Spacecraft control specialists at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center monitor the operations of the Tianwen 1 Mars probe. CHINA DAILY

During a discussion with young Chinese people in 2013, President Xi Jinping praised them as “the most energetic and creative group of our society” and said that they should “stand at the frontline of innovation and creation”.

To answer his call, Chinese scientists in their 30s have played a key role in some of the country’s greatest scientific and technological projects, China Daily reported.

For example, the researchers behind the Chang’e lunar exploration program and the Shenzhou series of spacecraft have an average age of 35. The average age of the team that created the Beidou Satellite Navigation System is 37. For China’s FAST, the world’s largest radio telescope, its engineering and operation team has an average age of 39, while its on-site crew has an average age of 30, according to People’s Daily.

The surge in young scientists is partly a result of improving research environments. In 2020, the total research and development spending hit 2.44 trillion yuan in China, accounting for 2.4 percent of the GDP, which set a record high, and ranked second worldwide, according to Hu Zucai, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission.

Zhao Hongzhou, an expert in the field of analyzing scholarly literature, said scientists usually make their biggest achievements between the ages of 25 and 45, with their productivity peaking around 37.

This trend is evident among the scientists and engineers working on those key projects. Meanwhile, the scientific spirit these young scientists have shown is also moving.

“Facing a problem is the least of my worries, because wherever there is a problem, there is an opportunity to do further research,” said Yao Rui, 37, a researcher who worked on FAST. “As a young scientist, I am lucky to align my personal passions with the needs of the nation, so I can improve and grow together with the country.”

However, according to Jiang Peng, FAST’s chief engineer, although people often called their team exemplary, they regard themselves as just a group of ordinary people. “[We] joined the project in our 20s, and worked tirelessly for it well into our 30s and 40s,” Jiang said.

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