NJU three projcects granded second prizes of National Science and Technology Awards for 2023

On the morning of June 24, a conference conflating the National Science and Technology Conference, the National Science and Technology Award Conference, the 21st General Assembly of Academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the 17th General Assembly of Academicians of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, was held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on the morning of June 24. The winners of the National Science and Technology Award in 2023were announced. Three research projects led by Nanjing University won the Second Prizes of the State Natural Science Award.

1. Research on unconventional superconducting mechanism in iron- and nickel-based superconductors

The research team in Nanjing University, led by Professor Wen Hai-Hu, has conducted in-depth research on the superconducting mechanisms in iron-based and nickel-based superconductors and obtained a series of significant achievements. The team members include Yang Huan, Zhu Xiyu, Wang Zhenyu, and Du Zengyi. They joined the development of a new method termed as phase-reference quasiparticle interference and observed the gap-sign change in iron-based superconductors with different topologies of Fermi surfaces. This unifies the basic understanding of the pairing mechanism in iron-based superconductors. For the first time, they observed discrete energy levels of the vortex bound states (VBS), especially the high-order ones of VBS in some vortex cores in Fe(Te,Se), and these states were predicted by the Nobel prize winner de Gennes et al. in 1964. They have carried out the pioneer work in detecting the superconducting gaps in infinite layer nickel-based superconductors and observed a primary nodal d-wave gap in nickel-based infinite-layer superconducting films. These achievements are of great scientific significance for understanding the mechanism of unconventional high-temperature superconductivity.

2. Evolution of Life and Environment During Critical Transition of Pangea

Academician Shen Shuzhong and his team members Fan Junxuan, Zhang Feifei, Zhang Hua, and Zhang Yichun have conducted extensive research on the assembly and breakup of Pangea approximately 260 million years ago. Their work has not only established a high-precision stratigraphic framework but also used big data and artificial intelligence algorithms to reconstruct marine biodiversity evolution curves, revealing global climatic upheavals and changes in marine and terrestrial ecosystems associated with the aggregation and breakup of Pangea. These results provide valuable references for understanding the evolution of the Earth system.

3. Discovery of Extracellular Small RNA, Mechanism of Function and Application

Professor Zhang Chenyu and his team members Ba Yi, Zhang Junfeng, Zeng Ke, and Chen Xi have made groundbreaking progress in the field of extracellular small RNA.

The project began with a transformative discovery: small RNA molecules such as miRNA, previously believed to be limited to intracellular contexts, were found to be stable in extracellular environments like serum. This revelation not only challenged established beliefs but also introduced a groundbreaking concept in biological science – the idea of "extracellular small RNAs as new signaling entities."

A major initial achievement of the project was the identification of numerous fully structured small RNA molecules in extracellular physiological environments. This discovery was essential in mapping the first-ever human serum miRNA expression profile, linking serum miRNA to various physiological and pathological conditions. Recognizing its significance, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States termed these "extracellular RNAs" and initiated funding for worldwide research in this field. The research further revealed that cells actively release small RNAs, which play essential roles both physiologically and pathologically outside the cell. This led to the proposition of the theory that "extracellular small RNAs are novel signaling molecules." The discovery was crucial in understanding how extracellular miRNAs regulate functions in complex systems, including communication between organs and across generations. Additionally, the project pioneered the world's first diagnostic kit for diseases based on extracellular small RNA, significantly advancing liquid biopsy technology.

The project's achievements have dramatically altered our understanding of RNA, creating out a new domain in the study of extracellular RNA biology. Its influence is evident in the extensive academic recognition it has received, its frequent citation in leading scientific journals, its incorporation into international academic textbooks, and the acquisition of several patents. These accomplishments represent a significant step forward in unraveling previously unknown biological phenomena and functions, signaling a subtle yet monumental shift in biological sciences.