Hong Kong-born neuroscientist Nancy Ip Yuk-yu, recently made a knight of the French National Order of Merit, has found the protein responsible for brain cell migration. The migration process is important for learning and memory, and its failure may lead to many neurological diseases. The research team led by Ip, dean of science at the University of Science and Technology, found that when the activity of the protein was reduced, a defect occurred in the cells' migration. 'Without the protein, the cells cannot migrate and they cannot reach their destination, and therefore cannot connect with proper target cells, and so cannot form the proper circuit in our brain,' she said. It was believed that without brain cell migration, neurological disorders such as autism and schizophrenia might develop, she said. In her team's experiment, the mice developed epilepsy. The team spent two years working on the project. The paper will be published in the journal Nature Neuroscience next month. 'The connection between brain cells is what underlies learning and memory,' she said. 'If you have more or better connections, it will enhance learning and memory performance.' Last month, Ip joined the handful of Hongkongers who have been honoured with the title of Knight of the National Order of Merit of France. French President Nicholas Sarkozy bestowed the honour for her 'scientific contribution to the community, her constant efforts to establish collaborations among France, Hong Kong and [mainland China]'. 'It's a great honour to have this distinguished titled conferred upon me by President Sarkozy,' she said. Ip said the time she puts into research had not been compromised since she became dean of science in February, a role which involves greater administrative responsibility. 'It's challenging, but it can be done. You just have to manage your time well. The two are compatible,' she said. One of her main tasks in the new position is to prepare the school of science for the new four-year university curriculum, which will begin next year. Teaching people the benefits of learning science, she said, was just as enjoyable as poring over research on her own. 'You don't have to be a scientist like me,' she said. 'Many of [our students] aren't suitable for that. But the kind of logical and pragmatic training science education has to offer is applicable to whatever they do in life, be it investment banking or [something else].'