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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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Professor Guochun Zhao and Professor Min Sun received the 2018 Natural Science Award (First Class) of Chinese Education Ministry

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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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Discovery about elephants using their sense of smell to compare quantities of food

A new study co-authored by HKU Assistant Professor Hannah Mumby has found that elephants can use their sense of smell to compare quantities of food —believed to be the first time such an ability has been demonstrated by any species, including humans. Animals’ capacity to differentiate between more and less can be critical to their decision making regarding social relationships, territory and food, and like humans, many species usually make these distinctions visually.  Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), the study of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) determined that they lead with their “noses” much more than humans do; elephants, we now know, can distinguish quantities purely through their olfactory sense. This conclusion, obtained through an imaginatively designed experiment, has exciting implications for further research into animals’ sensory experience of their worlds. In experiment, six elephants from the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation in Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai, Thailand, were presented with two different buckets with perforated lids, each containing a different number of sunflower seeds, which elephants consider a treat. The elephants were given ten seconds to engage with the buckets with their trunks; though they could smell the contents, the opaqueness of the buckets and covers prevented the animals from seeing inside. The buckets were then briefly retracted, and presented again — simultaneously so as not to provide unintended cues — this time with openable lids so the elephant could choose a bucket and access the food inside.  With statistically significant frequency, the elephants chose the bucket with more seeds in it, indicating that they could smell the larger quantity. Indeed, the elephants’ ability to choose the larger quantity improved when the differences between the two bucketed amounts were greater. But even with small differentials, the elephants were frequently able to determine the larger quantity – with differences as slight as 4 grams. “Remarkably, some of the elephants were able to distinguish between 150 and 180 sunflower seeds, a difference that would be hard for you or me to determine by sight,” said Dr Plotnik, lead author of the study. “While we have known that elephants have a remarkably acute sense of smell, their ability to distinguish between such subtle differences in quantity introduces new questions about how elephants may otherwise be using this powerful sense.” Previous research has assessed animals’ abilities to differentiate between quantities of food by sight, and many species perform well in selecting the larger amount. But there has been very little research on how animals might make such determinations and decisions using their other senses, which may simply reflect human’s vision-centric bias and projecting it on animals.  “The exciting thing about these experiments was thinking in terms of how elephants experience the world, rather than the way I do as a human,” said Dr Mumby. “The ability of elephants to distinguish small differences is interesting when comparing them to other taxa, as detecting food sources and collecting other information from scents and chemical signals is a widespread trait.”   Co-authors on the international team of researchers working in the United States, Hong Kong, England, Germany, and Thailand were Joshua Plotnik, Daniel L. Brubaker, Rachel Dale, Lydia N. Tiller, Hannah S. Mumby, and Nicola S. Clayton.

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HKU conservation biologists urge for needs of win-win strategies to tackle proximal and horizon threats to biodiversity

With an ever-growing list of threats facing biodiversity on multiple scales, conservationists struggle to determine which to address. A common reaction is to prioritise their efforts on threats to individual species or management areas, HKU conservation biologists argue that this narrow-minded approach is detrimental to the overall goal of saving species and ecosystems worldwide. Instead, in an article published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution on May 23, they urge for the needs of large-scale, long-term collaboration to tackle proximal and horizon threats to biodiversity.   "We are in a pivotal moment when we cannot just protect species from immediate and localised threats," said Dr Louise Ashton from the School of Biological Sciences of The University of Hong Kong (HKU), "We also need to prepare for future threats and protect against threats that function at large spatial scales." However, the limited resources available in conservation disciplines hinder the ability for broader collaboration with other scientists as well as between local, regional, and international agencies. In fact, it is not uncommon that due to limited resources, conservation biologists must downplay the importance of other research to secure funding for their own.   The authors including Dr Louise Ashton, Dr Timothy Bonebrake, Dr Caroline Dingle from the School of Biological Sciences, HKU, Dr David Baker from the School of Biological Sciences and Swire Institute of Marine Science, HKU, Ms Fengyi Guo from the School of Biological Sciences, HKU and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University and Professor Roger Kitching from Environmental Futures Research Institute and School of Environment and Science, Griffith University warn that this lack of collaboration is of particular concern as interactions between local and global-scaled threats, when left unacknowledged, can combine and become much more difficult to manage. In coral reefs, for example, the reef's health may be reduced by local stressors like nutrient run-off from agriculture or localised overfishing. Then, when global stressors come in to play, like ocean warming and acidification, the result is more devastating than what would be observed in a healthy reef. Such cascading effects, the authors said, could be better prevented by multi-regional, coordinated conservation efforts.   Space–Time Templet to Identify Proximal and Horizon Threats to Biodiversity The templet is an example of how to conceptualize multiple threats across different time/space scales and identify the most appropriate level of intervention for each threat (local, regional, national, and international). The placement of each threat in this templet may shift according to circumstances – for example, pollution may occur across multiple spatial scales (indicated by the grey background) – and the best level of response will shift accordingly. These threats to biodiversity (as well as others not included in this figure) will also interact with each other, compounding and accelerating loss of biodiversity. Source: Trends in Ecology & Evolution   "To get away from the compartmentalised approach to conservation, we need to re-evaluate funding and publishing models to find ways to encourage integrative research that considers current and future threats," said Dr Timothy Bonebrake from the School of Biological Sciences, HKU. "This means involving social scientists, local stakeholders, and political leaders as well."   Although climate change is center stage as the current worldwide threat to biodiversity, other challenges of equal magnitude are looming on the horizon. Hazards like nitrogen pollution and the impacts of soil microplastic residues top that list, the authors write.   "Ultimately, if we can aim for win-win conservation interventions, which mitigate the impacts of multiple threats, then it doesn't matter which threat is perceived to be the biggest," said Dr Ashton.   About the Research Paper Journal: Trends in Ecology and Evolution Title: Integrating Proximal and Horizon Threats to Biodiversity for Conservation Authors: Timothy Bonebrake (HKU), Caroline Dingle (HKU), David Baker (HKU), Louise Ashton (HKU), Roger Kitching (Griffith University), Fengyi Guo (HKU and Princeton University)   Link of the research paper  

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Professor Guochun Zhao and Professor Min Sun received the 2018 Natural Science Award (First Class) of Chinese Education Ministry

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Atlantic meridional overturning circulation

HKU earth scientists discovered century-scale deep-water circulation dynamics in the North Atlantic Ocean throughout the last 20,000 years

Dr Moriaki Yasuhara, Dr Hisayo Okahashi, and Dr Huai-Hsuan May Huang from HKU School of Biological Sciences and Swire Institute of Marine Science, in collaboration with scientists in Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Duke University, and US Geological Survey have recently reported their discovery on a key driver of past and perhaps future abrupt climate change that is deep-water dynamics in the North Atlantic Ocean in the journal Geology.   Since the proposal of “conveyor belt” paradigm by Wallace S Broecker, in 1980s, the deep ocean circulation, now known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), has been widely regarded as an important driver of global climate changes. The AMOC is a process that cold and salty surface water sinks into deep ocean in the highlatitude North Atlantic Ocean, the lower limb deep water (known as North Atlantic Deep Water: NADW) flows southward (Image 1), and eventually upwells to the surface in the North Pacific Ocean. The strength of this circulation is known to affect global heat flow and regional climates. To study this circulation dynamics, the North Atlantic Ocean is especially important, because it is the place that deep water is formed through cooling surface water in the high latitude.   The lower (deeper) part of NADW below 2,500 meters is well studied, but upper NADW (intermediate water) behavior is poorly understood for the last deglaciation, that is, the transitional period from the last ice age to the warmer contemporary interglacial climate state. Furthermore, NADW dynamics for the past ~11,700 years (known as the Holocene) remain equivocal. Dr Yasuhara and his collaborators showed that subtropical North Atlantic intermediate-water temperature varied significantly during both of these time periods, based on trace element geochemistry of calcified shells of deep-sea microcrustacean Ostracoda in a sediment core (Image 2). Their reconstructions reveal a series of multi-century-scale abrupt deep-water warming events likely caused by the reduction deep-water circulation. The authors also discovered that many of these weakening events of deep-water circulation can be widely recognized in the western North Atlantic. These deglacial–Holocene deep-water-circulation dynamics are important for understanding present and future trends in Earth's climatic system because warming and resulting polarice melt can change the deep-water circulation. Recent United Nations IPBES (The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) report indicated that ~1 million species are now are threatened with extinction (link), changes in Earth's climatic system is an important part of the reason of this.   Lead author of the study Dr Yasuhara said "Holocene deep-water circulation was more dynamic than previously thought. There is increasing evidence that this circulation change in the North Atlantic affects climates of remote places including East Asia and also marine and terrestrial ecosystems. As recently discovered by scientists including my HKU colleagues Drs Benoit Thibodeau and Christelle Not, this global deep-water circulation has substantially weakened during the last century1. If further weakening happened in the future, there may be unexpectedly broad implications not only on our atomospheric and ocean systems but also on Earth's ecological systems and our society".   “Quantifying the intensity of North Atlantic Circulation in the past is one of the grand challenge of our field. In order to better understand the magnitude and significance of the 20th century weakening trend in the circulation1 we need more reconstruction of its intensity in the past, like the one provided by the study of Dr Yasuhara and colleagues.” mentioned Dr Thibodeau in the Department of Earth Sciences.   About the Research Paper Journal: Geology Title: North Atlantic intermediate water variability over the past 20,000 years Authors: Moriaki Yasuhara (HKU), Peter B. deMenocal (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University), Gary S. Dwyer (Duke University), Thomas M. Cronin (US Geological Survey), Hisayo Okahashi (HKU), and Huai-Hsuan May Huang (HKU)   To view the research paper   1 Supplemental reading: Last century warming over the Canadian Atlantic shelves linked to weak Atlantic Meridional Overturning circulation. Thibodeau B, Not C, Zhu, J, A Schmittner, D Noone, C Tabor, J Zhang & Z Liu, Geophysical Research Letters, 45 (22), 12376-12385. (link)   Image 1: Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. Image credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio (link)   Also see this youtube movie (link)   Images 2a & b: Calcitic shells of deep-sea ostracod genus Krithe. Shells of this genus were used for geochemical analysis. Note that these are just for illustration purpose and not the specimens from the studied area. Photo credit: Moriaki Yasuhara

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