An artist's conception of how the under-construction Shanghai Tower will look next to the Jin Mao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center

I have written a post about non-human builders, unknown builders, and ambitious (but not-entirely-successful) builders.  What about the great builders of the present?  Sadly the west is moribund right now, suffering not just from the housing-bust hangover but from crooked financiers, incompetent politicians, social stalemate, and a dearth of ideas. This situation is probably not permanent but it makes me disinclined to write about the shabby projects going up right now. I suppose I could write about the monstrous white elephant skyscrapers of Dubai, that autocratic dystopia in a desert, or describe the towers of Singapore, the hard-headed, hard-hearted city state.  But not only do I not admire those societies, they are a side show on the world stage (and a tiny sideshow at that). Right now all eyes are on China.  The Middle Kingdom is sucking up the world’s energy resources and every sort of raw material at exponential rates. In return, cities are going up where no cities existed before.  China is rolling out roads, airports, and railroads at a rate never before seen.  An agricultural nation is turning into an urban one. And China’s greatest cities are becoming the great cities of earth, morphing overnight into forests of mega skyscrapers.

But that is not the subject of this post either.  The real question about China’s rise is whether the nation will be able to harness its wealth to become a titan in scientific and technological fields the same way it is dominating manufacturing. Part of the answer to that question can be found in Guizhou province in southern China where a massive bowl shape is rising from the hills. This is the initial superstructure for the five-hundred-meter (546-yard) Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) which is due to open in 2016. FAST will then supplant the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico (which was built in 1963) as the largest single-aperture telescope ever constructed. To quote

When completed, its 500-metre diameter single dish will make it the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world. What’s more, although FAST’s dish will be fixed in its crater-like setting, a series of large motors will be able to change the shape of its reflective surface, allowing it to scan large swathes of the sky. FAST will be able to peer three times further into the universe than Arecibo. Astronomers expect it to uncover thousands of new galaxies and deep-sky objects up to 7 billion light years away.

FAST will be the planet’s eye into deep space (and just, in time: Arecibo’s budget is on the chopping block as congress pares away scientific funding).  The remote location is unusually free of radio interference and the natural bowl-shaped valley it is located in should help amplify its utility. According to National Astronomical Observatories at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the telescope will be available to international astronomy researchers.

How the The Five-Hundred-Meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) Project will look when complete