About the Hong Kong Laureate Forum

Welcome to the November 2021 issue of the newsletter of the Hong Kong Laureate Forum!

The past two months were exciting for us as we had successfully concluded the first two chapters of the "Prelude to the Inaugural Forum" series (Prelude Events) and took part in the InnoCarnival 2021 (23-31 October) at the Hong Kong Science Park.

With the fresh memories of having Typhoon Kompasu roared past Hong Kong in mid-October, it was with much regret that the seminars in the second round of "Science Exposition" covering Astronomy and Mathematical Sciences were called off due to inclement weather. Yet, when the typhoon was gradually moving away from Hong Kong, we had resumed the exhibition at Xiqu Centre, West Kowloon Cultural District on 15-16 October to showcase the outstanding research achievements from teams of City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Baptist University, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and The University of Hong Kong.

To keep up the good vibes of promoting understanding and interests of the public, particularly the young generation, in Hong Kong in various disciplines in science and technology, the HKLF partnered with the Consulate General of France in Hong Kong and Macau (CGF) to present the Hong Kong debut of the virtual reality (VR) artwork, "I Will Sleep When I’m Dead", created by renowned French artist, Ms Jeanne SUSPLUGAS at the InnoCarnival 2021, organised by the Innovation and Technology Commission. This unique fun-filled yet thought-provoking VR experience, which invited participants to venture into a world of brain neurons and synapses and enable them to immerse themselves in the exploration of science and technology, had become a major attraction at the InnoCarnival and enjoyed by thousands of visitors.

Officiating guests of the InnoCarnival 2021’s opening ceremony, Mr Paul CHAN, GBM, GBS, MH, JP, Financial Secretary, and Mr Alfred SIT, JP, Secretary for Innovation and Technology, together with Mr Alexandre GIORGINI, Consul General of France in Hong Kong and Professor Timothy W TONG, BBS, JP, Chairman of the HKLF, marveled at how the crossover between science and art unleased new creativity during their tour of the HKLF booth. Besides the VR experience, the public also found fun games with awesome prizes at the HKLF booth.

The second chapter of the Prelude Events was the inspirational three-day "Masterminds, Masterclasses". This chapter was presented in a hybrid format of online and offline engagement, comprising seminars and dialogue sessions hosted by renowned and award-winning scientists around the globe. Over 10 prominent scientists including Shaw Laureates, recipients of Breakthrough Prize, CNRS Gold Medal, Fields Medal and Royal Medal were gathered at the headquarters of The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups on 16-18 November as guest speakers for three disciplines of science, namely Life Science and Medicine, Astronomy and Mathematical Sciences.

Given the difficulty to have in-person participation of non-local speakers, we were excited to find an alternative to the usual online platforms – by beaming some of the speakers in innovative three-dimension holographic images from different parts of world to participate in the seminars. We believe it spiced up our event with an engaging and thrilling experience for our audience.

The HKLF would like to express our heartful appreciation for all our speakers, research teams, partners, attendees and friends for making the abovementioned events such a great success and helped us continue to pursue our missions to provide a platform for renowned scientists of different disciplines from the world over to come together to promote science; and to enlighten the younger generation in the scientific community.

A Century of Physics - A Public Lecture in Honour of Professor Yang Chen-Ning at One Hundred


Modern physics had its beginnings about a century ago with the birth of quantum mechanics. Over the past few decades, scientists have built on knowledge of electromagnetism to master the laws of the weak and strong interactions. They interactions all follow the gauge theory first proposed by Yang Chen-Ning and Mills. The weak interaction distinguishes left from right, exhibiting the non-conservation of parity first proposed by Yang together with Lee Tsung-Dao. This article is an excerpt from a public lecture, "100 Years of Physics: Celebration for CN Yang at One Hundred". It sketches the main developments in physics over the past century, provides a brief history of Professor Yang’s life and his ground breaking works, and offers a look ahead to physics in the 21st century.

1. Introduction

Professor Yang Chen-Ning is one of the most important theoretical physicists of the contemporary era, and one of the first Chinese to receive the Nobel Prize. He has also been a friend of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) for more than half a century. As he enters the hundredth year of a remarkable life, the Chinese Physical Society, Tsinghua University and CUHK have jointly organised the "Celebratory Conference for CN Yang at One Hundred", held in Beijing on 22 and 23 September and attended online by friends and fellow physicists in Hong Kong. Unlike the conference targeting physicists, the seminar today aims to provide young Hong Kong students with some insight into the life and work of Professor Yang, and to look ahead to the future of physics in the next hundred years. Of course, ‘looking ahead to the future’ is a trite phrase often bandied about in many discussions, but the phrase is especially apt for today’s event, given that much of the progress in physics in the next one hundred years (mainly concerning elementary particles, but also extending to other fields) will inevitably be built upon on the non-commutative gauge theory pioneered by Professor Yang, just as all classical physics is built upon Newton's laws. The pivotal position of gauge theories is not well appreciated by the general public, and it will be one purpose of the present talk to explain the unique contributions of Professor Yang.


Prof Kenneth YOUNG, Emeritus Professor, Department of Physics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
November 2021

Soap Films, Minimal Surfaces and Beyond

Minimal surfaces are amongst the most important objects studied in differential geometry. Apart from its intrinsic mathematical beauty, they appear naturally in a wide range of physical phenomena, for example, in phase transitions and in the biophotonic nanostructures in butterfly wing scales. Minimal surfaces also make their presence in material science, engineering, and even in art and architecture. Frei OTTO used minimal surfaces in several of his architectural designs including the 1972 Summer Olympic Games Stadium in Munich, Germany.

Soap films and Plateau’s experiments

In fact, we do not need to be a scientist or an architect to understand what a minimal surface is. We all have early acquaintance with such surfaces in the form of soap films as well as their related cousin, soap bubbles. If you dip a piece of metal wire into soap solutions and take it out, you will see a thin layer of soap films bounded by the wire. For example, a flat disk will be formed for a round circular wire. If you take two parallel coaxial circles instead, then you will obtain a rotationally symmetric piece of soap film known as the catenoid. In the 19th century, the Belgian physicist and mathematician Joseph PLATEAU was the first to conduct extensive studies of soap films through experiments with different shapes of metal wire. Through his experimental observations, he formulated a set of laws – known as Plateau’s laws – that describe the shape and configuration of all possible soap films.


Prof Martin LI, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
November 2021

Astronomical Phenomena in November and December 2021

Partial Lunar Eclipse

On 19 November 2021, a partial lunar eclipse occurred over the sky of Hong Kong in the evening. In fact, this partial lunar eclipse started at about 2pm HKT when the "Moon enters penumbra" of Earth, that is, the instant of first external tangency of the Moon with Earth’s penumbra. After that, "Moon enters umbra", that is the instant of first external tangency of the Moon with Earth’s umbra; then "the greatest eclipse" which is the moment when the centre of the Moon is the closest to the centre of Earth’s shadow. This was followed by "Moon leaves umbra", that is the instant of the last external tangency of the Moon with Earth’s umbra; and "Moon leaves penumbra" at 8:06pm, that is the instant of the last external tangency of the Moon with Earth’s penumbra. It also marks the end of this lunar eclipse. The whole process lasted over six hours, which was the longest partial lunar eclipse since the 15th century. However, the moonrise on that day was at 5:38pm and "the greatest eclipse" took place at 5:03pm. Therefore, on that day, the process of "Moon enters penumbra", "Moon enters umbra" and "the greatest eclipse" were not observable in Hong Kong. It was actually similar to the situation of total lunar eclipse in May this year where the eclipse observable was already in progress upon moonrise.

Why did this partial lunar eclipse last so long?

This is actually related to the distance between the Moon and Earth. We all know that the Moon’s orbit around Earth is elliptical, so the distance between the two is different at different times. When the Moon is the closest to Earth, the position is called "Perigee" and the full moon will be the largest in the year. When the Moon is furthest from Earth, the position is called "Apogee". "The greatest eclipse" this time occurred when the moon was quite close to the apogee and the distance between the Moon and Earth was relatively far and therefore, it took more time for the Moon to leave the shadow of Earth. This is why the partial lunar eclipse lasted longer.

The next time a lunar eclipse can be observed in Hong Kong will be on 8 November 2022 and it will be a total lunar eclipse. You can try to find out interesting information about the different time and duration of the lunar eclipse.

Geminid Meteor Shower

Besides lunar eclipse in November, a Geminid meteor shower will occur on 13-14 December this year and we may be able to observe it in Hong Kong. As we had mentioned in previous issue of the newsletter, a meteor is a phenomenon in which cosmic debris called meteoroids entering Earth’s atmosphere at extremely high speed. A meteor shower is a celestial event in which many meteors appear in night sky when Earth encounters a large number of meteoroids. This time the Zenithal Hourly Rate is projected to be about 150. However, the Moon phase on that night will be "First Quarter" and the observation may be more affected by moonlight. If you are interested in observing this phenomenon, you can choose a spot in the suburbs with an unobstructed view and low light pollution. You may be able to observe the meteor shower, if weather permits.