Hong Kong scientist’s tiny breakthrough promises big rewards
Invention by Polytechnic University scientist could revolutionise nanotechnology – yet finding enough talent in the city is proving harder than securing funding
A Hong Kong scientist has invented a nanotechnology that could greatly improve performance in areas ranging from solar energy to environmental protection.
But Professor Wallace Leung Woon-fong said finding the right talent in Hong Kong was even more challenging than securing funding for his game-changing discovery.
“Our breakthrough is pure science which has many possible applications in many disciplines, because it helps to vastly improve the efficiency of conductivity, which means lowering the cost as well,” Leung, of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said.
“But it will have to be developed in combination with different disciplines, each with its own research and development, that is why we will be happy to work with other academic institutions or industries.”
Leung’s breakthrough was to use very thin nano chemicals to improve the efficiency of nanofibre, a widely used semiconductor with a diameter less than 1/1,000 that of a human hair.
Nanofibres are used in solar cells, photocatalysts for cleaning the air and lithium batteries, but the material is inefficient. Leung’s solution was to add tiny slices of highly conductive graphene to form a nano-composite.
This produces a “super highway” for electron transport, which means much faster conductivity.
Leung said it had many applications, such as enhancing solar cell efficiency and improving the performance of air purifiers.
His achievement was recognised by the International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva on March 31, where he was awarded a gold medal and the congratulations of the jury.
Leung, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joined Polytechnic University in 2005 after working for 25 years in the United States and obtaining 36 US patents.
“We were trying to combine the strengths of various departments to apply them to industry,” Leung said.
But finding the right talent was the biggest challenge. He said young people in Hong Kong were smart but had a short-term outlook.
“We find it difficult to recruit good talent in Hong Kong. We need to recruit talent from all over the world and from the mainland. I just hired an expert from India, who has worked in Europe before,” Leung said.
In all PolyU won 11 prizes at the exhibition, which is organised under the patronage of the Swiss government and the World Intellectual Property Organisation.