It looked like just another conference call. A panel of suited men sat at a table, large white name tags and water bottles before them. The man in the center, illuminated by fluorescent lights, spoke to a camera in front of him.

“It is such a privilege and thrill to witness this historical moment with you all,” said Chunli Bai, the president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, on that afternoon last September. His image streamed live to another table of suited men more than 4,500 miles away and six hours behind, at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna…