HKU receives a large donation of 3D kinematics software for geoscience research
As global energy and technology needs continue to grow and transform, so do our resource needs. Many of these resources are extracted from the Earth. For example, the use of rare earth metals has vastly expanded in recent years, as these are increasingly used in modern communication and battery technologies. The tools by which we explore for key geological resources are undergoing a parallel evolution, becoming increasingly potent for use characterizing three-dimensional resource settings and development. These tools can similarly be used to produce academic research discoveries, particularly in terms of creating quantitative models of solid planetary systems. In pursuit of such discoveries, the Faculty of Science is pleased to announce a large donation of geological exploration software from Petroleum Experts Ltd to The University of Hong Kong. The full monetary value of this donation is £2,082,391.97 (equivalent to roughly HKD 21.2 million). The donation includes ten sets of the MOVE suite of programs, which represents world-leading geological reconstruction software that principally supports petroleum applications in the industrial realm and advances crustal tectonics exploration in the academic realm. The specific interlinked programs are MOVE, 2D Kinematic Modelling, 3D Kinematic Modelling, Geomechanical Modelling, Sediment Modelling, Fracture Modelling, Fault Response Modelling, Fault Analysis, Stress Analysis, MOVE Link for Petrel, MOVE Link for OpenWorks, and MOVE Link for GST. Continuing free software updates are included, as well as the HARDLOCK system for hosting the software on the university servers. “We are pleased and grateful to receive this donation of powerful software. It will be used extensively in our expanding lithospheric tectonics and Earth evolution research. MOVE is the leading industrial software for exploration of crustal development in three-dimensions-plus-time. This is of course critical for petroleum exploration, but also holds vast academic promise. Our Faculty’s team of solid Earth researchers are going to benefit tremendously from its capacity for rapid generation of highly detailed kinematic reconstructions,” said Professor Matthew Evans, Dean of the Faculty of Science. The donated software will allow HKU geologists to characterize complex geologies in 3D, quantitatively reconstruct the development of these geologies through time via a vast array of embedded process tools, perform forward and reverse modeling of such models, and explore the concomitant stress evolutions of the explored geological systems. The software can further be coupled to other leading industrial software, such as Petrel, and academic numerical tools like PECUBE thermo-kinematic code. As such, MOVE is a key tool for simulating sedimentary and deformation system evolutions, from basins and deltaic systems like the Pearl River delta, to the development of mountain belts like the Andes and Himalaya, to oceanic rifting systems like the South China Sea. Some uses may even be extra-terrestrial! Associate Professor Dr Joseph Michalski of the Department of Earth Sciences comments: “MOVE is basically the geologist’s leading tool for performing one of our core tasks, which can be colloquially described as ‘putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.’ For example, we’re studying features on Mars that may represent either deformed impact craters, or deformed volcanoes, so we’re looking forward to harnessing MOVE’s unique reconstructive capacities to better test between these possibilities.” Knowledge exchange between the petroleum industry and academia has deep roots. Associate Professor Dr Alexander Webb of the Department of Earth Sciences notes: “From a historical perspective, petroleum exploration is responsible for developing large swaths of the modern field of structural geology. The motivation for technical advance is straightforward: millions and even billions of dollars of investment depend on accurate, precise, and exportable understanding of resource-bearing geological systems. Here in academia, we’ve employed industrial tools for a greater variety of problems, for example building quantitative understandings of how continents rift apart and how they collide together. We look forward to further developing this rich tradition via MOVE-enabled research at HKU.” More about Petroleum Experts Ltd: https://www.petex.com// Image 1: An illustration of 3D seismic data analyzed via MOVE, permitting 3D modeling of the fault surface and deformed layers in an extensional basin. Image 2: Detailed 3D model-building of a complex contractional tectonic system.
Bird beak revealed by HKU-codeveloped laser imaging Informs early beak form, function, and development
Confuciusornis was a crow-like fossil bird that lived in the Cretaceous ~120 million years ago. It was one of the first birds to evolve a beak (Fig. 1). Early beak evolution remains understudied. Using an imaging technique called Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence, researchers at The University of Hong Kong (HKU) address this by revealing just how different the beak and jaw of Confuciusornis were compared to birds we see today. Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence (LSF) is an imaging technique co-developed at HKU that involves shining a laser onto a target. It is well-known in palaeontology for making fossil bones and the soft tissues preserved alongside them glow-in-the-dark. LSF has revealed fine skin details and other previously-invisible soft tissue in a wide range of fossils, especially those of early birds and other feathered dinosaurs (see notes). HKU PhD student Case Vincent Miller and his supervisor Research Assistant Professor Dr. Michael Pittman (Vertebrate Palaeontology Laboratory, Division of Earth and Planetary Science & Department of Earth Sciences) led this study with Thomas G. Kaye of the Foundation for Scientific Advancement (Arizona, USA) and colleagues at the Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature (Pingyi, China). Under LSF, which was co-developed by Dr. Pittman and Mr. Kaye, the team revealed the fingernail-like ‘soft beak’ of Confuciusornis, a feature that covers the beak of every bird and is called the rhamphotheca. The example the team found in Confuciusornis was preserved detached from the bony part of the beak (Fig. 2). “Fossilised rhamphothecae have been reported in fossil birds before,” said Dr. Pittman, “but no one has really asked what they tell us about the earliest beaked birds.” The international research team reconstructed what the beak looked like in life (Fig. 3), and used this to consolidate knowledge of the beak of Confucusornis across all known specimens. In highlighting that the rhamphotheca was easily-detachable and by performing the first test of jaw strength in a dinosaur-era bird, the team suggested that this early beaked bird was suited to eating soft foods (Fig. 4). Finally, the team highlight differences in how the beak is assembled to show that despite looking like living birds, the early beaks of Confuciusornis and its close relatives are fundamentally different structures to those seen in modern birds. Regarding future plans, Mr. Miller said, “Our research has raised a lot of interesting questions going forward. We know so little about fossil rhamphothecae and plan on using LSF to study even more fossils to find more of these hidden gems. I am particularly interested in seeing whether beak attachment strength in living birds has any correlation with the overall strength of their jaw. This might help us to better understand fossil birds. This study is only the first glimpse into this interesting and new line of study into early beaks, so I am very excited.” The paper is published in Communications Biology and can be accessed here: https://www.nature.com/commsbio (DOI:10.1038/s42003-020-01252-1) Click to play video of the research Figure 1. Life reconstruction of the fossil bird Confuciusornis, one of the first beaked birds. Confuciusornis was roughly the size of a crow. It is known from hundreds of beautifully-preserved fossils, found in Early Cretaceous rocks from northeastern China. Image credit: Gabriel Ugueto Figure 2. A specimen of the early beaked bird Confuciusornis imaged with the HKU-codeveloped imaging technique, Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence (LSF). The rhamphotheca or ‘soft beak’ (fingernail-like coating of the bony beak) is the reddish-brown shape on the right of the image. Image credit: Michael Pittman & Thomas G Kaye. Figure 3. Reconstruction of the rhampotheca (‘soft beak’) of Confuciusornis from Figure 2. Dotted lines and grey areas are missing or unclear details in the fossil. The pink shape is the current position of the rhamphotheca, the red shape is its original position in life. Image credit: Case Vincent Miller & Michael Pittman. Figure 4. The first test of jaw strength in a dinosaur-era bird. Miller, Pittman and colleagues find the jaw of the early beaked bird Confuciusornis (A) more closely resembles the weak jaw of a living insect-eating bird (B) and plant-eating bird (C) than the stronger jaws of a living fish-eating bird (D) or seed-eating bird (E). Image credit: Case Vincent Miller.
Seven HKU young scientists awarded China's Excellent Young Scientists Fund 2020
Young researchers at the University of Hong Kong have achieved outstanding results in the Excellent Young Scientists Fund (Hong Kong and Macau) for 2020. Seven HKU young scientists have been awarded the prestigious fund under the National Natural Science Foundation of China, an organisation managed by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), in which, two of them are from HKU Science. This has been the second consecutive year for HKU to be awarded the highest number of projects among its peer institutions, after the fund was extended to Hong Kong and Macau for applications by eight designated universities since 2019. The Excellent Young Scientists Fund is granted annually to support young male scientists under age 38 and young female scientists under age 40 who have attained outstanding achievements in research, to further expand in areas of their own choice. It is highly competitive, with only 25 projects in total funded across Hong Kong and Macau this year. Each project will receive funding of RMB1.2 million over a maximum period of three years, in the form of cross-border remittance to directly support the researchers' work in Hong Kong or Macau. Seven HKU young scientists: Faculty of Science Dr Timothy Bonebrake Associate Professor, School of Biological Sciences Dr Wang Yufeng Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry LKS Faculty of Medicine Dr Esther Chan Wai Yin Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy Dr Lydia Cheung Wai Ting Assistant Professor, School of Biomedical Sciences Dr Carmen Wong Chak Lui Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology Dr Alan Wong Siu Lun Assistant Professor, School of Biomedical Sciences (joint appointment with Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Faculty of Engineering) Faculty of Social Sciences Dr Zhang Hongsheng Assistant Professor, Department of Geography The award winning projects: Dr Timothy Bonebrake Associate Professor, School of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science Project Title: Global change and tropical conservation The study would employ both correlative species distribution models and physiologically informed mechanistic models to butterfly species and develop combination of both approaches for broad estimation and projection for how warming will impact tropical butterfly biodiversity. The research will also incorporate physiological and process-based models with field-based ecological data to advance our understanding of tropical biodiversity. The results will have specific application for managing species in region and will additionally serve as a broad framework for integrating correlative species distribution model approaches with mechanistic and macrophysiological insights. Dr Wang Yufeng Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science Project Title: Colloidal Synthesis and Assembly The project is a synergistic merger of the field of colloidal assembly and the field of MOF, via hierarchical assembly from molecules to colloids. This route shall significantly improve the optical, mechanical, catalytic and separation properties of MOF and related materials. Dr Esther Chan Wai Yin Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy, LKS Faculty of Medicine Project Title: Optimising antipsychotic drug management in patients with mental disorders to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare resource utilisation This project will use Hong Kong wide, real-world, big data to analyse medication usage trends of patients with mental disorders and compare clinical outcomes and resource utilisation (hospitalisations and length of stay, Emergency Department attendances, suicide attempts and mortality) of long-acting injectable antipsychotics (LAIAs) versus oral antipsychotics (OAs) in patients with mental disorders. The clinical outcomes associated with antipsychotic medications will be further explored among specific patient populations including youth, elderly, pregnant women and substance users. The results of this study could identify strategies to improve adherence to antipsychotic medications that may lead to better patient outcomes and reduce healthcare resource utilisation. Dr Lydia Cheung Wai Ting Assistant Professor, School of Biomedical Sciences, LKS Faculty of Medicine Project Title: Precision medicine strategies for ovarian cancer Dr Cheung is committed to in-depth studies of identifying and characterising novel driver gene mutations in ovarian cancer, especially the associated alterations in signaling pathways and drug responses. The project will address two key scientific challenges that impede the development and effectiveness of precision cancer medicine: one is to reveal novel genome-informed therapeutic approaches and predictive markers; and the other is to derive strategies to overcome cancer drug resistance. Dr Carmen Wong Chak Lui Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology, LKS Faculty of Medicine Project Title: Liver cancer metabolism and tumor microenvironment Dr Wong has been dedicated to study the metabolic reprogramming and hypoxic microenvironment of liver cancer, unravelling the relationship between metabolism and tumor immunity. She aims to investigate the roles of immunometabolites in the immune microenvironment and decipher the underlying molecular mechanisms that could be potentially exploited for the development of novel diagnostic and therapeutic strategies. Dr Alan Wong Siu Lun Assistant Professor, School of Biomedical Sciences, LKS Faculty of Medicine (joint appointment with Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Faculty of Engineering) Project Title: Synthetic biology and combinatorial genetics technologies Innovative tools that accelerate direct measurement of the combined effect of genetic perturbations should revolutionise our way to study and engineer the intricate biological systems in a systematic way, and facilitate the development of next-generation therapeutics. The research aims to develop and apply multiplexed genetic technologies to decode complex diseases and devise effective combination-based therapeutic strategies against cancers and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as to engineer new gene editing tools. Dr Zhang Hongsheng Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences Project Title: Remote Sensing of Urban Impervious Surface in Tropical and Subtropical Areas Urban impervious surface is the most direct changes to land surface by humans in the process of urbanisation. Accurate monitoring and analysis of its temporal and spatial dynamics is of great significance for understanding the relationship between human activities and global changes. This project aims to develop new technologies based on cloud computing to generate and fuse full-coverage optical-radar satellite datasets to monitor the urban impervious surface over the global tropical and subtropical areas.