PSU-PKU International Undergraduate Summer School
on Analytical and Numerical Solutions of Differential Equations
June 23 -- July 18, Beijing, China.

Last update Sep 16, 2008.  
The first joint activity between the college of sciences of the two universities.

The idea came about in 2007, when the Eberly College of Science at Penn State and four different colleges and schools (mathematics, physics, chemistry and life science) at Peking University (PKU) of China signed a substantial collaborative agreement to establish an international exchange program for students, postdoctoral associates, and faculty from both institutions. As a first step towards building such an international program, the summer program has been planned to take place in 2008 in Peking University.

The newly developed course.

The primary component of this program is a new course Math 497A. The motivation was that differential equations have been the subject of interest to many students cross the campus. However, traditional approaches to differential equations separate theory, as taught for instance in the Penn State courses Math 251 and Math 411, computations, as taught in Math 451, Math 455, and Math 456, and applications, which appear in engineering, physics, or materials science courses. The novel aspect of the PSU-PKU course is that it will present the theory, numerical approximations, and practical applications altogether in a consistent manner. Theory plays an essential role in the construction of numerical methods; numerical computations allow one to visualize and appreciate the theoretical results, even if a closed form of analytic solution cannot be obtained; physics allows real world applications of the theory and also provides key notions, such as energy, which are fundamental to theoretical understanding. The objective is to help the students understand the relevance of the subject and find their interest in science.

Student recruitment.

Survey forms were first distributed among the prospective students to see how many students might be interested in such a program. We also had a lunch meeting with these students to answer their questions, understand their concern and their expectations. After receiving the feedback from the students, the summer program was announced by email (we got the help from our department Head Prof. Roe and Associate Head Prof. Sellers), posters, which were distributed in many buildings across the campus, and a website which accepts online applications. Based on their academic record, we have selected 12 students, including majors from mathematics, astrophysics, computer science to chemical engineering.

The embedded program.

The whole course has been offered through the embedded program of the international program at PSU. It consists of two parts, the first of which was offer in the spring with regular weekly meetings. The goal is to present some preliminary materials and pre-departure orientations. After the summer program ended, many of the students have stressed the importance of these meetings in preparing them for the summer program. The embedded program also requires application forms be sent to the department and the college to be approved by the department Head and the Dean. In addition, student roster, group travel insurance, emergency contact information, and travel itinerary must be submitted before the departure date.

The trip to China.

The air tickets were purchased from a travel agent (Oriental Travel and Tour). Since most students live close to Philadelphia, they decided to fly from Philadelphia to Chicago, and then take the nonstop flight (UA851) to Beijing. The ticket price is $1650, and the total flying time is about 15 hours. The travel agent also helped us to apply for visitor visa to China, which otherwise have to be obtained in New York.

Arriving at Beijing.

The students were picked up at the airport by Dr. Shuo Zhang from Peking University, who also brought them to their hotel rooms and gave them a quick orientation. Campus maps were also provided to the students. [Students arriving at the Beijing international airport.]

Stay in Beida (Peking University)

The students stayed at the Shaoyuan hotel, which is located on campus on the west side, and it offers internet access. Ms. Liang Lan (the secretary for the summer program in PKU) bought dinning plan cards for the students. They cost 500RMB each, paid by PKU. Some PSU students bought cellphones and local phone cards for communication.

The participants of the summer program.

Besides the 12 students from Penn State, we have 24 students from Peking University and 12 students from other universities in Beijing. The students have been divided into several teams in order to facilitate the interactions. Each group works together on projects and the reports. The lectures were given by professors from both Penn State and Peking University:

  • Prof. Liu (PSU): 5 lectures,
  • Prof. Li (PSU): 5 lectures,
  • Dr. Zhang (PSU): 3 lectures,
  • Prof. Li (PKU): 2 lectures.
We also got help from the two TAs: Kun Li and Shuo Zhang. Special lecture were also given to present the current research projects of the professors.

Research projects.

The students from Penn State were divided into three teams, each led by faculty members.The three projects are:

  • Project I: Singular and Nearly Singular SPD Systems Arising from Discretization for DEs
  • Project II: Solving Steady State Different Equations by Multilevel Marching with Related Time-Dependent Problems
  • Project III: Upscaling molecular models to PDEs

Culture activities.

Outside the classroom, the students went to:

  • the Great Wall
  • the Summer Palace
  • the Beihai Park
  • the Forbidden City
We were fortunate to have Prof. Liu who offered a committed and knowledgeable guide for the students. We had three dinner parties: two in Yi Yuan restaurant, the other in Jiu Hua Shan for the famous Peking ducks. And we had two lunch parties with the culture activities: one in Dong Lai Shun and the other in Bai Kui Lao Hao, both restaurants are over 100 years old. The students also went out with the local students to karaoke.

The final exam and presentation.

The final grade is based on three parts: homework (20%), project (40%), and final (40%). The project was given by Prof. Zhiping Li. The students were divided into 15 groups (three students each group). Group members worked together and gave one oral presentation by one or more members. The intention is to promote more interaction between the PSU and the local students.

After the summer program.

Most students came back to U.S. right after the program. Four students stayed in China for a few more days. Peking University kindly offered accommodations for these students. On Aug. 8, 2008, seven students came back to State College, and we had a gathering at the Kimchi restaurant. We then went to Prof. Liu's house for a party, and then Prof. Li's house to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympics. On Aug 22, 2008, eight of the students and the faculty members involved in the program met with the department Head, Prof. Roe, and the Dean of the College of Science. The students discussed their experience they had from the program, and their suggestions on future activities.

Personnel involved in the program:

  • PSU: Professors Jinchao Xu, Xiantao Li and Chun Liu, Dr. Chensong Zhang, James Brannick, Ms. Hope Shaffer.
  • PKU: Professors Zhiping Li, Jinbiao Wu, Dr. Shuo Zhang, Mr. Kun Li and Ms. Lan Liang, together with support from Beijing International Center for Mathematical Researches.

Financial support.

The support from Penn State includes:

  • Science Career Grant ($1500 for each student) from the College of Science: covers most of the international airfare to Beijing.
  • Student Group Travel Grant ($4000) from the International Program: this has helped with the travel expenses.
  • PA Commonwealth Fellowship: four of the students were awarded with $500 each.
  • Sigma-Xi Research Grant: applied, but was not granted.
  • Four of the students also received support ($900 each) from the Honor College.
  • Department fund: to cover the airfare and per diem of Dr. Zhang.
Besides the financial support, we also received tremendous help from Susan Knell and Tony Ogden, the directors of the international program at the college of science. The support from PKU includes:
  • Local lodging (include internet access) and meals
  • the taxi expense from the airport
  • textbooks
  • cost of some of the culture events and diner parties
  • airfare, local expense of Professors Xiantao Li and Chun Liu.
Here is an estimate of the budget (per student)
  • Air tickets (round trip) $1450
  • Student visa $130
  • Housing $1300 (paid by Peking University)
  • Meals $200
  • Books and Supplies $50
  • Additional personal expense.

Feedbacks from the students.

We have created a website for the students to share with us their experience from this program: Many of the students have described the program as an eyeopening experience. They made friends with the local students, and they are still keeping in touch with each other.

For more information about this program, try the following links.
  • Program announcement:
  • Course information:
  • Student feedback:
  • Photo taken by the students: