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Discoveries about the ageing of cells have been voted China's top science and technology breakthrough of 2002 in a poll of its scientific community.

Second in the list came discoveries in solid-state physics, and the third achievement was the country's successful launching and recovery of the 'Shenzhou III’ and ‘Shenzhou IV’ unmanned spaceships.

The annual survey was organised by China's Ministry of Science and Technology and the China Association for Science and Technology, which collected the views of more than 133,000 people including members of China's two leading academies, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering.

Fourth and fifth place in the survey went to the development of a biochip for detecting cancer, and the world's first scientific drill investigating high-pressure metamorphite rock. China's introduction of a law on disseminating science and technology knowledge, which was passed on 29 June 2002, features as the ninth achievement on the list.

Those surveyed were also asked to select the world's top 10 science achievements for 2002, none of which were independently developed by Chinese scientists. According to Lu Yongxiang, president of the academy, the results indicate the continuing gap between Chinese scientists and their foreign counterparts. "We have to work harder," he said.