China sets its eyes on lunar exploration

September 19, 2012

Li Jiao
China correspondent, SciDev.Net

A session this morning on ‘Advances in China’s Lunar Exploration’ was introduced by China’s chief lunar exploration scientist and pioneer in astro-chemistry, Ouyang Zi-Yuan, also known as the ‘Father of Chang’E’ (Chinese unmanned lunar probe).

I have interviewed him many times in the past decade and found him to be a very nice, patient scientist. At the meeting he introduced the long-term plans for China’s lunar mission, Chang’E-1 and its scientific results, and Chang’E-2.

He also talked about some of the science behind China’s future lunar exploration.

Ouyang said that China’s unmanned lunar exploration programme has three steps: orbiting the moon (which took place in 2007); soft-landing on the moon (planned to take place between 2010 and 2013); and a mission to bring back samples from the Moon (planned for some time between 2015 and 2017).

Chang’e-2 (Wikimedia Commons/spacebabe)

Chang’E-1, the lunar orbiter mission, was successfully launched as scheduled on October 24, 2007. Its main objective was to detect and study scientific questions relating to the whole moon. It carried out topographical studies of the entire lunar surface. These led to the production of a three-dimensional map of lunar resources; the analysis of the distribution and abundance of major elements and minerals on the lunar surface; a survey of the moon’s ‘brightness temperature’ and other properties and a calculation of the thickness of the lunar regolith (material covering solid rock). The mission also probed the space environment around the moon.

Ouyang said that after launch, the Chang’E-1 orbiter took 13 days and 14 hours to complete its mission, clocking up a total flight distance of 2,090,000 km.

China’s lunar exploration in coming years will start around 2013 with the Chang’E-3, which will be a landing and roving exploration mission.

Ouyang said that the implementation of lunar orbiting, the lunar surface landing and rover exploration and the lunar sample return would all help to accumulate experience and to develop new technology for future manned lunar landing and lunar base construction.

This blog post is part of our TWAS 12th General Meeting blog, which takes place 18 and 21 September 2012, in Tianjin, China. To read news and analysis on South-South cooperation please visit our website.

President Hu Jintao makes surprise visit to TWAS meeting

September 18, 2012

Li Jiao
China correspondent, SciDev.Net

The Chinese president, Hu Jintao, surprised attendees with an appearance at the opening ceremony of the conference this afternoon in the Tianjin Great Hall. He presented several TWAS prizes to scientists from the developing world, including the TWAS Regional Prizes in Building Scientific Institutions; the Ernesto Illy Trieste Science Prize; and first ever TWAS-Celso Furtado Prize in Social Sciences.

Hu told the meeting that “China will help developing countries build science research equipment and technology demonstration platform”.

One of the winners, Jason Yi-Bing Lin, senior vice-president of National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan told me: “I’m inspired by the President of China, Hu, presenting me [with my certificate] and I’ll continue to work hard”. He said that the TWAS 23rd General Meeting has been very inspiring so far, and will help promote the cooperation of scientists from different developing countries.

TWAS meeting (Credit: Li Jiao)

Another winner, Valakunja Nagaraja — from the Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore — said he was surprised to accept his certificate from the president and shake hands with him. “I was very excited,” he said.

Samar Hasnain from Pakistan, who has been a member of TWAS for almost twenty years, said the fact that “Hu attended the meeting seems [to imply that the] Chinese government pays great attention to developing countries’ cooperation and especially pays great attention to science research”.

This blog post is part of our TWAS 12th General Meeting blog, which takes place 18 and 21 September 2012, in Tianjin, China. To read news and analysis on South-South cooperation please visit our website.

Journal access schemes need to change

July 21, 2008

An organiser of a world’s major programme to help developing countries’ researchers access international journals agrees there is a need to make adjustments.

At the third Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF-3) in Barcelona, a session on “Bridging the Digital Divide by 2015”, chaired by SciDev.Net director David Dickson on July 19, discussed how HINARI, AGORA and OARE, three unique public-private partnerships, are working in line with the UN’s millennium development goals to provide the developing world with access to critical research.

HINARI or Health Information Access to Research Initiative provides online access to one of the world’s largest collections of biomedical and health literature. Under the leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO), over 5,000 journals are available to health institutions in 108 countries, benefiting many thousands of health workers and researchers.

AGORA, or Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (AGORA), enables developing countries to gain access to information in the fields of food, agriculture, environmental science and related social sciences. AGORA provides a collection of 1,275 core journals to institutions in 108 countries.

OARE, or Online Access to Research in the Environment (OARE), enables 108 low income countries to gain free access to over 2,000 environmental sciences journals.

Thousands of developing country researchers, such as Mohamed Jalloh from General Hospital of Grand Yoff in Senegal, a panel speaker, have benefitted from the programme.

However, there are problems. Read the rest of this entry »

European nations a barrier to commercialise China’s GM

July 21, 2008

A leading Chinese scientist has appealed to European nations to adopt a more positive attitude on genetically modified (GM) food because their views affect policies in countries such as China that urgently needs to decide on whether to commercialise GM crops to feed its hungry people.

“The attitudes of the Chinese policymakers are deeply influenced by your views and I appeal to you to reconsider your stance so that modern agricultural technologies can benefit more people in the developing countries,” says Yang Huanming, director of Beijing Genomics Institute and one of China’s leading scientists in human and rice genomics. Huanming was speaking at a 18 July session organised by European Action on Global Life Sciences (EAGLES) at the ESOF meet in Barcelona.

Yang’s remark was made days after the Chinese government approved of a huge genetic engineering project to improve plants’ nutrition, and their tolerance to drought and floods.

Details of the research project have not been revealed, but the official China Daily reported the funding for the long-term research programme (2006-2020) could be up to 20 billion yuan (US$2.92 billion), with about 20 percent of the funds used for biosafety inspection and infrastructure construction.

Yang believes that the big research funding programmes will make the approval of GM crops – especially GM rice , several varieties of which are under pre-commercialisation trials in China – easier. “The big research programme, plus the softer attitude of some European leaders on GM crops, may push ahead the application of GM technologies, but there are not without barriers,” Yang says.

He told SciDev.Net that one of major barriers is fears on biosafety raised by the environment organisations such as Greenpeace, which he described as a “export” from Europe to China.

“They say the majority of Chinese agricultural products will be polluted by the modified genes and so this will seriously influence Chinese exports to Europe,” Yang says. “This claim is threatening enough to some policymakers although there is no scientific evidence for the “gene pollution”.

David McConnell, a professor of biotechnology at Trinity College Dublin and co-vice chairman of EAGLES, welcomed Yang’s appeals, saying the voices from the developing world would help scientists in Europe deliver more correct approaches, such as the scientific basis of GM foods, to the European public.

“The widely cherished GM-free organic farming in Europe relies on huge government and financial supports and cannot be realized among small farmers in the developing countries who urgently need modern agricultural biotechnologies to improve their productivities and reduce their inputs,” McConnell told SciDev.Net.

Jia Hepeng, China coordinator, SciDev.Net

Europe keen to project its science in China, India

July 21, 2008

For the first time, a group of Asian science, health and environment journalists, mainly from China, India and Japan, are covering the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Barcelona,  thanks to fellowships by Germany’s Robert Bosch Stiftung Foundation.

This marks an attempt by the Bosch Foundation to expand the science journalist exchange programme to countries beyond Europe.  For the first ESOF event in Stockholm in 2004, the foundation provided fellowships to German journalists to cover the event, as well as the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in 2005.

For the second ESOF conference in Munich in 2006, the foundation added a bilateral touch to the programme, offering reverse fellowships to ten US and three Canadian journalists to cover the event.

This year, the geographical outreach for the fellowships has expanded to Asia, with eight from China, nine from India, four from Japan journalists. They join 20 colleagues from Germany and ten from India.

Rainer Hoell, science programme officer from Robert Foundation, says they are open to the idea of expanding the fellowship programme to Africa and other regions.  May the tribe increase!!

Journalist exchange apart, Europe is increasingly, recognising the emergence of China and India as major science and technology competitors and the importance of projecting its scientific achievements and scope for collaboration in these countries, says James Cornell, president of the International Science Writers Association.

The continent is somewhat concerned that the US has stolen a lead over it in science and technology collaborations in India and China, and is now keen to make up for it.

T V Padma, South Asia coordinator, SciDev.Net

Philanthropist to invest two science institutes in China

June 26, 2008

Fred Kavli, founder and chairman of the Kavli Foundation, will soon launch two research institutes he sponsored, the philanthropist revealed at the 10th meeting of the PCST (Public communication of science and technology) held in Malmo, Sweden.

The institutes – Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University, Beijing, China, and Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics China at the Chinese Academy of Sciences – are the only two in the developing world among the 15 institutes the California, United States-based foundation has supported across the world. Others Kavli institutes include Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science and Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology at Harvard University.

“Although in the level of scientific excellence, China is still not comparable with Europe and the United States, it has developed so fast in recent years. I believe my supporting of the two institutes will corroborate my belief to use basic research to benefit the people,” says Kavli, in the sideline of a PCST session at which he announced the first Kavli Prize.

Seven pioneering scientists in the fields of nanoscience, neuroscience and astrophysics have become the first recipients of the million-dollar Kavli prizes.

Kavli Foundation will give US$3 million to each of the two Chinese research institutes as the first batch of inputs, which will be followed by more operation costs. Douglas Lin, a distinguished professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Yue-Liang Wu of the Institute of Theoretical Physics (ITP) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, will lead the two Kavli China institutes respectively.

While supporting researches, Kavli says he hopes the two institutes he supported could become a model for the developing world scientists to communicate their researches to the public.

“We have required that each of our institutes must communicate their studies to the public to enhance the common welfare. We are to integrate the successful experience of the 13 other Kavli institutes, including their science communication strategies, into the two China institutes to enhance their skills,” Kavli told SciDev.Net.

Jia Hepeng, China Coordinator, SciDev.Net

PCST a nice chance to gather

June 23, 2008

From Friday (20 June), the attention to public communication of science and technology (PCST) in China has intensified as the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology (CAST) convened a meeting of all the 16 Chinese participants in the event. The leaders of CAST will attend the 10th meeting of PCST in Stockholm, Sweden, this week, along with many famous science communication scholars.

As far as I know, Chinese delegates will present topics ranging from the science popularisation situation in grassroots levels to science communication educations.

I will be present a talk analysing why, despite the repeated calls from Chinese leaders, science reporting is in the decline in China. After some theoretical reflections, I have focused on the analysis of the transmission of information from science communities to the general mass media. I found that the news releases produced by science institutes here are more likely to be a propaganda to appease scientific leaders rather than to engage the public.

Jia Hepeng, China coordinator, SciDev.Net

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