Shaw Prize connects Hong Kong to world of cutting-edge research

The prize has helped put the city on the map and offers an opportunity for the public to learn about the intrinsic interest of pioneering research

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 June, 2016, 12:33am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 June, 2016, 12:33am

As Hong Kong strives to become a hi-tech hub, there is a science-related enterprise that is renowned around the world and helps put the city on the map – the Shaw Prize. Since it was established in 2002, its prestige and credibility have grown, thanks to the high-calibre of the winners and the impartiality of the highly qualified judges. It has also become a good predictor of future Nobel laureates. So far, seven Shaw scientists have gone on to win the world’s greatest scientific prize.

No doubt the US$1.2 million prize money helps make its awards newsworthy. But the prize also offers an opportunity for the public to learn about the intrinsic interest of the research of these pioneering thinkers. Their work may be highly technical, but their impact on science and society can be profound.

Take this year’s winners in life science and medicine: Professors Huda Zoghbi and Adrian Bird. Their genetic research identifies a protein and its mutation which causes a lethal neurological disorder called Rett syndrome, and develops solutions to tackle the condition. But their work has far-reaching implications which may help cure other neurological disorders such as autism. Such research not only gives hope to patients and their families affected by those disorders, but may also inspire young people to pursue a career in science.

The government has gone into overdrive to promote science and technology. The aim is to enhance productivity and diversify our economy. The Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong has been established. The world-renowned Karolinska Institutet of Sweden and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are setting up research facilities in the city. HK$100 million has been set aside to promote cross-border research between leading mainland and local universities. A new HK$2 billion fund will help commercialise research and development. But it is basic science that underpins new technology and re-industralisation specialising in hi-tech products. The Shaw Prize plays an invaluable role in connecting the city to the world of cutting-edge research and its leaders.