Prize recognises the value of scientists

The Future Science Prize was launched last year by mainland tech luminaries and not only recognises the contributions made by researchers but also supports China’s ambition to become a hi-tech powerhouse

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 1:08am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 1:08am

China’s ambition to become a hi-tech powerhouse is not only a government initiative, but one that is also funded and supported by some of the country’s best-known brands. One example is the Future Science Prize, a series launched last year by such tech luminaries as Pony Ma Huateng, co-founder of Hong Kong-listed Tencent; Robin Li Yanhong, chief executive officer of Baidu; and Yang Yuanqing, CEO of Lenovo. This year’s winners are three mainland researchers credited for breakthrough research on molecular structures, quantum satellites and algebraic geometry.

Companies high up in the value chain know research and development are crucial to commercial success in the 21st century, and this includes investing in basic science and rewarding top researchers. The prize shows recognition of scientists and their contributions. After all, the government cannot be expected to do everything. The winners are Shi Yigong, a biophysicist and dean of Tsinghua University’s life sciences school; Pan Jianwei, a quantum satellite researcher; and Xu Chenyang, a mathematician at Peking University. Interestingly, all three scientists studied and worked abroad before returning to mainland China.

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Mainland companies are wielding greater influence at home and abroad. As a result, they also must become socially responsible. Some are launching initiatives to alleviate poverty, fund education and promote research in key industries, and science and technology.

The Future Science Prize is worth US$1 million for each recipient and has been compared to Hong Kong’s Sir Run Run Shaw’s science awards and to the Nobel Prize. Perhaps it is closer in spirit and format to the Breakthrough Prize, funded by such Silicon Valley big names as Sergey Brin of Google and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

Such prizes are good use of the wealth of those hi-tech billionaires. The Future Science Prize is awarded regardless of nationality, but the research recognised must be mostly conducted in the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan. To raise its status and profile, sponsors may, in future, consider recognising foreign research with, say, significant impact on mainland technologies and industries.