China Focus: Top natural science prize honors superconductor findings

BEIJING, Jan. 10 (Xinhua) -- Following a three-year vacancy, China's top natural science prize in its annual national science award was given for the discovery of iron-based compounds as high-temperature superconductors and research on their traits.

Superconductivity refers to a phenomenon where electrons travel with no resistance when a conducting material, known as a superconductor, is cooled below a certain temperature.

With applications in a range of high-tech inventions, superconductivity has become a part of daily life, from boosting cell phone signals to offering medical imaging.

At Friday's award ceremony, leading project contributors, including Zhao Zhongxian and Chen Xianhui, received the 200,000-yuan (33,040 U.S. dollars) prize on behalf of their research team with the Institute of Physics under Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the University of Science and Technology.

Most superconductors only work at temperatures close to 0 kelvin, or -273.15 degrees Celsius -- the lowest temperature possible, known as absolute zero.

The discovery marked a new "family" of iron-based superconducting materials that lift the highest temperature for resistance-free flow to 55k, Chen said.

The discovery was listed as a major achievement by science media and academic groups, including American magazine Science, which selected it among the top ten major scientific breakthroughs of 2008.

Ten people working in the superconductivity field have previously won the Nobel Prize in Physics.

"Awards are not the original motive for scientific exploration ... If a group of people go in the right direction and make constant and no-nonsense efforts, they will find discoveries that benefit humans," Zhao said.

The Chinese government has given the award to distinguished scientists and achievements for 14 consecutive years. The award is aimed at boosting innovation-fueled development.

Official figures show that this year's prize winners have an average age of 46.6, revealing a growing trend of young and middle-aged talents becoming the main force in the country's science and technology cause.

Winners of a second prize in the natural science category for their research on carbon-hydrogen bond activation include 39-year-old first contributor Professor Shi Zhangjie with Peking University. The team's youngest member is only 27.

China aims to build itself into an innovative country by 2020, when scientific progress will contribute nearly 60 percent of the nation's economic growth, according to a national science and technology development plan.

Source: Xinhua News


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