In a tranquil coastal district of Guangzhou, Henry Fok Ying-tung's dream of turning his hometown into a research and development hub for the Pearl River Delta is slowly taking shape. The Fok Ying Tung Graduate School in Nansha has been dogged by construction delays since Fok, a Hong Kong tycoon and philanthropist, died in 2006 - a year after giving the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology HK$300 million to found it. But in September, the school admitted its first six research students to a dual master's degree in computer science and engineering, jointly awarded by HKUST and the South China University of Technology (SCUT). The students will spend their first year at the main HKUST campus, in Clearwater Bay, then move to SCUT in Guangzhou to complete the two-year MPhil programme. Lionel Ni, acting dean of the graduate school and chair professor of computer science and engineering, said HKUST's reputation and the course's medium of instruction - English - were big attractions for students on the mainland. 'We only took six students this year because the construction of our campus is still ongoing,' Ni said. 'When everything is set up, we will take in more students and offer more programmes. 'We have just got approval for two new master's programmes, in new energy materials and atmospheric modelling, which will admit students [this month].' The graduate school, which is housed in temporary accommodation at the Nansha Information Technology Park, already boasts 11 research centres and two laboratories jointly set up by HKUST and mainland universities. A permanent home is under construction on a 25,000 square metre site next to the park, and should be ready by 2012. Ni said 33 HKUST professors visited the campus once or twice a week, and more than 100 HKUST staff would occupy the research compound once it was complete. An HKUST spokesman said the school aimed to offer more than 200 places on a range of dual master's programmes with SCUT or Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou by 2015. Despite being in temporary premises, the school has already spawned a series of cutting-edge inventions that have received an overwhelming response from the market in the Pearl River Delta. One is a heart-monitoring sensor that can enhance the quality of life of chronically ill and elderly patients. The sensor, which can measure the heartbeat and other bodily functions, is connected to the patient's mobile telephone. If anything abnormal is detected in the patient's heartbeat, the phone will automatically send a text message to the doctor as well as a warning to the patient. Ni said the device could spare patients from making frequent trips to the doctor and warn them of possible cardiological ailments that they might otherwise overlook. 'Some people don't even know there's something wrong with them,' he said. 'The device could remind them to take better care of themselves.' The sensor is the brainchild of researcher Shen Zhong, a graduate of HKUST's MPhil programme in wireless technology, who consulted medical staff at hospitals in Shenzhen before coming up with the design. 'As people grow richer, they become more aware of their health and willing to invest more in preventive medicine,' Shen said. 'The information the sensor sends to doctors can help them make an early diagnosis and make a decision on whether the patient needs to pay a visit to the doctor.' Ni said a Shenzhen medical instrument company donated 5 million yuan (HK$5.81 million) for the project. 'The company is working with hundreds of hospitals. There's huge demand for new medical technologies that could improve people's quality of life.' The sensor is being developed at the graduate school's Digital Life Research Centre. Yao Ke, deputy manager of the school's Centre for Polymer Processing and Systems, is working on two projects, including a high-precision modelling system that could bring revolutionary changes to the plastics industry. Yao, who took his PhD at HKUST in 2008, said the system could drastically cut the variations in shape, weight and other dimensions of a plastic product that arose during the production process. 'This quality control technology is the first of its kind in the world,' he said. Yao said the technology could be used to wean labour-intensive industries in the Pearl River Delta off excessive reliance on manual labour, as blue-collar pay rose rapidly across the mainland. Two years ago, the Nansha graduate school was picked by China's Ministry of Science and Technology to be a base for international co-operation in science and technology, one of 60 such units across the country and five in Guangdong province. To date, it has received more than 20 million yuan in research funding. Ni said securing extra funding on the mainland for new research projects, whether from industry or the central government, was a struggle. However, as the school grew, extra researchers would be sought in the fields of information and communications technology, smart and green materials, energy and advanced manufacturing. 'I am looking for people whose research areas could make economic and practical impacts and help the Pearl River Delta move up to a new level, away from the traditional labour-intensive and resource-consuming areas,' Ni said. Once it was fully up and running, the centre would be a breeding ground for new ideas and would pioneer cutting-edge technologies that could boost the development of the delta and the whole country, he added.