About the Hong Kong Laureate Forum

Welcome to the March 2022 issue of the newsletter of the Hong Kong Laureate Forum!

In the past year, organising in-person events had become more difficult in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, with tremendous support from organisations and friends in academic, scientific and educational sectors, we had successfully held a number of science-related events and promotional activities. These include the prelude to the inaugural Forum series, "Science Exposition", "Masterminds, Masterclasses" and "Exploring New Horizons" as well as a series of short videos we coined "Meeting with Inspirational Minds". Highlight video of 2021, "Meeting with Inspirational Minds" series and interviews with local Hong Kong scientists are now available on our website , social media platforms and YouTube channel. We will continue to connect and collaborate with different sectors so as to achieve our missions: to foster exchanges among scientists of different generations, cultures and disciplines; to support youth development in Hong Kong and the international community; to promote understanding and interests of the young generation in Hong Kong in various disciplines in science and technology; and to promote education and exchanges in various disciplines in science and technology in Hong Kong.

The first-tier review of applications for the inaugural Hong Kong Laureate Forum was completed in last March and the second-tier review had also been successfully held in February this year. The Scientific Review Board selected 229 applicants, out of a total of 315, to participate in the inaugural Hong Kong Laureate Forum. The Secretariat has notified all applicants of the results via email and will provide further information in due course.

Earth Day falls on 22 April every year. This is a worldwide annual event to for us to show support for environmental protection. It aims to promote and to put to practice the idea of environmental protection through wide range of events. Science and meteorological data have proven beyond doubt that climate change really exists. The past ten years were the warmest decade on record. Global warming is more significant in recent years and the impact of climate change is far-reaching on our planet, it is imperative for us to take actions to mitigate the impacts of climate change. To support Earth Day and to raise awareness and concern about climate change, the HKLF has produced a series of videos on climate change and related topics. These videos will be available on our website and social media platforms starting from 22 April 2022. Besides videos, articles on environmental protection, climate change, scientific data and related topics will also be published on our website and newsletter. Stay tuned!

Nobel Laureate in Physics - Professor Charles Kuen KAO

The publication of the 12th issue of this newsletter in November last year, coincided with the Chinese Nobel Laureate in Physics Professor YANG Chen-Ning’s 100th birthday. To celebrate this important occasion, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) held a large-scale special exhibition as part of the celebratory activities. For that edition, we also published an article titled "A Century of Physics - A Public Lecture in Honour of Professor Yang Chen-Ning at One Hundred", written by Professor Kenneth YOUNG of the Department of Physics, CUHK, not only to introduce Professor YANG’s outstanding academic achievements, but also recount the close relationship he has established with Hong Kong over the years.

In fact, although Hong Kong is geographically small, it is a place where some Nobel Laureates in Physics resided and were educated when they were young!

In this issue, we are going to introduce another Nobel Laureate in Physics - Professor Charles KAO, who is known as the "Father of Fibre Optics", about his great achievement in engineering and physics as well as his remarkable contribution to the development of higher education in Hong Kong.

Father of Fibre Optics

Crowned as the "Father of Fibre Optics", "Father of Fibre Optic Communication" and "Godfather of Broadband", the 2009 Nobel Laureate in Physics, Charles Kuen KAO is generally regarded as one of the most significant and influential contributors to engineering in modern times. His "groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibres for optical communication" was instrumental to the explosive development of the age of the Internet.


Dark Matter

If you have done star-gazing, you probably would have enjoyed and admired the majestic arrangements of stars into galaxies (Fig. 1). Our Sun is a typical star in the Milky Way, our home galaxy, a typical galaxy in the universe. The hundreds of billions of galaxies in the observable universe group into galaxy clusters, forming even larger structures (Fig. 2). Other than stars, what constitutes a galaxy? How did galaxies and galaxy clusters form? How did these structures emerge from the almost perfectly uniform distribution in the early universe? These are just some of the questions that scientists want to answer. It turns out that a mysterious form of matter, called dark matter, plays a crucial role in all these questions.

In the 1930s, Astronomers Zwicky and Smith tried to measure the mass of the Coma and Virgo Clusters, two relatively nearby galaxy clusters. Their reasoning goes like this: the mass of a galaxy cluster is proportional to its gravitational pull on the galaxies, which the orbital speeds would reveal. After carefully measuring the motions of galaxies, Zwicky and Smith were surprised to find that Coma and Virgo Clusters should be much more massive than the visible matter (stars and gas). In other words, there must be a lot of 'Dunkle Materie’, or dark matter, which gravitates but doesn't emit light. Applying the same idea, Vera Rubin measured the rotation curves of galaxies – the orbital speeds of stars and gas at different distances from the galactic center (Fig. 3). She found that the rotation curves of most galaxies do not decrease even at large distances, indicating that the gravity at the outskirt of a galaxy is not weakening, even though almost no visible matter can be observed there. This observation strongly suggests that a much larger dark matter halo engulfs the visible matter. For example, the dark matter halo of the Milky Way extends to at least 4-5 times the radius of its luminous disk, containing a total mass 5-10 times that of visible matter.


Prof Ming-chung CHU, Department of Physics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Ageing: an Inevitable Consequence of All Life?

The concept of ageing is a mysterious process and raises many questions. Why do organisms age? Why do we die at different ages? What are the mechanisms that underlie ageing? This is especially intriguing when scientists observe varying lifespans of one laboratory mice strain, consisting of genetically identical individuals. With ageing comes the prospect of increased cellular dysfunction, affecting normal tissue functions leading to the development of age-related diseases, such as cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, and cardiovascular diseases (CVD). The average life expectancy of humans has improved massively worldwide, partly due to better improvements in medical treatments, diagnosis, and the healthcare system. With humans living longer, this brings an increased burden on the healthcare system to take care of the elderly, who may be suffering age-associated deficits / problems, as well as the prospect of having an older working population, whose productivity may be lower. A common feature of the elderly is increased frailty and the development of dementia as they approach their eighties. Why is ageing associated with these deficits, and are there ways to circumvent these shortcomings and potentially live forever?

Most of our current understanding of ageing has relied upon studies performed in animal and single-cell models, such as laboratory mice, the nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans (C.elegans), and the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae (S.cerevisiae). Despite the huge number of ageing studies, our understanding of ageing is limited since these models only simulate some aspects of ageing features. Hence, we are still unable to answer the questions posed above. I wish to direct the reader to the concepts of "chronological" versus "biological" ageing. The former refers to the amount of time passed from birth to a given date, while the latter occurs when the organism gradually accrues irreversible damage (to macromolecules, such as DNA, proteins, lipids) within their cells. Here we will discuss biological ageing, in terms of some of the ageing traits and what we might do to slow the effects of ageing to live a long and fruitful life.

Author profile

Prof Tom Cheung is currently the S H Ho Associate Professor of Life Science in the Division of Life Science at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). He received his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Colorado, United States of America. He specialises in the field of stem cells and the biology of ageing using murine muscle stem cells to identify the key molecular pathways that underlie stem cell quiescence and tissue regeneration. Prof Cheung is also a recipient of the Croucher Innovation Award in 2015 for the study of "Molecular regulation of stem cell ageing" and has published more than 30 scientific papers in high impact journals. Furthermore, Prof Cheung is Director of the HKUST-Nan Fung Life Sciences Joint Laboratory, Associate Director of the Biosciences Central Research Facility at HKUST, Director of the HKUST-BGI Joint Research Center, and Associate Director of the HKUST-Shanghai Sixth People's Hospital Joint Research Center for Brain Science, as well as being a key member of the Hong Kong Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (HKCeND) at the Hong Kong Science Park.

Dr Erin Tse received her PhD in Biomedical Sciences from Aston University, United Kingdom, studying Alzheimer's disease under the supervision of Dr Eric Hill. To further her personal growth, Erin moved to Hong Kong working in microbiology, followed by some time in a virology group using human stem-cell-derived enteroids to study the host interactome of human norovirus structural proteins. Through her experiences, she specialises in the study of cell biology. Currently, Dr Tse is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Cheung Laboratory, where she continues to further stem cell research. Dr Tse is also an active member of the HKUST-Nan Fung Joint Sciences Laboratory, largely responsible for manageing the joint lab activities and mentorship of trainees.