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Scientists take giant leap forward in 2005
By Jia Hepeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-01-17 05:42

Chinese scientists and technicians have achieved remarkable progress in the past year, according to the 500 Chinese academicians who voted for the 10 top scientific achievements in China and the world last year.

The Shenzhou-VI manned spaceship, which returned to the Earth on October 17 after 115 hours' space travel, has been ranked as the most important achievement Chinese scientists made last year.

It came in the wake of the manned Shenzhou-V's 24-hour voyage to the Earth's orbit in 2003.

According to Bai Chunli, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(CAS), 111 independent innovations in four major aspects enabled the success of the space mission.

Bai unveiled the results of the Chinese scientists' selection of last year's top 10 scientific events in China yesterday.

Aside from the milestone, the completion of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and the creation of the first 64-digit CPU (central process unit) also ranked among 2005's scientific and engineering attainments.

These top three achievements were followed by Chinese scientists' first landing on the highest point of the Antarctic ice cover, the publication of the China Plant Encyclopedia, Chinese scientists' breakthrough in controlling a single molecule's self rotation, the latest accurate measure of the height of the world's highest peak Qomolangma, and digging 5,158 metres underground in the Chinese mainland.

The invention of a nanotechnology-based drug carrier, which is one billionth of a metre, and the high-resolution digitalized virtual man completed the 10 leading achievements.

Joint effort

"The selected achievements are the result of multi-disciplined researches and they have contributed to national science and development, as well as bringing utmost benefits to human life," Bai said.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway has been an example of how scientists helped promote the national development, according to Du Xiangwan, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

More than 1,000 scientists and engineers worked in the extremely harsh environment along the Qinghai-Tibetan line to solve a range of problems, such as the instalment of rails in frozen conditions, power maintenance of the train, as well as the protection of the environment and fragile ecological system.

Chinese scientists have also contributed to the international science development, as revealed by some of the 10 greatest achievements.

The dig underground to 5,158 metres was part of a joint international programme to explore the secrets of the Earth's crust.

Four years into the project, Chinese scientists worked the fastest and tunnelled the deepest among all the 20 sub-programmes.

The scientific discoveries made through the project have enabled scientists to better understand the composition of the Earth's crust, the layout of different minerals and the possible ways of seismic movement, Bai said.

Last year, Chinese scientists also launched the massive project to measure the height of Qomolangma. They looked into the glacier conditions and carried out a metrology study on the peak.

"This was not only a project to simply identify the height of a mountain in China, but also a major collaborative work to reveal the correlations between global climate change and Qomolangma's situation," said Bai.

After five months of collaborative work of scientists from different sectors, it was declared in October that the world's highest mountain is 8,844.43 metres high. The previous measurement made by Chinese in 1975 reported that the height of the peak was 8,848.13 metres.

Scientists said the world's highest peak has become shorter partly as a result of more accurate measuring, and partly because the global warming has thawed ice in the glacier of Qomolangma.

The project was significant in global warming research and the corresponding changes it brings, said Bai.

Independent innovation

While tackling major scientific and engineering projects with heavy investment from the government, scientists also made some remarkable progress in small scale and independent research projects.

"The big collective science and technology programmes involve hundreds of excellent scientists and huge investment. Compared with them, our work, based on our daily research, marks the more independent innovation of the Chinese science community," Chen Lidong, deputy director of the Shanghai Institute of Ceramics, CAS, told China Daily.

Scientists at Chen's institute, led by Shi Jianlin, have developed a new nanotechnology-based drug carrier, which can accurately deliver drugs to human organs.

Shi and his colleagues published their research results in the internationally leading journal Angew Chemistry in Germany in August last year.

The diameter of the drug delivery carrier is only 200 nano metres and it can pass most human blood vessels, according to Shi.

The researchers have designed an accurate time for the outer layer of the drug carrier to dissolve. Only when the drug carrier arrives at the correct organ or area, will medicine in the carrier be released.

Although Chinese scientists achieved great progress last year, along with the rest of the world, they lag behind in basic research, technical equipment and research originality, Du told China Daily.

He said it showed China faced a tough challenge in making the nation an innovation-based country in 15 years, as proposed by President Hu Jintao last year at the National Science and Technology Congress.

Chen said that the major innovations made by the Chinese scientists in single research projects are still too few.

The research capacities of the individual Chinese scientists and institutes remain insufficient and need further development, he added.

Chinese view of world's science attainments

Chinese academicians also selected the world's 10 major scientific achievements, to offer a Chinese perspective of the world's development in science and engineering:

Huygens space detector's landing on the sixth satellite of Saturn;

The striking of the US spacecraft Deep Impact on to the surface of Comet Temple 1;

The new material developed by the US scientists to replace transistor technology;

The first photography of a planet outside the Solar System

The international HapMap project to complete a catalogue of human genetic diversity;

The Australian scientists' work to "freeze" light waves for up to one second;

The US researchers' development of high-efficiency fuel battery;

The super nano-material storage equipment;

The production of quark plasma by US scientists;

The control of single molecular movement by French scientists.

(China Daily 01/17/2006 page5)

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