BEIJING, Jan. 10 (Xinhua) -- Two Chinese scientists, physical chemist Zhang Cunhao and nuclear weapons expert Cheng Kaijia, won China's top science award on Friday for their outstanding contributions to scientific and technological innovation.
The pair, both academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, were presented with certificates by Chinese President Xi Jinping at an annual ceremony held to honor distinguished scientists and research achievements.
Winners are each entitled to an award of 5 million yuan (826,276 U.S. dollars).
Addressing the ceremony, Premier Li Keqiang said, "China has entered a new stage in which the country must rely more on sci-tech innovation to guide and support its economic development and social progress."
China's traditional growth mode, which was mainly driven by factor input, is difficult to sustain and is gradually losing its competitive edge in medium and low-end products, according to Li.
"Our country's economy is shifting from high-speed growth to a phase of medium- to high-speed growth," he said.
The premier said China must rely on scientific and technological innovation to improve the overall quality of its economy, move upward in the industrial value chain, foster a new competitive edge, overcome restraints in resources and the environment, and achieve more sustainable development.
The country needs breakthroughs in cutting-edge science and technology as well as in strategic sectors vital to the national economy and people's livelihood, he said.
The government should free innovative scientific activities from administrative intervention and "let the market speak" in terms of research orientation, resource allocation and use of funds, he urged.
It should also create an environment that promotes fair play and encourages creativity and initiative among scientists and researchers, Li said, while encouraging the young to follow the example set by outstanding scientists and contribute their wisdom to the country and the people.
Several other scientists and scientific research programs were awarded at the ceremony, and Chinese leaders Liu Yunshan and Zhang Gaoli were also present at the event.
Zhang, the chemist, was born in 1928 in north China's Tianjin. He earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1947 and went to the United States to further his studies. Zhang obtained a master's degree in 1950, when the Korean War broke out.
In 1951, he returned to serve his hometown despite the hard conditions in China, and devoted himself to scientific research at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the northeast port city.
During his 60 years of scientific research, Zhang focused on many pioneering technologies, including water gas technology, rocket propellant and the laser field.
Zhang was in charge of the National Natural Science Foundation for eight years, during which the funds for natural sciences were increased eight-fold, and a fund for outstanding youth was also set up under his request.
Nuclear weapons expert Cheng, 96, has participated in more than 30 of China's nuclear experiments, including the country's first atomic bomb, hydrogen bomb, and the combination of the two bombs.
He has devoted 20 of his prime years to living in the vast Gobi in southwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region since 1963.
Cheng also participated in writing China's first academic document for atomic bomb research and experiments, designing a plan for setting off an atomic bomb at an iron tower higher than 100 meters, and planning the missions and formation of the institute of nuclear weapons experiments.
His team has established China's nuclear explosion theory, the research field of nuclear explosion effects, different kinds of nuclear experiments, and technical safety standards.
Cheng has greatly promoted the scientific development of nuclear experiments and improved the design of nuclear weapons.