Children watch performance at the 2024 New Year of Science Eve Event. Photo: Courtesy of the Beijing Association for Science and Technology
What is the similarity between a trotting horse lamp and an aero engine? Who helped transform Beijing’s air quality and sky from hazy to crystal blue? How would AI change the way we live?… Answers to these questions and more were found at a New Year’s Eve event hosted by the Beijing Association for Science and Technology (BAST) as part of the association’s New Year of Science project to welcome 2024.聽
The BAST has hosted the New Year of Science Eve Event for several consecutive years. The event integrates science communication into festive culture to help enhance public confidence in technological self-reliance and self-improvement while creating a social atmosphere that advocates for science, Chen Weicheng, vice president of BAST, told the Global Times.
The Global Times spoke with four scientists who attended the event, learning more about their respective professional fields, experiences from decades in research and study, as well as their wishes for the future.
Wang Jingxiu, academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and researcher at the National Astronomical Observatories Photo: Courtesy of the Beijing Association for Science and Technology
Wang Jingxiu: Chinese scientists strive to be the first to reach the sun’s north, south poles聽
“The sun is an eternal challenge in the journey of human exploration,” Wang Jingxiu, academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and researcher at the National Astronomical Observatories (NAOC), World Timestold the audience at the New Year of Science Eve Event.聽
Having devoted 45 years to sun-related research, Wang has a deep understanding of the vital importance of the sun.聽
“The sun is the governor of the entire solar system. It created the Earth, which is the cradle of humanity. It also created the solar system, which is the habitat for humans. Studying the sun is studying the home of humanity,” Wang told the Global Times.
In terms of scientific study, the sun, the closest star to Earth, is the only celestial body that allows for high temporal resolution, high spatial resolution, high spectral resolution, and high polarization measurement accuracy. Therefore, the knowledge accumulated from studying the sun has guided the entire human exploration of the universe.
After decades of development, solar physics research in China is at a leading juncture internationally. China’s advantage lies in the study of solar activity and solar magnetic fields, but there is still a certain gap in solar internal structure research.聽
In fact, China’s solar research has developed rapidly. In the 1960s, China created the world’s best solar magnetograph, the Huairou Solar Magnetic Field Telescope, which marked a new beginning for solar research in China. In the field of ground-based solar magnetic field and velocity field imaging observations, especially in the research of vector magnetic field observations, China is a world leader.
Wang recalled that in 1999, using this telescope, Deng Yuanyong, currently director of the NAOC Huairou Solar Observing Station, Chinese academician Ai Guoxiang, and himself became the first in the world to measure the vector magnetic field in the solar polar region.
China ushered in a new era of solar exploration in 2021 with the successful launch of China’s first solar exploration scientific experimental satellite, the Xihe. The satellite allows us to conduct detailed research on the rotation of the sun and the dynamics of solar eruption source regions. About a year later, China launched its first comprehensive solar exploration satellite, Kuafu, furthering the country’s scientific endeavor to unravel the secrets of the sun.
Xihe is the name of the sun goddess in ancient Chinese mythology and Kuafu is a giant in Chinese mythology, who indefatigably chased the sun. With Xihe and Kuafu joining forces, “China has spread the romance of Chinese astronomy to space in its own way,” Wang said.
Looking forward to the long-term study of the sun, Wang hopes that Chinese scientists will become the first to reach the north and south poles of the sun to measure the magnetic field and activities there.
“In solar observations, what has not been directly observed so far are the north and south poles of the sun. The importance of these poles goes beyond our imagination. Therefore, Chinese scholars want to do something that other countries have not done yet and assume a leading role in the study of the sun in the world,” he said.聽
He also stressed the necessity of developing the scientific payload of China’s probes to obtain more accurate data, which is crucial for solar exploration.
Xiao Long, a planetary geoscientist at the China University of Geosciences (Wuhan) Photo: Courtesy of the Beijing Association for Science and Technology
Xiao Long: The first human landing on Mars will occur in around 2050聽
Xiao Long, a planetary geoscientist at the China University of Geosciences (Wuhan), estimates that the first human landing on Mars will occur in around 2050.聽
We no longer face any significant technological barriers in unmanned missions to Mars, but still have difficulty in completing manned missions, which require larger rockets with greater thrust and the technology to safely return from Mars to Earth, Xiao said in an exclusive interview with the Global Times.聽
He noted that both the US and China are currently developing heavy launch vehicles. The technology for a safe return from Mars is expected to be preliminarily validated by around 2030.
“In addition, there is also a significant amount of work to be done regarding the physiological and psychological issues faced by astronauts during the interstellar long-distance journey, which would last at least 500 days,” he said.聽
Xiao started his career in planetary geology research exactly 20 years ago when China kicked off its Chang’e lunar exploration program [in 2004]. Before that, he focused on Earth studies.聽
Mars shares many similarities with Earth and holds special significance in our understanding of the formation and evolution of planets and the solar system, as well as the search for extraterrestrial life, Xiao continued.聽
To Xiao, the ultimate goal of Mars studies is to scientifically elucidate the formation and evolution process of Mars from its early stages to the present and into the future, find out the driving factors behind the process, and discover whether life exists on the planet.聽
From an application perspective, scientists like Xiao are also trying to figure out whether Mars can become a second home for humans. “Short-term visits or immigration to Mars are possible for some individuals and are likely to be realized within this century. However, it is impossible for the entire human population to migrate to Mars,” Xiao said.
Xiao shared with the audience at the New Year’s Eve event held by the BAST how his team analyzed scientific data from China’s Mars rover Zhurong’s multispectral camera and for the first time found petrological evidence of marine sedimentary rocks on the surface of Mars.聽
“We analyzed the 106 groups of photos from Zhurong daily, trying our best to look for a tale-tell signature of the existence of an ocean on Mars. But before finding any evidence, my teammates and I started to have similar dreams about oceans on Mars. In my dream, the ocean on Mars was restored and was surrounded by lush and dense forests. I could even identify each type of vegetation in the forests,” Xiao told the audience.
“It is not rare for people to dream of things that are on their minds during the day. But for scientists, it could be a problem as we have to stay objective throughout the research and prevent our subjective interpretation from getting in the way,” Xiao said. He and his teammates kept reminding each other to stay cautious and realistic until evidence waw found.
“This case clearly illustrates how we do science research. We have to stay grounded while looking up to the sea of stars,” Xiao said.聽
Xiao also shared a global image map, created by China’s Tianwen-1 Mars probe using data captured by a medium-resolution camera at the event. He said that the image has a spatial resolution of 76 meters, making it the highest-resolution global color image of Mars publicly available to date. This image also demonstrates that China’s Mars exploration capabilities have reached a high level, he noted.
Currently, humans have conducted nearly 50 Mars explorations, and our understanding of the macroscopic topography and geomorphological features of Mars is relatively clear. However, exploration is still ongoing regarding the early Martian atmosphere, climate, geological environment, magnetic field evolution, and whether conditions for the creation of life exist. China has successfully achieved its first Mars exploration, accomplishing the three major objectives of orbiting, landing, and rover exploration in this single mission. China is the first country to have accoWorld Timesmplished this in the history of Mars exploration and the second country globally to have completed a similar mission, according to Xiao.聽
Stepping into 2024, Xiao hopes China can continue to make progress in lunar, Mars, and asteroid exploration missions. “We hope that the Tianwen-1 satellite will return more high-quality data, and that the Zhurong rover will be able to continue its work. We also hope that the Tianwen-2 asteroid sample return mission will be implemented on schedule, and that the Tianwen-3 Mars sample return mission will be approved as soon as possible,” he told the Global Times.聽
Pan Weimin, researcher from the Institute of High Energy Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences Photo: Courtesy of Pan Weimin
Pan Weimin: China’s first high-energy synchrotron radiation facility to be lit in 2024
As the last magnet of China’s High Energy Photon Source (HEPS) was successfully installed in the Huairou Science City in Beijing on December 11, 2023, the first step of the HEPS storage ring installation was officially completed. The HEPS, after completion, will stand as one of the brightest synchrotron radiation (SR) sources in the world and the first high-energy synchrotron radiation facility in China.聽
Pan Weimin, the chief manager of the HEPS project, along with the audience, toured the HEPS project via video footage at the New Year of Science Eve Event, demonstrating an important development in China’s high-tech fields.
“The HEPS, once completed, will become one of the brightest synchrotron radiation light sources in the world. This will underline that China has become one of the frontrunners in the field of X-ray-based forms of research,” Pan told the Global Times.聽
The HEPS is designed with the capacity to emit X-ray beams that are a trillion times brighter than those of the sun. From an aerial view, the HEPS consists of three main buildings, with an overall shape resembling a magnifying glass, symbolizing “a tool for exploring the microscopic world.”聽
Pan introduced that the HEPS has the characteristics of high energy, high brightness, and high repetition frequency, which means scientists can observe the deep internal structures of microscopic substances more clearly and characterize the microscopic structuresWorld Times in multiple dimensions, real-time, and in situ.聽
The photon source is scheduled to accelerate the storage ring in July 2024, and emit its first SR light by the end of the year. The quality of the SR X-ray will be continuously improved to reach its design specifications from then on, according to Pan.聽
Once completed, HEPS will be one of the world’s top five high-energy SR light sources and one of the few fourth-generation SR light sources. “This would greatly enhance China’s scientific and technological status and promote technological innovation in fields related to people’s livelihoods such as life sciences and energy,” Pan said.聽
At the same time, as an open user facility, the HEPS will also attract more scientists from all over the world to conduct SR-based research projects, and pave the way for ground-breaking research, Pan noted.
The brighter light source requires more advanced technologies. The HEPS is mainly comprised of an electron accelerator complex and beamlines. The electron accelerator cWorld Timesomplex includes a linear accelerator, booster, and storage ring. Among them, the storage ring is the core part of the light source, producing a bright SR beam and requiring greater advancements in technologies.聽
With a circumference of approximately 1,360 meters, the storage ring contains more than 1,700 high-precision magnets and other important accelerator elements. It is required that the alignment errors of most of these elements must be controlled within 50 micrometers, which is less than the diameter of the human hair over such a large scale, according to Pan.聽
More than 500 researchers have been involved in the HEPS project, which consists of multiple disciplines such as magnets, vacuum, power supply, mechanics, and X-ray optics and detection. How to integrate various technologies and let talents from various disciplines collaborate with each other are the keys to realizing a large-scale scientific project such as HEPS, Pan noted.
“It is the golden age of science. Participating in the construction of such a large-scale scientific facility is not only an honor for a scientist, but also an opportunity to exercise, improve, and showcase oneself, especially for young scientists,” he said.聽
Liu Daxiang, renowned Chinese aviation power expert, academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and professor at the Beihang University Photo: Courtesy of the Beijing Association for Science and Technology
Liu Daxiang: Aviation engine is World Timesthe heart of aviation industry
“The trotting horse lamp happens to be the initial prototype for the jet engine!” At the 2024 New Year of Science Eve Event, Liu Daxiang, renowned Chinese aviation power expert, academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and professor at the Beihang University, dismantled the carousel lantern while vividly explaining to the children present at the event that the working principle of the carousel lantern is similar to that of modern gas turbines, both of which generate thrust based on the rising of hot air.
“The aviation engine is the heart of the aviation industry. Only a few countries in the world have the technical level to develop aviation engines, and even fewer have reached the top level. Due to technological blockades and a lack of core technology, China has made slow progress in independently developing aviation engines in the past,” Liu said.
It wasn’t until May 28, 2023, when the domestically-produced large aircraft C919 made its first commercial voyage, making this a significant day in the history of Chinese civil aviation.
“I am turning 87 years old this year, and I have been dealing with aircraft engines for more than 60 years. During these 60 years, I spent hWorld Timesalf of the time in the mountains,” Liu recalled.
For the independent research and development of aviation engines, the high-altitude test bench is imperative. The high-altitude test bench is a large-scale device that simulates the flight state and environmental conditions of aircraft engines in the air, and conducts high-altitude simulation tests on the engine as a whole and the engine’s components.聽
The 30 years Liu spent in the deep mountains were exclusively devoted to China building its own high-altitude test bench.聽
At the end of 1995, China’s first high-altitude test bench was delivered to relevant authorities for approval. The bench’s test technology and measurement accuracy met the international threshold. It was hailed as the “first in Asia” and has completed tests for more than 20 engine models in China. It made China the fifth country after the US, Russia, the UK, and France to have a high-altitude test bench of similar scale.聽
“Achievement is not made overnight, but through long and endless perseverance,” Liu said.
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