2013 SOTY Harry Tam's goal: give something back

By Wong Yat-hei

Last year's SCMP Student of the Year wants to use his passion for physics to benefit Hong Kong

By Wong Yat-hei |

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Harry Tam won the award last year while at Sing Yin Secondary School. Now he's pursuing his dream at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Yes, there's a long way to go, but nothing would make last year's South China Morning Post Student of the Year winner happier than to be able to follow in the footsteps of Hong Kong scientists who have come before him.

And Harry Tam Pok-man is confident that he can not only make a career of scientific research, but also do it in Hong Kong.

"There are many quality researchers in local universities," says Tam, a first-year student in Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's (HKUST) International Research Enrichment Programme.

"People think there's a lack of funding for scientific research, but you do not necessarily need a lot of money to do research on theories."

Tam says his interest in physics began in primary school, and he took part in a number of high-profile physics competitions. "My teacher at Sing Yin Secondary School encouraged me to apply for the Student of the Year competition when I was in Form Six because of my achievements in and passion for physics. I had participated in the Asian Physics Olympiad and the International Physics Olympiad," he says.

One of the first steps towards winning the Student of the Year Award was to write a 1,000-word essay about the contestant's dream. "By writing the essay, I got a good chance to look at myself, to think clearly about my dream. It was a great way to do a self-reflection," says Tam.

During selection, Tam met excellent students from different backgrounds. "There were students from international schools and elite schools. Some were passionate musicians, others were strong debaters and had extraordinary talent in language," he says. "Meeting students with such diverse interests expanded my horizons."

Then came the panel interview. "I think of myself as an outgoing person and tried to relax. As I talked to them, I didn't think about how to impress them to win the award; I just shared my passion for physics with them. It was an enjoyable experience for the judges and me," he says.

Although winning the award was great, Tam thinks what he gained from taking part in the competition was just as valuable. "I enjoyed the process more than the result," he says. "It provided me with the confidence and encouragement to pursue what I've wanted to do since I was a little boy."

Tam plans to get his undergraduate degree and then further his studies in the US, but says he will return. "There are professors at HKUST who received their education overseas and now give back to the city by sharing the knowledge they have acquired. I plan to follow that same path," he says.

"I've already chosen a focus for my research, and I will start working on it this semester with a professor ... Imagine the energy that can be conserved if electricity can be transmitted through superconductors."