World’s biggest radio telescope and first-ever quantum satellite: China’s top 5 scientific plans for 2016

Gene editing tools also likely to stir ethical debate as nation’s scientists know no bounds

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 December, 2015, 4:42pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 3:23pm

Chinese scientists are expected to open portals to new and uncharted territory in 2016 with some of the world’s most powerful and costly research hardware at their disposal.

But what lies in store, exactly?

1. The largest and most sensitive radio telescope ever built, called FAST

This is due to be ready by September. With a single dish measuring about 30 soccer fields in area nestled in the remote mountains of Guizhou province, the five-hundred-metre aperture spherical telescope (FAST) will not only grant access to hitherto unseen parts of the cosmos, but also pick up extremely faint radio signals generated by intelligent life in outer space if it reaches out to make contact. China is also building one of the world’s first astronomical computers to power the giant, alien-seeking telescope.

2. World’s first quantum satellite marks new era

The launch of the world’s first quantum satellite in June will thrust mankind into the quantum age, and pave the way for new leaps in spook-proof communications. The satellite will establish an unbreakable communication link and offer global coverage. Relevant quantum teleportation experiments will spur the development of quantum computers that could be tens of billions times faster those in use today, which would have profound military, economic and political implications.

3. Gene-editing tools pave way for biological revolution

Chinese scientists made headlines in 2015 by creating “super puppies” through DNA manipulation. Moreover, gene editing used by Chinese researchers on human DNA ranked as Science magazine’s breakthrough of the year. At biology labs, powerful gene-editing tools such as CRISPR/Cas9 have been perfected on animals and are expected to be performed on humans in 2016. The first patient may appear in China, where researchers made the first attempt to edit the genome of a human embryo in search of cures for various diseases. But the work also courted controversy because the same technology could be used to create super-babies with unnaturally high levels of intelligence and physical strength

4. A second space lab, a huge neutron accelerator, and a hard X-ray space telescope

China will also launch its second space laboratory in 2016, the Tiangong-2. Earlier this year, it said that improved space docking technology would help with future missions. Also in 2016, China will test-fire its largest neutron accelerator, the China Spallation Neutron Source in Dongguan, Guangdong province. It will also launch the world’s most sensitive hard X-ray space telescope, called HXMT, as well as the nation’s first earthquake-warning satellite and other space probes to monitor greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to better tackle climate change.

5. Can we expect another ‘Great Leap Forward’ in natural science?

Is China a new a new superpower in physics? Chinese scientists saw a great leap forward in 2015. Pharmaceutical chemist Tu Youyou won the nation’s first Nobel Prize in natural science. The work on quantum teleportation by Professor Pan Jianwei’s team was regarded as the most important breakthrough of the year in physics, and the discovery of the Weyl fermion, a ghost particle that could be used to build a quantum computer, also made a huge splash in scientific research circles.