HIMALAYAL - SHANGHAI - CHINA
From building the biggest experiments the world has ever seen to rolling out the latest medical advances on a massive scale and pushing the boundaries of exploration from the deepest ocean to outer space - China’s scientific ambitions are immense.
Here are five key science projects that illustrate its enormous strengths, as well as some of its weaknesses, and may help answer the question whether China can become a global leader in research.
I. Observe the Sky with Radio Telescope (FAST)
“We are far behind the rest of the world in the filed of astronomy. We used to have to go abroad, to use telescopes outside China. I think it’s time for us to build our own product right here in China--FAST,” said Peng Bo.
Situated in Guizhou Province, in the south-west of the country, Fast dwarfs all other radio telescopes. While some telescopes, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, use light to see the visible Universe, a radio telescope is more like a giant ear “listening” for radio waves emitted by objects in deepest space.
China’s new telescope is so large that the team hopes it will pick up radio waves from the far reaches of the cosmos. The telescope will be searching for ancient signals of hydrogen - one of the building blocks of the early Universe - to try to understand how the cosmos evolved.
It will also be hunting for new stars - in particular a rapidly rotating and extremely dense type of star called a pulsar - and it will even join the hunt for extraterrestrial life. It took 10 years of trawling through satellite images of the Chinese countryside to find a natural depression big enough to fit the telescope inside.
But the construction has taken place in record time - just over five years, and it’s nearly complete. The dish is made from 4,450 triangular panels that have been painstakingly lowered into place.
“While the structure in its entirety is too big to move, each of the panels can be adjusted. It means the telescope’s surface can be re-angled to allow scientists to study the parts of the sky they choose.
The project is currently on time, ready for completion in September.Only once it’s switched on will we see whether it can help China to reclaim its science crown.
II. Transplant Pig Cornea into Human Eyes
Once the pigs are killed, their corneas-the thin, transparent films that cover the front of the eye, will be removed and set aside to be saved for transplanting right here in.
After corneas are injured or infected, the patient is likely to lose his/her sight if not treated well. The only hope is a transplant. But the waiting list is extremely long.
The China Regenerative Medicine International (CRMI) lab, where the technology of pig cornea transplantation is being developed, is located in Shenzhen. Inside the labs, there are many bottles filled with pig corneas. The pig cornea is milk white and glutinous. Essentially the pig cells are stripped away, removing the animal DNA, proteins and lipids.
In addition, all the viruses and bacteria must be inactivated to prevent any diseases crossing from the animals into humans. Only the basic shape and collagen of the cornea remain. The cornea is repopulated with human cells after transplantation. The final product looks like a contact lenses.
The CRMI investment in this project totaled ¥1bn ($150m). However, the treatment is still at an early stage now.
“Humans know much more aboutThe treatment is very different from traditional ones. It is totally new, so it takes time to introduce to hospitals, patients and the society,” said CRMI spokesman. The company says the success rate for the operations is above 90% - about the same rate achieved with human transplants. But some believe that China is moving too quickly, without assessing the risks - or the ethics. China can become a global leader in research.
III. Hunt for Odd Particles
In this underground experiment, at Daya Bay in the south of China, scientists are researching into the oddest particles in the universe--neutrinos.
The neutrino generates from nuclear reaction, including the fusion in stars and nuclear power plants on Earth, and are one of the most abundant particles in the Universe. Trillions of neutrinos pass through us per second but we are not able to feel or see them. They don’t have the charge and the volume is very small. They’ve been described as being as close to nothing as something can get.
The weird thing is that the neutrino is also changing between three forms all the time. The scientists call this “flavour”. It can be put in this way: a banana is thrown up in the air; then watching the banana changing into an orange or an apple; at last back into the banana. According to the latest data, other particles do not behave in that way.
A series of huge particle detectors has been installed down here, and they can detect the very rare occasions that neutrinos bump into regular particles. The detectors are located in different positions. Scientists can chart how the particles change as they travel by seeing how these neutrino collisions differ from one detector to the next.
“We are able to detect thousands of neutrinos every day. It is the golden age. And we are so excited about our research! ” said Prof Cao Jun.
In particular, the team has been able to calculate more precisely than ever before how likely a neutrino is to flip from one form to another. The results also indicate that the neutrino may have the fourth mysterious “flavour” but this finding has yet to be confirmed.
The research work was so successful that its team won the Breakthrough Prize last year. Given that China has began to invest in this field in the 1980s, the achievement is really impressive.
IV. Explore the Secrets of Our Underwater World
A China’s scientific research ship, equipped with on-board labs and the latest scientific kit, is set out to explore the secrets of our underwater world. It is also going to help China plunge beneath the waves: it will serve as a launch-pad for submarines that can dive to the deepest parts of the ocean. I think it’s time for us to build our own product right here in China--FAST.
“Humans know much more about the surface of the Moon and Mars than the deep oceans. That is why I create conditions to help marine scientists to reach the deep seas, ” said Prof Cui Weicheng, who works in the Shanghai Ocean University. Prof Cui has also set up a private company called Rainbow Fish, which not only build above-mentioned scientific research ship, but is busy developing the submersible.
The Rainbow Fish’s ultimate goal is to take humans into the deepest part of the world’s ocean--Mariana Trench, in the Western Pacific Ocean, at a depth of nearly 11,000m (36,000ft).
Meanwhile, the Chinese government is also exploring the deep sea. The Chinese “Jiaolong” submersible designed by Prof Cui before he set up his new company has already made more than 100 dives, reaching a depth of 7062 meters (23,169 feet).
Deep-sea research is a difficult, high-risk activity - and much of the ocean remains unexplored. But Cui, who hopes to be the first Chinese person to reach the Mariana Trench, believes that China could be the nation to truly open up this final frontier.
V. Fly to Vast Universe
China has successfully launched an increasing number of orbiters and detectors, and sent astronauts into the space since ushering in the era of space on 24th April 1970. China is rapidly becoming space power in the aspect of space.
Mars is the next target for China. At a recent press conference, China announced that a Mars rover would be launched by 2020. The fast development in the field of space exploration corresponds with rapid advancements in other scientific fields.
China plans to launch the aerocraft to the moon and bring back rock sample. Meanwhile, the back side of the moon is expected to be explored by 2018.
The Chinese government is determined to continue to invest in the scientific technologies, and the science should be given high priority in the coming 10 years.
China places more emphasis on the influence of the science. The science will drive the innovation and fuel economic growth, and address more severe social and economic problems in the next 20 years.
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