Chinese science goes to Earth

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Earth sciences will be the focus of a concerted push by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which last week formally opened its new Institute of Geographic and Natural Resources Research.

Formed by the merger of two older institutes, the new institute is part of a wider academy reorganization announced two years ago ( Nature 394, 710; 1998).

About 400 scientists will join the institute from the old Institute of Geography. Of those, about 250 will take part in a new incentive programme, designed to encourage a more competitive approach to research.

Scientists can apply to be part of this programme “if their research interests align with the institute's strategy”, according to Li Xiubin, the institute's deputy director. He adds that this will entail a strong emphasis on basic research. Projects inside the incentive programme will be evaluated every two years to determine whether they can continue.

Other employees of the former institutes will be moved to a company providing services to the new institute, which will eventually be spun-off from it.

The academy's old organization was largely modelled on that of the former Soviet Union during the 1950s and was badly in need of reform. Now it plans to streamline its 123 institutes — which house many of China's best scientists — and reduce its staff from 68,000 to 30,000 by 2010.

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