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The United Kingdom values China as an important scientific and trading partner, and will continue to deepen trade ties, scientific cooperation and people-to-people relations among scientists, a UK scientist has said.
Phil Coates made the comment on Jan 8 after receiving the International Science and Technology Cooperation Award — China"s highest scientific honor given to foreign scientists who have contributed greatly to national scientific advancement.
Coates, the director of the Polymer Interdisciplinary Research Center at the University of Bradford, has been working with Chinese scientists to promote international scientific cooperation in polymer chemistry and other material sciences in China for more than a decade.
In the past 10 years, China has put tremendous effort into fundamental research, as well as the commercialization of scientific findings to fuel the economy, he said. "It is encouraging to see China has such clear respect and strong commitment to support science and technology."
Coates helped build the Sino-UK Institute of Advanced Material and the International Center for Polymer Micromachining, as well as five other research centers in China. He also worked on eight major projects with Chinese partners including Sichuan University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Ministry of Science and Technologies, and China Petroleum and Chemical Corp — China"s largest oil refiner.
Polymers are large, complicated molecules made from many smaller units of molecules chained together, said Coates. Depending on what kinds of molecules and how they are connected, polymers can have different properties, which can be used in various products ranging from kitchenware to medical equipment.
One of the exciting new themes in Sino-UK scientific collaboration is applying advanced polymer material to healthcare technologies, he said. "We are currently working on a wide range of products for implants, bioabsorbable materials, and drug-eluting stents," he said. "It has been a fruitful cooperation that has clear benefits for both countries because we share an aging demographic issue."
However, the commercialization process of new materials, especially in the fields of medicine and health, is a difficult task, he said. Sino-UK scientific cooperation can facilitate the process, but it is "by no means a silver bullet".
To turn research into products, Coates worked closely with universities and institutions in Sichuan province, which is known to have some of the best chemical and industrial infrastructure and talent in China, he said.
"For scientific cooperation to work, you need political connections on a national level, scientific connections on an academic level, and personnel connections," he said. China is at the start of the Belt and Road Initiative, and the UK is located at the end, hence both countries have a solid economic foundation for cooperation, he added.
"There is a strong interest in the UK to expand trading relations with China under the initiative," he said. "The UK scientific community also believes it is sensible to develop scientific cooperation with China."
Coates said connections among scientists were especially important because they turn scientific projects into communities with shared responsibilities and values.
These communities will become the framework to sustain future scientific collaborations by keeping scientists around the world connected and engaged in working toward the same goal, he said.
In the future, it is important to give young researchers from China and the UK the opportunities to interact and build people-to-people relations with others, Coates said. So they can produce more joint works in the form of publications and products, he added.
At the same time, the two countries will need more robust and clear funding mechanisms for joint projects. "There is a "can do" attitude in China, and Chinese scientists have a real willingness to connect and cooperate with scientists around the world," he said.