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Exhibits of scientific memorabilia put nation's achievements on display

By ZHANG ZHIHAO | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-09-16 09:51
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Visitors experience carbon capture technology at the China Science and Technology Museum in Beijing on Thursday, China's National Science Popularization Day. [Photo by ZOU HONG/CHINA DAILY]

China's National Science Popularization Day kicked off at the China Science and Technology Museum in Beijing on Thursday, featuring memorabilia from notable Chinese scientists and the country's latest scientific and engineering achievements.

From a replica of China's fourth-generation nuclear reactor to digital technologies used to vitalize rural China, the exhibitions at the Beijing venue are hoped to illustrate how science and technology helped promote socioeconomic development over the last decade, and to kindle public interest and love for science and innovation.

The event is hosted by the China Association for Science and Technology and a dozen other government agencies and research institutions. Since its launch in 2004, the science popularization extravaganza has held over 322,000 major science communication events.

"To ensure China has a large pool of quality scientific talent in the future, we must plant the seeds of love for science and exploration in young minds," said Shen Changquan, a researcher from the Institute of High Energy Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Shen may be in his 80s, but he still has a passion for conveying the beauty of astrophysics to the nation's youth by letting them get hands on with astronomical instruments and tackling real scientific questions.

Shen is a consultant of the Campus Cosmic-ray Observation Collaboration Alliance, an organization founded in 2020 consisting of 21 schools, labs and research teams. The alliance's goal is to popularize scientific knowledge by installing observation instruments on top of school buildings and letting students capture and study cosmic rays from outer space.

Zheng Wenli, the secretary-general of the alliance, said, "Teaching scientific knowledge is important, but giving students firsthand experience of frontier scientific research and methodology is much more engaging and rewarding.

"Scientific knowledge and facts may get constantly renewed, but the ability to think scientifically, use scientific methods to solve problems, and upholding the scientific spirit are more important for a child's development," she said.

The organization has attracted attention from home and abroad, being invited to participate in the International Particle Physics Outreach Group and the Global Cosmic Group Meeting.

The data that the organization collected are also shared on an online platform, which students and researchers can freely access.

"I believe the best science communication effort is the one that combines the popularization of science and supporting scientific discoveries and innovations. This way both the public and scientists can contribute and learn something new," Zheng said.

Since 2012, China has gradually stepped up its efforts to improve public scientific literacy. By the end of 2020, 10.5 percent of China's population were scientifically literate, an increase of 4.36 percentage points compared to 2015, according to the China Association for Science and Technology.

China's budget for science popularization grew from 12.2 billion yuan ($1.78 billion) in 2012 to 17.1 billion yuan in 2020. The total number of science communicators, including those full-time, part-time and volunteers, grew from 4.49 million in 2012 to 5.75 million in 2020.

Over 24 percent of residents in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen are scientifically literate, making them the cities with the highest scientific literacy rate in China.

For rural China, however, the scientific literacy rate still has much room to improve as just 6.45 percent of China's rural population were scientifically literate in 2020, an increase of 4 percentage points compared to 2015.

Telecommunication giant China Unicom showcased a digital service platform at the exhibition that allows local officials and farmers to monitor and run the daily operations of a town in Ba'er Lake, Nanbu county in Sichuan province.

The platform is based on digital twin technology, a virtual representation of a physical system that is constantly updated with real-time data and uses cloud computing and other technologies to aid decision-making.

Wang Jingyu, director of the science and technology administration office of China Unicom's department of science, technology and innovation, said the platform can provide updated information in the area and allow users to efficiently carry out their managerial tasks, from controlling tourist traffic to watering local crops.

Despite the system's intuitive design, it is still important to train local officials and farmers how to make the best use of the platform, a task that China Unicom excels in given the wide coverage of local branches, she said.

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