- working there.

(By Yang Kaiyan)