About the Hong Kong Laureate Forum
Welcome to the October 2023 issue of the newsletter of the Hong Kong Laureate Forum!
The inaugural Hong Kong Laureate Forum (the Forum), fully sponsored by the Lee Shau Kee Foundation, is around the corner! The Forum, with its theme "Meeting of Inspirational Minds", will kick off on 13 November at the Hong Kong Science Park and will bring together over 20 Shaw Laureates, as well as other world-renowned scientists, along with around 200 young scientists from 30 countries and regions to participate in the week-long programmes. Our preparation work for the Forum is in full swing and we are finalising the details of the arrangements. The Forum will feature a wide range of programmes, including keynote speeches by Shaw Laureates, breakout sessions with Shaw Laureates and world-renowned scientists, poster presentation by young scientists, trending topic sessions, etc. The areas under discussion will mainly cover the three Shaw Prize disciplines, namely, Astronomy, Life Science and Medicine, and Mathematical Sciences. Shaw Laureates and distinguished scientists invited to the Forum will share their profound insights in their respective research areas through their speeches and panel discussions. To provide a glimpse of what is to come, here are some of the exciting topics we will be exploring: "The Tidal Disruption of Stars by Black Holes", "Channelrhodopsins in transgene animals or plants: chances and challenge" and "Fourier transform as a triangular matrix", etc. Several Forum speakers will also be invited to share and discuss on the impact of new technology on two important aspects, namely scientific research and higher education. This global trending topic will be deliberated through two inter-related sessions, viz, "Impact of New Technology on Scientific Development" and "AI and the Teaching of Science".
In addition, we will invite Shaw Laureates to have dialogues with secondary students and visit secondary schools, with a view to enhance the understanding and interests of the young generation in Hong Kong in various disciplines in science and technology. Moreover, it would be an opportunity for Shaw Laureates to experience first-hand local secondary school life. We are also collaborating with our academic partners to lead young scientists to visit local universities so as to deepen their understanding of research development at these institutions. Furthermore, the Forum participants will visit InnoHK centres, HKSTP Experience Centre and Hong Kong Research & Development Centres, including Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel, Logistics and Supply Chain MultiTech R&D Centre, and Nano and Advanced Materials Institute, which will expose Forum participants to various ongoing research projects in Hong Kong. We will also co-organise a half-day programme named "Knowledge Transfer, from R&D to application" with Cyberport – Hong Kong's Digital Technology Hub, which will allow Forum participants to learn about the development of digital technology in Hong Kong. To provide a taste on public science education, the official programmes will include visits to Hong Kong Science Museum and Hong Kong Space Museum, and they will attend science seminars to be organised by the HKLF in collaborations with the said museums, titled "Kaleidoscope of Protein Folding" and "Stars' Journey in our Milky Way Galaxy" respectively. These two seminars will be open to the public and local secondary students. Apart from academic exchanges, there will also be cross-cultural events for Forum participants, these include a tour to the West Kowloon Cultural District and a special reception featuring local delicacies, offering opportunities for Forum participants to experience Hong Kong's culture. For more information about the Forum's programmes, sessions with live streaming and details of the seminars that will be open to the public, please stay tuned to our website and social media! To bring the Forum to a wide audience around the world, we will invite local media and representatives from media organisations, with or without local offices, from outside Hong Kong to join this major academic exchange event and to report on the ventures of some of the brightest minds in the scientific world.
Indeed, as a prominent event in Hong Kong's academic community, the Forum has already attracted significant media attention. Both our Chairman, Professor Timothy Tong, and Board member, Professor Young have been interviewed by different media outlets to share their thoughts on their expectation of what the Forum would achieve. To find out more, please read the interviews below:
Furthermore, the valuable Insights and perspectives of the Forum from members of the Programme Steering Committee and one of the participating young scientists will be shared through various media channels. Stay tuned!
While actively preparing for the Forum, we strive to keep promoting scientific development in the community through different means. In July, we co-organised the "Scientists and Their Contributions Voxel Art Design Contest" with Index Game and The Sandbox, with the aim to promote understanding and interests of the young generation in Hong Kong in various disciplines in science and technology through an emerging channel. The competition, open for registration in early July, received enthusiastic responses with over 20 teams from various secondary school students participating. The teams attended the VoxEdit workshops and consultation sessions in September, where they learned to use the VoxEdit tool to create voxel characters. The competition results will be announced through our website and social media later this month and the winning voxel art will be 3D printed and exhibited during the Forum.
Besides, the annual InnoCarnival organised by the Innovation and Technology Commission is coming soon. InnoCarnival 2023 will be held from 28 October to 5 November at the Hong Kong Science Park. Same as previous years, the HKLF will be one of the participating organisations among over 35 exhibition and game booths. This year, we will once again collaborate with the Consulate General of France in Hong Kong and Macau to incorporate a virtual reality (VR) component at the HKLF's booth to showcase the planets and to uncover the music and sounds of the cosmos, with the aim to offering visitors a unique and engaging perspective on the wonders of the universe. In addition to the VR experience, the HKLF booth will feature other interactive games as well. Please visit our booth and have a fun time wandering through space, blowing your mind with mathematicsal intrigues and winning exciting prizes! Visit InnoCarnival's website for more details.
Evidence for a new Type of Memory with Implications for Understanding Consciousness and Perception
Consciousness is at the heart of our every experience but still poorly understood scientifically. New research offers insights into how weak and ambiguous stimuli can be consciously perceived through repetition and offers evidence for a new type of memory—a subliminal sensory buffer store (SSBS)—which has been predicted by one of the leading theories of consciousness. Experimental data also shows that visual masking, a widely used technique in psychology and neuroscience, does not erase or overwrite information as was previously thought but merely limits conscious access to it. These findings have a profound impact on consciousness studies and cognitive science in general.
Consciousness is at the same time what we know best and a complete mystery. Every experience we ever had is the result of our own consciousness. Yet, despite our intimate familiarity with it, consciousness is difficult to define and poorly understood scientifically. We know more about distant galaxies and the deepest regions of the oceans than about the basis for our own experiences. A leading neuroscientist wagered in 1998 that the neural mechanisms of consciousness would be discovered within 25 years. He recently conceded his bet lost. While a complete understanding of consciousness remains elusive, tremendous progress has still been made in this field. As recently as 1996, the International Dictionary of Psychology's entry on consciousness stated that "nothing worth reading has been written about it". Now, there are countless books, journals, laboratories, and entire research departments dedicated to this field of enquiry. One fruitful avenue has been to study perception and explore the difference between consciously perceived stimuli and those that remain unconscious. A common way to control the visibility of stimuli is through masking.
Mr Damian K F Pang, MSc
The Mutual Benefits of Cohabitation of Solar Panel System and Horticulture
The increasing occurrence of extreme weather events over the past few years has underscored the impact of climate change is having on our planet. As a developed city that has set itself a target of carbon neutrality by the year 2050, Hong Kong must do everything within its power to reduce its carbon emissions in order to contain the global temperature rise to below 1.5°C. Despite Hong Kong's potential to expand the use of renewable energy, the scarcity of the territory's land resources means that on top of fierce competition on the usage of every piece of land, owners are already maximising the utility of every square inch on their plot.
In order to improve the visual appeal of urban environments and mitigate urban heat island effects, building owners and property managers are finding ways to carry out greening, such as by transforming conventional roofs into green ones. At the same time, there are also people choosing to install solar photovoltaic systems on their rooftops so as to obtain extra electricity and earn income generated from the Feed-in Tariff (FiT). In addition, some property developers in Hong Kong are considering installing solar panels on unused farmland in a drive to optimise land use. It may seem counterintuitive to combine solar power systems with the cultivation of plants or crops as plants need water, sunlight and soil for growth, and covering them with solar photovoltaic systems goes against the fundamental requirements for their growth. However, with careful planning, these two approaches can be mutually beneficial as well as maximise the utility of our valuable space. This article will explore the advantages, challenges and precautions so required of combining solar photovoltaic systems with greening projects or crop cultivation on rooftops or farmland in Hong Kong.
Solar power in Hong Kong
To truly transition towards a low-carbon economy, it is crucial that Hong Kong increases the proportion of renewable energy in its total energy generation. Hong Kong's Climate Action Plan 2050 sets out the long-term goal of achieving carbon net zero in its power generation by 2050, with the proportion of its energy coming from renewable sources rising from less than 1% today to 7.5-10% by 2035, and 15% by 2050. As part of this strategy, installing solar power systems on rooftops, hence, is becoming more prevalent. For example, the Action Plan states that new government buildings must dedicate 25% of their available rooftop area to the installation of renewable energy systems, which is significantly higher than the 10% previously stipulated. The Housing Authority similarly must install solar power systems on all new buildings in public housing estates, with a view to using these to generate at least 1.5% of the public electricity supply.
In truth, these targets are relatively low and far less ambitious than those set by other east Asian cities, which has led to criticism from environmental and climate change concerned groups. According to a study by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, among the 309,000 buildings in Hong Kong, 233,000 are suitable for installing solar photovoltaic systems on their roof or rooftop, which would potentially be able to generate 4,674 GWh of solar energy every year — equivalent to 10.7% of Hong Kong's energy needs. Hong Kong has had a FiT system in place since 2018, to encourage non-government organisations and private individuals to install renewable energy systems on their property. However, despite the fact that rooftop solar photovoltaic systems can provide an enormous source of renewable energy, the proportion of renewables in Hong Kong's energy mix has barely risen in the past five years. In fact, the government even reduced the FiT in April 2022, leading to fears that it will discourage others from signing up as they would be unable to recoup the high set-up cost before the scheme's end in 2033.
Mr Kwok Hiu Chung, Senior Programme Officer, CarbonCare InnoLab
Mr Ken Tai, Project Manager, CarbonCare InnoLab
Ringdown: the music by oscillating black holes
If you pluck a violin string, the string vibrates, driving the air particles around the string to oscillate too, setting up sound waves that propagate in the air. That is why you will hear a note. However, the note will not last long. Through generating sound, the string loses its vibrational energy in the air. The vibrations of the violin string decay. So does the note.
Interestingly, a similar phenomenon occurs in perturbed black holes. As two black holes collide, they will merge into one larger and distorted black hole and generate enormous gravitational waves. The distorted black hole is an example of perturbed black hole. These gravitational waves are the oscillations of space-time near the new black hole. Similar to the vibrations of a violin string, the oscillations of black holes do not last long, because black holes are a unique type of celestial object that possesses an event horizon, a single direction highway which once entered, there is no way out. The energy of the gravitational waves propagating around a black hole will likewise dissipate either down to the black-hole horizon by absorption or propagating far away until the waves are far enough for us to detect. Either way, the energy of gravitational waves localised around a black hole is dissipating, and so are the oscillations of the black hole. When the oscillations die down, the distorted black hole becomes a quiet and stationary black hole. The process of a perturbed black hole settling down into a stationary one is called the ringdown phase of a black hole because the process resembles the ringing of musical instruments, such as a bell. Just as a violin string can vibrate in different modes (such as the fundamental mode and overtones), there are also different modes (patterns) of black-hole oscillations. These modes are called the quasinormal modes of black hole, and the oscillation frequencies are called the quasinormal-mode frequencies.
The black-hole ringdown phase is not just of interest to theoretical physics research. It is an actual astrophysical phenomenon which we have detected since the first direct detection of gravitational waves by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (aLIGO) detectors. The late stage of the first detected gravitational-wave signal, GW150914, clearly shows a ringdown signal emitted by the remnant of a black hole formed by the corresponding black-hole coalescence. Since then, astrophysicists have been studying the ringdown signal contained in the detected gravitational-wave signals extensively.
Mr Adrian Ka-Wai Chung
Postdoc research associate, Department of Physics, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Member, Illinois Center for Advanced Studies of the Universe
Exploring the potential of long cell-free DNA in cancer liquid biopsy
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death. One in four people will suffer from cancer in their life time. Many cancers are asymptomatic in early stage. When patients are diagnosed with cancer, they are often in advanced stages, leading to a poorer survival. The key to conquer the disease is to detect cancer at its early stage. Traditionally, cancer diagnosis relies on invasive methods such as tissue biopsy, which can cause complications such as pain, infections and injuries to surrounding organs. As such, there has been an increasing interest in the development of non-invasive methods for cancer testing. This emerging field is called 'liquid biopsy'.
Recently, cell-free DNA (cfDNA) analysis in bodily fluids has become the focus of liquid biopsy. For instance, in a recent study involving plasma DNA analysis of 20,000 asymptomatic individuals conducted by our team at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, it has been revealed that the circulating Epstein-Barr virus DNA can serve as biomarker for screening nasopharyngeal carcinoma, making a paradigm shift in the proportion of cancer patients identified at early stage when the cancer can be cured. The survival rate was improved 10 times in screened individuals than those in historical cohort, bringing hope to cancer diagnostics using liquid biopsy. Apart from cancer screening, cfDNA analysis can also guide cancer treatment decisions. This is demonstrated by the detection of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations in the plasma of non-small cell lung cancer patients and the subsequent choice of targeted therapy for treatment.
As cfDNA-based liquid biopsy has gradually been gaining popularity in cancer diagnostics, there has been ongoing research efforts in enhancing the understanding of the properties of cfDNA. One key area of research would be epigenetics, which involves chemical modifications without alterations of DNA sequence. Of note, DNA methylation is an important type of epigenetic modification. Recently, based on methylation analysis of plasma DNA, not only could we diagnose cancer, the location of cancer could also be determined. This approach was subsequently applied to screen multiple cancers in a large prospective cohort of 6689 participants and led to the world’s first commercial product of a multi-cancer early detection test called 'Galleri' in the market.
Dr Lois Choy, Department of Chemical Pathology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong