China’s big role, “brain gains” lead to scientific breakthroughs

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Our Correspondent

Beijing

China, a relative late-comer in modern science, has in recent made several significant scientific breakthroughs and discoveries. From putting into use the world’s largest radio telescope, successfully collecting samples of combustible ice in the South China Sea to the most recent reporting of a successful transmission of “entangled” photon pairs from space to ground stations separated by 1,200 km, achievements made by Chinese scientists have been drawing worldwide attention.
Scientific analysts said the Chinese government’s heavy investment in research and scientific development, and the return flows of overseas Chinese talents are the main reasons behind these scientific achievements of China.
“After over 30 years of accumulation and development, quantitative changes have led to qualitative changes. Now, it’s breakthrough time,” said Huo Guoqing, a professor with School of Management, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, while talking about China’s scientific and technological progress in recent years.
“The country’s science and technology strategy plays a vital role in this regard,” Huo said, adding that both the state plans for medium and long-term development of science and technology, and the national Five-Year scientific and technological innovation plan have led to breakthroughs in this field.
Echoing Huo’s view, Arnout Jacobs, the head of Springer Nature for Greater China, told Xinhua that China has always had clearly defined goals and long-term plans while putting funds, resources and talents into scientific research projects.
It is one of the country’s success factors in terms of its recent development in science and technology, Jacobs said.
In contrast, in many other countries, research funds are the first to be slashed when their economic growth faces difficulties. On April 22, thousands of scientists have taken part in demonstration around the world to defend the role of science in policy and society and protest against cuts to funding for scientific research. While many countries see a weak growth in their scientific research funds, China’s investment and input in its scientific development has been increasing by a large margin thanks to its rapid economic growth, Jacobs said, noting that China’s investment in science and technology has enjoyed a double-digit growth each year over the past two decades.
Talents are a key factor in scientific research and development, and the hard work and dedication of a large number of Chinese scientists is a main factor behind the country’s scientific achievements.
“A group of strategic scientists have emerged, and their perspective and vision has led to the breakthroughs,” Huo said.
Over the recent years, overseas Chinese students have been returning to China at a faster rate than ever, and the gap between the number of people who returned from overseas and the number of people going broad is shrinking year-on-year. For example, Pan Jianwei, the project leader and chief scientist for China’s quantum-science satellite, has made great contribution to China’s development in the area of quantum communication after returning to China.
The Austria-educated physicist is just one of the many foreign-educated scientists who have made remarkable achievements in various fields after returning to China from abroad.
Professor Xue Qikun from Tsinghua University, who used to study in Japan, reported the first experimental observation of the quantum anomalous Hall effect, making a breakthrough in the field of condensed matter physics, and also representing a very important new phenomenon discovered first by Chinese physicists.
Wang Yifang, director of the Institute of High Energy Physics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, discovered in 2012 a new type of neutrino oscillation.
Wang, who used to study in Europe and work in the United States, and his team won the 2016 Breakthrough Prize Award in fundamental physics for their research on neutrino oscillation. This is the first time Chinese scientists have won the prize, which was awarded at the Ames Research Center of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Shi Yigong, an accomplished professor of molecular biology at Princeton University, gave up his U.S. citizenship after returning to China and is now a vice president of Tsinghua University.
“It took me only one night to make the decision to come back to China,” Shi has said. Like Shi, many foreign-educated Chinese scientists and researchers chose to return home because of their unwavering allegiance to the country and patriotic values.