SOTY 2017: Scientist and Mathematician candidates find beauty in STEM subjects

Judges for the 2017 SOTY Scientist and Mathematician award had some very tough decisions to make. Here's a look at the intense selection process

Jamie Lam |

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Shortlisted candidates for Scientist and Mathematician pose for a group photo.

The 12 finalists in the Student of the Year (SOTY) Scientist and Mathematician category had to give a three-minute introduction before fielding questions from the three judges — Paulina Chan Shuk-man, Albert Wong Hak-keung and Chua Kong-ho.

Chan, the director of the Hong Kong Science Museum, was looking for someone who could apply theoretical knowledge to the real world.

“The winner has to be creative, innovative, and practical enough to develop an actual workable product to help our society in the near future,” Chan said.

Wong, Chief Executive Officer of the Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks Corporation, didn’t hold back on his questioning. At times, he would interject with more questions while the candidates were still responding.

“I did that deliberately,” explained Wong. “I wanted to give them less thinking time, to draw out real answers and the real person behind the prepared answers.”

Chua, SCMP’s technology editor, opted to focus on the candidates’ personal experiences, such as their overseas adventures. He said he did this because “in our globalised world, you need to be able to work with people from a variety of backgrounds”.

All three judges were impressed with the candidates’ dedication to excellence.

So how did it feel to be in the hot seat?

(From left) Chua Kong-ho, Albert Wong Hak-keung and Paulina Chan Shuk-man at judging session.
Photo: Lam King Yin/SCMP

Allie Poon Ho-kiu from Diocesan Girls’ School said the hardest part of the interview was introducing herself at the beginning, because there was so much to fit into a limited amount of time. She felt more at ease during questioning, because to her, it was just a casual chat about the things she loves.

She also described a meaningful moment that really opened her eyes to the real power of science and maths.

“During a robotics competition in Australia, I met a team from India that was voluntarily building robots in their spare time to help farmers in their homeland. That’s when I realised that science can change lives.”

Li Ka-wing of SKH Lam Woo Memorial Secondary School knows this all too well. Born with a hearing impairment, he has benefited first-hand from advances in technology.

He said the most memorable moment of his interview was when he was asked whether technology is good or evil. His answer: “Technology itself is not good or evil. It can be used help people, like my hearing aid. It can also be used for evil purposes, like a nuclear bomb. It depends on how it’s wielded.”

Woody Lam Cheuk-wang from St Paul’s Co-educational College was asked how he would explain scientific concepts to someone who wasn’t particularly interested in science.

“I always try to link it to something that the person is already interested in,” Woody said. “For example, with my gamer friends, I try to explain the physics of how their characters move in their favourite games.”

As seen by these well-thought-out responses, it will be a close race to the finish.

The official results of this year’s SOTY awards will be announced early next month. The awards ceremony will be held on March 17.

The Student of the Year Awards competition is organised by South China Morning Post and Young Post and sponsored by The Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Edited by Ben Young