Fu Yu stood in the shady yard of the Chinese Academy of sciences and pointed to a building to be completed soon. "I will have my own laboratory there, inside the new building of the Institute of Microbiology," he said.
In January, the 40-year-old scientist left Harvard and returned to China. He said he looked forward to completion of his laboratory so that he could soon devote himself to scientific research.
"Internationally, the golden age of a scientist is between 35 and 55 years old -- now is the time," said Fu.
To attract more scientists in their prime to return to China, the country officially started its "Thousand Youth Talents Plan" in December 2012 to provide support for the country's science and technology development over the next 10 to 20 years.
As more overseas elites return to China's universities and scientific research institutes, people have started to wonder: how far are we actually from the Nobel prize in science?
In the first half of this year, Tsinghua University, together with the Institute of Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, announced that their research team had observed the Quantum Anomalous Hall Effect in an experiment for the first time.
Yang Zhenning, Nobel prize winner in physics and honorary president of the higher institute of Tsinghua University, said that it was a Nobel prize-level research achievement.
Last year, Chinese scientists successfully led and completed the Daya Bay reactor neutrino experiment and discovered a new type of oscillation -- a significant result that was named one of the top 10 science breakthroughs of 2012 by the AAAS Journal of Science.
Despite these encouraging achievements, some Chinese scientists remain cautious.
"Nobel prizes in science encourage original and fundamental research results, and those take time," Fu said.
"Chinese scientists should first engage in fundamental research and focus on how to improve originality. Then winning a Nobel prize is just a matter of time," said Xu Hangxun, professor at the School of Chemistry and Materials Science at the University of Science and Technology of China.
Like Fu, Xu was among those who returned under the "Thousand Youth Talents Plan." A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Xu came back to China and became a professor in March of this year.
Both scholars think that changing the current scientific research environment in China is one of the most important steps.
China has now invested a lot of money in scientific study, with funds sometimes greater than those of foreign institutions. In 2013, China's expenditures in scientific research and experimentation reached 2.05 percent of the total GDP.
However, improvement of scientific research requires much more than just money, Xu said. For Xu, funding is no longer the largest problem.
"Even though money is not a problem, my lab had to start from zero," Xu said. "I have to buy everything by myself -- from big lab equipment to small screws."
"Taobao contributes a lot. I have to buy equipment on taobao.com every month, because it is hard to buy unified and standard equipment in real markets," Xu said of China's largest online retail store.
Lacking standards are one of the problems in China, Xu said. "We need to make more changes."
Meanwhile, the evaluation system for Chinese scientists needs to change, Xu said.
China now overemphasizes papers and the Science Citation Index, but it neglects the practical applications of scientific research, according to Xu.
"People like us return to make a change in China's current scientific research environment and to cultivate a group of talented students," Xu said. "After all of these are achieved, we will be one more step closer to Nobel prizes in science."