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CAS admits biggest group of foreigners

Zhang Zhihao
Updated: Nov 29,2017 6:33 AM     China Daily

The Chinese Academy of Sciences has elected 16 foreign scientists-the largest number ever-to receive China’s highest academic honor as foreign academicians in 2017, the academy announced on Nov 28.

Poland, the Netherlands and Uzbekistan each have one scientist being accepted into the academy. It is the first time scientists from these countries are joining the CAS, China’s top science think tank.

Two Nobel laureates, Andre Geim from the Netherlands and James Stoddart from the United Kingdom, are among the 16 top scientists admitted. The scientists’ fields of expertise include such areas as particle physics, environmental science and biotechnology.

“The academy’s entry standard is extremely high, so it is great to see new scientists, especially from countries along the Belt and Road Initiative, join the big family,” said Bai Chunli, CAS president.

“Now the origin of foreign academicians is more diverse and fair, which can lead to more exchanges and cooperation,” he said, adding that the overwhelming majority of current foreign academicians at CAS come from the United States.

In 1994, the CAS elected 14 foreign scientists to become China’s first group of foreign academicians.

They included two Nobel laureates, Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen-Ning Yang, who were US citizens at the time. They won the prize in physics in 1957 for their work on parity laws, according to the academy’s website.

New domestic and foreign academicians are elected from a pool of recommendations made by current academicians. The election takes place every two years and each candidate must win approval from more than two-thirds of all the voting academicians.

“It is an extremely rigorous process,” said Li Ting, director of operations at the Academic Divisions of the CAS, which oversees the election and the biannual academician assembly.

Candidates for foreign academicians are selected based on their outstanding academic achievements and contribution to China’s scientific and technological development, she said. Once accepted, foreign academicians have greater access to research resources and journals from the academy, but do not participate in its administration or voting.

“In the past few elections, around eight to 12 foreign academicians were selected, and the 14 in 1994 was the most we had,” Li said. This was because the recommendation pool for foreign academicians was capped at 14 before 2015, and it was expanded to 20 this year.

“Expanding the pool is part of the academy’s ongoing reform to increase diversity, as well as to accommodate and support new, interdisciplinary science fields,” she said.

The academy also unveiled 61 new Chinese academicians, including three women. The average age of the Chinese academicians is 54, with the youngest being Xu Tao, a 46-year-old biophysicist.

With the new additions, the academy now has 800 Chinese academicians and 92 foreign academicians, Li said.

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