For the past century, China hasn’t had much luck racking up Nobel laureates, but a group of domestic scientists and entrepreneurs are hoping to change all that and spur on homegrown innovation by finally handing out China’s own “Nobel Prizes.”
On Monday, a nine-member panel announced the first two winners of the Future Science Prize, China’s first-ever non-governmental science awards, which are already being stylized by Chinese media as “China’s Nobel Prize.”
52-year-old Dennis Lo Yuk-ming, a chemical pathology professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was given the Life Science Award for developing a noninvasive prenatal test for detecting Down’s syndrome in a fetus, which is already being used in over 90 countries.
The second winner was Xue Qikun, a 53-year-old physicist at Tsinghua University in Beijing who was given the Material Science Award for his pioneering contribution in the quantum anomalous Hall (QAH) effect, China Daily reports.
At an awards ceremony scheduled for January, Lo and Xue will be awarded with $1 million each (slightly more than what Nobel winners will receive).
The Future Science Prize was initiated back in January by a group of Chinese scientists and entrepreneurs who want to spur on domestic innovation and interest in the sciences. Donors like Baidiu’s Robin Li have committed to bankrolling the awards for the next 10 years, Nature.com reports.
To become a winner, you have to be nominated, go through rounds of professional appraisals and reviews from international experts, and then emerge victorious in a secret ballot from qualified judges. Oh, you also have to have done your work in China.
This isn’t China’s first attempt at creating a domestic alternative to the Nobel Prize. Since 2010, one controversial Chinese group has been handing out the much-coveted Confucius Peace Prize. Winners so far of that prestigious award include Robert Mugabe, Fidel Castro and Vladimir Putin.
The Confucius Peace Prize came about as a direct result of the sharp negative reaction to the announcement that Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo would be awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Tan Changliu, the founding chairman of the awards committee, explained then that the goal of the Confucius Peace Prize was “to promote world peace from an Eastern perspective.”
Imprisoned since 2009, Liu was unable to travel to Sweden to collect his award. However, five years later, China finally did get the Nobel Prize winner that it had been waiting for.
Chinese scientist Tu Youyou became a national celebrity after winning a share of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine last year thanks to her work in developing an effective herbal therapy that fights against malaria, work that first started when studying ancient Chinese texts in a secret project ordered by Chairman Mao during the Cultural Revolution.
The Nobel Prize was the first in the sciences awarded for work done in China. While Liu Xiaobo may have inspired the Confucius Peace Prize, it seems that Tu Youyou was the inspiration behind the Future Science Prize.