On a tech trek

China Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

Coun­try achieves suc­cess in mul­ti­ple sci­en­tific fields

The coun­try is work­ing to re­gain its lost sta­tus as a sci­en­tific pow­er­house. Yu Fei, Han Song and Hu Zhe re­port for Xin­hua.

Un­der a blue spot­light a mouse’s brain lies im­mersed in liq­uid. A di­a­mond blade peels off a layer of brain tis­sue 1 mi­cron thick, less than the width of a hu­man hair.

The layer is scanned and im­aged. About 10,000 lay­ers will be peeled off to get a map of the en­tire brain.

When dis­played on a com­puter the im­ages of the or­gan’s col­or­ful neu­ral and vas­cu­lar sys­tems look like in­tri­cate high­way net­works. This is the world’s clear­est map of a mam­malian brain.

Dozens of such in­stru­ments are work­ing round the clock in the spot­less labs of the Suzhou In­sti­tute for Brains­mat­ics at Huazhong Univer­sity of Science and Tech­nol­ogy, or HUST, in Suzhou In­dus­trial Park in the east­ern prov­ince of Jiangsu. Nearby are the an­cient Suzhou Gar­dens, fa­mous for their in­ven­tive and ex­quis­ite de­sign and ori­en­tal aes­thet­ics.

The jour­nal Na­ture re­cently re­ported on the work of the brain-imag­ing in­sti­tute in Suzhou, arous­ing great in­ter­est in aca­demic cir­cles.

“We have achieved suc­cess with mice and are mak­ing ef­forts to map the brains of pri­mates, which are more ad­vanced and com­pli­cated,” Li An’an, deputy-di­rec­tor of the in­sti­tute, said.

“Our ul­ti­mate goal is to lead the world to get a pre­cise map of the hu­man brain, which will help us un­cover its se­crets.”

Re­gain­ing pride

This is just one of China’s achieve­ments at the fron­tier of science and tech­nol­ogy. In his se­ries of books Science and Civ­i­liza­tion in China, Joseph Need­ham, a Bri­tish science his­to­rian, de­scribed China as a great coun­try of in­ven­tion and cre­ation that fell be­hind in mod­ern times.

In­deed, in the 20th cen­tury, few Chi­nese par­tic­i­pated in the world’s ma­jor sci­en­tific and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances.

But that sit­u­a­tion is chang­ing rapidly, and now Chi­nese are work­ing in al­most ev­ery field of science and tech­nol­ogy, from in­ter­net de­vel­op­ment to brain stud­ies, from prob­ing space to ex­plor­ing the deep ocean, from ob­serv­ing the uni­verse to re­search­ing mi­cro par­ti­cles,

In a cave in Wuhan, cap­i­tal of Cen­tral China’s Hubei Prov­ince, sci­en­tists from HUST have mea­sured the grav­i­ta­tional con­stant for more than 30 years, and re­cently ob­tained the most ac­cu­rate re­sult ever.

Isaac New­ton dis­cov­ered the prin­ci­ples of grav­ity more than 300 years ago, but the mea­sure­ment of the grav­i­ta­tional con­stant had al­ways been in­ac­cu­rate.

“The pre­cise mea­sure­ment of the grav­i­ta­tional con­stant is im­por­tant for deeper un­der­stand­ing of grav­ity, and the mea­sur­ing tech­nol­ogy could be ap­plied in nav­i­ga­tion and the search for min­eral de­posits. The study might also help us fig­ure out whether the uni­verse has ad­di­tional di­men­sions as sur­mised by Stephen Hawk­ing, which might en­able hu­mans to tra­verse space and time,” Tu Liangcheng, di­rec­tor of HUST’s grav­i­ta­tion cen­ter, said.

In re­cent years, China has in­ten­si­fied ef­forts to ex­plore the uni­verse and re­claim pride in the na­tion’s out­stand­ing achieve­ments in as­tron­omy in an­cient times.

As early as 4,000 years ago, China had full-time as­tro­nom­i­cal of­fi­cials and the world’s ear­li­est record of Hal­ley’s comet. The length of a year was mea­sured and de­ter­mined by Chi­nese astronomers more than 700 years ago, in line with to­day’s Gre­go­rian cal­en­dar.

China re­cently built the world’s largest sin­gle-dish ra­dio tele­scope — the Five-hun­dred-me­ter Aper­ture Spher­i­cal Ra­dio Tele­scope — in Guizhou prov­ince, which has dis­cov­ered dozens of new pul­sars.

Sci­en­tists at China’s Pur­ple Moun­tain Ob­ser­va­tory and other in­sti­tu­tions are push­ing for­ward the con­struc­tion of an ob­ser­va­tory on the in­land ice­cap in Antarc­tica.

“That will def­i­nitely be a world leader,” said Shi Sheng­cai, di­rec­tor of antarc­tic and ra­dio as­tron­omy at the ob­ser­va­tory.

Com­pleted in 1934, Pur­ple Moun­tain was the first mod­ern ob­ser­va­tory built by China, and the orig­i­nal in­ten­tion was to avoid the monopoly of as­tro­nom­i­cal re­search by Western colo­nial­ists in the coun­try.

In the ob­ser­va­tory’s new of­fice park in the suburbs of Nan­jing, cap­i­tal of Jiangsu prov­ince, sci­en­tists are work­ing on a next-gen­er­a­tion space de­tec­tor to search for dark mat­ter.

The Chi­nese philoso­pher Zhuang Zhou, who lived more than 2,000 years ago, be­lieved ma­te­rial struc­tures could be di­vided in­fin­itely. To­day, Chi­nese sci­en­tists con­tinue to ex­plore the mi­cro­cos­mic world, and have made many break­throughs in re­cent years in fields such as quan­tum com­mu­ni­ca­tion, neu­tri­nos and iron-based su­per­con­duc­tiv­ity.

Break­ing mo­nop­o­lies

Suzhou Na­nomi­cro Tech­nol­ogy, a pri­vate nan­otech­nol­ogy com­pany, has de­vel­oped a nano­ma­te­rial that looks like white pow­der, but is ac­tu­ally tiny spheres thin­ner than a hu­man hair with strong ab­sorba­bil­ity that can be used in phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and liq­uid crys­tal dis­plays.

“We have bro­ken the tech­ni­cal monopoly of the United States and Ja­pan, and saved hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in im­port costs for China,” Jiang Bi­wang, chair­man of Na­nomi­cro, said.

Many young Chi­nese are now in­volved in in­no­va­tion. Suzhou Novosense Mi­cro­elec­tron­ics Co was es­tab­lished five years ago to de­velop core semi­con­duc­tors for sen­sors and iso­la­tors. All the founders of the com­pany were born after 1980.

Wang Shengyang, the CEO, said re­search and de­vel­op­ment per­son­nel ac­count for more than half the em­ploy­ees.

Statis­tics show that Chi­nese in­vest­ment in re­search and de­vel­op­ment in 2016 ex­ceeded that of the en­tire Euro­pean Union and was sec­ond only to the US, ac­count­ing for 21 per­cent of the global to­tal.

More­over, China has the world’s largest num­ber of R&D per­son­nel, and ranks sec­ond in the world in the num­ber of sci­en­tific pa­pers pub­lished in in­ter­na­tional jour­nals. Sci­en­tific and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances con­trib­ute 55.3 per­cent of China’s eco­nomic growth.

HUAN WEI / FOR CHINA DAILY

The Sun­way Tai­huLight, a su­per­com­puter de­vel­oped in China, at work in Wuxi, Jiangsu prov­ince.

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