Two Scholars from CUHK Faculty of Science Receive Croucher Awards
Two scholars from the Faculty of Science of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) have received prizes from The Croucher Foundation. Prof. Tjonnie Li, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics received the Croucher Innovation Award 2018 and Prof. Qian Miao, Professor, Department of Chemistry was awarded the Croucher Senior Research Fellowship 2019, in recognition of their excellent achievements in scientific research and the support that gives to the next generation of scientists. The awards were presented by The Honorable Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, the Chief Secretary for Administration of the HKSAR Government today (7 December).
Brief Biography of Prof. Tjonnie Li
Prof. Li’s research focuses on astrophysics and gravitational waves. Since 2009, he has been participating in the research projects of the Virgo Collaboration and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) Scientific Collaboration. The CUHK research team led by Prof. Li has been a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and responsible for analysing data from the LIGO detectors since 2016. The recent detections of gravitational waves by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, which led to Prof. Rainer Weiss, Prof. Barry Barish and Prof. Kip Thorne from the LIGO Scientific Collaboration being awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, herald a new era in which invisible black holes, neutron stars and other exotic compact objects can be discovered throughout the Universe. His research team is also actively involved in the operation and scientific output of the current generation of gravitational waves-detectors including the US-based LIGO and the Japan-based Kamioka Gravitation Wave Detector (KARGA), and is studying the potential of future generation detectors such as the Einstein Telescope and Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA).
Compact objects are amongst the most sought-after laboratories for extreme physics because they host environments that cannot be reproduced on Earth. Therefore, the detection of gravitational waves has opened the unique possibility of probing the behaviour of ultra-dense matter, finding new exotic states of matter, and testing the quantum nature of gravity, because it allows for a near-unobstructed view of compact objects.
With support from the Croucher Foundation, Prof. Li will conduct research to unveil the nature and origin of compact objects and further explore three sub-questions: Is general relativity the correct theory of gravity? How and where do compact objects come from? What types of exotic compact objects exist in Nature?
The objectives of his proposal are not just to provide a better understanding of the fundamental forces of Nature and their role in shaping the Universe. He hopes it will also have an impact on society through STEM outreach, international exposure and interdisciplinary big data research.
Prof. Li received his bachelor and master degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge in 2008 and 2009 respectively. He then received his PhD from the Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics in 2013. Before he joined CUHK in 2015, he spent two years at the California Institute of Technology as a Rubicon Postdoctoral Fellow. He has received various awards including the Stefano Braccini Thesis Prize in 2014 and the Research Grants Council Early Career Award in 2017.
Brief Biography of Prof. Qian Miao
Thanks to the development of organic semi-conductors by chemists such as Prof. Qian Miao at CUHK, products like bendable mobile phones and light wearable medical devices have come to reality. Prof. Miao and his team have been exploring and developing organic chemistry and molecular functional materials. One of his major works is experimenting with organic rather than inorganic materials in the fabrication of thin film transistors, a fundamental device in electronic circuits used for many applications.
The most common semi-conductor at the moment is silicon, which is an inorganic material. Although it has high performance in charge transport, the production process is complex and requires high temperatures and therefore lots of energy. In contrast, organic semi-conductors are easy to process at room temperature, with lower costs. They are flexible, and can produce devices that are lightweight and flexible, and they have a high potential for replacing silicon to produce simple and lower requirement products such as electronic screens.
Prof. Miao’s research team has designed and synthesised a series of high performance organic semi-conductors, and developed the state-of-the-art N-type organic field effect transistors. They recently discovered a unique self-assembly structure which allows the introduction of a variety of functional groups to organic semi-conductors without sacrificing charge transport pathways and can improve the performance. Based on this, a highly sensitive and selective sensing platform was developed to detect ions and proteins in water. Prof. Miao will dedicate the award to the research and development of bio-electronics noses for medical diagnoses.
Prof. Miao regards himself as a farmer in the scientific field, who keeps exploring raw materials and showcasing their potential, to push forward technological advancement and new products. Another major research work of Prof. Miao is exploring new carbon nano-structures. Carbon is capable of forming many allotropes, which include the well-known diamond and graphite, as well as carbon nano-structures such as fullerenes, graphene and carbon nanotubes. Graphene, first discovered in 2004, is the thinnest yet strongest material which conducts heat and electricity efficiently. It is a milestone discovery for the world’s technology development. On the basis of graphene, scientists have later designed carbon nano-structures of negative curvature and predicated their interesting properties, but have yet to find a way to prepare them. Prof. Miao’s team has recently synthesised the largest segment of negatively-curved graphene, making a significant contribution to this new frontier of carbon nano-materials.
After receiving his PhD from Columbia University, USA in 2005, Prof. Miao joined the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, as a postdoctoral scholar. He joined CUHK a year later and established the Organic Chemistry and Molecular Materials Laboratory, where more than 30 postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers have been trained.
The Croucher Innovation Awards
The Croucher Innovation Awards aim to identify a small number of exceptionally talented scientists working at an internationally competitive level and to offer substantial support to these ‘rising stars’ at a formative stage in their careers. The scheme is designed to enable recipients to pursue their own scientific, intellectual and professional inclinations, to advance their expertise, to engage in bold new work, and to contribute to the development of education and research in Hong Kong. Each award carries a value of up to HK$5 million over 5 years.
The Croucher Senior Research Fellowships
The Croucher Senior Research Fellowships scheme was first introduced in 1997. It is awarded to local academics who have excelled in scientific research work, as judged by leading international scientists invited to provide confidential reviews of candidates nominated in a competitive exercise. Funds are awarded to the universities of the fellowship recipients, enabling the university to recruit replacement teachers to take over the award winner’s duties for the period of the fellowship. This enables the awardees to devote more time and effort to research work. The value of each award includes a HK$2 million research grant and the cost of a replacement teacher for a twelve-month period.