China emerges in foreground of basic sciences, fostering global collaborations

(Xinhua) 09:50, June 25, 2024

BEIJING, June 24 (Xinhua) -- Xue Qikun, a top-tier physicist in China, has earned the moniker "7-11 Professor" from his colleagues due to his rigorous work schedule, starting his day in the lab at 7 a.m. and not leaving until 11 p.m.

His groundbreaking work in uncovering the quantum anomalous Hall effect, a pivotal discovery with the promise to revolutionize the development of next-generation electronic devices, has earned him the prestigious 2024 Oliver E. Buckley Prize, and China's top sci-tech award for year 2023.

Xue's team and a counterpart from Stanford University published their landmark finding in 2013, which Yang Zhenning, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, called "the first physics paper of Nobel Prize level published by a Chinese lab."

Xue is part of the over six million full-time equivalent researchers and developers in China, which constitutes the largest R&D workforce globally, according to a survey published last December.

China is firmly on the fast track to take a leading role in basic science researches, and it is embracing more global collaborations as well.

The country gained its scientific prowess almost in one generation. The Nature Index, an esteemed indicator for national sci-tech strength, showed that seven out of the ten leading institutions in 2024 are based in China. In 2015, the first year the rankings were published, the Chinese Academy of Sciences was the only Chinese institution in the top ten.

The progress indicates "how the capacity of Chinese research institutions to produce high-quality science is moving from strength to strength," wrote the journal Nature's editorial.

It comes as a result of the country's strategic endeavors to bolster a forward-looking, strategic, and systematic framework for the advancement of fundamental research. Particularly, large-scale scientific installations and grand scientific projects are the pivotal drivers that China employs to advance the frontiers of science.

On the western outskirts of Beijing, a marvel of modern science unfolds: A sophisticated accelerator complex, spanning an impressive 57,500 square meters, is operating at its full capacity to probe the depths of the cosmos at a microscopic level.

Utilizing this experimental facility, Beijing Electron Positron Collider (BEPC), an international consortium hailing from 16 countries in 80 institutions has identified a glueball-like particle, a remarkable finding that could deepen our understanding on the enigmatic frontier of fundamental physics and shed new light on the very fabric of the universe.

Located in the northern suburbs of Beijing, the High Energy Photon Source (HEPS) is poised to emit its first beam of light, a trillion times brighter than the sun, by the end of the year, becoming one of the brightest fourth-generation synchrotron radiation facilities worldwide.

The new facility, a successor to the BEPC and another one in Shanghai, is designed to unleash X-rays that can pierce through the molecular and atomic lattices to illuminate the most minute and complex structures within a diverse array of samples.

HEPS is set to emerge as "a pivotal platform for fostering international scientific collaboration and advancing fundamental scientific research," according its developer, the CAS.

In the southern Chinese city of Jiangmen, an underground neutrino observatory (JUNO) is being constructed with the aim of becoming operational this year. It is dedicated to unraveling one of the most profound mysteries in physics: identifying which type of neutrino, an elementary particle of the universe, possesses the greatest mass.

At JUNO's 23rd international collaboration meeting in February, attendees included an assembly of scientists from Germany, France, Italy, Russia and Belgium. The symposium was also followed by a three-day training workshop, tailored for users of distributed computing systems.

China's impressive array of major scientific infrastructure also includes FAST, the world's largest single-dish radio telescope; LHAASO, a cosmic ray observatory; LAMOST, a versatile sky survey telescope; EAST, an experiment known as the "Chinese artificial sun;" EarthLab, a simulator of our planet; and SECUF, a lab that specializes in creating experimental environments ranging from extreme coldness to intense magnetic fields and high pressures.

All these state-of-the-art facilities are open to international scientists, reflecting the nation's pledge to enhance the accessibility of its sci-tech initiatives to the global community.

China ranked the second-largest nation, following the United States, in taking part in international cooperation, according to the Nature Index.

On Saturday, China launched an astronomical satellite, the result of nearly 20 years of hard work between Chinese and French scientists, to capture gamma-ray bursts which flicker like fireworks in the farthest reaches of the universe.

"We are living in the golden era of scientific research," said Xue. "We are committed to achieving more groundbreaking 'zero to one' innovations."

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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