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Shaking Up Science: A Tibetan Woman’s Journey to Revolutionize Earthquake Forecasting

ChinaShaking Up Science: A Tibetan Woman's Journey to Revolutionize Earthquake Forecasting

Zeren Zhima is a Tibetan woman who defies the traditional stereotypes associated with her culture. Unlike what many people may expect, Zeren is not a weaver, a shepherdess, or a folk dancer. Instead, she is a scientist at the forefront of modern technology, working on cutting-edge research in the physics of the Earth and space. Zeren spends long hours every day working on her laptop, processing vast amounts of data received from a satellite 500 km away.

Despite her origins in a remote area of the Tibetan countryside, Zeren has achieved remarkable success in her career. She currently works at the National Institute of Nature Hazards and is the chief designer of the application system for China’s first seismo-electromagnetic satellite, the Zhangheng 1. This satellite has been in service for five years and has provided invaluable scientific data on earthquakes around the world.

Zeren’s story is a testament to the power of education and hard work. Despite coming from a disadvantaged background, she was able to excel in her studies and pursue her passion for science. Her success also serves as a source of inspiration for other young women from underrepresented communities who may face barriers to pursuing a career in science and technology.

As a scientist working on cutting-edge research, Zeren is contributing to the advancement of our understanding of the natural world. Her work is particularly important in the field of seismology, as it helps us better understand earthquakes and how they can be predicted and mitigated. Zeren’s research is also helping to bridge the gap between traditional knowledge and modern science, by combining the insights of traditional Tibetan practices with modern scientific methods.

Zeren Zhima is an exceptional individual who has defied cultural stereotypes and achieved remarkable success in her field. Her story is a source of inspiration for others and a reminder that education and hard work can overcome even the most significant obstacles. Through her work, Zeren is making a valuable contribution to the advancement of science and our understanding of the natural world.

The Zhangheng 1 satellite is a groundbreaking achievement in the field of seismology. It is designed to capture electromagnetic waves generated by movements of rocks deep below ground, which can travel through the air and even space. By analyzing this data, scientists can trace the electromagnetic circumstances of previous shaking events and identify natural laws that will eventually help forecast impending quakes. This is a critical development as earthquakes can cause significant destruction and loss of life.

However, using a space satellite to measure the shaking of the Earth’s surface presents several challenges. Many countries have launched similar satellites before, but they have all been retired from service. Despite this, Zeren Zhima, the chief designer of the application system for China’s first seismo-electromagnetic satellite, the Zhangheng 1, remains committed to her work. She understands that it may take years before scientists can realize the goal of predicting earthquakes, but she does not regret undertaking such a task. Zeren’s work could potentially save many people from disaster.

Zeren’s desire to perform good deeds was nurtured from an early age. Born into a rural family in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, southwest China’s Sichuan Province, in 1976, Zeren’s parents did not want her to be resigned to a life of farm work, as was the expectation for local women at that time. Her father, a voluntary school teacher, ensured that his two daughters studied hard so they could leave the countryside. As a result, Zeren had the opportunity to pursue her passion for science and technology.

Zeren Zhima’s passion for disaster prevention was instilled in her from a young age. Growing up in a region prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, forest fires, and landslides, she witnessed firsthand the devastation they can cause. Her parents’ teachings about helping others in times of trouble inspired her to pursue studies in disaster prevention. She felt that this was an opportunity to put her beliefs into practice and benefit many people.

Despite her upbringing in a rural environment, Zeren was determined to pursue higher education in disaster prevention. She scored the highest marks in her county’s school graduation exams and was admitted to a college of disaster prevention technology in Beijing. However, adapting to urban life in the capital city was not easy for her. She had to learn how to use a telephone and take the subway, and her Mandarin skills were not strong. She also suffered from dyslexia, which made her academic journey more challenging.

To overcome her various difficulties, Zeren worked extra hard. She spent hours practicing Mandarin pronunciation by reading newspapers out loud, and immersed herself in tapes and books to improve her English listening and speaking skills. Her efforts paid off, and she became a straight-A student at the disaster prevention college.

After completing her undergraduate degree, Zeren pursued a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Guizhou Normal University in southwest China. Her strong math skills earned her job offers in web engineering from several foreign companies, but she chose instead to study geophysics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. This decision set her on a path towards working with the Zhangheng 1 satellite, where she is now the chief designer of the application system for China’s first seismo-electromagnetic satellite.

While the task of predicting earthquakes may take years to achieve, Zeren does not regret her decision to work towards this goal. Her work has the potential to save many people from disaster, and she remains motivated by the desire to perform good deeds, a value instilled in her by her parents.

After graduating with top marks in her county’s school exams, she earned a spot at a college of disaster prevention technology in Beijing, which was a difficult transition for her coming from a rural environment. However, her dedication to her studies paid off, and she became a straight-A student.
Zeren’s desire to make a difference in disaster prevention and relief continued to grow, and she pursued a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Guizhou Normal University.

Despite receiving job offers from foreign companies in web engineering, she opted to study geophysics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
After earning her master’s degree in 2005, Zeren began working at the Institute of Earthquake Forecasting of the China Earthquake Administration. She played a crucial role in the “Zhangheng 1” project, which was developed after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. This project aimed to capture electromagnetic signals generated by underground rock movements before an earthquake and send them back to Earth for analysis.

In 2009, Zeren took on the challenge of being a key member of the research team while also becoming a mother to a baby girl. With support from her family, including her mother-in-law who helped with childcare, she managed to balance both roles. Recognizing the importance of interdisciplinary knowledge, Zeren pursued doctoral studies in space physics, obtaining her Ph.D. in 2014 after two failed attempts.
Despite facing depression during her studies, Zeren’s dedication to her research and passion for helping others never wavered. In her senior thesis, she expressed gratitude to her family for their unwavering support, which allowed her to pursue her career while raising her daughter.

The “Zhangheng 1” satellite was launched in February 2018, five years after Zeren joined the research project. During those five years, the satellite achieved numerous accomplishments, including obtaining global space electromagnetic field data, strengthening the monitoring of space weather events, and supporting research into earthquake forecasting. Zeren’s team is now planning a second “Zhangheng 1” satellite, followed by others that will eventually form a constellation of satellites.

Zeren emphasized the importance of practical and realistic scientific research. Forecasting earthquakes is fundamental research that requires patience and persistence. Rushing ahead in search of quick results is not the answer. She spoke of how the Wenchuan earthquake that occurred on May 12, 2008, served as a reminder of her mission to help predict earthquakes and prevent such disasters in the future. The room number of her office is 512, and she said it acted as a constant reminder of her mission.

As International Women’s Day approached, Zeren’s story had come under the spotlight, providing an example of the varied and important work women are doing in the modern world. Zeren attributed her success to keeping her sights on surpassing her previous self and fulfilling her potential. She also acknowledged her parents’ guidance on the value of doing things for the well-being of others.

The Zhangheng 1 satellite represents a significant advancement in the field of seismology. By capturing electromagnetic signals, it provides valuable data that can help scientists better understand earthquakes and predict them in the future.

Throughout her career, Zeren had overcome various difficulties, including dyslexia and a lack of familiarity with modern urban life. She worked extra hard to overcome her challenges and was able to balance her role as a mother with her work as a scientist. She obtained her Ph.D. from Beihang University in 2014 after two failed attempts. In her senior thesis, she thanked her family for their strong support in her career.

Zeren is glad to have a science career that can protect people’s lives and safety. Her focus on practical and realistic research had led to groundbreaking discoveries in space physics and earthquake forecasting. She is a shining example of what is possible with hard work and dedication.

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