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From the left: Dr Qingyun WAN, Dr Jun YANG, Professor Chi-Ming CHE and Dr Wai-Pong TO

HKU chemists resolve a long-standing challenging problem on Metal-Metal interaction, the first team to prove that strong M-M’ Pauli repulsion leads to repulsive metallophilicity

A research team led by Professor Chi-Ming CHE and Dr Jun YANG, from the Research Division for Chemistry and Department of Chemistry at the Faculty of Science of the University of Hong Kong, has resolved a long-standing fundamental problem in the field of metal-metal closed-shell interaction. This work has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Metal-Metal closed-shell interaction, also known as metallophilicity, has a huge impact in diverse fields of chemistry, such as supramolecular chemistry and organometallic chemistry. Early reports on metallophilicity could be traced back to the 1970s. Many leading theoretical chemists around the world made contributions in the field, such as Roald Hoffmann (1981 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry), Pekka Pyykkӧ, etc.. Metallophilicity is important in the fabrication of self-assemblies by transition metal complexes, which has demonstrated profound applications in organic semiconductors, bio-sensing and functional optoelectronic materials. Going beyond conventional wisdom The term "metallophilicity" originated from Europe and has been extensively used by chemists as a guiding principle in molecular design studies and to rationalize the spectroscopic properties of transition metal complexes. Up to now, the general consensus of metallophilicity in the academic community is “attractive”, which has been conceived to come from orbital hybridization and/or relativistic effect of heavy metal atom, such as gold or platinum (3rd row metal in the elemental table). Together with Professor Che and Dr Yang, Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Qingyun WAN and co-workers questioned the conventional wisdom of coordination chemists, concluding that the metallophilicity is not an attractive interaction in organometallic complex, but is actually repulsive in nature due to strong M-M’ Pauli repulsion. They performed a combined theoretical and experimental research on metallophilicity and observed strong M-M’ Pauli repulsion in organometallic complex having closed-shell electronic configurations, which will provide a new theoretical perspective on the possibility of making new supramolecular materials with inexpensive earth-abundant transition metal complexes, such as that of palladium or silver or nickel (1st or 2nd row metals in the elemental table). It is also a crucial achievement in the fundamental understanding of weak intermolecular interactions. Background and achievement In the microworld of small molecules, there are many types of interactions. Metallophilicity describes the interaction between metal atoms as having closed-shell electronic configurations. In the early 1970s, chemists observed an interesting phenomenon that two closed-shell metal atoms could form a short metal-metal distance. A special “attraction” was proposed to exist between two metal atoms, pushing two metal atoms coming close. Many theoretical models were raised to account for such an attachment, such as the model of orbital hybridization or relativistic effect of the heavy metal. However, these theoretical models have conflictions with some experiment observations, like the relatively shorter Ag-Ag distance in Ag complexes compared to the Au-Au distance in the Au analogues. Thus, this problem has remained controversial for a long time and always plagued inorganic and theoretical chemists. The researchers at HKU used high-level calculation methods and experimental techniques to investigate such a tough problem, and proved that the metallophilicity is repulsive in nature due to strong M-M’ Pauli repulsion. They concluded that orbital hybridization and relativistic effect would strengthen the metal-metal Pauli repulsion when forming a close metal-metal contact. Intermolecular dispersion and electrostatic interaction will counter-balance the metal-metal repulsion, leading to a short metal-metal distance. This theoretical model could well explain why Ag-Ag distance is shorter than the Au-Au distance, due to weaker Ag-Ag Pauli repulsion which is induced by less orbital hybridization in the Ag complex. By a conservative estimation, there were more than 5,000 papers published in the literature related to “attractive metallophilicity”. The statement of “repulsive metallophilicity” is first proposed by the research team in their recent PNAS publication. This work was also recognized by Professor Harry GRAY in Caltech, who was awarded the Wolf Prize in Chemistry in 2004, one of the most honorable awards in the field. About the research team The research was conducted by a joint team under Professor Chi-Ming Che and Dr Jun Yang from the Research Division for Chemistry and Department of Chemistry. Postdoctoral fellow Dr Qingyun Wan from Professor Che’s group is the first author, while Dr Wan, Dr Yang and Professor Che are co-corresponding authors. Dr Wai-Pong To, Research Assistant Professor from Professor Che’s group, is another chemist contributing to the research. The research has secured continuous support from the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong, State Key Laboratory of Synthetic Chemistry at HKU and also the Information Technology Services of the University. The research team would also like to show their gratitude to the Basic Research Program-Shenzhen Fund, and the Major Program of Guangdong Basic and Applied Research. About Professor Chi-Ming Che Professor Chi-Ming Che received his BSc (1978) and PhD (1982) degrees from HKU. Following his research studies at the California Institute of Technology from 1980 to 1983, he joined HKU Chemistry in 1983 and was promoted to Chair Professor in 1992. From 1999-2016, he was appointed as Dr Hui Wai-Haan Chair of Chemistry. He is currently the Zhou Guangzhao Professor in Natural Sciences and the Director of State Key Laboratory of Synthetic Chemistry at HKU. Professor Che has received numerous awards/honors. At the age of 38, he was elected as a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), becoming the first Hong Kong scientist to receive this honour and the youngest member of CAS at that time. He is also the first in the local community to receive the First Class Prize of the State Natural Science Award of China (2006). In 2013, he was elected to Foreign Associate (later renamed as International Member) of National Academy of Sciences USA. In 2015, he was elected as a Founding member, a Director and the Vice-President of The Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong. Since 2016, he has been serving as the Head of Department of Chemistry at HKU. His current H-index is 120. For more information about Professor Che and his research group, please visit here. About Dr Jun Yang Dr Jun Yang is currently an Assistant Professor of Theoretical Chemistry at HKU. His research group is interested in developing and utilizing ab-initio quantum computational methodologies for many-body chemistry problems. Recent research activities include the development of low-scaling correlated electronic structure methods, many-body excited states of strong correlation, mean-field theory for nonadiabatic electronic-vibrational couplings as well as machine learning extension of these methods for realistic materials. For more information about Dr Jun Yang and his research group, please visit here. About Dr Qingyun Wan Dr Qingyun Wan received her BSc degree in Material Physics from University of Science and Technology of China in 2014. Under the supervision of Professor Li-Zhu WU and Professor Chen-Ho TUNG in the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), She conducted her final-year project in the area. In 2014, she moved to HKU and joined Professor Chi-Ming Che’s research team as a graduate student. She then had an exchange in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2018 for half a year, working in the lab of Professor Christopher C CUMMINS. Her research interests include the synthesis and application of supramolecular materials based on organometallic complexes, and computational chemistry. Dr Wan has published 16 peer-reviewed research articles, including 5 first-authored and/or correspondingauthored papers in Chem (1), JACS (1), ACIE (2) and PNAS (1). Click here to read the research paper.  Periodic table showing element which could exhibit metallophilicity. Chemical structure of the Au and Ag complex, and the calculation results showing stronger Au-Au Pauli repulsion than the Ag-Ag Pauli repulsion.  

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Eight projects of the Faculty receive funding from CRF

Faculty of Science receives funding of over HK$38 Million from Collaborative Research Fund (CRF) 2020/21 of University Grants Committee

The Collaborative Research Fund (CRF) of the University Grants Committee comprises Collaborative Research Equipment Grant and Collaborative Research Project Grant, supporting multi-investigators in diverse disciplines to engage in more creative and high quality cross-disciplinary projects. Eight projects of the Faculty receive a funding of HKD 38,841,067 from the CRF 2020/21 in January 2021. Among the awarded projects, 4 are from the Research Division for Chemistry, 3 from the Research Division for Molecular & Cell Biology , and 1 from the Research Division of Physics & Astronomy. The awarded projects are as follows:  Principal Coordinator Research Division Project Title Professor Xuechen LI Chemistry Integrative Chemical Biology Approaches to Investigate the Biological Process of  Bacterial Pseudaminic Acid Dr Xiaoyu LI Chemistry Development of DNA-encoded glycan constructs as multivalent influenza hemagglutinin inhibitors towards novel anti-influenza therapy Dr Yuanliang ZHAI Molecular & Cell Biology Structure and molecular mechanisms of the eukaryotic replisome Professor Aleksandra DJURISIC Physics & Astronomy Controlling the moisture – towards stable and efficient flexible perovskite solar cells Dr Chaogu ZHENG Molecular & Cell Biology Investigating protein homeostasis during neuronal development and aging through cell-specific proteomics and interactomics Dr Aixin YAN Molecular & Cell Biology Deciphering the Physiological Functions and Regulation of the Endogenous CRISPR-Cas System for Biotechnological and Therapeutic Exploitations: Type I-F as a Paradigm Professor Hongzhe SUN Chemistry Mass cytometry, a multiplexed single-cell technology for chemical biology and precision medicine Professor Xuechen LI Chemistry Development of glycopeptide-based anti SARS-CoV-2 vaccines   For more details about the funding results, please click here. 

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The team with the molecular structure of ranitidine bismuth citrate. From the right: Dr Runming WANG, Professor Hongzhe SUN, Dr Shuofeng YUAN and Dr Jasper F W CHAN

Research co-led by Professor Hongzhe SUN from Research Division for Chemistry awarded the Local Top Ten innovation and technology news in 2020

A research co-led by Professor Hongzhe SUN, Norman & Cecilia Yip Professor in Bioinorganic Chemistry, Research Division for Chemistry, and Professor Kwok Yung YUEN, Henry Fok Professor in Infectious Diseases, Department of Microbiology, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, on discovery of a novel antiviral strategy for treatment of COVID-19 using existing metallodrugs, has been selected as one of the top 10 innovation news in 2020 by public vote. Organised by the Beijing-Hong Kong Academic Exchange Centre, the selection of the "Top ten innovation and technology news in 2020" aims to raise public awareness of scientific research achievements of Hong Kong institutions and pay tribute to researchers of various institutions, more than 2000 public audience engaged in the voting. Click here to learn more about the research.     

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From the left: Dr Qingyun WAN, Dr Jun YANG, Professor Chi-Ming CHE and Dr Wai-Pong TO

HKU chemists resolve a long-standing challenging problem on Metal-Metal interaction, the first team to prove that strong M-M’ Pauli repulsion leads to repulsive metallophilicity

A research team led by Professor Chi-Ming CHE and Dr Jun YANG, from the Research Division for Chemistry and Department of Chemistry at the Faculty of Science of the University of Hong Kong, has resolved a long-standing fundamental problem in the field of metal-metal closed-shell interaction. This work has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Metal-Metal closed-shell interaction, also known as metallophilicity, has a huge impact in diverse fields of chemistry, such as supramolecular chemistry and organometallic chemistry. Early reports on metallophilicity could be traced back to the 1970s. Many leading theoretical chemists around the world made contributions in the field, such as Roald Hoffmann (1981 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry), Pekka Pyykkӧ, etc.. Metallophilicity is important in the fabrication of self-assemblies by transition metal complexes, which has demonstrated profound applications in organic semiconductors, bio-sensing and functional optoelectronic materials. Going beyond conventional wisdom The term "metallophilicity" originated from Europe and has been extensively used by chemists as a guiding principle in molecular design studies and to rationalize the spectroscopic properties of transition metal complexes. Up to now, the general consensus of metallophilicity in the academic community is “attractive”, which has been conceived to come from orbital hybridization and/or relativistic effect of heavy metal atom, such as gold or platinum (3rd row metal in the elemental table). Together with Professor Che and Dr Yang, Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Qingyun WAN and co-workers questioned the conventional wisdom of coordination chemists, concluding that the metallophilicity is not an attractive interaction in organometallic complex, but is actually repulsive in nature due to strong M-M’ Pauli repulsion. They performed a combined theoretical and experimental research on metallophilicity and observed strong M-M’ Pauli repulsion in organometallic complex having closed-shell electronic configurations, which will provide a new theoretical perspective on the possibility of making new supramolecular materials with inexpensive earth-abundant transition metal complexes, such as that of palladium or silver or nickel (1st or 2nd row metals in the elemental table). It is also a crucial achievement in the fundamental understanding of weak intermolecular interactions. Background and achievement In the microworld of small molecules, there are many types of interactions. Metallophilicity describes the interaction between metal atoms as having closed-shell electronic configurations. In the early 1970s, chemists observed an interesting phenomenon that two closed-shell metal atoms could form a short metal-metal distance. A special “attraction” was proposed to exist between two metal atoms, pushing two metal atoms coming close. Many theoretical models were raised to account for such an attachment, such as the model of orbital hybridization or relativistic effect of the heavy metal. However, these theoretical models have conflictions with some experiment observations, like the relatively shorter Ag-Ag distance in Ag complexes compared to the Au-Au distance in the Au analogues. Thus, this problem has remained controversial for a long time and always plagued inorganic and theoretical chemists. The researchers at HKU used high-level calculation methods and experimental techniques to investigate such a tough problem, and proved that the metallophilicity is repulsive in nature due to strong M-M’ Pauli repulsion. They concluded that orbital hybridization and relativistic effect would strengthen the metal-metal Pauli repulsion when forming a close metal-metal contact. Intermolecular dispersion and electrostatic interaction will counter-balance the metal-metal repulsion, leading to a short metal-metal distance. This theoretical model could well explain why Ag-Ag distance is shorter than the Au-Au distance, due to weaker Ag-Ag Pauli repulsion which is induced by less orbital hybridization in the Ag complex. By a conservative estimation, there were more than 5,000 papers published in the literature related to “attractive metallophilicity”. The statement of “repulsive metallophilicity” is first proposed by the research team in their recent PNAS publication. This work was also recognized by Professor Harry GRAY in Caltech, who was awarded the Wolf Prize in Chemistry in 2004, one of the most honorable awards in the field. About the research team The research was conducted by a joint team under Professor Chi-Ming Che and Dr Jun Yang from the Research Division for Chemistry and Department of Chemistry. Postdoctoral fellow Dr Qingyun Wan from Professor Che’s group is the first author, while Dr Wan, Dr Yang and Professor Che are co-corresponding authors. Dr Wai-Pong To, Research Assistant Professor from Professor Che’s group, is another chemist contributing to the research. The research has secured continuous support from the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong, State Key Laboratory of Synthetic Chemistry at HKU and also the Information Technology Services of the University. The research team would also like to show their gratitude to the Basic Research Program-Shenzhen Fund, and the Major Program of Guangdong Basic and Applied Research. About Professor Chi-Ming Che Professor Chi-Ming Che received his BSc (1978) and PhD (1982) degrees from HKU. Following his research studies at the California Institute of Technology from 1980 to 1983, he joined HKU Chemistry in 1983 and was promoted to Chair Professor in 1992. From 1999-2016, he was appointed as Dr Hui Wai-Haan Chair of Chemistry. He is currently the Zhou Guangzhao Professor in Natural Sciences and the Director of State Key Laboratory of Synthetic Chemistry at HKU. Professor Che has received numerous awards/honors. At the age of 38, he was elected as a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), becoming the first Hong Kong scientist to receive this honour and the youngest member of CAS at that time. He is also the first in the local community to receive the First Class Prize of the State Natural Science Award of China (2006). In 2013, he was elected to Foreign Associate (later renamed as International Member) of National Academy of Sciences USA. In 2015, he was elected as a Founding member, a Director and the Vice-President of The Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong. Since 2016, he has been serving as the Head of Department of Chemistry at HKU. His current H-index is 120. For more information about Professor Che and his research group, please visit here. About Dr Jun Yang Dr Jun Yang is currently an Assistant Professor of Theoretical Chemistry at HKU. His research group is interested in developing and utilizing ab-initio quantum computational methodologies for many-body chemistry problems. Recent research activities include the development of low-scaling correlated electronic structure methods, many-body excited states of strong correlation, mean-field theory for nonadiabatic electronic-vibrational couplings as well as machine learning extension of these methods for realistic materials. For more information about Dr Jun Yang and his research group, please visit here. About Dr Qingyun Wan Dr Qingyun Wan received her BSc degree in Material Physics from University of Science and Technology of China in 2014. Under the supervision of Professor Li-Zhu WU and Professor Chen-Ho TUNG in the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), She conducted her final-year project in the area. In 2014, she moved to HKU and joined Professor Chi-Ming Che’s research team as a graduate student. She then had an exchange in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2018 for half a year, working in the lab of Professor Christopher C CUMMINS. Her research interests include the synthesis and application of supramolecular materials based on organometallic complexes, and computational chemistry. Dr Wan has published 16 peer-reviewed research articles, including 5 first-authored and/or correspondingauthored papers in Chem (1), JACS (1), ACIE (2) and PNAS (1). Click here to read the research paper.  Periodic table showing element which could exhibit metallophilicity. Chemical structure of the Au and Ag complex, and the calculation results showing stronger Au-Au Pauli repulsion than the Ag-Ag Pauli repulsion.  

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Eight projects of the Faculty receive funding from CRF

Faculty of Science receives funding of over HK$38 Million from Collaborative Research Fund (CRF) 2020/21 of University Grants Committee

The Collaborative Research Fund (CRF) of the University Grants Committee comprises Collaborative Research Equipment Grant and Collaborative Research Project Grant, supporting multi-investigators in diverse disciplines to engage in more creative and high quality cross-disciplinary projects. Eight projects of the Faculty receive a funding of HKD 38,841,067 from the CRF 2020/21 in January 2021. Among the awarded projects, 4 are from the Research Division for Chemistry, 3 from the Research Division for Molecular & Cell Biology , and 1 from the Research Division of Physics & Astronomy. The awarded projects are as follows:  Principal Coordinator Research Division Project Title Professor Xuechen LI Chemistry Integrative Chemical Biology Approaches to Investigate the Biological Process of  Bacterial Pseudaminic Acid Dr Xiaoyu LI Chemistry Development of DNA-encoded glycan constructs as multivalent influenza hemagglutinin inhibitors towards novel anti-influenza therapy Dr Yuanliang ZHAI Molecular & Cell Biology Structure and molecular mechanisms of the eukaryotic replisome Professor Aleksandra DJURISIC Physics & Astronomy Controlling the moisture – towards stable and efficient flexible perovskite solar cells Dr Chaogu ZHENG Molecular & Cell Biology Investigating protein homeostasis during neuronal development and aging through cell-specific proteomics and interactomics Dr Aixin YAN Molecular & Cell Biology Deciphering the Physiological Functions and Regulation of the Endogenous CRISPR-Cas System for Biotechnological and Therapeutic Exploitations: Type I-F as a Paradigm Professor Hongzhe SUN Chemistry Mass cytometry, a multiplexed single-cell technology for chemical biology and precision medicine Professor Xuechen LI Chemistry Development of glycopeptide-based anti SARS-CoV-2 vaccines   For more details about the funding results, please click here. 

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Two-dimensional materials have offered great potential to revolutionize microelectronics and information technology. Image reproduced by permission of Wang Yao and The Royal Society of Chemistry from Chem. Soc. Rev., 2015, 44, 2643

HKU-led Physics research team receives funding of over HK$80 Million from Areas of Excellence Scheme, set to uncover emerging technologies of 2D materials to revolutionize electronics, optoelectronics and photonics

A team of physicists, engineers and chemists from across local institutions, led by Chair Professor Wang YAO of Research Division for Physics & Astronomy under Faculty of Science, The University of Hong Kong (HKU), working on the research of fundamentals and emerging technologies of two-dimensional (2D) materials, has recently been awarded a funding of over HK$80 million from the Areas of Excellence (AoE) Scheme 2020/21 (Ninth Round) under the University Grants Committee (UGC). This will facilitate the exploration of fundamental physics in the new realm of two-dimensional atomic crystals and their van der Waals heterostructures with the abundant quantum degrees of freedom (e.g. spin, valley); and to explore quantum engineering of materials and devices in the unprecedented atomically thin 2D geometries, with the aim to revolutionize electronics, optoelectronics and photonics. The team of leading experts of 2D materials in Hong Kong were assembled to capitalize on this great opportunity. This AoE project is an inter-institutional and interdisciplinary one covering physics, applied physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, comprising 17 scientists from HKU, City University of Hong Kong, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.  “We are grateful to UGC for the recognition of our past achievement through the award of this funding, and most importantly for this opportunity to work together as a team to achieve something bigger in this exciting area.” said Professor Yao. Dean of Science Professor Matthew EVANS extended his heartfelt congratulations to the Project Coordinator and Co-Principal Investigators of this inter-institutional research project. “This is indeed a good start for 2021! We are all exhilarated by the news! I am most delighted to see the concerted efforts of our top-notch physicists and their collaborators in diverse disciplines on developing fundamental research on 2D materials, outracing other cutting-edge research and being recognized through the award of funding in this vigorous exercise,” said Professor Evans. The development of 2D materials and beyond The rapid development of information technology has been based on the continuous scaling down of microelectronic devices that improves cost, performance and power. This trend, empirically summarized as Moore's law, is coming to an end because of the intrinsic scale limit of silicon microelectronics. The new era of innovation will be profoundly different, calling for: new material systems to host even smaller devices under new geometry, new heterogeneity, new quantum degrees of freedom to carry information, and new physical principles to process and store information. Two-dimensional materials have a great potential to revolutionize microelectronics and information technology. The variety of 2D materials feature a wide range of material properties from metal, semiconductors, insulators to magnets and superconductors, as well as exotic physics associated with electrons’ quantum degrees of freedom (spin & valley) that could be exploited to encode and process information more efficiently. Their tiny thickness - just a few atoms at most - promises the ultimate miniaturization of devices, and unparalleled control of materials and device functions. Moreover, 2D materials feature an unprecedented flexibility in their assembly into heterostructures, through which new materials and device functionalities may emerge. This project aims to explore these exciting opportunities for revolutionizing electronics, optoelectronics and photonics, through a concerted effort addressing the fundamental issues from physics, materials synthesis to device engineering based on 2D materials.   Led by pioneers in the field of 2D materials, the team will seek to sustain Hong Kong’s edge in the field through basic and applied research, with a long-term goal of developing new prototype devices that will have application and commercialization potentials for Hong Kong. Background of the AoE Scheme The AoE Scheme was launched in 1998. The objective of the Scheme is to support the University Grants Committee-funded universities to build upon their existing strengths and develop them into areas of excellence. A total of 24 AoE projects from various disciplines have been funded in the past eight rounds of exercise. For the funding results of the Ninth Round Exercise, please visit here.    For details of another AoE project that the Faculty of Science takes part in, please visit here.    

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Metamaterials, with artificially engineered unit cells, provide a powerful means for controlling the propagation of light and are useful for various applications ranging from imaging to information processing.

HKU Physicist participated in cross-institutional Areas of Excellence project on meta-materials and meta-devices

Professor Shuang ZHANG of Research Division for Physics & Astronomy was one of the Co-Principal Investigators of a successful grant application entitled “Meta-optics, Meta-acoustics and Meta-devices” in the Areas of Excellence (AoE) Scheme 2020/21 (Ninth Round). The application, led by Professor Din-Ping TSAI of The Polytechnic University of Hong Kong (PolyU), focuses on development of metamaterials and metasurfaces for bridging the gap between fundamental research and industrial applications of metamaterials. Specifically, the project aims at developing novel meta-materials and meta-devices that can control and manipulate electromagnetic and acoustic waves for improving the quality of human daily life. Metamaterials and meta-devices take advantages of the localized and non-localized resonances of artificial structures in which the response of the electrons, phonons, plasmons, and excitons are strongly modified to give novel properties and functionalities which are not found in nature. This AoE project will cover the design, numerical simulation, advanced manufacturing, characterizations and measurements of these materials for various applications including environment, biomedical, imaging and sensing, and information security. It is expected that this AoE project will generate a new platform for knowledge-based intelligent artificial materials and devices which are low energy consumption (“green”) and compatible with advanced manufacture in micro- and nano-electronics industrial techniques for wearable or portable innovation. The team consists of seven research groups from PolyU, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and The University of Hong Kong. The project has been awarded funding of HK$65 million from the AoE Scheme  (Ninth Round) under the University Grants Committee (UGC). In this project, Professor Zhang will be responsible for the development of topological photonics based on metamaterials, and tunable metasurfaces for dynamically shaping the wave-front of light. Background of the AoE Scheme The AoE Scheme was launched in 1998. The objective of the Scheme is to support the University Grants Committee-funded universities to build upon their existing strengths and develop them into areas of excellence. A total of 24 AoE projects from various disciplines have been funded in the past eight rounds of exercise. For the funding results of the Ninth Round Exercise, please visit: https://www.ugc.edu.hk/eng/rgc/funding_opport/aoe/funded_research/aoe9.html   

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The team with the molecular structure of ranitidine bismuth citrate. From the right: Dr Runming WANG, Professor Hongzhe SUN, Dr Shuofeng YUAN and Dr Jasper F W CHAN

Research co-led by Professor Hongzhe SUN from Research Division for Chemistry awarded the Local Top Ten innovation and technology news in 2020

A research co-led by Professor Hongzhe SUN, Norman & Cecilia Yip Professor in Bioinorganic Chemistry, Research Division for Chemistry, and Professor Kwok Yung YUEN, Henry Fok Professor in Infectious Diseases, Department of Microbiology, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, on discovery of a novel antiviral strategy for treatment of COVID-19 using existing metallodrugs, has been selected as one of the top 10 innovation news in 2020 by public vote. Organised by the Beijing-Hong Kong Academic Exchange Centre, the selection of the "Top ten innovation and technology news in 2020" aims to raise public awareness of scientific research achievements of Hong Kong institutions and pay tribute to researchers of various institutions, more than 2000 public audience engaged in the voting. Click here to learn more about the research.     

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A basking Okada's five-lined skink (Plestiodon latiscutatus) on Hachijo-Kojima. Image credit: Masami Hasegawa.

Four decades of research on Japanese Izu Islands finds rising lizard temperatures may change predator-prey relationship with snakes

  A Japanese four-lined rat snake on Kozu Island.  Image credit: Félix Landry Yuan. HKU PhD student Félix Landry Yuan searching for lizards on Hachijo-Kojima. mage credit: Masami Hasegawa. The picturesque Kozu Island. Image credit: Félix Landry Yuan. (see note) Equipment in hand, researchers return from their field site on Hachijo-Kojima to be picked up by boat. Image credit: Masami Hasegawa   In a study spanning four decades, researchers from The University of Hong Kong’s Research Division for Ecology & Biodiversity (HKU) in the Faculty of Science, and Toho University’s Department of Biology (Toho), Japan, have discovered that predation by snakes is pushing lizards to be active at warmer body temperatures on islands where snakes are present, in comparison to islands free from snakes. Their work also detected significant climatic warming throughout the years and found lizard body temperatures to have also increased accordingly. The findings show that lizard thermal biology is highly dependent on predation pressures and that body temperatures are rising suggest that such ectothermic predator-prey relationships may be changing under climatic warming. Lizard VS Snakes on Izu Islands The research published in the journal Ecology Letters is the first to present long-term observations on the thermal biology behind the prey-predator relationship of snakes and lizards on the Izu Islands. Less than a million years old, these islands are located near the southeastern coast of the Japanese mainland and represent a valuable natural laboratory for studying ecological and evolutionary processes. Similar to the reasons initially drawing evolutionary biologists to the Galapagos, the simplified island system with low numbers of species overall provides an opportunity to directly study selective pressures on species. In this system, one dominant lizard species is found on all these islands; Okada's five-lined skink (Plestiodon latiscutatus). Its mainland predator, the Japanese four-lined rat snake (Elaphe quadrivirgata), is found on most but not all of the islands. This has resulted P. latiscutatus populations that have experienced different evolutionary pressures, either free from or subject to predation by E. quadrivirgata. The research was conducted by PhD student Félix LANDRY YUAN (HKU) and PhD Candidate Shun ITO (Tohoku University’s Graduate School of Life Science) and led by Dr Timothy BONEBRAKE (HKU) and Professor Masami HASEGAWA (Toho). Initial observation and data collection was first started by Professor HASEGAWA in the early 1980’s, when he first noticed lizard behaviour differed on islands with and without snakes. Professor Hasegawa has since continually visited the islands annually to catch lizards and snakes for body temperature and morphological measurements. The researchers have accordingly detected that annual temperatures across the Izu Islands had increased by just over 1°C since Professor Hasegawa first started his observations, and that lizard body temperature had also increased with the same magnitude. Higher body temperature helps the lizards In addition to body temperature measurements, in 2018 and 2019 Félix Landry Yuan carried a portable racetrack, tripod and camera to the islands to measure the speed at which lizards ran at different temperatures. By analyzing thermally dependent running speeds of over 150 lizards across the islands, the researchers were able to establish how predation by snakes affected lizard thermal biology and the probable consequences for their fitness. Dr Bonebrake notes that, “by racing lizards of different temperatures down a track, Félix was able to show that optimal temperatures were higher for lizards on the island with snakes, consistent with the high body temperatures observed on the island. Shun Ito was also able to identify differences in lizard hind leg length that had consequences for survival. Thus, the higher body temperatures and morphological differences help the lizards run faster and better escape the snakes. The exciting and unique aspect of this work is how the experimental work matches and supports the extensive natural history data and observation.” With climate change ongoing, the dynamics of this prey-predator relationship could be affected on islands with snakes, as lizard body temperatures are likely to continue to rise. In addition, as predation has considerable consequences for the thermal biology of its prey, the presence or absence of snake predators could differentially influence general vulnerability of lizards to climatic warming across islands. The Izu Islands demonstrate the value of island systems in teasing apart mechanisms through which predation directly influences behaviour, morphology and physiology of prey species. On the other hand, understanding the ways in which predation can affect prey responses to climate change requires long-term study. This international collaboration between HKU and Toho used these unique properties of this system (and Professor Hasegawa’s forethought and intensive data collections since the 80s) to show how predator-prey relationships may be vulnerable in a warming climate. “It is a great pleasure to reveal ecological and evolutionary responses among prey and predator interactions by this international research team. I’m very hopeful that the Izu islands become a key model island system to study ongoing evolution under global environmental change by attracting ambitious young Asian biologists to research this further.” Professor HASEGAWA said.     Toho University's Professor  Masami Hasegawa on Oshima. Image credit: Félix Landry Yuan. A basking Okada's five-lined skink on Hachijo-Kojima. Image credit: Masami Hasegawa    Félix Landry Yuan was supported by a Hong Kong PhD Fellowship from the Research Grants Council. Professor Masami Hasegawa received funding for this work from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) - (19H03307, 15H04426). About the research paper “Predator presence and recent climatic warming raise body temperatures of island lizards”:https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ele.13671 Landry Yuan F*, Ito S*, Tsang TPN, Kuriyama T, Yamakazi T, Bonebrake TC, Hasegawa M (2021) Ecology Letters *These authors contributed equally to the manuscript. Note: With an approximate 3-10 hour boat ride away from Tokyo, depending on the island, the Izu Islands are easily accessible from the Japanese capital, although inter-island travel is not as flexible. For their field work, the researchers stayed at local family-run guest houses, and travelled to their study sites in the early morning where they searched for lizards until the late afternoon. 

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