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Wang Jian, "The Summit Seeker": Top Science is Top Technology

July 10, 2024 Views:

On April 18, 2024, the BGI mountaineering and scientific research team of BGI established their base at the foot of Mount Everest, conducting research on themselves as scientific subjects. On May 21, they not only successfully reached the summit, but also set a new record for the oldest Chinese climber to reach the top of Mount Everest, transmitting the world's first ultrasound images and EEG data from the top of the world.


With two ascents of Mount Everest, multiple expeditions to the "Third Pole" of the Earth, the Tibetan Plateau, a deep dive to the "Fourth Pole" of the Earth, the Mariana Trench, and having completed Antarctic and North Pole scientific research, BGI Group, under the leadership of Wang Jian, Co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of BGI Group, and in collaboration with interdisciplinary teams from both Chinese and international institutions, has relentlessly pursued exploring and acquiring knowledge at the frontiers of science.


Undertaking the most challenging tasks and aiming for the farthest goals, these expeditions across the four poles reflect the BGI spirit of fearlessness and the pursuit of excellence.


Recently, under the theme of "The Summit Seeker", we interviewed several leaders and participants of BGI’s four-pole research project and listened to their stories behind their scientific research and climbing.


The following interview is with Wang Jian, Co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of BGI Group.

图片 1.jpgWang Jian is performing an electrocardiogram at the summit of Mount Everest.

Q: Now more than 40 days have passed since you climbed Mount Everest again on May 21, does the scene of the summit still haunt you?


Wang Jian: Yes. The hardship and struggle of those days was quite interesting and memorable. Especially on the day of the final summit, the climb was 580 meters, but it took more than 8 hours. Roughly speaking, it took around a minute to move a meter. In that situation, it just felt like I couldn't breathe, my heart was loaded, my legs and feet were weak, and I didn't have quite enough energy, lack of oxygen, fatigue, and exhaustion.

Q: Why did you insist on climbing Mount Everest even though you knew it was extremely difficult?


Wang Jian: I think I can go up, and there are still a lot of scientific research projects at 7,000 meters, 8,000 meters and 8,800 meters above sea level, and I have to do it from the beginning to the end. The main purpose of this climb is to obtain more scientific data. Mountaineering has been a hot spot for 50 years, but no one has ever systematically done a study on the body's reaction to plateau, low oxygen, low pressure and high radiation, which is a very good scientific research topic. When I used to go to the plateau by myself, the first stop was to run to the hospital because of the strong plateau reaction.


Back in 1999, when we wanted to participate in the International Human Genome Project, but we faced a lot of controversies. Thus, I made a solo car drive during spring festival to Lhasa to see the Potala Palace and Everest Base Camp, which touched me a lot. Then I went further to Nepal, and when I crossed the border, I suddenly went from minus 20 degrees Celsius to a place where I could wear short clothes and shorts. Nepal was lush and green at that time. The whole thing suddenly opened up from the freezing cold to the rainforest.


It didn't matter if there was controversy, we could totally come out with a new path. So at that time, we made up our mind that we must do the 1% of the Human Genome Project. If there is any controversy, we will set up a new type of organization by ourselves. So we came back and set up BGI.

Q: Is there any difference in your physical strength this time compared to 14 years ago?


Wang Jian: That time in 2010, it was a very brave climb up, but that's exactly why I lay down for several days after coming down. And this time the speed is slower, but after I descended to the Everest base camp, I did five or six hours of experiments with them on the same day until more than 12:00 p.m. So, a seventy-year-old man, continuous work hard for eight or nine days, six days for climbing, three days for returning to base camp, which one day is overlap, that is, there are eight days did not stop, after coming down the intensified work began again.


The day after leaving the area, I spoke at a conference we hosted on the topic of "Reach Peaks and Explore Extremes; Heights and Depths Can Be Measured  - Science Talk on Three to Four Poles Breakthrough", and my mind and thoughts were not in a mess at all. At that time, I made two remarks, one of which was "word counts". We hope to prove through a little bit of action that we are true to our word in everything we do, whether it is scientific research or industry. From the Human Genome Project, to the Rice Genome Project, the First Asian Genome Project, and so on, looking back at the development of BGI over the past 20 years, the promises made at that time have basically been fulfilled. Moreover, in terms of science and technology, we have realized the mastering of our tools, and our spatiotemporal omics technology has made great breakthroughs; in terms of industry, taking non-invasive prenatal genetic testing as an example, we have provided non-invasive prenatal genetic testing services for more than 16 million pregnant women, and now we have carried out full-coverage testing in Hebei Province.


The second is that we have unprecedentedly integrated the "four directions" together. I hope you will believe us that in the next few years, we will be able to make achievements in the research of the three or four poles, and I invite you to discuss how to better conduct scientific research on the third and fourth poles exploration.

Q: This time, the BGI Mountaineering Team not only succeeded in reaching the summit with all of its members, but you personally set a new record for the eldest person in China to reach the summit of Mount Everest, so why do you have to set a these world records?


Wang Jian: This is a kind of beginning, infatuation and obsession for the endless frontier and endless exploration of science, and we must make achievements in science. And I believe that people who do science can support themselves and create a whole new industry.


Of course, humans have always stepped on the shoulders of those who came before us, right? It's not like we popped out of a rock. It is inevitable to follow the development by taking one step at a time and going forward and backward.


Q: Did you once say that "mountaineering is fake, but scientific research is real" after you reached the summit?


Wang Jian: In that extreme environment, how did our body adapt, cognitive changes, visual changes, auditory changes, brain electricity and brain magnetism change? This has never been recorded and analyzed in detail and systematically in the past. So, for us, it's both an unprecedented opportunity and an unprecedented challenge.


If you don't experience and feel it for yourself actually, it's hard to have that kind of intuition and love. In the case of mountaineering, the spiritual need is secondary, sampling and first-hand experience is the dominant thing. Mountaineering is both fake and real. Without mountaineering, scientific research and study cannot be realized, so these three rings linked mutually.

Q: For so many years, BGIers has been fond of the Tibetan Plateau and Mount Everest, what is this fondness for?


Wang Jian: On the plateau, the mind opens up, the heart is broadened, and you can be very relaxed. Moreover, when there is a lack of oxygen, you will have a lot of "nonsense", and your thoughts will be freer, and you will often have a major project in your mind, which is quite interesting.


These scientific research results can be recorded in the history books. In my eyes, there are opportunities and challenges everywhere.

Q: From Mount Everest to the abyss, also to the South Pole and the North Pole, where to next?


Wang Jian: Below the South Pole and North Pole, I want to see where the plankton comes from. The temperature is so low and it's a polar region, but how can there be so much marine biodiversity?


In addition, we want to do a project that goes through all four poles, not just separate locations, but connection from the North Pole to the South Pole, from Mount Everest to the deep sea, and all through the Earth. This is an all-encompassing, full-cycle exploration, not to be interpreted as four poles, but as four poles through. We have enough tools to support us in this research.

Q: The universe is vast, is life also vast?


Wang Jian: Of course it is vast. From an extremely macroscopic point of view, 8 billion people around the world, everyone is different, isn’t that vast? And again, our spatiotemporal technology is extremely microscopic.


At the time of the cosmic explosion, how did energy matter form nuclear fusion, how did black matter, dark matter form? How did the Earth form, and how did life on Earth form? Is there a universal law in this? We hope to answer these questions.

Q: Some people have been observing you for many years, saying that you are still essentially a scientist, what do you think?


Wang Jian: Yes. Because I spent the first half of my life in the field of scientific research and technology. I believe that top science must be top industry. Science is industry, the most cutting-edge science must be the most cutting-edge industry. Now there’s a deliberate separation of science and industry.


Our exploration of mankind itself, our exploration of the unknown of life, is inferior to our exploration of the universe, our exploration of the earth. This is a process in which science and industry cannot be separated. Just like mountain climbing, we climbed for half a day and realized that scientific exploration, scientific research and scientific climbing are closely connected. Scientific exploration and industrial development are also closely connected.