Physics prodigy wins admirers for network theory

Victor Lam's ideas on network reliability could have implications on the street and the internet

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 3:36am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 3:36am

He may only be 17, but physics prodigy Victor Lam Ho-tat is already stunning academics around the world with research that could greatly improve the reliability of power grids, social media networking systems and the internet in general.

The theories of the second-year student at the University of Science and Technology on network reliability could also bring benefits for traffic systems and electric power networks as well as circuit design, his tutors say.

"What is [network] reliability?" Lam said yesterday. "Take a traffic network as an example. Sometimes the roads may not function properly, there might be construction that means they are blocked, or traffic jams. In this case, we say the [network's] links are not functioning."

By using a "genetic algorithm" ranking system that he devised, Lam is able to assess a network's reliability and show how robust its overall structure remains when one or more of the links are damaged.

Even genetic research could benefit.

Lam said IBM's Blue Gene P supercomputer, which is used to analyse the human genome, consisted of "a lot of processors and individual computers" that formed a network. Thus it would be subject to Lam's reliability theories in the same way as any other live network. "More reliable networks would allow us to have better and more secure supercomputers," he added.

Professor Szeto Kwok-yip of the university's physics department said that by applying Lam's algorithms to power networks, the probability of failure could be reduced. It would help address the question: "How do you build links so that the probability of power failure is small; so that it's most reliable?"

Lam's theories have earned him an invitation to speak alongside top international scholars at academic conferences in Poland and Canada later this summer.

The former pupil of Pui Shing Catholic Secondary School in Tin Shui Wai started university a year early at the age of just 16.

And Lam, who won a gold medal at the 2012 International Physics Olympiad, is also being sought by international institutions, with the director of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris expressing interest in Lam's continuing his studies there after he graduates, Szeto said.