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January 23, 2010

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The doorstep of tomorrow

The upcoming World Expo 2010 Shanghai will be another great event for China after the Beijing Olympic Games. With the theme of "Better City, Better Life," this six-month exposition is expected to attract 70 million people from over 200 countries, providing a showcase for pioneering ideas from across the globe.

Each World Expo writes a new chapter in the dissemination of scientific innovation and social progress through science and technology. World Expos have introduced the public to steam engines, sewing machines, rubber, submarine cables, telephones and televisions. At these great fairs, people were given the first glimpses of the innovations that would come to define their lives and the lives of future generations.

Our world today faces a critical juncture that pits a rising population's desire for affluence against the constraints of limited natural resources and the risks of ecological degradation. This fundamental conflict will determine the direction, scope and progress of our modernization drive to a great extent.

In the next five decades, between 2 and 3 billion people in countries such as China and India will push for continued modernization, with developing countries eager to advance their industrialization.

Consider the historical perspective. Industrialization has ushered in modernization to barely 1 billion people in the past two centuries, yet is has severely exhausted natural resources, especially fossil energy, and has brought shocking damage to the natural environment. Neither the traditional economic growth model of irrational exploitation of nonrenewable resources nor the development pattern of concentrating the world's resources in a few countries is sustainable. Therefore, it is of great urgency for mankind to develop new sources of resources, create new development patterns and overhaul production methods and lifestyles.

This need, along with the conflict mentioned above, has prompted a loud call for revolutionary breakthroughs in science and technology. The current global financial crisis, while leading to a thorough remodeling of the world economy, will accelerate the advent of such a scientific and technological revolution.

What are the new growth engines for China and other countries in the next five decades? I think new energy will probably be a crucial one. In the long term, fossil fuels such as coal and oil will eventually be exhausted. Once a technological breakthrough is achieved and the cost of its utilization is substantially reduced, solar energy will provide us with inexhaustible energy.

After this breakthrough, we may continue our efforts and try to use solar energy for making hydrogen to fuel automobiles, trains and planes. Hydrogen burns to produce pure water, providing a corollary solution for the problem of drinking water supplies. Moreover, scientists are also exploring breakthroughs in information technology, life sciences, biotechnology, recycling, advanced manufacturing and health industries.

The Shanghai World Expo will showcase some of the innovative technologies and products related to uses of new energy, energy-saving devices and emissions reduction.

Hosting the World Expo is a great honor for the Chinese people, and Shanghai has risen to the challenge of making it an historic landmark. The Chinese Academy of Sciences, which cherishes a long history of friendly cooperation with Shanghai, is lending its scientific and technological support to this exposition.

Since 2001, the academy has signed three partnership agreements with the Shanghai Municipal Government, which have led to the establishment of cooperation in fields such as research and development platforms, promotion of industrial clustering and upgrading, and environmental monitoring and safety control. Institutes and scientists at the academy's Shanghai branch have also actively engaged in scientific and technological projects relating to the World Expo.

It is my express hope that World Expo 2010 Shanghai China will become a platform to usher in a global scientific and technological revolution, providing impetus to China's own scientific and technological innovation.


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