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China's top 10 S&T developments in 2007
2006-01-23 00:00

Under the auspices of the Academic Divisions of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), and Science Times, a selection of China's 10 most significant developments in science and technology in 2007 was recently made in Beijing. Some 540 Members of CAS and CAE took part in the voting. Its results were released on Jan. 20.

1.Successful launch of Chang'e-1 and collection of clear images of lunar surface

China launched its first lunar probe Chang'e-1 on Oct. 24, 2007, the first step into its ambitious three-stage moon mission, marking a new milestone in the country's space exploration history. The Chang'e-1 blasted off on a Long March 3A carrier rocket at 6:05 p.m. from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center of southwestern Sichuan Province.

After the completion of its third braking on Nov. 7, the probe was put on a 127-minute round polar circular orbit, carrying out all the planned scientific exploration tasks on the orbit from a stable altitude of about 200 kilometers above the moon's surface. On Nov. 26, China published the first picture of the moon captured by Chang'e-1. The image showed a rough moon surface with scattered round craters both big and small. The area covered by the picture, about 460 kilometers in length and 280 km in width, was located within a 54 to 70 degrees south latitude and 57 to 83 degrees east longitude of the moon.

2. Development of a super-deep drilling rig

A drilling rig for 12,000-meter wells was successfully manufactured by the Baoji Oilfield Machinery Company Limited, announced China National Petroleum Corporation on Nov. 16, 2007.

Experts from China's Ministry of Science and Technology evaluated that the drilling rig is capable of operating normally in environments ranging from equatorial regions at 55ºC to Polar areas at minus 40ºC. The rig can automatically speed up, slow down, brake or give an alarm according to operating conditions, dramatically enhancing the intellectualized level and safety coefficient of drilling operations.

The core parts of the rig are essentially made in China, with two invention patents being applied for and seven practical new patents being approved. Baoji Oilfield Machinery Company Limited owns the complete intellectual property rights of this 12,000-meter drilling rig.

3. Nanoparticles carry chemotherapy drug deeper into solid tumors

CAS researchers have developed a new drug delivery method using nano-sized molecules to carry the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin to tumors, improving the effectiveness of the drug in mice and increasing their survival time. Their work has been reported online June 26, 2007 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

In the past, similar drug carriers have improved targeted delivery of the drugs and reduced toxicity, but they sometimes decreased the drugs' ability to kill the tumor cells. Using a new drug carrier, a research team led by Liang Wei and Hang Haiying from the CAS Institute and Biophysics and their collaborators compared tumor growth and survival in mice that were given doxorubicin in the nanocarriers or on its own. Doxorubicin delivered by nanocarriers was more effective in preventing tumor growth than free doxorubicin, and the mice receiving this treatment method lived longer and had fewer toxic side effects.

4. CAS researchers create largest ever photonic "Schrödinger cat"

CAS researchers were successful in their experimental entanglement of six photons in graph states: a "Schrödinger cat" state, and a "cluster" state. By creating two important examples of such states, according to experts, the studies have paved the way for the research into the fundamental issues in quantum computing, quantum error correction and quantum mechanics.

In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger proposed a famous thought experiment in which a cat was somehow both alive and dead at the same time. The experiment involves a sealed box (allowing no interference from the outside), which contains a cat, and a closed canister of poisonous gas. Attached to the gas canister is a mechanism containing radioactive nucleus. When the nucleus decays, it emits a particle that triggers a mechanism which opens the canister, thereby killing the cat. Since the nucleus, as long as it remains unobserved, is in a superposition of the "decayed" and "not decayed" states, then it logically follows that the cat must also be in a superposition of "alive" and "dead" states -- until the moment when the box is opened.

Although the principle of superposition doesn't extend to such large objects and the Schrodinger cat state is nowhere to find in the macroscopic world, physicists are able to make hypothetical cats from small groups of photons or atoms.

As reported in a recent issue of Nature Physics, Pan Jianwei and his colleagues from the Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at Microscale at the CAS affiliated University of Science and Technology of China and institutions from Germany and Australia have created two types of six-photon graph state: a six-photon Greenberger┬ĘCHorne┬ĘCZeilinger state, which is the largest photonic Schrödinger cat so far, and a six-photon cluster state, which is a state-of-the-art 'one-way quantum computer. Both of these break records for the number of photons entangled in such a manner: the cat state was previously five photons, and the cluster state was previously four.

However, the six-photon cluster state is likely to be of more importance, says Lu Zhaoyang, lead author of Nature Physics article and a physicist from USTC. Standard quantum computation is based on sequences of unitary quantum logic gates, where a major difficulty lies in the implementation of dynamical operation, Lu was reported as saying. "Cluster-state quantum computation does not need any dynamical operation."

Entanglement, an exotic phenomenon in quantum physics, is a state when particles are mixed that the measurement of one affects the state of another. In addition to the fundamentals for the quantum mechanics, it is a core technology for quantum information processing. Scientists have discovered that the entanglement of multi-photon entanglement is necessary for the development of a quantum computer with super computability. In a large extent, the level of such manipulation represents the capacity of a country for quantum computing.

5. New findings predate earliest yet animal records

CAS paleontologists made their discovery of fossil embryos in rocks about 632 million years ago in Doushantuo Formation in southwest China. Reported in the April 5, 2007 on the Nature issue, the findings, which are believed as remains of the earliest known diapause egg, push back the earliest records of animals by about 50 million years. They may also render new evidence to the current contention over the interpretations of previous discoveries in the Formation.

Ever since 1998 when large populations of globular fossils were brought to light by Dr. Shuhai Xiao of Virginia Polytech and his Chinese co-workers from Doushantuo phosphorites dating back to 580 million years ago, more discoveries have been made in Ediacaran (635-542 million years ago) Duoshantuo Formation, such as those by Chen Junyuan from the CAS Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology (NIGP) in 2004 and 2006.

The findings are interpreted as embryos of early animals, and thus new evidence for pre-Cambrian development of complex animals. However, the theory is now under fire. After a comparison with giant sulphur-oxidizing bacteria similar to modern Thiomargarita, some researchers suggest that the microfossils may actually be that of bacteria rather than animals.

Headed by Yin Leiming from NIGP, a research team has made new observations which could confirm and extend interpretations that the previously unearthed microfossils are indeed embryonic. They found embryo-like Doushantuo fossils inside large, highly ornamented organic vesicles from the Xiaofenghe section of the Doushantuo Formation. Experts say that these organisms are most probably early cleavage stage embryos preserved within diapause egg cysts. The researchers say that large acanthomorphic microfossils of the type observed to contain fossil embryos first appeared in rocks just above a 632 million year old ash bed, suggesting that at least stem-group animals inhabited shallow seas in the immediate aftermath of global Neoproterozoic glaciation.

6. China's first feeder jets for air service

China's first batch of homegrown feeder jet airliners, ARJ21, completed their static test and rolled off production lines on Dec. 21, 2007. Their final assembly was finished on Sept. 28, 2007 at the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory.

ARJ21 is a medium- or short-range turbofan regional jet with 70-90 seats and 13 meters in wing length. Being similar to those with a single aisle with 115 seats, it is a kind of the most advanced regional civil aircrafts. The new aircraft features two characteristics: on one hand, its design is to specially meet China's actual conditions for air flights and therefore its performance is completely compatible with the working environment provided by the majority of Chinese airports. In particular, its performance parameters are able to meet the diverse and demanding conditions in China, including the hot- and high-altitude conditions in southwestern China. On the other hand, in comparison with its foreign counterparts, it provides a more comfortable ambience for passengers.

A new-generation brainchild jointly contrived by eight domestic aircraft developers, it is manufactured in line with a brand-new scheme of digital design and in complete possession of our own independent intellectual assets. The development course itself eyewitnesses China's first success in covering all needed procedures for manufacturing a feeder liner, including the making of all elements and parts, the connection of its components and structural assemblage. Its inauguration marks that fact that Chinese airplane developers have successfully made their way into the rank of civil aircraft manufacturers worldwide.

7.Giant bird-like dinosaur revealed from Inner Mongolia

Teaming up with local scholars, CAS paleontologists discovered a giant bird-like dinosaur from Erlian, one of the world-famous graveyards of "terrible lizards" in Inner Mongolia. The new findings, named Gigantoraptor erlianensis, is a new but bird-like dinosaur and the fourth new dinosaur taxon recovered from the basin in recent years. Researchers say that its discovery will greatly enrich our knowledge on the complexity in the evolutionary process of the bird's origin.

As reported at the June 14 issue of Nature, the dinosaur's fossil remains were brought to light by Xu Xing with the CAS Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing and his co-workers in Inner Mongolia from an 80 million-year-old late Cretaceous formation in Erlian Basin, from which, about 80 years ago, a U.S. expedition had discovered a bonanza of vertebrate fossils, including the earliest identified dinosaur eggs.

Scientists speculate that the Gigantoraptor was about eight meters long, more than five meters tall and weighed not less than 1.4 tons. Although on a par with the formidable tyrannosaur in size, it was surprisingly found to be more closely related to the oviraptorosaur (egg-eating dinosaur), which was a close relative of primitive birds but in relatively small sizes, mostly weighed about several kilograms.

Although no direct evidence shows that the Gigantoraptor was feathered, but based on its close relationship to other feathered species, scientists inferred as it was. If this was true, it would be a rare sight in the whole evolutionary history of the living kingdom to see such a mammoth animal wholly covered by feather. Just like its cousin, the oviraptorosaurs, there were no teeth within its mouth. Instead, it developed a huge beak. Only one thing is uncertain: scientists cannot definitely confirm whether its beak was used to cut off herbal stems, feeding on a small-sized prey or press an egg into pieces.

8. Discovery of a case where BO Approximation breaks down

The Born-Oppenheimer (BO) Approximation is ubiquitous in molecular physics, quantum chemistry and quantum chemistry. However, CAS researchers recently observed a breakdown of the Approximation in the reaction of fluorine with deuterium atoms. The result has been published in the August 24 issue of Science.

Proposed in 1927 by Max Born and Julius R. Oppenheimer, the BO approximation suggests that since nuclei are so much more massive than electrons, they must move much more slowly. Hence the motions of the two can be separated (the nuclei can be considered as stationary points around which the electrons move). It is still indispensable in quantum chemistry and used for the establishment of a molecular dynamic model for a simple chemical or physical system.

According to the approximation, the chemical reaction between the fluorine atom in its excited state (F*) and deuterium (D2) could not occur. However, in a recent experiment conducted by a research group led by Yang Xueming with the State Key Laboratory for Molecular Reaction Dynamics attached to the CAS Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics observed the reaction by using a state-of-the-art facility they have developed. At the lowest collision energy, the scientists found that F* is 1.6 times more reactive than F, although reaction of F* is forbidden within the BO approximation. This fact indicates the BO approximation cannot be applicable to this reaction. Before long, this important process in non-adiabatic dynamics has been depicted by researchers from the University of Maryland after full quantum scattering computation by using precise potential energy face with multi-coupling.

Because non-adiabatic dynamics is a hot topic in molecular reactive dynamics and a cutting-edge area of theoretical chemistry nowadays, the discovery achieved by the Dalian scientists is considered an academic breakthrough with an exceptional significance as it is conducive to making clear the reactive mechanism which governs the system of this kind of chemical laser devices. In addition, the breakthrough signifies Chinese research in this aspect has reached the disciplinary forefront so far accomplished by the international community.

9. Construction completed on germplasm bank in southwest China

The ribbon-cutting and nameplate unveiling ceremony for the Germplasm Bank for Wildlife in China's Southwest was held on Nov. 29 at the CAS Kunming Institute of Botany in southwest China's Yunnan Province. Scientific celebrities and high-ranking officials of CAS and Yunnan Province attended the event.

The 148 million yuan project is be based in the CAS Kunming Institute of Botany and jointly developed and managed by CAS and Yunnan Province. It strives to be a world-class repository for wildlife germplasm.

10 New soybean cultivar yields 5.6 tons per hectare

China's new soybean cultivar yielded 371.8 kilograms per mu, or 5.58 tons per hectare, in experimental plantation in western China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region, marking the highest soybean yields in China in the new century.

The new cultivar, named "Zhonghuang-35," was researched and cultivated by the famous crop breeding expert Wang Lianzheng, who is also the former director of The Chinese Academy of Agriculture Science. Wang has been leading a number of research teams on breeding 16 different new soybean cultivars, which have been designed to be clutivate in different regions of China to help boost soybean production.

The new cultivar was sown on April 27, 2007 and became mature on Sept. 8, 2007, for a total growth period of 134 days. Its oil content reached 23.45 percent

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