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Xu Guangxian: “Big chemistry” and the new S&T Revolution

APR . 10 2013

Peking University, Apr. 10, 2013: PKU chemistry Professor Xu Guangxian published an article  "The essence of the sixth Scientific and Technological Revolution" on China Science Daily on April 1. Excerpts follow:



This article proposed the core substances of the sixth Scientific and Technological Revolution (S&T Revolution). Ranked according to their importance, they are: (1) “Big Chemistry” (generalized molecular science) and Technological Revolution; (2) New Life Sciences and Technological Revolution; (3) “Meta-synthetic Wisdom” Revolution and new Information and Internet Revolution; (4) Physical Science Revolution.


Among them, the second has been well recognized; the fourth is often referred to at home and overseas; the third is an important idea in Chinese scientist Qian Xuesen’s later life, however it is yet to be paid attention to; the first has never been brought up. It is my own opinion.


I think the core substances of “big chemistry” and the sixth S&T Revolution should deal with urgent problems at hand both in China and around the world, ease the global economic recession, and bring each country back to track with a healthy development.


The core substances of the sixth S&T Revolution should first help solve urgent problems domestically and globally. Reformation should take place in chemical science and technology.


(1) Organic chemistry is to switch from the chemistry of hydrocarbons and their derivatives to that of carbohydrates and derivatives. The chemical process should be radically changed and chemistry textbooks rewritten.


(2) The revolution of green chemistry, chemistry of atomic economy, and circular chemistry.
During the 20th century, chemical plants had caused serious pollution, and this has to be transformed. The circular chemical process of atomic economy is to develop. The chemical plants that people keep at arm’s length shall be altered into garden-like green enterprises.


(3) The composition and assembly of new medicines and artificial organs is to cause new medical revolution.


(4) Rare earths and wind power generator, rare earths economic light, new photoelectric conversion materials, the development and exploitation of seabed combustible ice, heavy water fusion, and the exploitation of He-3 on the Moon will lead to a new energy revolution.


(5) Among natural plants, only the nodule of legume can take in the nitrogen in the air. Other crops must use nitrogen fertilizer. If the artificial composition of nitrogenase is to succeed, then the fertilizer will not be necessary and crops can utilize the nitrogen in the air directly, leading to an agricultural revolution.


(6) A flourishing chemistry will prompt the development of chemical biology and molecular biology, thus promoting the evolvement of life and health sciences and prolonging human’s lifespan by a large extent.


Xu’s proposal on Gaokao reform


I was acquainted recently that from this year on, many colleges and universities will not include chemistry in their “independent recruitment” exams, but only on math and physics. This will weaken the chemistry education at the secondary level, intensify the overlook and misunderstanding of middle school students, parents, and the public, cut back on the source of excellent students of chemistry departments at universities, thwart China from being the leader of the sixth S&T Revolution and impact the grand course of China’s rising up.


The American SAT is the equivalent of Gaokao, or National College Entrance Exam in China. Chemistry composes a large part of it, which even includes chemical experiment. In order to release the burden of high school students, we can draw lessons from the US. We can have second-grade students in middle school enter for exams of one to three courses. If they get satisfactory results, in their third year, they can skip those exams. This will avert the burden of “One exam determines one life.”


S&T Revolutions from Chinese scientists' perspective


Bai Chunli '78, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), elaborated on the previous five S&T revolutions during a recent interview:


(1) The first took place during 16th and 17th century in such fields as astronomy and physics, led by scientists like Newton, Copernicus, and Galileo. This revolution, which lasted 144 years, marked the birth of modern science.


(2) The invention of steam engine and textile machines brought out the second, and it is also the first Industrial Revolution in the world. The widespread use of steam engines promoted UK’s industrial revolution and modernization.


(3) The third took place in the later half of the 19th century, symbolized by the advent of internal combustion engine, electric motor, and telecommunications technology, which accelerated the development of iron, oil, motor, and airplane industries.


(4) From the later half of the 19th century to the mid-20th century, scientific breakthroughs in the theory of evolution, the theory of relativity, and the quantum theory led to the fourth S&T Revolution. It mainly concerned physics but also spread to astronomy, genetics, geometry, and computer science.


(5) In the later half of the 20th century, computer science and information network evoked the fifth S&T Revolution.


About the author:
Xu Guangxian, CAS member and professor with the PKU College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering (CCME).



Written by: Chen Runxi

Edited by: Jacques

Source: PKU News (Chinese)