`Our Brains Are Western'
Scientist Chen Zhangliang has been on a fast track for almost two decades. Since entering college in 1977, he has earned a doctorate in biology from Washington University in St. Louis, become a professor and then a dean at Beijing University, founded a bioengineering company, and gained worldwide attention for helping to isolate dinosaur DNA from a fossil. Overwhelmingly ambitious, Chen is quick to borrow foreign ideas. "When China opened up to the outside, our curiosity to learn was tremendous," Chen says of his generation. "Our bones are still Chinese, but our brains are Western."
Chen, 34, is now using Western ways to revolutionize the biology department at Beijing University. To boost productivity, he created an incentive-based pay system in which bonuses are based on time spent in the classroom and in research. He also founded the Winning Biotech Group to market the school's research. In its first three months, the group raised $300,000 by selling university research to pharmaceutical companies.
Soon, the college Chen heads will move into a new $4.8 million building. He is also supervising construction of a biotech park. Expected to be completed in two years, it will combine genetic research and commercial development of drugs. In June, Chen plans to visit New York to meet potential investors.
As China's high-tech industries develop, scientists from the Class of '77 will play an increasingly important role, Chen says. For example, about 80% of the recipients of new, government-sponsored $60,000 prizes for scientific research were '77ers. The fund, Chen is quick to point out, was another of his ideas. With his sights set firmly on advancing Chinese science, he promises that more are on the way.