Project 211

China can lead science world

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 May, 2009, 12:00am


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Nobel laureate Yang Chenning and renowned physicist Paul Chu Ching-wu gave the mainland's scientific research community a shot in the arm by predicting that the next Chinese Nobel-winning scientist would appear within the next 20 years.

At a forum organised by Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Asia-Pacific Taiwan Federation of Industry and Commerce, the luminaries shared their thoughts on science, education and life.

More than 300 people, including Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing, attended the forum, called 'Dialogue between Science and Civilisation', at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.

Both scientists were upbeat about the future of mainland scientific research. Professor Yang, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1957, commended researchers for transforming the mainland from a technological backwater into a breeding ground for aspiring scientific talent.

'Instead of growing at a slow clip, science is developing very fast in China,' he said. 'It has been developed in China for only a short time. It's remarkable that it could reach the present level within such a short period.

'When I was studying at the National Southwestern Associated University, there were not many students in the physics department. However, I heard that a meeting of Peking University's physics department could attract 2,000 people in the 50s.

'If China hadn't put much effort into nurturing physics talent, how could it have manufactured the atomic bomb in 1964?

'Many talented people went overseas when the mainland opened up to the outside world. There are many Chinese researchers in American universities now.'

Professor Yang spelled out a list of Chinese virtues that could boost China's potential to become a leader in scientific research.

'Chinese characteristics such as diligence, frugality and patience are one of the reasons for China's runaway GDP growth today. The drop-out rate at United States schools has been growing over the years. One-third of students in the US don't graduate. Principals in China never have to face such a problem,' he said.

Professor Chu, outgoing president of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, echoed Professor Yang's view about the discrepancy between Chinese and US students. 'An inverted relationship exists between the level of a place's prosperity and students' diligence levels,' he said.

Comparing the laziness of students from the US, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland, Professor Chu said: 'US students are the laziest. Hong Kong's students come in second place, Taiwan is third and students from the mainland are the most hard-working.'

Professor Chu said the mainland was in the vanguard in the development of life science, especially research in genetics. Many foreigners 'salivated' over Chinese research achievements. 'Indigenous Chinese scientists will be awarded the Nobel prize in 20 years' time,' he predicted.

Despite the problems created by scientific advances, Professor Chu said science still held the key to the prosperity of human civilisation.

'Many people blame science for creating all kinds of ills, such as population explosion and environmental degradation. Academic research is neutral. Whether it bodes well or ill depends on how humans use it.'