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Miss & Mr Young Engineers
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Fall 2013  No.24
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Miss & Mr Young Engineers
Three high-powered research postgraduates, all Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme awardees, discuss the rewards of student life at the School of Engineering and the awesome joys of discovery
 
Kiki Danhui Cheng
Mainland China
PhD, Bioengineering
Research area: microbial engineering
 
Curious about industry and fortunate to be chosen for an internship at Dow Chemical in Suzhou during my third year at Tsinghua University, I spent six weeks in the company's Manufacturing and Engineering Department. It was a great experience in a leading global enterprise but it clarified that a corporate job was not for me immediately after graduation. On returning to Tsinghua, my realization inspired me to join research labs, first in the School of Life Science, then in the Department of Chemical Engineering. My final year project monitored the diversity and dynamic shifts of microbial communities during bioremediation of petroleum-contaminated soil, winning a Tsinghua FYP excellence award and ranking second in a departmental evaluation, all of which encouraged me to continue my research.
 
I have met friends from all over the world at HKUST.
Hong Kong appealed as my next move for three main reasons: the top international reputation established by HKUST, the cosmopolitan nature of the city, and the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme. In 2010, I joined Prof I-Ming Hsing's group in the Bioengineering Program at HKUST School of Engineering as one of Hong Kong's first Fellowship awardees. 
 
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the School of Engineering is the overseas exposure. Indeed, attending the International Congress of Bacteriology and Applied Microbiology in Sapporo, Japan, in my first year provided the inspiration for my current thesis on engineering photosynthetic bacteria for protein expression and bioelectricity generation. I feel passionate about exploring this area as it enables me to learn how to harness solar energy and make valuable applications from the designs of Nature. 
 
I represented the School in the 1st Annual Global Health Sector Interdisciplinary Case Competition hosted by Boston University in November 2012. This was a great chance to learn about technology transfer. 
 
In addition, I have met friends from all over the world at HKUST, including keen musicians like me. 
 
This year, with the support of Prof Hsing, I applied for the prestigious RGC-Fulbright Junior Research Award and was very happy to become one of the eight Hong Kong recipients. As a result, I will go on exchange to MIT for six months. I'm really grateful to have the opportunity and am looking forward to making additional progress at this top global research institution.
 
Edwin Chi Yan Tso
Hong Kong
PhD, Mechanical Engineering
Research areas: composite adsorbents, nanofluids
 
My story is still ongoing but thinking about my life today, I am proud to have followed my heart in pursuing my interest in research rather than looking for a job just to earn a high salary.
 
When still a secondary student, I loved building experimental unmanned machines and through this developed a deep interest in engineering, particularly Mechanical Engineering. When it came to university choices, the Mechanical Engineering bachelor program at HKUST had an excellent reputation and top international ranking, making it the first choice on my list.
 
The satisfaction in inventing a product is beyond words.  
After graduating with first class honors, I became an engineering trainee, but missed hands-on work and the challenge of discovery. So after thinking hard about my future, I decided to resign. In 2010, I became an MPhil student in Prof Christopher Chao's research team at HKUST and started to develop a composite adsorbent for adsorption cooling systems. This seemed meaningful as refrigerants and compressors could be dispensed with in such cooling systems, generating cost savings of around 30% and helping to make our planet greener.
 
The research won several awards, including the HKUST One Million Dollar Entrepreneurship Competition, a business-oriented contest that also taught me more about commercializing technology. 
 
The satisfaction in inventing a new product is immense, a feeling beyond words. So I decided to push my research one step further. I undertook my PhD at HKUST due to the University’s ongoing development and supportive learning environment, and the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme. 
 
Staying with Prof Chao's group, my focus moved to nanofluids and I have now successfully established a nanofluid that can be used as an adsorbate in adsorption cooling systems. This has been really exciting as nobody has previously discovered that a nanofluid could be used in this way, and my new technology should make a huge contribution to society. 
 
I still have plenty of dreams: to go on exchange to a top US university; to become a faculty member; and to use my knowledge to improve living standards in Hong Kong. But I definitely feel to be on my way. Here's hoping all of you can follow your dreams too!
 
Jan Vosecky
Czech Republic
PhD, Computer Science and Engineering
Research area: information retrieval in social media
 
As a teenager, I was really interested in Eastern philosophy and Chinese tea culture and always wanted to visit Asia. But it was only in 2008, at the age of 22, a chance opened up through the HKUST exchange program. As a student on a four-year integrated Master's program in Computer Science at the University of Warwick in the UK, I was able to spend the whole of my third year at HKUST. This proved a real eye-opener, in terms of different approaches and viewpoints, both academically and socially. 
 
It also set my future direction. During my exchange, I worked on a research-oriented final year project where the core theory concerned analysis and integration of social networks. The project inspired me to take up a summer internship at HKUST after my exchange had finished. Living in lively Hong Kong was another amazing experience, with both the buzzing cosmopolitan city and breathtaking countryside at hand. Such a combination is rare to find in the UK.
 
Here there is the opportunity to get involved in contrasting activities.
After completing my Master's degree, I really wanted to return to Hong Kong to pursue a PhD in Computer Science and Engineering and was fortunate to be supported in this ambition by becoming a Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme awardee. With HKUST’s wonderful location, world-class reputation and my contacts among the faculty, the School of Engineering was a natural choice.
 
My PhD concerns the increasingly high-profile area of information retrieval, with a focus on social media. Given the huge and often overwhelming amount of material produced daily, the goal is to improve the way a user can find high-quality and interesting social content. I am also working on methods to extract global insights from social data, for example, summarizing the main topics being discussed in microblogs. Such research is highly enjoyable, enabling me to study how technology influences the way we communicate.
 
Another great aspect of research student life here is the opportunity to get involved in many contrasting activities. As a member of the Professional Development Committee for research postgraduate students, I can help to shape events and professional workshops. Then in my free time, I can chill out by playing lead guitar in our PhD student band.