Tsinghua University’s ‘star’ twin scientists return to China from the US, Canada

The return to China of Tsinghua University’s “star” twin scientists at the end of their postdoctoral research in North America was celebrated on Chinese social media after it was announced last week on the alma mater’s website.

The sisters Ma Donghan and Ma Dongxin, who were born in Dalian in 1989, were top students at Tsinghua when they shot to fame after their study schedule was published online. Commenters were amazed at their daily 6am-1am routine.

The twins each received special scholarships from Tsinghua University in 2012, an honour awarded to the best five undergraduates each year. They remained at Tsinghua and earned their PhDs before heading overseas.

Elder sister Ma Donghan, who continued her studies at Purdue University in the US, has joined Dalian University of Technology in Liaoning province, northeastern China as a professor. Her research focuses on super-resolution microscopy.

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Ma Dongxin, whose expertise is in novel, high-performance LED lights, has returned to Tsinghua in Beijing as an assistant professor and teacher. She completed her postdoctoral research at the University of Toronto in Canada.

Both women have made important contributions, with each of them responsible for developments that have advanced scientific understanding and led to improvements in their respective fields.

During her postgraduate study in West Lafayette, Indiana, Donghan solved the problem of inaccurate modelling, which had plagued the technology since the invention of single-molecule positioning microscopy.

Super-resolution microscopes can find and track individual molecules, helping scientists to study cells in more detail than any regular microscope can achieve.

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Donghan has published a dozen papers in high-profile journals, including Nature Methods, Nature Communications, ACS Sensors and the Science Citation Index.

Dongxin’s research interests include improving the performance of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) by looking into the limitations of perovskite, the mineral widely used as a building block for LED and photovoltaic applications.

By developing a new class of organic additives to fabricate perovskite films, Dongxin helped to develop record-performance LEDs, according to the MIT Technology Review’s selection committee for its Innovators Under 35 prize in 2022.

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Dongxin’s perovskite film – developed in Toronto – set a world record for the efficiency and longevity of perovskite LEDs, thanks to the more uniform and efficient layering of the material. The lights she designed were brighter, more efficient and lasted longer.

“My research abroad went smoothly, but I didn’t feel like I belonged. I was looking forward to coming back to China immediately after completing my studies,” Dongxin said, according to the Tsinghua website.

“Now as a teacher, I feel greater responsibilities, and I’m learning to better understand the courses and guide my students to tackle the most challenging scientific questions,” she said.

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