A one-day event led by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) to promote STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) was held on December 15. The event, dubbed “STEMUpx18”, highlighted the importance of these subjects in a fast-changing world and showed the career possibilities in this sector.
The chance to meet and hear from the leaders of tech companies based at the Park helped to foster greater understanding of the IT ecosystem through conversations, panel discussions and an exhibition.
“Father of STEM education” Dr Jimmy Wong Kam-yiu spoke at one of the panel discussions and shared his views on its significance with HKSTP chairwoman Mrs Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun and young inventor Michael Li Kin-pong.
Dr Wong is the director of Hong Kong New Generation Cultural Association Science Innovation Centre (HKNGCA), which organises regular STEM education programmes for local students and related training for teachers. Li, who has been interested in science and technology as long as he can remember, benefitted from HKNGCA courses as a junior secondary school student and, encouraged by that, has since gone on to become a true inventor.
A few years ago, Li and his then-classmate Simon Wong Sum-ming won deserved attention for creating a self-disinfecting door handle. The prototype was coated with titanium dioxide and sterilised by ultraviolet light-emitting LEDs, which were powered by the motion of the door.
“I took inspiration from daily life,” Li said, “I remember being out in shopping malls and seeing dirty, wet handles in public toilets.”
The success of this practical, energy-efficient solution was recognised with awards at local and overseas competitions plus a Gold Medal at the 2016 International Exhibition of Inventions held in Geneva.
After secondary school, Li took the next step by setting up a company with plans to work on technical improvements and take things further. “Once we fix all the problems, we can start our business formally,” he said.
However, the young inventor, who is now studying electrical engineering at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (IVE), admitted that running a start-up is not straightforward. “We need to look for investors and recruit employees, and we still don’t have an actual office to work in. Nonetheless, we are confident that we can overcome the challenges.”
Dr Wong added that STEM education was becoming increasingly important, as was the need for a support system for young entrepreneurs.“I think science and technology companies should arrange internship programmes for teenagers like Michael who are particularly gifted in this respect,” he said. “Besides that, the government also has a role to play in taking Hong Kong’s I&T [innovation and technology] scene to the next level. For example, they can provide tax incentives for startups to encourage more young people to run their own businesses.”
With this in mind, a key objective of the event was to provide a platform for tech companies to get acquainted with young STEM talent in Hong Kong.
Kenif Lau, software engineer lead at Hong Kong-based logistics start-up Lalamove, said the chance to interact with students’ in this way can improve their understanding of the importance of technology in the modern world. It was the kind of experience he would have liked when still a student.
Citing the example of the logistics industry Lau noted that technology now plays a big part in keeping everything moving.
“When I was young, parents told their children they would end up with a job in logistics if they didn’t study hard,” he said. “At the time, it sounded to me as if the industry was only for losers, but this concept was obviously wrong. The logistics sector plays an important part in the development of the local economy, and its future depends on the use of cutting-edge technology.”
It is generally agreed that skills in problem solving and critical thinking are key to excelling in STEM subjects. Students of the participating schools confirmed that when explaining and demonstrating their inventions, many of which were inspired by close observation of daily life or made to overcome common inconveniences.
The booth set up by the Hong Kong and Kowloon Kaifong Women’s Association Sun Fong Chung College, had two interesting devices on show. One was a musical fountain created by three secondary students – Wong Ka-on (S3), Au Yeung Yuet (S2) and Lui Wang-yui (S2). The trio took inspiration from a walk past one of the many fountains in Hong Kong, which they found quite mundane and unimaginative. Setting their minds to work, they came up with the idea for a fountain that would pump out jets of water to the beat of a catchy tune.
Another team from the same school had created a mock-up of a “smart” parking lot and a matching mobile app. The system is able to track and report the number of empty spaces before a driver arrives, thus preventing overcrowding and unnecessary queueing. It was devised jointly by S5 students Pang Chung-wah, Kit Wing-sum, Ho Tsz-fung, and Choi Siu-kai. “Our design aims to alleviate the burden of waiting to park in Hong Kong’” they said. “Furthermore, the app makes it possible to settle parking fees online, so drivers don’t have to wait in line to pay.”
Nowadays, crowd control is usually done by deploying sufficient manpower. However, the innovative product made by students of Rosaryhill School suggests an alternative.
Named “Crowd Control 2.0”, their system was designed by Ernest Ho Ka-hei, Venice Cheung Cheuk-nam and Ryan Leung Lok-hei, who are all members of the school’s STEM Society. As Ho explained, the idea came from hearing about an arson attack, which took place on an MTR train in early 2017.
“When the chaos started, the train was full of smoke, and it was difficult to escape. Our design is to show passengers where the incident happened on a screen and indicate which direction they should take to escape the danger area quickly.”
By applying the same technology to crowd control on the streets, it is possible to show pedestrians which streets are more crowded, so they can pick alternative routes to their destination.
At the HHCKLA Buddhist Ching Kok Secondary School booth, students displayed the newest version of the solar-powered vehicle they had been working on for over a year.
Principal Yau Mei-sze commended their success, adding that STEM education had been an important part of the curriculum since the school’s foundation in 2003. As a result, there was no doubt about the value of I&T, including the use of new technology such as 3D printing.
The project was led by S5 students Henry Yeung Yin-hang and Oscar Fong Ka-long. “We focus on innovative technology,” Yau said. “In fact, we have consistently allocated significant resources to this area. And last year, for example, we cooperated with LEGO Education to establish the first LEGO STEM Lab in Hong Kong, as part of a sustained effort to push the development of STEM subjects.”
In general, STEM education is delivered via project-based learning modules which give students more room for independent thinking and the scope to come up with innovative solutions.
Apart from working on the solar-powered vehicle, Fong has also invented a faucet that can switch itself off automatically according to the water level in the sink.
“I was inspired to design this device one day when I accidentally left the water running at home,” he said, “It spilled over and flooded the entire bathroom floor. This new set-up can easily be applied and will prevent overflows if you forget to turn the tap off.”
Yau was understandably full of praise for the range of her students’ inventions, as well as their practicality.
“Although a faucet may seem like a trivial thing, a small innovative can still enhance our daily lives,” she said.
Neoosen Energy HK is among the 18 tech companies based in the Park which took part in the “STEMUpx18” event. It specialises in developing wireless power solutions and teamed up with students from HHCKLA Buddhist Ching Kok Secondary School, who created a solar-powered vehicle.
Speaking to Young Post, company director Kelvin Wong praised the project and the all-round level of enthusiasm. “I was very impressed to learn that the solar-powered vehicle was made entirely from scratch by a team of secondary school students,” he said.
In a further show of support, he disclosed that he will let them make use of the company’s facilities to work on any future inventions. He is also adamant that the trend towards I&T will only gather pace, making it essential for schools to up their game when it comes to STEM education.