Campus Life
Cover Story
A Voyage of Discovery
School Feature
Ties with High Schools
A Voyage of Discovery
To be the first, to be the best, to go where no one has gone before.
Prof Nancy Ip (front row center)
Prof Mingjie Zhang (front)
(From top) Prof Guanghao Chen, Prof Shengwang Du and Prof Pedro Sander

We are driven by unquenchable curiosity. Our history is a record of the questions we ask, the answers we find, the discoveries we make and the solutions we create. Those came before us observed, explored and experimented. Today, our search for knowledge and investigation of established facts is called "research".

Talent is the Key

With record speed, HKUST is elevated to the league table of the world's best universities and Asia's No. 1 (QS Asian University Rankings, 2011). Widely described as no less than a "miracle", HKUST President Tony F Chan sums it up in one simple formula – Talent+Resources+ Organization=SUCCESS.

Talent is the key. In the World Bank's recently published "The Road to Academic Excellence" – a study on world-class research universities - the secret of this youthful university's success is quite simply: bring in first class talent.

Two decades ago, HKUST's forward-looking and determined framers and founders went on an aggressive global search for world-class academicians and top- notch researchers and made HKUST the very first institution in Hong Kong to have a 100% PhD faculty, most of which graduated from or have taught at the world's major universities.

Research is one of the core missions of HKUST. Committed to providing quality education and pushing the frontiers of human knowledge, the University staunchly supports faculty research activities and encourages the integration of research with education. Such integration greatly improves student learning and enhances teaching effectiveness.

To achieve the highest level of scholarship, HKUST takes great effort in providing favorable educational environment, e.g. state-of-the-art laboratories and facilities. Resources have been designated to multidisciplinary and new areas of research. The work being done at HKUST places us at the forefront of global knowledge creation.

The result? An amazing array of research outputs. Articles by HKUST faculty frequently appear in prestigious journals, their research finding often lead to significant discoveries and scientific breakthroughs. Many are utilized and transferred into a wide variety of practical applications, patents, and Intellectual Property Products (IPPs). We are witnessing growing number of notable hi-tech companies founded by HKUST professors or alumni.

Recent research achievements

Prof Nancy Ip, Dean of Science, Chair Professor of the Division of Life Science, and Director of the State Key Laboratory of Molecular Neuroscience at HKUST, is well known for her discoveries in the biology of neurotrophic factors, which are proteins that promote the survival, development and maintenance of neurons in the brain. Her research led to the identification of neurotrophic factors as potential pharmaceutical agents for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Chair Professor Mingjie Zhang and his team of researchers in the Division of Life Science have achieved significant breakthrough concerning the visual systems of animals detecting light. The discovery contributes to research on human visual disorders such as retinitis pigmentosa and night blindness, which are extremely common human eye diseases affecting approximately one out of every 3,000 people at all ages.

Prof Guanghao Chen of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has invented a sewage treatment technology, known as the 'Sulphate Reduction, Autotrophic Denitrification and Nitrification Integrated (SANI)' Process. This novel technology successfully minimizes the adverse environmental impact of sewage treatment plants by eliminating 90% of sewage sludge production, minimizing energy consumption as well as odour and greenhouse-gas emission. Moreover, it largely reduces the sewage treatment cost and space requirement by 50%.

A group of physicists led by Prof Shengwang Du at HKUST's Department of Physics, reported the direct observation of optical precursor of a single photon and proved that single photons cannot travel faster than the speed of light in vacuum. The study reaffirms Einstein's theory that nothing travels faster than light and closes a decade-long debate about the speed of a single photon.

Prof Pedro Sander, Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, worked with a team of researchers to develop the world's largest digital photograph. This photograph, depicting the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has a resolution of 150 billion pixels. It is the result of using cutting-edge technology to stitch together 11,000 photographs each of 18 megapixels.

Unique advantages on S&T and R&D

HKUST has always been vocal advocate of scientific and technology research.

"We should leverage on Hong Kong's unique advantages and geographical proximity to the Mainland and develop into the research center in and for China," said Prof Tony F Chan, President of HKUST.

HKUST is part of the task force to capitalize the combination of competitive advantages of Hong Kong and neighboring city - Shenzhen to set up R&D and manufacturing in the region. HKUST's Shenzhen Research Institute was established 10 years ago (2001) and the HKUST R&D Corporation (Shenzhen) Ltd was formed in 2007 attracting a number of hi-tech incubation companies, offers training programs and research laboratories.

In 2006, the HKUST Fok Ying Tung Graduate School was established in Nansha IT Park in Guangzhou aspiring to develop into a prominent research and education base for the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region. The School and the Research Institute is committed to nurture professional and research talents with a global outlook, who could participate in the economic development of China.

Combined with the Mainland's enhancing research capabilities and expanding production base, Hong Kong is the ideal place to develop University-Industry Research Cooperation and build HK as Asia's Silicon Valley.

"HKUST will leverage on China's rapid economic growth and investment in science and technology. At the same time, we will maintain our international outlook and connections in all areas," said Prof Chan.

Winners of 2011 UG Research Award with supervisors, faculties and President Tony Chan

..… what has research got to do with me?

Students who have participated in undergraduate research overwhelmingly agreed it to be a positive experience. Engaging in research elevates students' intellectual growth and academic performance. Students who have worked independently in laboratory setting would acquire research-related techniques and are more likely to pursuit graduate studies.

Employers today favour applicants with research experiences as they often are with better problem-solving skills, better prepared to work independently and have better human skills as well. More often than not, your future position will involve certain level of research skills. You will go a long way with hands-on research experiences (when most others do not have).


The virtue of learning by doing goes without saying. But it wasn't long ago that very few undergraduates had the chance to engage in real scientific research projects. In fact, HKUST is the first in Hong Kong to provide a specially designed program for undergraduate students to partner with faculty and conduct research. Since 2004, more than 1200 undergraduate students have participated in UST’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).

HKUST UROP provides students the uncommon opportunity to actively engage in pioneering research projects at undergraduate level. Guided by top-notch faculties and researchers, UROPers draft proposals, conduct research at laboratories, analyze data and present research results. A research competition is held annually for them to showcase their investigation and awards are given to students who exhibit best performance. Armed with first hand experiences in academic research under the guidance of world class academicians and researchers, about 30% of UROPers would go on pursuing postgraduate studies after graduation. Many of them went straight into PhD programs at some of the world's best universities.

MIT-HKUST Summer UG Research Exchange

In the Summer of 2012, five students of HKUST will participate in the "MIT- HKUST Summer Undergraduate Research Exchange Program" and conduct faculty-mentored research projects at the MIT. And five MIT students will come to UST. HKUST is one of the three Asian universities to host the MIT-IROP Program.

UROPers say…

Emprise Chan, joined UROP when he was Year 1. "I wanted to find out what academic research is," he said.

How is UROP research different from course work research?

"Course work lab research usually means students have to follow standard procedures and instructions. Whereas UROP not only offers practical research skills and techniques, we have the chance to apply what we learn and develop innovative solutions when technical problems arise. It's much more intensive and challenging," he said.

Developed an interest in research, Emprise proposed and designed his own research project - "A Convex Formulation of Modularity Maximization for Community Detection". His paper won him the 2011 Mr Armin and Mrs Lillian Kitchell Undergraduate Research Award.

Emprise is now a Computer Science MPhil student at HKUST.
A Biology major, a research career or further studies was not quite what Jeffrey Kelu had been planning. "I was thinking of becoming a teacher after graduation all along,' he said. That was before he joined the UROP project.

"Participating in UROP is definitely a tremendous experience for me, and most importantly, it helps sharpen my competitive edge for graduate studies."

His study on the possible role of microtubules in initiating the doming process ended winning him 1st Runner-up of 2011 Mr Armin and Mrs Lillian Kitchell Undergraduate Research Award.

Jeffrey, like Emprise, is now a MPhil student at HKUST.

Just wanted to get to know what "research" is all about ...

Simon Zhang Leiting (Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering), and Jason Cai Yaxiong (Mechanical Engineering), runners-up of the 2011 Research Awards said the program enriched their undergraduate learning. Immersing in an intensive research project in an intellectually stimulating environment greatly enhanced their interest in research.

Jason Cai joined UROP very early. He started reading papers, references, building the base. Then his supervisor assigned him simple research tasks, to learn basic techniques, increase his interest. His faculty advisor encouraged him to plan and design his own research and experiment and finally letting him to take charge of an on ongoing research project.

May be not many of us looked into the night sky and wondered if we were the centre of the universe; most didn't bother to think if we could go beyond where the sea meets the sky; very few toyed with techno gadgets and built personal computer at the garage of our parents' house….

…the few of us who did, changed the world. When answers were not given, use your imagination, search for it. Who knows, you might just be the next Einstein, or Stephen Hawking, or Steve Jobs…

A fascinating and rewarding voyage of discovery awaits you at HKUST.