A word with Chan Che Ting

26 October 2015

Theoretical physicist, Professor Chan Che Ting, received a Senior Research Fellowship in 2010, and an Advance Study Institute in 2012.

Tell us about your area of expertise.

I am a theoretical physicist. My primary research interest is the theory and simulation of material properties. I am now working on the theory of a variety of advanced materials, including photonic crystals, metamaterials, and nano-materials.

What was it that first got you interested in science?

I don’t exactly remember, but I was always curious. For example, at an early age, I remember wondering why water is colourless in a cup, but appears blue in the sea.

Chan received a Croucher Senior Research Fellowship award in 2010, affording him 12 months to spend purely on research.

What did you spend your Senior Research Fellowship working on?

This was a wonderful year in which I could think deeply about some interesting problems. I worked on various topics involving transformation optics, metamaterials, and optical forces.

For example, I tried to see how light can manipulate materials in ways that textbooks said are impossible.

During this period of intensive research, we found that there is a hidden relationship between Dirac cone physics and a metamaterial with a zero refractive index.

We also found that optical tractor beam is possible, and planned for a new general education course, entitled “Physics in Movies”- a course that was designed for students that are not physics majors, and used film to teach the basic laws of physics in an accessible way. This course was delivered in the spring of 2012.

In 2012, you won an Advanced Study Institute for New Materials and Concepts for Controlling Light and Waves. Could you tell us more about this?

Several world-renowned scholars were invited to give lectures and tutorials on new concepts for controlling light and waves. Speakers talked about advances in metamaterials, which are smart materials designed to have properties that can go beyond those found in nature. Amazing wave manipulation properties of such new materials, including super-resolution imaging, invisibility cloaks, earth quake shields, ultra-sensitive sensors, absorption without absorbers, and efficient sound/solar energy converter were discussed. Recent trends such as metasurfaces and new mathematical methods such as transformation optics were also discussed in great detail. Local faculties and students have the chance to keep abreast with the latest development in this emerging field and have ample opportunity to exchange ideas with the leading scientists in this exciting area.

What advice would you give to a young, aspiring scientist?

The first advice to a young aspiring scientist is that he/she should think carefully and decide whether he/she wants to do science as a hobby (e.g. reading about science for leisure) or as a profession. Being a professional scientist is not an easy job. Most scientists have uncertain career prospects and have to face tough competition. But if one really “falls in love” with science, and does not really care too much about earthly issues such as fame and money, then just do what your own curiosity tells you to do.

Professor Che Ting Chan received his BSc degree from the University of Hong Kong in 1980. He completed his PhD degree at the University of California at Berkeley in 1985, and joined the physics department of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 1995. Before coming to HKUST, Professor Chan worked at Ames Laboratory in the United States.

Professor Chan was the co-winner of an Outstanding Scientific Accomplishment Award (Solid State Physics) in the US Department of Energy Materials Science Research Competition. He has been a Fellow of the American Physical Society since 1996. In 1999, he was awarded the Michael Gale Medal for Distinguished Teaching, HKUST. In 2000, he was awarded the Achievement in Asia Award by the Overseas Chinese Physics Association. He received a Croucher Senior Research Fellowship in 2010, and an Advanced Study Institute in 2012.

To view Chan Che Ting’s personal Croucher profile, please click here