BEIJING / SHANGHAI - State leaders encouraged independent innovation as two of China's greatest minds were awarded the country's top science honor on Friday.
Materials expert Shi Changxu and hematologist Wang Zhenyi won the annual State Top Scientific and Technological Award for their outstanding contributions to scientific and technological innovation.
The men, both from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, each received 5 million yuan ($758,000) and President Hu Jintao presented them with certificates at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
China has presented the award to its elite scientists and researchers for 11 consecutive years since 2000.
In his speech, Premier Wen Jiabao urged more scientific innovation to help the country cope with the global economic downturn and ensure it enjoys lasting economic prosperity.
He said greater efforts should be made to embrace the global scientific and technological development that will build China into an innovation-driven economy.
Independent innovation should play a key role in economic restructuring and the transformation of the country's development pattern, the premier said at the ceremony.
He pledged to ensure a better allocation of resources in the science sector and to protect the intellectual property rights of scientists.
China will also create a better environment for researchers and young scientists in which they can develop their careers, he said.
The 91-year-old Shi is a native of Xushui county in Hebei province and a member of the Chinese Academy of Science. He graduated from the National Northwest China Institute of Technology in 1945 and acquired a doctorate from a United States university before returning to China in 1955.
Shi was honored for his research into super alloy steel and new alloy steel, which have been used widely to produce turbine blades for Chinese fighter aircraft. During his scientific career, his work resulted in the creation of a variety of new alloy steels.
The elderly scientist looked energetic as he politely declined an offer of help in getting down from the platform after receiving his award and giving a passionate speech.
Wang Zhenyi, 87, graduated from the former Aurora University in Shanghai in 1948 with a doctoral degree. His research has greatly improved the survival chances of people with acute promyelocytic leukemia. Wang was the first scientist to transform cancer cells into ordinary cells.
His counterparts described him as the first doctor to discover how to apply natural materials, instead of toxic chemicals, in the treatment of cancer. They also said he was the first person to explain that trans-retinoic acid in leukemia does not to kill cells, but changes cancer cells into ordinary ones. In 1994, he was elected a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
To his students, Wang, a Shanghai native, remains a meticulous thinker and earnest worker.
"Wang is not only a modest and open-minded man, but also a scholar who is rigorous with work and cherishes talent," said Chen Guoqiang, one of Wang's former students and now the president of the Medical School at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
While president of Shanghai No 2 Medical University, Wang often worked deep into the night, reviewing and revising his students' papers because of his heavy daytime schedule. Chen said Wang's meticulous style left a lasting impression on him that colored his subsequent career.
Other scientific endeavors were also singled out.
An original anti-counterfeit device used in the printing of banknotes won the State Technological Invention Award.
And 30 other projects were named as second-prize winners in the State Natural Sciences Award category. However, no single project was named first-prize winner in that category.