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PolyU – Innovating for a better world

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The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Pushing the boundaries of research

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 March, 2017, 9:38am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 5:42pm

[Sponsored Article] Recognised internationally as a progressive higher-education institution, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) is dedicated to making a positive contribution to the world’s development through its innovative research and quality education.

Emphasising the focus PolyU places on research with impact, Professor Alexander Wai, PolyU Vice President (Research Development) says whether researching pioneering fibre optic railway technologies, investigational new drugs (IND), robotics or food safety, the goal is always to advance the frontiers of knowledge while enhancing the well-being of the local, mainland and international community.

"Our professors have developed a reputation for taking research from the laboratory into the real world, where it has practical use with meaningful benefits," Wai says. An example of this is the proprietary optical fibre sensing technology developed by PolyU and installed on train tracks all over Hong Kong, used to monitor mission-critical conditions and track components. The first-in-the-world monitoring system has also been installed on the mainland's Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Rail Link and will soon be installed in the two busiest lines of Singapore's metro network.  Further connecting PolyU research to the real world by improving service reliability; the ground-breaking maintenance system is expected to become a trend in the global railway industry.

Wai says over the past eight decades PolyU is proud to have laid down many significant research milestones that address important issues and align with the school’s motto: "To learn and to apply, for the benefit of mankind.” Currently undergoing clinical trials in Hong Kong, the US and Europe, a recent example is a new drug used for treating liver cancer known as "BCT-100". Discovered by PolyU researchers, the drug has become Hong Kong's first IND to receive approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Meanwhile, with researchers around the world seeking new ways to increase solar energy conversion efficiency, PolyU has successfully developed perovskite-silicon tandem solar cells with the world's highest power conversion rate of 25.5percent in mid-2016, better than existing silicon solar cells in the market.

Wai believes a contributing factor to PolyU's success can be attributed to operating dedicated research centres and cross-disciplinary research, which bring experts together and allow resources to be used more effectively. "Few of the problems research aims to solve happen in isolation," says Wai, who reiterates that PolyU's approach to research creates effective synergies while improving transparency for the various stakeholders.

Pushing the frontiers of applied research even further, PolyU is currently in the process of establishing 3D printing, big data analytics and neuroscience research programmes. "These areas offer so many opportunities to explore, I am sure PolyU will be able to conduct meaningful research that continues to benefit mankind," says Wai.

As the university celebrates its 80th anniversary, it can look fondly on a wealth of prominent achievements, which range from making high-precision tools for space exploration to developing Hong Kong's first electric car. "Who would have thought that a team led by a professor at PolyU could develop equipment capable of being sent to the moon?" Wai asks, referring to the camera pointing system jointly developed by PolyU and the China Academy of Space that was deployed aboard the Chang’e Lander, which touched down on the moon on December 14th, 2013. Two years earlier, PolyU developed a soil preparation system capable of grinding and sifting Martian moon rocks that was deployed with the Sino-Russian Phobos-Grunt Mission.

Ranked 6th in the world on the 2016/17 QS University Rankings "Top 50 Under 50" list of the world's young universities, the vice president says more important than rankings is the school’s commitment to expanding the boundaries of research and education. Wai hopes to continue to build confidence among faculty and students to take on "grand challenges" to widen the impact of their research.

"I sometimes feel PolyU is similar to a young person making his way in the world in that he has to make the extra effort to be recognised for one’s achievements," says Wai.  Part of this extra effort involves forging meaningful partnerships for collaborative projects.  An example of this is the partnership between PolyU and aircraft manufacturing giant The Boeing Company, who worked together to establish Hong Kong’s first Aviation Services Research Centre (ASRC). 

Over the last two years, ASRC has successfully developed new automation technologies for aircraft maintenance, and will continue to develop new ways of enhancing the efficiency and operation of the aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) industry, further strengthening Hong Kong’s leading position as a world-class service provider of MRO.

Highlighting another example of important cooperation, PolyU recently signed an agreement with the government of the Banan District of Chongqing City to facilitate the transfer of research outputs to collaborative platform in treatments for diseases.

Finally, another significant collaboration milestone was the establishment of the Europe-Hong Kong Joint Centre of Excellence in Food Safety which includes PolyU, Lund University in Sweden, the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark and the University of Bologna.

Wai says throughout PolyU's 80-year existence, first as a Technical College and especially since the school was awarded full university status in 1994, it has always conducted research closely linked to the needs of Hong Kong's industries and the wider benefits of the community. For instance, turning a new page in the field of robotic surgery, a robotic arm developed at PolyU was used to perform a minimally invasive operation procedure. The university also successfully developed an ultra-sensitive transistor-based biosensor, which can detect glucose in saliva, allowing people with diabetes to monitor their blood glucose levels regularly instead of using the conventional method which is often painful.

In response to the growing concerns about food safety, PolyU's Food Safety and Technology Research Centre (FSTRC), first established in 2011, serves as a bridge between the government, academia and industry, raising the standard of food safety by providing research and consultancy and training services to relevant industries in Hong Kong and across the Pearl River Delta region. New technologies developed by the FSTRC include rapid low-cost tests designed to assess the safety of food samples.

The FSTRC also developed a new method for the rapid authentication of edible oils, and has incorporated fluorescent probes to detect the dangerous chemical formaldehyde in food.

To tie in with PolyU’s expanding strategic research development plan, Wai says three new facilities have been set up to specialise in life sciences, chemical and environmental analysis, and material characterisation, which is the process used to measure microstructural properties of materials; as well as device fabrication, the process used to create chips and integrated circuits.