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China soon to produce twice as many scientists as U.S.

  • There may be some truth in the stereotype of the geeky Chinese student, skilled at science and mathematics
  • China is producing three graduates in science and engineering fields for every two in America, a study showed.
  • The students are focusing on aeronautics, drones, space exploration, and a home-grown GPS system

THE PICTURE AT the top shows Xu Ying, a rock star of satellite science in China. She started work at the Chinese Academy of Sciences after her postgraduate studies in 2009, and became the academy’s youngest doctoral supervisor in 2015 at the age of 32. She is one of many bright lights in China’s burgeoning science scene.

By the year 2025, Chinese universities will produce 77,000 graduates in science and engineering fields, close to double the 40,000 trained in the United States, a study shows. The US figures includes international students – so the actual number of homegrown “STEM” students in America will actually be just one third of the Chinese total, according to a report by Georgetown University in the US.

Chinese universities are increasingly well-rated on international scales, with universities such as Tsinghua University and Beijing University ranking high in the QS Top World Universities list. Pretty good for a country which was very poor just a few decades ago, and is still counted as “developing”.

The number of Chinese graduates, particularly in the sciences, is growing fast. Image by Poodar Chu/ Unsplash


Out of more than 10 million Chinese students who graduate from degree programs each year, three million major in science, technology and engineering, according to a white paper entitled “Youth of China in the New Era”.

The number of students enrolling in doctoral programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programs at universities increased from just 34,000 in 2010 to a projected 77,100 in 2025.

The Chinese government wants to develop high levels of skill in various sectors, notably aerospace and aviation, navigation satellite systems and space exploration.


The Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (北京航空航天大學), now more widely known as Beihang University, has offered more than 50 degree programs such as aerospace engineering and flight vehicle design and engineering, 30 master level degrees, and 20 PhD programs. It has trained more than 240,000 graduates.

Many scientists are trained here, at Beihang University. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

More than one-third of the management personnel, engineers and scientists participating in manned space programs are trained by Beihang University. The university has played a pivotal role in designing the country’s powerful rocket “Long March” and developing next-generation manned spaceflights.

Beihang University has also groomed talent in developing drones. In October last year, students from the university developed a drone powered by a gasoline engine which broke the world’s duration-time record as recognized by the International Aeronautical Federation. The drone team consists of 25 undergraduates with diverse majors and their average age is just under 20 years old. 

Students are creating their own drones. Image from Beihang University.

The drone, which weighed 60 kilograms, flew continuously for 80 hours and 46 minutes in Henan, breaking the record previously set by an oil-powered fixed-wing drone produced by a Boeing subsidiary, Aurora Flight Sciences.


With a pool of young scientists, China has made a breakthrough in developing the third-generation BeiDou Navigation Satellite System to allow global positioning coverage. An alternative to the US-owned Global Positioning System, BeiDou is China’s independently developed and operated navigation satellite system. Staff worked on it for about two decades. It is worthwhile to note that the average age of the core members of the research group on the BeiDou satellite system is just 36.

Xu Ying (徐穎), shown below and in the main picture at the top, has been nicknamed “Goddess of BeiDou” in the media, referring to her work on the BeiDou satellite system. A post-80s generation science academic from Sichuan, she specialized in research on the BeiDou satellite system at the Institute of Optics and Electronics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Top scientist Xu Ying. Image from Our Hong Kong Foundation.

Xu, who is now approaching 40, studied on the PhD program at the Beijing Institute of Technology (北京理工大學), focusing on signalling and information processing.

A Chinese satellite launch. Image from BeiDou.

Xu is now leading her team to expand the mass applications of the BeiDou satellite system in the civilian market, namely land and maritime transportation, aviation, smart agriculture, fishery, weather monitoring, and other industries. She says the BeiDou satellite system will give rise to numerous new industries and impetus to national development.


China has the world’s largest radio telescope, in Guizhou’s Pingtang county, and science leaders are mulling whether to build more to study cosmic mysteries. Dubbed as “China’s Sky Eye”, the 500-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope is said to be the most sensitive telescope worldwide. Last year, China opened the gigantic telescope to international scientists for scientific research and studies.

China’s Sky Eye, the world’s largest radio telescope. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Nan Rendong

Legendary scientist and radio astronomer Nan Rendong (南仁東) was the founder and chief scientist of the project. During his lifetime, Nan nurtured a group of young scientists and engineers, including Jiang Pang (姜鵬) (pictured below), to build the telescope.

Nan spent more than 20 years building the telescope to help China explore the universe before he passed away in 2017. With a doctoral degree in solid mechanics and engineering, Jiang worked as his assistant, but subsequently fulfilled his teacher’s aspirations to continue the giant telescope project, which went into use in 2020. Jiang focused on radio astronomy technology and is chief engineer in charge of the operation and maintenance of the telescope.

Telescope builder Jiang Peng. Image from National Astronomical Observatories.

The telescope is made of over 4,400 individual reflective panels. Jiang said that Nan and the team members overcame numerous difficulties to combine the panels and build the giant telescope. Recently Jiang and his team also designed smart robots to help maintain the telescope. The team have been expanded to some 100 members to explore more undetected space phenomena.

The world today is fast-evolving, with many significant technological innovation changes unseen. A huge pool of aspirant science and engineering elites have empowered China’s quest on aerospace, satellite and astronomical exploration.

Montage at the top by Fridayeveryday

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