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Institute for Advanced Study enables interaction between scientists and scholars

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 December, 2015, 12:13pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 February, 2016, 11:04am

Perhaps the true meaning of learning is to put what you have been taught to good use. That’s why the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) established the HKUST Jockey Club Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) with a donation from the Jockey Club 10 years ago.

The overall aim of the IAS is to accelerate interaction between the world's foremost scientists and scholars. It fosters fundamental and applied research that’s relevant to the region's socio-economic development. The goal is to discover enduring knowledge by nurturing gifted students and postdoctoral fellows, and to boost community interest in the latest scientific and technological discoveries.

HKUST appointed Professor Henry Tye as the Director of IAS and the Chair professor of Physics in 2011. Prior to this, Tye was the Horace White Professor of Physics at Cornell University in the US, with a research interest in theoretical particle physics and cosmology. Born in Shanghai and raised in Hong Kong, Tye graduated from California Institute of Technology and received his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The IAS brings together the most brilliant minds to drive cutting-edge discovery and scholarship,” said Tye.

“We recruit top-notch scholars as IAS professors to further elevate the academic standing of HKUST and Hong Kong. We invite intellectual leaders to visit and interact with the local academic community, and engage with our HKUST faculty to lead frontier research projects,” Tye added.

The IAS champions collaborative research across disciplines and institutions. It supports initiatives that are significant for the advancement of Hong Kong, and organises and sponsors lectures and forums, conferences and workshops, and topical research programs. The institute enables education and research to come together, complementing and supplementing each other.

As a research organisation, the IAS aims for innovation and discovery-driven research. As an education organisation, it offers a diverse range of teaching and outreach programs, including postgraduate courses and seminars, mentorship and internship programs for the most gifted undergraduates, and popular science and general knowledge lectures.

“We invite internationally renowned professors to conduct educational and research programs here, each lasting a week or longer,” said Tye. “These professors are experts in various areas, and a lot of them are Nobel Prize winners.”

Visiting professors usually spend 50 per cent of their time conducting research at HKUST, and 50 per cent of time lecturing students. Overseas scholars and students from other local universities are also invited to join these programmes. The educational and research programmes raise the teaching standard of the university and broaden the students’ horizons.  They allow them to hear international viewpoints and promote knowledge exchange.  

“After graduation, the students may reconnect with the visiting professors to explore career opportunities,” said Tye. “They may also ask these world-famous scientists to write reference letters for them. These will be extremely beneficial during their job search.”

The IAS has brought many award-winning professors to HKUST, including Prof Ching W. Tang, known internationally as the “Father of OLED”. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Tang is the first Chinese recipient of the prestigious Wolf Prize in Chemistry, for his discovery of OLED (organic light-emitting diode), a material which is starting to replace LCD (liquid crystal display) in smartphones, computers, and televisions.

Prof Sir Christopher Pissarides is the first Nobel laureate appointed to HKUST faculty. He was awarded the 2010 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for a joint project on the economics of labour markets. Pissarides researches the macroeconomics of labour markets, structural change, and economic growth at HKUST.

Other notable IAS professors include Prof Gunther Uhlmann, a mathematician who focusses on determining the identity of an object by measuring how the object scatters incoming light, sound waves, and other types of waves. Prof George Smoot won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006 for his work on the Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite (COBE) with John C. Mather.  His research led to the discovery of black body form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

Over the past 10 years, the IAS has organised more than 730 programs, conferences and lectures. “I enjoyed the environment at HKUST IAS, in particular the communication I had with the High Energy physicists. The program is excellent compared to other programs I have participated in,” said a student who attended an IAS Program on “The Future of High Energy Physics”.

The IAS programmes have received positive feedback from visiting scholars. “I found my visits to IAS to be intellectually provoking and productive and I’ve benefitted from interactions with faculty and staff in the Engineering School as well,” said one of them.

“IAS will continue to be a trailblazer in the frontiers of knowledge, a global incubator of scientific breakthroughs and intellectual leaders, and a platform for scientific innovation and economic development in Hong Kong and the Greater China region,” said Tye, who hopes that the SAR government will put more resources to into academic research.