China Follows the Sun to Israel's Weizmann Institute


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Chinese researchers and Prof. Amnon Yogev. Exporting knowledge

The giant People's Republic of China is looking to the Weizmann Institute of Science in tiny Israel to provide it with some of the know-how it requires for developing advanced solar technology.

In pursuit of this goal, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has sent to the Institute two researchers, Kou Qing and Yao Chengcai, who point out that their country's growing interest in solar energy is spurred by the difficulties it faces in supplying its huge population with electricity, as well as by its mounting concern over pollution caused by burning fossil fuels.

Kou, 26, is from the Institute of Electrical Engineering in Beijing, an affiliate of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and China's foremost energy research facility. It has recently helped establish the first of 10 solar power plants scheduled to be built in Tibet, where fossil fuels are scarce and many villages still have no electricity.

Of particular interest to Kou is the development of systems based on solar cells that use concentrated sunlight at selected spectral bands. In a research project supervised by Prof. Amnon Yogev, Head of Weizmann's Energy Research Center, he is trying to determine which part of the sun's spectrum is most suitable for operating such cells. After returning to China, Kou, who is learning Hebrew in his free time, hopes to initiate collaboration between the Weizmann and his Institute in Beijing.

Yao, 28, who was sent here together with Kou in January 1993, is a researcher and lecturer in solar engineering at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), a top Chinese institution located in Hefei, some 2,000 km south of Beijing. Now claiming Yao's attention is a research project headed by Michael Epstein, Director of the Solar Research Facilities Unit. The aim of the study is to transform solar energy into storable and transportable chemical fuel that can be used hundreds of miles away from where the sun's rays are collected.

Yao is the eldest son of peasants in southern China, who couldn't afford to send all of their five children to school, so that one of them wound up with just two years of formal education. Yao managed to finish high school and enter university, which at the time was free for talented children from indigent families.

The Weizmann assignment makes him the pride of his parents' entire village, Yao says. When he goes home, he intends to teach his students everything he learned at the solar tower.

Prof. Yogev holds the Stephen and Mary Meadow Chair of Laser Photochemistry.