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In memoriam: Xinran Ji, 24

永远怀念:纪欣然终年24岁

by Adam Smith
Xinran Ji undergraduate graduation
Xinran Ji (Photo/Courtesy of friends of Xinran Ji)

“If you’re going through adversity, keep going.”

That was Xinran Ji’s way of solving problems, according to Jiaming Kong, a close friend from his undergraduate days at Zhejiang University in China.

Ji, a graduate student in electrical engineering, who tragically lost his life last Thursday, is remembered by friends as “amiable, willing to help all the time” and possessing an almost encyclopedic knowledge of bikes, cars, trains and planes. He could name each model of Chinese railway engine from the oldest to the latest bullet trains. He was someone “always smiling, modest, positive and hard working.”

He showed an “unremitting effort in putting pieces together and making them dance.”

Jiaming Kong

But it was that last part that particularly stood out to Kong, who saw in his friend “a young star who had a passion about his work,” an engineer who showed “unremitting effort in putting pieces together and making them dance.”

Said Kong, “As an engineer at work, I know how often people will cut corners, hack things, and leave a potential for instability risk in the future. Yet I found none of these in his portfolio.”

Honored as an undergrad

Even before entering the USC Viterbi School of Engineering this past fall, Ji had distinguished himself. His undergraduate research in the design and implementation of control systems for quad-rotor aircraft earned him a First-class Scholarship for Excellence in Research and Innovation from Zhejiang University in December 2012.

Xinran with camera

Xinran Ji enjoyed photography, listening to music and cycling. (Photo/Courtesy of friends of Xinran Ji)

Before that, in 2006, he’d been No. 1 in the High School Admission Competition in his hometown of Hohhot, an extremely competitive exam, similar to the U.S. SATs.

His love of building things told the tale of an evolving, gifted engineer. First, there was a simple and elegant feed forward controller model; a car that navigates itself by seeing in infrared; a clock that tells international time in a more human way; and finally, a drone that can park itself, fly sideways and stabilize its aerial position automatically.

According to Danlei Chen, another close friend and fellow USC Viterbi graduate student in electrical engineering, he believed wholeheartedly in the Theodore von Karman quote: “Scientists discover the world that exists; engineers create the world that never was.”

While fellow students traveled abroad and spoke of tourist attractions, Ji spoke of “automated production lines and advanced FANUC manipulators” during his 2011 exchange visit to UC Davis. Said Kong, “His eyes shined as if he was still marveling at those things.”

Creativity with a camera

And yet Ji was also the model template of the USC Viterbi engineer, one that in the words of Dean Yannis C. Yortsos, “combines analytical and mathematical skills with creativity and synthesis: A balanced blend of left and right-brain skills.”

An avid photographer, Ji had served as senior press-photographer of the QSC website, a student portal ranked among the top 100 student sites in China. He loved outdoor photography, perhaps owing to his home province in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, an area known for its epic grasslands and forests.

Xinran Ji Photographer

Xinran Ji was an avid photographer. (Photo/Yi Ding, Zhejiang University)

Said Fangyue Zhan, a fellow USC Viterbi graduate student in electrical engineering:  “Photography was not just an interest, but also a way to help friends. I remember it was 3 p.m. in the afternoon when I asked him if he was available to help me take a passport photo. Immediately, he said yes. After light preparation, [camera] angle selection, he took tons of photos for me to pick a satisfactory one, and then edited it. It turned out to be better than a professional one.”

His passing sparked fond remembrances from his friends abroad as well.

A close childhood friend remembered on Baidu.com: “Ji was a bike lover; I was terrible at biking. Ji was a model train collector; I was a military model enthusiast. Ji was a master when it comes to automotive performance; I just got my driver’s license. Ji was almost a professional when it comes to photography; I only know how to use commercial cameras. Ji, an existence that everyone looks up to, and I got to know him this way.”

Faculty mourns a lost talent

Among his professors at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, the loss of such a remarkable talent is beyond comprehension.

“He was one of the best students I had in class,” said Shahin Nazarian, Ji’s instructor for EE 577A: VSLI System Design. “They were given a very challenging project: designing a general-purpose microprocessor, involving both hardware and software design. His teammates told me he was really the main driver; he wanted to make it perfect. He did the whole divider design – the most challenging part. In the end, his team was the top four among 60 to 70 teams.”

According to Ehsan Pakbaznia, a fall 2013 lecturer who now works at Intel: “His overall performance in my class was incredible. Having worked in industry, I looked at him as a top designer.”

He had a knack for “precise, detail-oriented, perfectionism,” said Chen. “Every time he packed a schoolbag, he’d organize the cords neatly, put them into a small bag, and put the computer back into a computer case and then into the backpack. Out of his hand, lines in schematic drawings were clean and ordered, codes modified with comments, simple and clear.”

In the end, Ji often saw the world through his camera lens. And that world, lovely and imperfect, was one that he perhaps was uniquely qualified to make better.

As much as he loved machines, when he got a car in Los Angeles, his first thoughts were elsewhere.

“For him,” said Chen, “the reason to buy a car is helping others. Once he got the car, he sent friends a message, saying he’s willing to offer a ride anytime. From then on, he often drove roommates to Chinatown or picked up and dropped off friends at the airport.”

To honor his memory, Dean Yortsos announced the establishment of the Xinran Ji scholarship, to be awarded annually and in perpetuity to an electrical engineering graduate student at USC Viterbi who comes from China, Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan.

He was also awarded posthumously his MS degree, which Yortsos presented to his parents on Aug. 1.

A memorial service for Xinran Ji will take place at 3 p.m., Friday, Aug. 1 at Newman Hall.

 

永远怀念:纪欣然终年24岁

 

一颗明亮的星,希望记录这个世界,并令其变得更美好

“如果你正经历困境,请继续前进。”

纪欣然身边一位昔日在浙江大学时认识的好朋友孔家明(Jiaming Kong音译)说:“这是纪欣然在面对困难时所用的方法。”

纪欣然是一名研究生,毕业于电气工程专业。不幸地,他于上星期四(7月24日)永远地离开了我们,他在朋友眼中一直是一位和蔼可亲、乐于助人,并且几乎精通所有有关自行车、汽车、火车和飞机知识的好伙伴。他能够轻易说出中国铁路机车从最早的火车到近代子弹头列车的每一个型号。他总是面带微笑,以谦虚、积极的态度努力学习和工作。

孔家明(Jiaming Kong音译)说:“他总是努力不懈地把很多零部件拼拼凑凑,使他们鲜活起来。”

这正是孔家明(Jiaming Kong音译)对纪欣然的最后一个记忆,他见证这一位年轻的明日工程界之星对工作的热诚以及对零部件的坚持。

“我知道有很多工程师在工作中都会偷工减料,为日后留下安全隐患。然而,我从不会在纪欣然身上发现这些。”

荣誉本科生

在去年秋天进入南加州大学(USC)维特比工程学院电气工程专业之前,纪欣然的表现已经十分出众。在浙江大学时,他的本科生科研项目是设计及实施控制四轴飞行器的系统,而该系统为他在2012年12月赢得了杰出与创新研究一等奖学金。

在此之前,2006年在家乡呼和浩特,他曾在竞争十分激烈的高考中考取第一名。

从他对建筑物的热爱就可得知,他是一个有天赋的工程师:从一个简单而优雅的前馈控制器模型,到一辆有红外线导航的汽车,再到一个能用更人性化方式报时的国际时钟;以及一艘能自动停泊、侧身飞行及确认飞行位置的无人驾驶飞机。

纪欣然于维特比工程学院电气工程专业认识的另一位毕业于电气工程专业的好朋友陈丹蕾(Danlei Chen音译)透露,纪欣然全心全意相信西奥多.冯.卡门的一句名言“科学家发现世界;工程师创造世界”。

当所有同学们都在谈论出国时所见到的旅游景点,纪欣然则分享他在访问加州大学戴维斯分校

时所见到的自动化生产线和先进的FANUC机器人。孔家明(Jiaming Kong音译)补充说:“纪欣然作分享时,他的眼睛闪耀,彷佛他还在惊叹于这些东西。”

相机带来的创造力

纪欣然也是南加州大学 (USC)维特比工程师的模范。引用Yannis C. Yortsos院长的一句话:“结合数学、分析、创意和综合能力,展现左右脑能力的平衡融合。”

作为一位摄影爱好者,纪欣然在中国前100名的学生交流平台浙江大学求是潮网站担任资深摄影记者。他热爱户外摄影,可能因为与家乡在以草原和森林著名的内蒙古自治区有关。

一名南加州大学(USC)维特比工程学院电气工程研究生詹方悦(Fangyue Zhan音译)说:“摄影不单只是兴趣,也是帮助别人的一种方法。我记得当时是下午三点,我请他帮忙替我拍一张护照相片,他马上答应了。经过简单准备及调节(摄影)角度,他替我拍了很多张让我自己挑选。接着他为我编辑相片,效果比专业的都好。”

他的离世也引起他海外朋友对他的追忆。一名儿时亲密的朋友在百度留言:纪欣然是自行车爱好者,我是菜鸟级胖骑手;纪欣然是火车模型收藏家,我则是军事发烧友;纪欣然是汽车性能品鉴大师,我才拿车本没多久;纪欣然是大神级单反文艺小青年,我只知道怎样使用卡片机;纪欣然就是这样碾压级的存在,我就是这样和他相识相知。

学系哀悼一名天才的失去

一位曾在南加州大学(USC)维特比工程学院指导过纪欣然的教授对于失去这位拥有非凡天赋的学生表示无法理解。

纪欣然在EE 577A: VSLI 系统设计的导师Shahin Nazarian说:“他是我班上最好的学生之一。在课堂上我曾留给他们一个十分具有挑战性的作业,让他们去设计一个通用微处理器,当中涉及软件和硬件部分的设计。他的组员跟我说他负责主导整个设计,因为他想要达到完美。他自己负责设计难度最高的分频器,最终他们从60至70组中拿到前4位。”

据一位2013年秋季讲师、现职于英特尔的Ehsan Pakbaznia所述:“他在我课上的整体表现真的很好,作为一位在相关行业工作的人,我把他看成一位顶级设计师。”

陈丹蕾(Danlei Chen音译)表示:“他是一个注重精准及细节的完美主义者。每一次收拾书包时,他会把电线整理后放在一个小包,然后把计算机先放进计算机包后才安放在背包内。他画的简图线条清晰有序,修改代码的注解简单明了。”

纪欣然经常透过摄影镜头来观看整个世界。纪欣然同学喜爱汽车的程度跟他爱机器一样,当他在洛杉矶买了一辆车时,他第一个想法竟然不是为了自己。

陈丹蕾(Danlei Chen音译)说:“对他来说,买车的目的只是帮助别人。当他买了一辆车时,他便发短信告知朋友他愿意随时载他们一程。从那时候开始,他便经常接载室友到唐人街或接送朋友去机场。”

为纪念纪欣然同学,Yortsos院长宣布成立纪欣然奖学金,永久地每年授予一位来自中国、台湾、香港或澳门地区到维特比工程学院攻读电气工程专业的学生。同时,南加州大学(USC)也向纪欣然同学追授硕士学位,Yortsos院长在8月1日当天将相关证书呈送给纪欣然同学的父母。

紀欣然的追悼会于8月1日(周五)下午3时在Newman Hall举行。

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