The Chinese Academy of Sciences is the linchpin of China’s drive to explore and harness high technology and the natural sciences for the benefit of China and the world. Comprising a comprehensive research and development network, a merit-based learned society and a system of higher education, CAS brings together scientists and engineers from China and around the world to address both theoretical and applied problems using world-class scientific and management approaches.
Since its founding, CAS has fulfilled multiple roles — as a national team and a locomotive driving national technological innovation, a pioneer in supporting nationwide S&T development, a think tank delivering S&T advice and a community for training young S&T talent.
Now, as it responds to a nationwide call to put innovation at the heart of China’s development, CAS has further defined its development strategy by emphasizing greater reliance on democratic management, openness and talent in the promotion of innovative research. With the adoption of its Innovation 2020 programme in 2011, the academy has committed to delivering breakthrough science and technology, higher caliber talent and superior scientific advice. As part of the programme, CAS has also requested that each of its institutes define its “strategic niche” — based on an overall analysis of the scientific progress and trends in their own fields both in China and abroad — in order to deploy resources more efficiently and innovate more collectively.
As it builds on its proud record, CAS aims for a bright future as one of the world’s top S&T research and development organizations.
History of achievement
CAS was established on November 1, 1949, in Beijing, where it is headquartered. It was formed from several existing scientific institutes and soon welcomed over 200 returning scientists who contributed to CAS the high-level expertise they had acquired abroad.
Since its early years, CAS has been key to China’s S&T planning. In 1956, the central government asked CAS to oversee preparation of the country’s first 12-year national programme for S&T development, which propelled China’s drive for modernization of science and technology. Since then, it has participated in the preparation of all national S&T development plans, serving as a national think tank.
With the launch of China’s reform and opening-up programme in the late 1970s, CAS assumed a key role in reforming the country’s S&T efforts by encouraging academic openness, scientific collaboration, a multidisciplinary approach and the intensive cultivation of talent. CAS proposals have resulted in the launch of a number of key national scientific programmes including the “863 Program” in 1986, which has propelled China’s overall high-tech development, and the “973 Program”, or National Basic Research Program, in 1997, which called for the development of science and technology in various fields. Its goal was to align basic scientific research and innovation with national priorities in economic and social development. In its early years, CAS contributed to China’s economic construction and recorded several important scientific achievements including the synthesis of bovine insulin. It also conducted a comprehensive study of the rise of the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau. Both key projects proved that the science and technology gap between China and the most advanced countries in the world had already been narrowed. It also made other breakthroughs in basic research at an international, advanced level, such as the development of the function theory of several complex variables in classical domains, the study of the Goldbach conjecture, and engineering control theory. CAS also took credit for the award of the first PhD in China.
In the early years of opening up, CAS took the lead in international cooperation as well. For example, the cooperative partnership between Chinese and US scientists in high energy physics that developed during those years has continued up to today. With US assistance in the early stages of the partnership, Chinese scientists quickly developed a high-quality Chinese electron positron collider and related research capabilities. In recent years, the focus of the partnership has centred on the Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment, which resulted in the discovery of a new kind of neutrino oscillation in 2012, widely believed to be the best physics done in China in the past 30 years.
In 1998, CAS implemented its National Knowledge Innovation Program (KIP), which ran from 1998 through 2010. As part of KIP, CAS scientists recorded numerous scientific achievements, including sequencing one percent of the human genome; sequencing the rice genome and isolating important functional genes; developing the Godson general purpose CPU chip; building the Dawning and Shenteng supercomputers; developing coal liquefaction techniques and the technology to convert methanol to light olefins; developing permafrost roadbed technology crucial to the construction of the Qinghai–Tibet Railway; conducting research on climate and environmental changes over the past 2,000 years in environmentally sensitive zones in China; and realizing efficient and long-lived quantum memory with cold atoms inside a ring cavity, among others.
CAS scientists conduct research in most areas of basic science and technology as well as strategic advanced technologies and areas related to the public welfare and the development of emerging industries. CAS comprises 104 research institutes, 12 branch academies, three universities and 11 supporting organizations in 23 provincial-level areas throughout the country. These institutions are home to more than 100 national key labs and engineering centres as well as nearly 200 CAS key labs and engineering centres. Altogether, CAS comprises 1,000 sites and stations across the country.
CAS is home to over 80 percent of China’s large-scale science facilities. Eleven of them are currently in operation, including the Beijing Electron Positron Collider (BEPCII), the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokomak (EAST), the Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility (SSRF), and the Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope (LAMOST), among others. CAS is also developing the China Spallation Neutron Source (CSNS) and the 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), as well as other facilities. The academy also hosts the Chinese Ecosystem Research Network (CERN), which has about 50 core field stations and 100 other stations across the country. CERN conducts monitoring and research involving ecological systems and the environment. CAS is also home to 13 botanical gardens and 26 herbaria, as well as a 150-TB scientific data storage facility. Environmental research is one of CAS’s traditional strengths. In addition, CAS publishes 267 academic journals.
CAS has a staff of 67,900, including about 56,000 professional researchers. Of these, approximately 22,800 are research professors or associate professors. By 2020, CAS hopes to have a few thousand leading scientists working for the organization. It has long been a CAS strategy to emphasize the combination of research and education and interdisciplinary and cross-sector cooperation in innovation.
Academy scientists now implement about 30 percent of China’s Key Basic Science Projects under the nation’s 973 Program. In addition, CAS researchers have won 19 first-class National Natural Sciences Prizes of the 32 awarded. Also, 34.2 percent of all researchers named as National Excellent Young Scholars are affiliated with CAS. Furthermore, 40 percent of the principle investigators for key natural science projects funded under the National Natural Science Foundation of China are affiliated with CAS.
CAS’s most recent achievements include a series of breakthroughs in quantum communication and computing, new progress in the study of re-emerging superconductivity, major breakthroughs in stem cell research and the discovery of a key factor in regulating the development of brain intelligence.
Emphasis on talent
Cultivating, recognizing and deploying talent is a key feature of CAS — accomplished through CAS’s roles as an educational institution and academic society.
CAS nurtures young S&T talent through three affiliated universities, the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) and ShanghaiTech University. So far, CAS has graduated 85,884 masters and 64,977 PhDs.
UCAS, located in Beijing, has a total enrollment of 41,216 students, most of which are doctoral candidates. Its predecessor was the Graduate School of CAS. Since 2014, UCAS started to recruit 300+ undergraduates. One unique feature of UCAS is its dual-phrase education on the integration of education and research with graduates taking the course-work at the university and doing research training and dissertation at the institutes.
USTC, based in Hefei, Anhui Province, has a total enrollment of 17,800 students, including about 10,000 graduates. Established in Beijing in1958 and moved to Hefei in 1970, USTC enjoys excellent reputation worldwide. The strategy that CAS adopts in running the university is to get the whole Academy involved in its education and to combine research institutes with departments and schools of the university.
ShanghaiTech, being rapidly built, is a partnership university between CAS and the Shanghai Municipal Government. It focuses on science and engineering.
CAS membership is the highest academic accolade in the field of science and technology in China. Membership is a lifelong honor conferred by the presidium of CAS, based on a rigorous and limited biennial election process. The three types of Members — Full, Emeritus and Foreign — are grouped into six academic divisions: Mathematics and Physics; Chemistry; Biological and Medical Sciences; Earth Sciences; Information Technology Sciences; and Technological Sciences. These divisions function as a national scientific think tank in partnership with the whole academy. Members provide advice to the government and society on major issues concerning China’s economy, social development and S&T progress. In addition, they provide guidance on the development of individual scientific disciplines and on the development of the academy itself. Furthermore, they promote public understanding of science and technology through public lectures and domestic and international cooperation. Currently, there are 777 Full and Emeritus Members, as well as 82 Foreign Members. Fifteen CAS Members have received China’s highest national science award — of 20 total recipients.
CAS attaches much importance to international cooperation and considers international cooperation as a recipe for its success and an effective means to maximize potentials and resources worldwide to advance science and to address global challenges. It has extensive and diversified forms of cooperation and partnership with scientists all over the world.
For example, CAS has set up 20 collaborative groups with the German Max Planck Society (MPG) in areas including astronomy, life sciences and materials science, and has also established the CAS–MPG Partner Institute of Computational Biology. In addition, CAS and the French Institut Pasteur have jointly established the Institut Pasteur of Shanghai.
CAS scientists have also initiated international science programmes, such as the Third Pole Environment (TPE) Program, the Northwestern Pacific Ocean Circulation and Climate Experiment (NPOCCE) and the International Meridian Project on space weather (IMP). In addition, CAS researchers have taken an active part in global science programmes such as the Human Genome Project (HGP) and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Program, as well as various international programmes on climate change, including IGBP, IHDP, WCRP and DIVERSITAS.
CAS has implemented several international talent programmes since 2009 such as the CAS Fellowship Program for Senior International Scientists and the CAS Fellowship Program for Young International Scientists. Through these two programmes alone, CAS has attracted over 1,000 foreign scientists to conduct research at its institutes. Furthering internationalizing research at CAS is a firm policy of the organization.
CAS also attaches great importance to promoting scientific progress in the developing world. Through the CAS–TWAS Fellowship, initiated in 2004, CAS annually invites about 50 scientists from developing countries to study and undertake research at CAS institutes. It is scheduled to start a PhD training programme for the developing world in 2013 with an annual enrollment of no less than 150.
CAS Innovation 2020: building tomorrow
CAS Innovation 2020 aims to further promote innovation and try to turn scientific discoveries into technologies that power economic growth and sustainable development. The programme, which builds on the achievements of KIP, seeks to improve the academy’s capacity for innovation and to make a significant contribution to the development of emerging industries.
As part of this initiative, CAS has pledged to enhance interdisciplinary and cross-sector research. It also aims to improve the quality of research by supporting risky and long-term projects and encouraging scientists to study the frontiers of knowledge, among other things. Importantly, CAS has pledged to ensure the welfare of its scientists in all practical matters, so they can devote more time and effort to research.
At the same time, the academy’s evaluation system, which was previously based in large part on the number and quality of scientific papers, has shifted toward assessing research based on its innovativeness and potential to benefit society.
The academy has collaborated with 30 provincial-level authorities to set up research and development programmes to further regional economic development. It has also established science parks — in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou — to turn basic research into marketable technologies, especially in the areas of information technology, space science, renewable energy and health.
CAS has strengthened ties with the industrial sector to conduct joint research and commercialize discoveries and has adopted procedures to better protect intellectual property rights. CAS has established 39 technology transfer or incubation centres and over 250 joint research entities. CAS has reached 10,538 technology transfer contracts till 2014. In 2014 alone, over 700 CAS spin-off companies have grossed about RMB 350 billion (US$56 billion).
The academy continues to promote collaboration with developed nations, while encouraging cooperation with developing nations, especially China’s neighbors. It also promotes long-term, strategic partnerships with first-rate research institutions, international science organizations and multinational research and development corporations.
Among the key goals of Innovation 2020 is the development of a world-class stem cell research and regenerative medicine programme, which is being undertaken by research centres in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Kunming as well as several other institutes across the country. Innovation 2020 has already launched projects on nuclear fusion and nuclear-waste management, materials science, information technology, public health and the environment. Furthermore, it has commenced research to calculate the flux of carbon between land, oceans and the atmosphere. In its drive to develop clean nuclear energy, CAS has also started a project to develop a thorium-fueled molten-salt nuclear reactor, which aims to offer an alternative, environmentally safe source of energy.
With Innovation 2020 and the academy’s new management initiatives, CAS is confident of being an innovation powerhouse for China as it meets the challenges of the twenty-first century.
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