Professor in Nijmegen and Wuhan: ‘I’m quite confident in the government’

10 Feb 2020

There might have been easier times to teach in virus-struck Wuhan. Physics professor Shengjun Yuan tries to make the best of it. With the campus mostly abandoned, he will start giving lectures online.

Shengjun Yuan works both in China and the Netherlands. In China he is professor in Physics at Wuhan University. At the Radboud University Yuan is professor in the research group of Theory of Condensed Matter.

Normally Yuan would spend most of his time in China and his holidays on research in the Netherlands. His arrival in Nijmegen took place as planned, but his departure date is now unclear due to the coronavirus. ‘I was supposed to go back in the middle of February, because that’s when the next semester starts. Now I’m staying here until the epidemic is controlled. Only then are we allowed to go back to the university’, he says at his office in the Huygens building.

Shengjun Yuan. © Dick van Aalst

Do you know people that have been infected?

‘None of my close friends, colleagues or students in Wuhan have been infected. I’m very glad for that. However, I know that some of the staff members at the university have been infected, but not that many. And some of the students might have caught the virus, but not that I know of.

‘If you count in the number of persons living in Wuhan – about as many as the Netherlands – the number of infections actually isn’t that high. When you consider this it makes sense that no-one I know has been infected.‘

How do staff and students at the university deal with the virus?

‘Most of the students and staff members went home for the holidays, so there are very few people on campus. Our students come from all over China, so they’re trying to follow the advice of the local governments there. There are some students still on campus doing experiments, but now they’re continuing their research in the dormitories. It’s better to stay there.

‘Most of the staff do live in Wuhan close by the university. They try to stay inside. And if they go outside, they wear facemasks. People in Wuhan and across China are getting all information from the government what they should do to prevent being infected. You can compare the spread of the disease with the flowing of water. You just need to stop the flowing.’

What does the spread of the Coronavirus mean for the university?

‘All universities will for sure postpone the opening of the new semester and it’s hindering our research as well. But we’re making preparations to find ways to deal with the situation, so there are many things under construction. The university is for instance building an online classroom, because we don’t want to interrupt the study of the students. Teachers will give courses online so students can still follow classes. And if students have questions, they can contact and discuss with their teachers from home. It’s not as good as a real course, but this is the best way to continue for now.’

What do you think will happen in the future?

‘I have a lot of faith on the Chinese government to control the virus. It’s just a matter of time. Currently the number of people getting the virus is still growing, but in some cities the numbers are already starting to fluctuate. And of course people are getting better informed. So I’m quite confident.’

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