Hong Kong innovators

Golden era for science: links to mainland China and rest of world give Hong Kong the edge in innovation

Academy of Sciences head Tsui Lap-chee tells forum city is strong in fundamental and applied research

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 9:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 9:50am

For a city better known as an international business centre, Hong Kong is well placed to excel in science and innovation thanks to its connections with mainland China and the rest of the world, according to Professor Tsui Lap-chee, who heads the Academy of Sciences in Hong Kong.

Tsui was speaking on Monday evening in a forum at the Convention and Exhibition Centre to promote science and innovation in Hong Kong. The event was part of the week-long 2016 InnoTech Expo organised by the Our Hong Kong Foundation, which is chaired by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.

The event also features an exhibition of China’s major scientific achievements, including one of its Chang’e moon probes.

“Hong Kong is very strong in fundamental research as well as applied research. We create ecological chains from basic research to the end product, but some of our research may be ‘sporadic’. However, our advantage is our proximity to the mainland. Some of the developments can be done in China,” the former vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong said.

Tsui is a world-renowned scientist himself, and was at one stage considered a potential Nobel Prize candidate for his early research, which identified a defective gene that was widely considered to be a major breakthrough in human genetics.

Tsui was the co-moderator for the forum, along with Professor Tony Chan, president of the University of Science and Technology.

Tsui’s optimism about innovation and science in Hong Kong was echoed by other scientists at the forum.

Professor Vivian Yam Wing-wah, a chemistry professor at the University of Hong Kong, said: “Now is the golden era for working in science and innovation.” She is researching materials for lights that can be used in smartphones and curved televisions.

“In the past, when we bought chemicals, we needed to wait six months. We relied on printed journals, but now we can read it online. The infrastructure is so much better,” she said.

“The satisfaction from scientific research far exceeds anything money can offer. I think this is very important. I think some good students do not choose science and research because of pressure from their parents, and they may not be familiar with the science scene in the city.”

Now is the golden era for working in science and innovation
Professor Vivian Yam Wing-wah, HKU

Professor Wong Ching-ping, dean of engineering at Chinese University of Hong Kong whose research includes how to better store solar energy, said the quality of Hong Kong’s young people was also a positive factor.

“They are intelligent and hardworking, and the territory’s universities also enjoy high rankings worldwide,” he said. “I hope they are not going into engineering just for the money. I hope they are genuinely interested in the field.”

The forum starred some of the best scientists in Hong Kong, who were happy to showcase their signature research achievements – six minutes each – in front of a packed audience. They also explained how their work actually helped people, rather than just staying in the laboratory.

Professor Joseph Sung, Chinese University’s vice-chancellor and an expert in gastroenterology, explained how antibiotics could treat certain types of stomach ulcers and minimise the chance of a relapse.

He said the cure was so effective that his hospital clinic ran out of patients, so “he decided to become the vice-chancellor”.

Professor Nancy Ip, dean of science at the University of Science and Technology, forecast that over 100 million people worldwide would develop Alzheimer’s disease by 2050. She carried out breakthrough research with mice that could help patients restore their memory, though she said the path to actual clinical treatment would be long.

Professor Xu Yangsheng, who heads Chinese University’s extension campus in Shenzhen, explained his work on artificial intelligence and robotics. He said he had developed robots that could climb trees and a system for caring for pets remotely through a mobile phone.