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Taking Pride in ContributiontoChina’s S&T: An Interview withRichard Zare, Winner of International S&T Cooperation Award


Thename list of the People's Republic of China International Science & Technology Cooperation Award (hereinafter referred to as the International S&T Cooperation Award) winners in 2012 was impressively topped by Dr. Richard Zare, Professor of Physical Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry of Stanford University, Past Chairman of the U.S. National Science Board, Member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Foreign Member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the U.K. Royal Society, the Swedish Academy. Dr. Zare has been awarded honorary doctorates by Arizona State University, Northwestern University, ETH Zurich, Columbia University, the University of West Georgia, New York University, among others.

Dr. Zare was delighted and excited to have won the award. However, he expressed that it is not his private contribution, but the achievements of his team who made efforts together, that deserve the valuable award.

Another factor for winning the award, in Dr. Zare’s opinion, was the successful evaluation of the management and performance of the National Natural Science Fund conducted by the international evaluation committee under his leadership. The international evaluation made significant contribution to the long-term development of the National Natural Science Fund.

Dr. Zare took great pride in chairing the international evaluation committee which conducted an evaluation of the management and performance of the National Natural Science Foundation of China during the past 25 years, and offered advices on its development policy making. He said with emotion that the excellent work was done by an excellent team composed by a group of excellent people. Apart from the experts of the international evaluation committee, this excellent team included a large number of Chinese scientists who assisted the committee. Besides, Prof. Chen Yiyu, President of the National Natural Science Foundation of China(NSFC) was very supportive of the international evaluation committee. No other foundation may exceed NSFC in this respect. Thecommittee of experts, of course, expects to hand in an excellent evaluation report based onremarkable job, but the party to be assessed,in general,is always inconsistent and reluctant to disclose certain information.

Dr. Zare said, "Wedesigned questionnaires, and got feedback from thousands of scientists, including individuals who were not funded by NSFC. We were free to inviteany scientist to face-to-face interviews, which assuredthe independence and objectivity of the assessment. From a human perspective, no one is willing to adopt such a way to evaluate one’s own work. However, Chinese scientists and NSFC staff took the initiative to help the committee and offeradvices and ideas”. Dr.Zare concluded that the key to NSFC’s success is to stick to fair and transparent principles. To his gratification, many of the recommendations listed in the final report by the international evaluation committee were adopted by NSFC. Besides, it was also believed by Dr.Zare that the smooth progress of the evaluation on NSFC and the excellent results obtained would have been impossible without the strong support of the State Councilor Madame Liu Yandong.

Prof. Zare has long beendedicated to promotingChina-U.S.S&T exchanges and cooperation, and trained a group of high-caliberChinese S&T talents. During his term as Chairman of the U.S. National Science Board, he actively promoted the cooperation and exchanges between the U.S. National Science Foundation and NSFC.As a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, he played an active role inoffering suggestions on China’s S&T development. As a strategy scientist, he made key contributions to guiding the development of chemical sciences in China. As a friendly and respected envoy of the China-U.S.S&T diplomacy, heexerted significantdriving impactsonChina-U.S.S&T cooperation.

Talking about the rationale for assisting the China’s S&T development,Dr.Zare said that once someone had advised him to quit his efforts, and some others had questioned him why he should help a competitor of the U.S. In his view, the development of science is different fromzero-sum games such as the chess match in that the former produces a win-win outcome while the latter results in the winner’s take-all and the loser’s total loss. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, air pollution was very serious, and some people even suggested that human food production would fail in meeting the demand of the rapidly growing population, and the human kindwere doomed to perish. On the contrary, with the advancement of science and technology, scientists succeeded in solvingall the foreseen problems.

Now again some people are emphasizing the depletion of energy and global warming, predicting a tragic ending human kind. In fact, if scientists can come up with effective ways, the energy of the radiation from the sun to the earth for just one hourcan be utilized for human use for ages. Climate change is indeed threatening the survival of mankind, but this is precisely the challenge for scientists to solve. If scientists can invent a beetle which can engulf carbon dioxide and produce food for human beings, then, the human living standards in turn can be further improved. It is the calling of scientists to solve difficult issues facing human beings, and the development of science is not a zero-sum game, but a win-win scenario. To help a country's scientific progress can not only benefit the country, but benefit the world.

Science cannot advance without the participation of young people. It is important, in Dr. Zare’s view, for Chinese young scientists to findout what they love first, and then to study and work hard in that respect. It will make one feel fulfilled and content to engage in one’s favorite job. A small success will lead to a greater one. What is important is to look forward and outward, instead of looking backward or inward. Many people don’t think that basic research and applied science are interrelated. In fact, there is a continuous association between them. The advances of applied science will lead people to reflect on the nature of things, which, in turn, will promote the development applied science. In his view, there exist a mutually reinforcingcirculation process between basic science and applied science.

Looking into the future of S&T revolution, RichardZare clearly pointed out that the new technology revolution is already under way. New materials, new energy resources, and new technologies are continuing to emerge, and will eventually converge to a spectacular new technological revolution.

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