A global concern: mobile app to forecast air pollution

21 August 2017

Air pollution is a growing global concern that has been linked to several health conditions. After long-term exposure to air pollution, the lungs are believed to age at a premature rate, reducing lung function. In addition to this, air pollution has been connected to ailments such as emphysema and asthma. Dr Ho-Tsang Ng recently joined Clustertech Limited, a Hong-Kong based company working to combat this issue.

Clustertech Limited has developed a smartphone application which forecasts the air quality index in China. The air quality index measures the current air pollution. A higher air quality index number indicates a greater risk of health complications. An application offering users a forecast would allow people to prepare themselves using a range of methods, including wearing masks and reducing the amount of time being exposed to higher polluted areas.

Currently, Clustertech Limited enacts weather simulation and data assimilation, studying the chemical reactions of air pollutants. In addition to this, the aim is to enhance the forecast system by providing air pollution prediction using both meteorological and air quality index numerical models. “These various methods can support a ‘what-if’ evaluation of emission exchange, for example, to evaluate how much pollutant concentration would be lowered if the emission sources are lowered.” Ng highlights.

Before embarking on his role at Clustertech Limited, Ng worked at Arup, an architectural consulting service. He was an assistant acoustic consultant, advising on noise control in buildings for customers who seek for a quieter environment. However, as Ng hoped to tackle larger-scale problems, he decided to make a career change into the field of modelling and addressing computational problems.

His physics background has helped Ng in both his role at Clustertech Limited and Arup. He graduated with a PhD in Physics from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in 2005, where he explored quantum information science and cold atom physics. Previous to this, he majored in physics for his BSc, also at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Subsequently, a fellowship offered by The Croucher Foundation allowed him to research at the University of Oxford for two years. In 2016, Ng returned to Hong Kong and embarked on his current path as a computational scientist. His knowledge of physics has enabled him to understand atmospheric science, which assists in the forecasting of the spread of air pollutants, while at Arup, this knowledge aided his understanding of acoustics.

Dr Ng also stresses the importance of academic training he had previously to his current role. “My academic training enables me how to think critically, tackle the problems using different approaches and learn new things quickly. These abilities are valuable in the fast-moving world. In addition, it is important to combine different fields of knowledge and technologies to do something new and make impact on our society,” he adds.

Dr Ng received his BSc (First Class Honours), majoring in Physics and minoring in Mathematics from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in 2000. He remained there for his PhD, which was also in Physics, graduating in 2005. Also in 2005, he was awarded a Croucher Fellowship, which allowed him to begin working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Physics Department at the University of Oxford. His postdoctoral research has also taken him to University College London (UCL), RIKEN and the National Taiwan University. He became an assistant research fellow at Tsinghua University in China before becoming an Assistant Consultant at Arup. He now works as a Computational Scientist for Clustertech Limited, working to address air pollution in China.

To view Dr Ng’s Croucher profile, please click here