Hong Kong's women scientists have proven Harvard University president Lawrence Summers wrong by excelling in this year's Croucher Foundation senior fellowship and studentship awards. Four out of the nine feted at a ceremony in the Mandarin Hotel on Wednesday were women, who are also said to be outnumbering men as contenders for other Croucher scholarships that were being decided this week. Eight scientists received senior research fellowships, the highest accolade in Hong Kong science, which funds their release from teaching and administrative duties for up to 12 months to allow them to focus on research. The awards are worth around US$100,000 each, including cash awards of $40,000 for each scientist. Mr Summers sparked uproar among academics in the United States when he said that 'intrinsic aptitude' might play a role in the under-representation of women in science. Professor Irene Ng Oi-lin, who is researching the molecular genetic features of liver cancer at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology , said: 'Women are equally good in science, if not better. In Hong Kong we are very fortunate as we have equal opportunities to pursue our interests.' University of Hong Kong doctoral student Teresa Wong Ka-wai, 25, who is studying electrical brainwaves in childhood autism, is the first woman to be awarded the Butterfield-Croucher Studentship for medicine and biology. 'Women can do well because they pay more attention to detail and so do more accurate experiments,' she said. Male recipients agreed that women were intrinsically no less able. 'We know Summers is wrong,' said Chinese University of Hong Kong's Zhou Xunyu, who won the senior fellowship award for his work in financial systems engineering. Other women senior research fellowship winners were biotechnology pioneers Dr Hannah Xue Hong, associate professor at HKUST who is studying the genetic aspects of schizophrenia, and Professor Maria Li Lung, also of HKUST and working on tumour suppressor genes. Anthony Tsui Tin-yau, director of the Croucher Foundation, said: 'One of the promising signs is having a strong contingent of female scientists. We are still interviewing for scholarships and fellowships. The majority of winners are likely to be women in the biological and medical sciences.' But the most prominent winner this week was 'Sars hero' Professor Malik Peiris, the Sri Lankan-born chair professor of microbiology at University of Hong Kong who is credited with playing a key role in discovering the SARS coronavirus. He will be using the senior fellowship to continue his crucial work on the avian flu virus H5N1, to unlock the mystery of why it is so different from human influenzas. 'We have huge problems ahead of us, particularly regarding avian flu,' he said. 'I am interested to try to understand why this virus causes such serious disease in humans.' This, he said, would be vital if the disease broke into a pandemic. Three scientists of mainland origin ensured that Chinese University of Hong Kong was the best represented among the universities in the senior fellowship line-up, with mathematician Professor Wei Juncheng; physicist Professor Xia Keqing and Professor Zhou. City University's electronics engineer Professor Li Ping was also awarded a senior fellowship. Most of Wednesday's winners had mainland backgrounds. Professor Wei said: 'In the 1980s and 1990s the best people in the mainland wanted to study science. In Hong Kong the best people went into business, management and medicine.' The Croucher Foundation extended its links with the French scientific community when chairman Professor Kan Yuet-wai signed a memorandum of understanding with the Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et Automatique (Inria), France's premier technological institution, for more Hong Kong doctoral and post doctoral scientists to conduct research there. The Croucher Foundation will provide the financial support.