Chinese billionaire’s investment in Caltech disappoints Chinese scientists

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Chinese billionaire Chen Tianqiao announced on December 7 that he would donate $115 million to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for brain research, in order to crack the fundamental principles that underlie brain functions.

The donation invited heated debate among Chinese scientists. Qiu Zilong, a research fellow at the Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai, commented that he was both surprised and disappointed by the donation. Chen Yelin, a researcher at the Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said “Chen has done something incredible, but research on neuroscience in the US has been very successful and an additional $115 million won’t bring significant changes. China, on the other hand, is developing rapidly.”

Qiu also admits that Chen’s donation is a private matter and should not be publicly criticized, but he hoped this incident would invite more people to work on building a more complete funding system in China. “$115 million may not be a large number for American institutes, but it is for Chinese scientists. For instance, in the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the funds for each project will not exceed $2 million. Sometimes $50,000 or $1 million is enough.”

Later on a remark made by Rao Yi, director of the Life Sciences Department of Peking University, went viral. “The billionaire couple made a mistake by funding Caltech instead of a Chinese research institute. Compared with Caltech, an institute already mature in biology and neuroscience research, China’s research is on the rise and therefore needs more funds.”

Some experts stand neutral and think that the investment will benefit human beings in general. Professor Hu Ji, of the ShanghaiTech University, said that “competition may exist among individual researchers, but not among humanity as a whole. For instance, China benefits from the progress the United States has made in cancer treatment. It is a good thing that rich people are willing to invest in scientific research.”
Although most scientists agree that in future China will excel at neuroscience research, many also admitted that the United States does have a mature donation system to help individual donors involved in funding scientific research projects, and that is why Chen chose to invest in an American institute.