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Mar 7, 2012
DARPA and the Chinese Academy of Sciences
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The United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have a vested interest in fostering research with both military and commercial applications. In the United States, the importance of military scientific research is consistently surfaced by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The PRC supports the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) which in turn works as a similar function to DARPA but with divided support between civilian and military technologies.

CAS Awards Foreign Scientists

A few weeks ago, the Chinese government announced the recipients of its International Science and Technology Cooperation Awards, which honored eight foreign scientists for their involvement in projects that have helped to expand China’s science and technology development. This group of scientists included professors from Germany, Japan and the United States as well as one Chinese Australian, all of whom worked with the CAS.

Professor Andreas Dress of Germany is a mathematician whose recent research focuses on phylogenetic combinatorics, which uses mathematical proofs to reveal the relationships in phylogenetic trees. This process helps to diagram the evolutionary links between species based on their genetic characteristics.  Professor Dress’s co-director is studying the evolution and genetics of complex human diseases.

Japanese Professor Aikichi Iwamoto teaches at the Institute of Medical Science, University of Tokyo (IMSUT) and has been instrumental in establishing relations between the University of Tokyo and the CAS. Professor Iwamoto’s research focuses mainly on AIDS/HIV and their resistance to medications. He cares for patients at the HIV outpatient clinic of IMSUT’s Research Hospital and is currently the hospital’s director.

Professor Stephen Porter of Washington University is a geologist who has done considerable research as related to the possible association between sediments and climate change. He and his colleagues have been studying the monsoon climate in the Loess region of central China since 1985. Professor Porter was the first Westerner to ever journey to some of the remote areas and villages that he examined in his research.


Professor G. Q. Max Lu, of Chinese and Australian descent, has made significant contributions to the fields of nanoporous materials, adsorption and catalysis. His work has led to advancements in clean and alternative energy and he has served on several government committees. Professor Lu was given the Queensland Sustainable Energy Innovation Foundation Award in 2000 for his research on the conversion of biogas to methanol. 


The diversity of the scientists recognized is reflective of the number of divisions that exist within the CAS and its history as being the first premier scientific institution in China founded within one month of the nation’s establishment.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences

The Chinese Academy of Sciences, founded in 1949 as the Academia Sinica, is an institution of the State Council of China. It has its headquarters in Beijing, but has 117 institutes all over China. The Academy teaches and researches in the fields of mathematics and physics, chemistry, life sciences and medicine, earth sciences, and information/technology sciences. Membership to the CAS is considered the highest honor a Chinese scientist can achieve and is the highest academic title given to a Chinese scholar.


The CAS has a budget of approximately $3 billion dollars, which is spent on R&D for both civilian and military technologies. The CAS has also been responsible for the introduction of technologies that eventually became commercial successes in the public or civilian sector. Lenovo, for instance, was funded by the CAS and the academy still maintains ownership in this hardware enterprise.  These financial and entrepreneurial achievements are seldom recognized in the United States, but the numbers tell a different story with CAS affiliated private enterprises earning sales of $27.19 billion in 2008.

The CAS has a large support staff of 58,000, 32.6 percent of whom are women. Approximately 50-60 percent of its budget each year is spent on applied research rather than experimental or theoretical research. The CAS also applied for 7,527 patents in 2010, about 21 percent more than in 2009.


This past year, according to The Economist, Chinese citizens applied for more patents than US citizens. This stands in direct contrast to the opinion of many in the field of intellectual property who believe that the Chinese do not support the rights of inventors.  At the same time while moving the Chinese forward in civilian technologies, the

CAS often works under the direction of the Academy of Military Sciences (AMS). In some cases, papers produced by the CAS acknowledge this relationship because they often focus on reverse engineering military technologies. Innovations in these areas, which can contribute to national defense, are often where DARPA and the CAS converge -- literally and figuratively -- as the intellectual elite of both nation states seek new technologies with military application. 

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

DARPA was created in 1958 as a response to the launching of Sputnik. Its headquarters are in Arlington, Virginia and the agency is organized into six program offices that report to the DARPA director. Since its founding, DARPA has contributed to technologies that are used for military and sometimes everyday applications, including stealth fighters, the M16 assault rifle and the Internet. Unlike the CAS, which has a lifelong membership, DARPA’s staff has a very short tenure of three to five years. However, DARPA Alumni are very well taken care of and continue to collaborate with the organization. There are approximately 120 members per year, but previous members are frequently in contact with the current staff and often give advice and share their experiences with DARPA.

The organization, while not entirely transparent about specific research due to reasons of national security, is funded by the US Department of Defense with an annual budget of approximately $3.2 billion dollars. 

The projects that DARPA currently has in development much more resemble what you might expect to see in a science-fiction movie -- a four-legged robot dubbed "Cheetah", which recently set the land-speed for robots at 18 miles per hour, the robotic packhorse dubbed Legged Squad Support System (LS3) which can carry an entire squad's gear and intelligently navigate terrain and the Autonomous Robotic Manipulation (ARM) which vaguely resembles the human hand (if it had three fingers) and can staple papers, open doors and pick up a phone -- all with no human input. Their mandate permits them to do a great deal of both applied and theoretical research with the objective to prepare the United States for the war of tomorrow.

The CAS, while also investing in theoretical research, keeps most of its focus on applied research with immediate application. However, it is when the CAS and DARPA both simultaneously invest in the same idea that one can see the immediate overlap between their internal thinking, security mission and dedication to the growth of science.

For example, LanzaTech -- a New Zealand based company developing fuel related technologies -- received funding from both the CAS and DARPA. The company also announced they are opening an operation in Shanghai with the assistance of the Chinese government. While this may seem odd to those who study geopolitics, it simply shows that when it comes to the sciences, both countries recognize the value of intellectual property and that individuals, regardless of national loyalty, can speak a common language grounded in advancement.

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