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Dr Moriaki Yasuhara (middle) received the prestigious Biwako Prize for Ecology

Dr Moriaki Yasuhara received the 20th Biwako Prize for Ecology

Congratulations to Dr Moriaki Yasuhara from the School of Biological Sciences for his receiving of the 20th Biwako Prize for Ecology awarded by the Ecological Society of Japan. This prestigious award was to recognise Dr Yasuhara's outstanding research achievements and societal contributions in the field of aquatic ecology.   This is the third time for our professorial staff to receive this international honour; Professor David Dudgeon and Professor Kenneth M Y Leung were recipients of this award in 2000 and 2017 respectively.      

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HKU Science delegates visited Institute of Oceanology, China Academy of Sciences to discuss on collaboration opportunities

Dean of Science Professor Matthew Evans, Director and Associate Director of HKU Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS) Professor Gray Williams and Dr Bayden Russell visited Institute of Oceanology, China Academy of Sciences in early June to discuss on the possible collaboration opportunities on marine science research. The group also visited the Marine Biological Museum, Marine Science Big Data Centre and Marine Biological Laboratory during the visit.

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HKU partners with TCL to set up “HKU-TCL Joint Research Centre for AI”: Fostering research development in Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Caption: MoU Signing of “HKU-TCL Joint Research Centre for AI” with Dr Tomson Li (Chairman and CEO of TCL), Dr Xiaolin Yan (Chief Technology Officer and President of Corporate Research of TCL), Professor Andy Hor (HKU Vice-President and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research)), Professor Matthew Evans (Dean of HKU Science), Professor Billy Chow (Associate Dean of HKU Science (Development and External Relations)), Professor Yuguo Li (Associate Dean of HKU Engineering (Research)) and Professor Tak Wah Lam (Head of HKU Department of Computer Science).   In this digital era, artificial intelligence (AI) re-positions and re-writes the meaning of digital hardware, creating infinite possibilities to shape human life. HKU Faculty of Science and Faculty of Engineering received HK$30 million from TCL Corporation (TCL), which will be used to support artificial intelligence research undertaken at the “HKU-TCL Joint Research Centre for AI” for five years. HKU Vice-President and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Andy Hor and TCL CTO and President of TCL Research Dr Xiaolin Yan represented the two institutions at the signing ceremony for Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on June 14.   This collaboration aims to synergise top-notched research and strength of enterprise, foster mutual exchange and translate research knowledge to creative and pioneering applications. Detailed terms of collaboration are under discussion, yet both parties agree to work on research areas of artificial intelligence based on the aforementioned framework. This agreement echoes TCL’s mission to transform creativity into cutting-edge technology, it also demonstrates the determination of HKU to enhance its competitiveness in the global realm of research.   Professor Andy Hor, HKU Vice-President and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research), believed that the collaboration can consolidate the leading position of HKU. “As the development of artificial intelligence is becoming a global trend, we are very pleased to have a partner who shares the same vision as us. Together, we will grasp every opportunity to explore the research and application aspects of artificial intelligence and in-depth learning, with a view to maintaining our leading position in Asia, as well as our competitiveness in the academic spectrum across the globe,” said Professor Hor.   Professor Matthew Evans, Dean of HKU Science, expressed his gratitude of the unfailing support of TCL to HKU in the past two years. “TCL has been supporting our Faculty in research projects and training of talents and experts since 2017, promoting research excellence and creating research atmosphere. We are grateful to welcome another collaboration with them and HKU Faculty of Engineering, to join hands and foster research on AI and create a win-win outcome for three parties.”   Professor Yuguo Li, Associate Dean of HKU Engineering (Research), is also pleased to see the opportunities that this collaboration brings along. "We hope this innovative research centre can inject new power and novel thinking, turn creative ideas into wisdom, and pave avenue for more opportunities for artificial intelligence research in the future," said Professor Li.   Dr Tomson Li, Chairman and CEO of TCL, shows eminent support to this collaboration. “It will help us sharpen our technical competitiveness in semiconductor display and consumer electronics, further our innovation in artificial intelligence and grooming of talents; establishing this joint research centre with HKU is indeed a paramount component of TCL’s strategies in artificial intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT), which fosters the technological transformation and product upgrading in TCL, creating a brand new industry ecology,” stated Dr Li.   Dr Xiaolin Yan, Chief Technology Officer and President of Corporate Research of TCL, is very positive to this collaboration. “TCL always holds the visions of respecting technology and emphasising basic research; in recent years there is consistent increase of investment in technological research and development, a joint laboratory in new display materials ‘HKU-TCL joint laboratory for New Printable OLED Materials and Technology’ has been set up with HKU last year, and this joint research centre will be a milestone of more intense collaboration with HKU, demonstrating a new mode of industry-academic collaboration, also providing a secured platform for knowledge transfer of scientific research.”   Dr Dahai Yu, General Manager of AI Institute, TCL Corporate Research HK, echoed that “such collaboration is a remarkable one for Hong Kong-Greater Bay Area technological collaboration in artificial intelligence. We hope, through this collaboration, to scale higher with HKU in a wide range of aspects such as basic scientific research, application innovation and talent grooming; we believe there will be plentiful of collaboration with HKU in the future, facilitating the strategic development in artificial intelligence of TCL.”        

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Remote sensing: A tool for Earth and space exploration

Remote sensing is the discipline of acquiring and interpreting aerial images of the earth or other planets using sensor-based technology. Those images, covering subjects like the earth’s surface, the atmosphere, oceans, objects and phenomenon, are then analysed to provide precise data that would not be possible to obtain easily by other means. Dr Joseph Michalski from the Department of Earth Sciences uses remote sensing to study the mineralogy and geology of planets at the Planetary Mineralogy and Spectroscopy Laboratory.   [Video highlights]     Remote sensing is the discipline of acquiring and interpreting aerial images of the earth or other planets using sensor-based technology. Those images, covering subjects like the earth’s surface, the atmosphere, oceans, objects and phenomenon, are then analysed to provide precise data that would not be possible to obtain easily by other means.   While the term "remote sensing" was coined in the 1960s, the first aerial photographs were taken in the 1850s, following the invention of the camera. Using a hot air balloon French photographer Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, also known as Nadar, took the first successful aerial photograph of a French village in 1858.   Today, remote sensing is a specialist field, done using state-of-the-art sensors and cameras attached to planes, space craft and robotic vehicles that detect and monitor the physical characteristics of an area by measuring its reflected and emitted radiation.   The data interpreted from those images is used in numerous fields by, amongst others, mining companies searching for minerals, environmentalists looking for micro-plastics and space agencies scanning the Moon, Mars and other planets.   “Remote sensing is an incredibly powerful tool that allows us to understand, big, complex systems on this planet, Dr Michalski said. “Looking toward the future, remote sensing will only become a bigger part of how we see our own planet, and how we map distant worlds.”   Part of Dr Michalski’s research is focussed on how the geology of the early Earth led to the origin of life on this planet, and whether life might have formed elsewhere in the Solar System.   “When NASA sends rovers to Mars, they use instrumentation to look at the detail mineralogy of samples at very high resolution,” he said. “We're doing that in our laboratory to prepare for China's mission to Mars, and for future missions to the moon and other planets.”   Using the latest FTIR spectrometer equipped with multiple detectors and beam splitters, Dr Michalski and his team are able to analyse geological and biological materials of all parts of the spectrum from wavelengths of 350 nanometers to 35 micrometers. They plan to use infrared measurements of hydrothermal minerals as a basis to interpret the detection of important minerals on Mars.   To know more about Dr Michalski's research. Please click here  

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Dr Moriaki Yasuhara (middle) received the prestigious Biwako Prize for Ecology

Dr Moriaki Yasuhara received the 20th Biwako Prize for Ecology

Congratulations to Dr Moriaki Yasuhara from the School of Biological Sciences for his receiving of the 20th Biwako Prize for Ecology awarded by the Ecological Society of Japan. This prestigious award was to recognise Dr Yasuhara's outstanding research achievements and societal contributions in the field of aquatic ecology.   This is the third time for our professorial staff to receive this international honour; Professor David Dudgeon and Professor Kenneth M Y Leung were recipients of this award in 2000 and 2017 respectively.      

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Dr Louis Wong (2nd right) and Ms Yahui Zhang (1st right) received the Best Paper Award from the ARMA President Dr. Joseph P. Morris (1st left) and the 53rd US Rock Mechanics / Geomechanics Symposium Co-Chair Dr Evangelia Ieronymaki (2nd left)

Best paper award at the 53rd US Rock Mechanics / Geomechanics Symposium

The US Rock Mechanics / Geomechanics Symposium annually organised by the American Rock Mechanics Association (ARMA) is one of the most important and appealing events in the fields of rock mechanics, rock engineering, and geomechanics. This year, the 53rd conference was held during 23 - 26 June in New York City, USA. Dr Louis Wong (co-authored with his current PhD student Yahui Zhang) from the Department of Earth Sciences won the best paper award, for the paper “Numerical investigation of micro-mechanisms of thermal strengthening in rock”. Rocks are typically weakened upon heating. Their research however suggests and explains why rock would be strengthened rather than weakened in a not so high temperature regime (25-175°C). This discovery has significant scientific and social contributions, in particular to most underground engineering and energy projects which are operated in mildly heated rocks. Congratulations to Dr Louis Wong and Yahui Zhang!             

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In loving memory of former Dean of Science Dr Kam-Tim LEUNG

It is with deep sadness that we mourn for the passing away of Former Dean of Science Dr Kam-Tim Leung on 23 June 2019, at the age of 87. We honour the memory of Dr Leung in many aspects, be it his contributions for the Faculty development, or his relentless commitment in advancing mathematics education in the local community.   Dr Leung joined The University of Hong Kong as a Senior Lecturer in 1960, and retired in 1995 after his long services at the Faculty of Science for 35 years. In 1974-1976, he served as the Dean of Science, leading the Faculty to make positive changes in teaching. Putting academic quality at the top of his priorities, he spent great efforts in overseeing the newly introduced unit structure for undergraduate programmes.   As an important figure of the Department of Mathematics, Dr Leung’s dedication to mathematics curriculum brought high impacts to the society. The book he co-authored with Dr Doris Chen on set theory had been used by generations of local secondary school students. Dr Leung had been influential to the mathematics education in Hong Kong. He was the Vice-Chairman of the Advanced-Level Examinations Board before the Hong Kong Examination Authority took over the examinations from the university. For many years, he was an advisor of the subject committees of the Curriculum Development Council and Examination Authority. He had also established close connection with high schools for decades.   Dr Leung will be dearly missed for his passion for education, devotion in Mathematics, care for his colleagues, students and friends. With deep regret and profound sorrow, we offer our condolences to his wife Cosette and his family.   With best regards, Matthew Evans Dean of Science

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30 x 30 arcminute image of NGC6067 & BMP1613-5406. North-East is top left. The image is a B,R,H-alpha tri-colour RGB image (extracted from the online UK Schmidt Telescope SuperCOSMOS H-alpha Survey H-alpha, short-Red (SR) and broad-band ‘B’ images.

Smash and Grab: A heavyweight stellar champion for dying stars

Dying stars that cast off their outer envelopes to form the beautiful yet enigmatic “planetary nebulae” (PNe) have a new heavy-weight champion, the innocuously named PNe “BMP1613-5406”. Massive stars live fast and die young, exploding as powerful supernovae after only a few million years. However, the vast majority of stars, including our own Sun, have much lower mass and may live for many billions of years before going through a short lived but glorious PNe phase. PNe form when only a tiny fraction of unburnt hydrogen remains in the stellar core. Radiation pressure expels much of this material and the hot stellar core can shine through. This ionizes the previously ejected shroud creating a PNe and providing a visible and valuable fossil record of the stellar mass loss process (PNe have nothing to do with planets but acquired this name because their glowing spheres of ionized gas around their hot central stars resembled planets to early observers). PNe theoretically derive from stars in the range 1-8 times the mass of the Sun, representing 90% of all stars more massive than the sun. However, until now, PNe have been proven to derive from stars born with only 1-3 times the mass of our Sun. Professor Quentin Parker, Department of Physics and Director of The Laboratory for Space Research, The University of Hong Kong and his PhD student Miss Fragkou Vasiliki, in collaboration with University of Manchester and South African Astronomical Observatory, have now officially smashed this previous limit and grabbed the proof that a PNe has emerged from a star born with 5.5 times the mass of our Sun. Their journal paper “A high-mass planetary nebula in a Galactic open cluster” has just been published on the Nature Astronomy's website. But why is this important?  Firstly, PNe provide a unique window into the soul of late stage stellar evolution revealed by their rich emission line spectra that are excellent laboratories for plasma physics. PNe are visible to great distances where their strong lines permit determination of the size, expansion velocity and age of the PN, so probing the physics and timescales of stellar mass loss. They can also be used to derive luminosity, temperature and mass of their central remnant stellar cores, and the chemical composition of the ejected gas.  Secondly, and key here, is that this is an unprecedented example of a star whose proven original “progenitor” mass is close to the theoretical lower limit of core-collapse supernova formation. Our results are the first solid evidence confirming theoretical predictions that 5+ solar mass stars can actually form PNe. This unique case therefore provides the astronomical community with an important tool for fresh insights into stellar and Galactic chemical evolution.  But how did the team from The University of Hong Kong and the University of Manchester claim the heavyweight crown?  The key was the discovery of the PNe in a young, Galactic open cluster called NGC6067. Finding a PNe residing in an open cluster is an extremely rare event. Indeed, only one other PNe, “PHR1615-6555” has ever been previously proven to reside on an open cluster but whose progenitor star had considerably lower mass. Interestingly, this was an earlier discovery from the same led team as here. The proven location of a PN in a cluster provides key and important data that is difficult to acquire otherwise. This includes an accurate distance and a cluster “turn off” mass estimate (i.e. the mass a star must have had when it was born to now be seen evolving off the main sequence in the cluster of known age). High confidence in the PN-cluster association comes from their highly consistent radial velocities (to better tan 1km/s) in a sight-line with a steep velocity-distance gradient, common distances, common reddening and projected and close physical proximity of the PN to the cluster centre. In summary our exciting results are solid evidence confirming theoretical predictions that 5+ solar mass stars can form planetary nebulae and are, as expected, Nitrogen rich. The PN’s cluster membership provides fresh and tight constraints on the lower mass limit for the progenitor mass of core-collapse supernovae and also for the intermediate to high mass end of the white dwarf Initial to Final Mass Relation (IFMR). It also provides an empirical benchmark for evaluating nucleosynthetic (element creation) predictions for intermediate-mass stars. PN BMPJ1613-5406 and its cluster NGC6067 will provide the astronomical community with important insights into stellar and Galactic (chemical) evolution. Digital object identifier (DOI) number 10.1038/s41550-019-0796-x    A VPHAS+ combined u g r multi-band “RGB” colour image centred on the planetary nebula central star (CS) candidate. The image is 55 x 55 arcseconds in size and the CS is obvious as the sole blue star in the middle of field, located at RA:16h13m02.1s and DEC:-54o06’32.3” (J2000). A current plot from cluster WDs for the latest IFMR estimates from Cummings et al (2018), together with our estimated point for BMP1613-5406 plotted as a red circle. The only other point from a known OC PN is plotted as a yellow circle (Parker et al 2011). The errors attached to our point reflect the errors in the adopted cluster parameters and the spread of the estimated CS magnitudes.

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HKU Science delegates visited Institute of Oceanology, China Academy of Sciences to discuss on collaboration opportunities

Dean of Science Professor Matthew Evans, Director and Associate Director of HKU Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS) Professor Gray Williams and Dr Bayden Russell visited Institute of Oceanology, China Academy of Sciences in early June to discuss on the possible collaboration opportunities on marine science research. The group also visited the Marine Biological Museum, Marine Science Big Data Centre and Marine Biological Laboratory during the visit.

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