About the Hong Kong Laureate Forum
Welcome to the May 2022 issue of the newsletter of the Hong Kong Laureate Forum!
Having carefully considered the local and global pandemic situations and the possibility of unimpeded international travel by visitors to Hong Kong in the latter part of the year, the Board of the Council of the Hong Kong Laureate Forum Limited (the HKLF) has made the difficult decision to further postpone the inaugural Hong Kong Laureate Forum (the Forum) to the second half of 2023.
The Secretariat of the HKLF had contacted all stakeholders including Shaw Laureates and young scientists as well as our local and non-local academic partners individually on the deferment. Upon setting the schedule of the Forum next year, we will make an announcement.
Meanwhile, to keep the momentum of the Forum, the Secretariat has started devising new programmes as well as planning a series of online events to further strengthen the promotion of science in the community. More science-related videos and online games will be launched to arouse and enhance public interest in science and technology in a lively and unconventional manner. One of the events is a digital photo competition called “A Photo A Day Challenge” to be held in mid-June. Besides, the hybrid event gathering both renowned local and international female scientists and researchers, “Wonder Women in Science – Inspiring and Empowering the Next Generation”, will be relaunched in tandem with the lifting of the COVID-19 preventive measures. Stay tuned to our website and social media platform for more event information.
To support Earth Day on 22 April and to raise awareness and concern about climate change, the first five episodes of “Call of Climate” video series have been disseminated through our website and social media platform. Another five videos of the same series will be launched in due course. In addition, we are happy to have the support from CarbonCare InnoLab, which will contribute articles on climate change to our newsletter. The first article has indeed been published in the current issue of this newsletter. CarbonCare InnoLab is an NGO dedicated to nurture and expand the active communities, focusing on the youth and students in Hong Kong, and encouraging them to mitigate climate change and develop sustainable low-carbon lifestyle through innovation, education and action.
The winners in the three prize categories of the Shaw Prize 2022 have just been announced on 24 May. Congratulations to the six Shaw Laureates! Special congratulations also go to Sweden and Ireland, Prof Lennart Lindegren and Prof Michael Perryman are the first Shaw Laureates whose research work is based in Sweden and Ireland respectively at the time of the award. You may visit the Shaw Prize website for details.
Last but not least, the HKLF has just celebrated its 3rd anniversary on 14 May 2022. We would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude for the tremendous support from people and organisations in various sectors as well as participants of our events. We look forward to continuing the journey of discovering science in partnership with them!
Green Must be the Colour of Post-Pandemic Economic Recovery in Hong Kong
Both COVID-19 and climate change have exposed the human society to global, systemic and complex crises that are disrupting all aspects of our life, prompting us to carry out relevant scientific research, take effective actions to mitigate and respond to the disturbances as well as the serious impacts on vulnerable groups. As COVID-19 was wreaking havoc around the globe, greenhouse gas emissions experienced a significant drop, revealing an opportunity for us to fix such intricate system - increasing our resilience to both the pandemic and climate change, which could only be achieved with green recovery measures .
Since the beginning of 2020, COVID-19 has been spreading around the world. While the risks to public health, in particular in densely populated areas, was most disconcerting, the pandemic also disrupted global manufacturing and logistics, but at the same time leading to reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Some researchers have followed hundreds of peer-reviewed literatures published since 2020 and tried to link air pollution or carbon emission levels with human health and the ecological system under the pandemic. However, they opine that it is no easy task to conclude whether the pandemic had a mitigating effect on air pollution and climate change. Such a connection would require studies not only on the infectivity and the virulence of the virus, the atmosphere and the climate system itself, but also emission technologies, meteorological conditions, economic trends, social system and governance effectiveness.
Extended Observation still Needed for Scientific Research amidst COVID-19 before Reaching a Conclusion
Understandably, the drop of air pollutants, as a result of reduced transportation and logistical activities, social distancing restrictions, and lockdowns enforced by governments during the outbreak of COVID-19, directly contributed to a fall of global carbon emissions in 2020 by 5.2% compared to 2019. Some academics have consolidated data on the electricity market, health, and transportation and logistics, and suggested a close correlation between reduction in electricity consumption and the number of COVID-19 cases, social distancing measures and levels of business activity in the United States . Even taking that into account, the relevant scientific research so far has only dealt with environmental, human and technical aspects, with less emphasis on political system and policies, such as the impact of lockdowns, which are more difficult to quantify. Similar to many studies on the effects of COVID-19 and air pollution on health, many literatures link weather and climate factors to the spread of COVID-19, yet without considering relevant non-environmental factors, including policies, social systems and technological innovations, etc.
In addition, relevant scientific studies should take into account both short-term and long-term factors that evolve over time. Ever since the outbreak, the pandemic trend varies on a weekly basis as the infection rate changes and policies are adjusted. It also shifted institutional and policy responses, including measures to mitigate, accommodate and assess feedback on climate change which has in turn affected carbon emissions and the climate. Many people focus on quantifying short-term impacts with very little quantitative data on social responses. Moreover, most such analyses are forward-looking. As a result, the potential for long-term data collection and analyses will be enormous as the pandemic and its impact lingers on.
Carbon emissions have also been reverted back to the increasing trend after the lifting of lockdown and social distancing measures across the globe. By 2021, global carbon emissions had already risen to pre-pandemic levels . It is clear that the reduction in carbon emissions in 2020 is far from making a long-term impact on the global climate. Even in the midst of the pandemic, the effect of climate change never ceases, with disasters like raging wildfires and floods occurring around the globe. Furthermore, the spread of the virus was also affected by the weather, temperature and human behaviour. We believe scientific research is playing a more significant role than just technological innovation. That is to say there is a need to investigate the symbiotic interaction between climate change and carbon emissions in the midst of a pandemic. Nevertheless, we could not wait until there is a general conclusion on the matter before taking effective policy responses.
Mr Kevin LI, Researcher of the CarbonCare InnoLab
Giant Black Holes Devouring Stars: Extreme Cosmic Events Illuminating Black Hole Spacetimes
Recent discovery by astronomers reveals that in the centre of every big galaxy there exists a giant black hole which is about one million to one billion times heavier than our Sun. Stars orbit around the black hole being pulled by gravity. Scientists want to gather information about these black holes, such as their mass and spin (indicating how fast they rotate), in order to study astrophysics and cosmology of black holes. However, these massive black holes are usually dormant, which makes it hard to observe them or gather information about them.
In the very central region of the galaxies, the gravitational interaction between stars can sometimes scatter them, resulting in the deviation from their original orbits. They can then end up getting very close to the massive black hole. If a star gets too close, the tidal force caused by the gravity of the black hole can become so large that the star is torn apart. This is called a tidal disruption event. The star is then stretched into a narrow, long stream of debris, and about half of the debris falls into the black hole. During this process a very luminous flare is emitted, sometimes in the form of optical emissions (visible light), and sometimes in X-rays. Astronomers can catch such signals using large telescopes which scans the sky night after night. It is important to study these signals, since they can give us a lot of information about massive black holes.
Dr Jane Lixin Dai, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics, The University of Hong Kong
HINCare: An Intelligent Community Support and Timebanking System
In Hong Kong, the number of elderly citizens is estimated to rise to one third of the population, or around 2.37 million, by year 2037. As they age and become frailer, the demand for formal support services (e.g., providing domestic or elderly escort services) will increase significantly in the coming years. However, there is a severe lack of manpower to meet these needs. Some elderly-care homes reported a 70% shortage of employees. There is thus a strong need of voluntary or part-time helpers for taking care of the elderly. The need for mutual-help culture and social capital development has been growing sharply in the past few years. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, voluntary delivery services of medicine, grocery or meals to affected homes are vital to our society.
The "Social Technology and Research Laboratory" (STAR Lab; https://star.hku.hk) is a team from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) that aims to develop novel IT technologies for serving the society. We are interested in "Data Science for Social Good", researching on data-driven approaches that can benefit the public, NGOs, and the government. The STAR Lab is now working with over 20 NGOs on family- and elderly-related community projects.
HINCare and Intelligent Timebanking
One of the main endeavours of the STAR Lab in the past three years is to develop HINCare, a mobile app that encourages mutual-help in the community. HINCare adopts the concept of "timebanking", where each user has his / her own account to store the amount of time ("time credits") that he / she has provided services. The user can use time credits to purchase other services through our user-friendly mobile app
Prof Reynold Cheng, Department of Computer Science, The University of Hong Kong