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Hu's expertise in glass wins awards
11.07.2017

    Hu Lili is the winner of this year's Jiading Technology Expert Prize. This year, Hu and her team were awarded the Shanghai Technology and Invention Prize for their project, the key technology and application of mass production of high performance and large size neodymium doped laser glass.

    Hu graduated in 1990 from the Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics and has continued her career at the institute.

    Neodymium doped laser glass is the heart of laser equipment which can be used for high energy density physical research and producing clean energy by nuclear fusion. It looks no different to other glass, except for its purple color. However, it is a lot more difficult to produce.

    It has to meet 28 technical parameters during its production and is so sensitive that even when touched by hand, the hand's warmth can trigger an inner change. If the temperature is low, the glass will crack, and it will break when there is moisture in the environment.

    "At that time, the technology and production were locked by the Western countries so we have to study the technology ourselves," said Hu. "Actually, this project has been researched for decades, since the institute was launched in 1964. The project is not a task, but heritage."

    In the workshop, there is a 30 meter-long enclosed tunnel kiln. Molten neodymium doped laser-glass will be put into the kiln for a week to cool down, from 700 degrees Celsius degrees to 70 degrees. However, the glass was all broken in the kiln.

    "When we look at those broken glass, we felt heartbroken," Hu recalled. "The value of the materials used for one day was equal to an Audi car at that time. It was like burning money in the kiln."

    Then, she suspended the original plan and tried to change the inner structure of the kiln. Finally, Hu and her team spent half a year trying to solve the problem of the breaking glass.

    It has been 12 years since Hu and her team began studying neodymium doped glass. To fulfill the project, team work and joint efforts of three generations are the vital essence.

    "Although the ingredients, product codes and techniques have been improving, the spirits of the team has been passed down from generation to generation," said Hu, pointing out proudly that the best inheritance is innovation based on the achievements of the previous generation.

    By adhering to the spirit of daring to be the first, this team of multidisciplinary professionals, of all ages, rich in engineering experience, are heading toward one innovation after another.

    Academician Jiang Zhonghong, 87, the oldest of the team, has been devoted to neodymium doped laser glass research since 1964. Today he serves as a consultant for the team.

    "Jiang comes to the institute every day, even on rainy days. Sometimes he stays up together with us to work on problems," Hu Lili said. Even in his 80s, Jiang is still researching on how to create new generation laser material.

    "Currently, the core power of our team are young people," Hu said of Chen Shubing, Tang Jingping and Meng Tao, who are in charge of the design and problem solving in continuous smelting line and edge cladding of neodymium doped laser glass.

    In the eyes of Hu's parents, her husband and daughter, she is a workaholic. It is not unusual for her to stay up working until midnight and 24 hours a day is not enough for her.

    n addition to 10 hours' work in the office, Hu would bury herself in research for several more hours at home. Even at the weekend, she can be found in her office.

    She has made it a habit to visit the glass smelting workshop daily. Even when she comes back from business trips, she sees to it that she goes to the workshop first.

    During the vital period of the development of continuous smelting technique, she often organized on-site meetings in the workshop, making it normal to stay up until midnight. The next day she would come to work on time full of energy again.

    Before the launch of the project of "key technology and application of mass production of high performance and large size laser neodymium doped laser glass", only the United States had mastered the continuous melting technique of laser glass.

    Without any technical reference, but with their own efforts, Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics became the first institution globally to independently master the whole process of neodymium doped laser glass production technology.

    At present, the production line of Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics is capable of manufacturing 1,000 pieces/year of large-size, high-performance laser neodymium doped glass.

    Hu and her team are still excited by the birth of every perfect piece of neodymium doped laser-glass , because only they know how much effort has gone into making it.