Croucher scholars (clockwise from top left): Tan Yen Joe, Tang Jinyao, Berthold Jäck, Wang Zuan Kai, Li Quan, Yeung Ying-yeung, Jensen Li Tsan Hang, Stephanie Ma, and Huang Mingxin. Credit Croucher Foundation

Croucher honours creative thinkers in science at awards ceremony

7 December 2022

The Croucher Foundation presented awards to nine scholars who have advanced our understanding of the forces that shape the world. 

Held each year on 8 December, the Croucher Foundation awards ceremony marks the foundation’s anniversary. It also affirms the foundation’s guiding vision by recognising scholars who in their early work have made profound contributions to science. This year, nine scholars received the honours: two Croucher Tak Wah Mak Innovation Awards 2022, four Croucher Senior Research Fellowships 2022, and three Croucher Senior Research Fellowships 2023. 

Croucher Tak Wah Mak Innovation Awards 2022

Since they were first presented in 2012, the Croucher Innovation Awards have identified exceptional scientists working at an internationally competitive level. Renamed in 2021 after the chairman emeritus of the foundation, the Croucher Tak Wah Mak Innovation Awards continue to recognise the rising stars of science. Given at a formative stage in the scholars’ careers, this distinction offers the means to advance their expertise, to engage in bold new work, and to foster the development of education and research in Hong Kong. Each award carries a value of up to HK$5 million across five years for research expenses of the award winner.

Berthold Jäck

Assistant Professor, Department of Physics, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Berthold Jäck. Credit: Croucher Foundation, photo by Henry Wong

We are entering a new era, one in which our understanding of quantum mechanics will guide our design of materials with exotic properties. And through his research, Dr Berthold Jäck has already brought us closer to the “quantum future”. A distinguished condensed matter experimental scientist, Jäck has pioneered work in scanning tunnelling microscopy, investigating novel properties of quantum matter. He earned his PhD at the Max Planck Institute, where he spearheaded efforts to establish the world’s coldest STM. At Princeton University, he led the research on the design and fabrication of epitaxially grown topological heterostructures. Jäck’s plan is to build a cutting-edge instrumentation system for the study of two-dimensional quantum materials. Positioned at the interface of condensed matter physics and materials science, his research takes a comprehensive approach towards the development of exotic quantum materials and will accelerate their advance into the technology of tomorrow.

Tan Yen Joe

Assistant Professor, Earth System Science Programme, Faculty of Science, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Tan Yen Joe. Credit: Croucher Foundation, photo by Henry Wong

Earthquakes and volcanic events are powerful forces that shape our planet, and mostly occur within the vast, underexplored ocean depths. Taking on the great challenge of submarine instrumentation, cabled seafloor observatories provide real-time monitoring of dynamic environments. Dr Tan Yen Joe will investigate the dynamics of submarine eruptions as well as the small stress changes that can modulate earthquake and volcanic activities. He will look at data collected by the observatory on Axial Seamount, which has recorded more than 100,000 volcanic and earthquake events since 2015. The goal of the investigations will be to develop a programme that will automatically detect and quantify the dynamics of submarine eruptions. Tan completed his PhD at Columbia in 2019, and his scientific portfolio has contributed substantially to our understanding of how faults respond to stress changes and nucleate earthquakes.

Croucher Senior Research Fellowships 2022

The Croucher Senior Research Fellowships scheme was first introduced in 1997. The fellowships are awarded to researchers in Hong Kong who have excelled in scientific research work. The prospective candidates are evaluated by of leading international scientists invited to provide confidential reviews. Each award includes a HK$2 million research grant to the award winner. Separate funds are awarded to the universities of the fellowship recipients, enabling the university to recruit replacement staff to take over the award winner’s duties for a twelve-month period. The maximum value of each Senior Research Fellowship is about HK$3 million. The arrangement enables the awardees to devote more time and effort to research work.

Huang Mingxin

Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, University of Hong Kong 

Huang Mingxin. Credit: Croucher Foundation, photo by Henry Wong

Energy-efficient materials offer many potential applications in automotive and aerospace industries. We have seen significant interest in developing low-cost, lightweight materials as an approach towards sustainability driven engineering. One of the top materials scientists in this field, Professor Huang Mingxin specialises in metal physics and developing novel lightweight metallic materials. He and his team performed preliminary studies on a new method to develop rare-earth-free magnesium alloys. Magnesium and its alloys are amongst the lightest structural materials, but they have known drawbacks in their limited ductility and poor formability. Improving ductility remains a challenge without the use of rare-earth elements. To find the crucial parameter that controls these activities, it involves a time-consuming approach with high computational cost. At the University of Hong Kong, Huang presents a solution, which will combine machine learning with the density-functional theory calculations, in order to devise an effective method for the development of strong, ductile, rare-earth-free magnesium alloys.

Jensen Li Tsan Hang

Professor, Department of Physics, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Jensen Li Tsan Hang. Credit: Croucher Foundation, photo by Henry Wong

Metamaterials exploded into electromagnetic research around 2000, and have continued to grow in importance. Having already made important contributions to the field from its very beginning, Professor Jensen Li Tsan Hang will propel us even further with greater advances. The proposed study continues a successful set of investigations conducted by Li in his early career while at Imperial College, Berkeley and Birmingham. This research progressed further during his term at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, where he is a professor at the Department of Physics. The promise of metamaterials is to develop exotic material properties based on tailor-made resonating microstructures. They are often subject to limited frequency bandwidth and are challenging to tune dynamically, which prevents wide adoption. Li and his team will develop the technologies required to construct metamaterials with both non-hermiticity and time-varying capabilities. The work will proceed along two parallel paths, drawing upon electromagnetic and acoustic domains.

Tang Jinyao

Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, University of Hong Kong 

Tang Jinyao. Credit: Croucher Foundation, photo by Henry Wong

Nanomotor research has grown into a multidisciplinary field, where many work towards the challenge of making nanobots capable of complex tasks. Dr Tang Jin Yao proposes to establish controllable inter-particle interaction networks to mimic the ecological food chain network in nature. The research will also focus on the emergence of collective intelligence in the artificial nanobot system in order to shed light on the relationship between the collective properties and inter-particle interaction. Tang is one of the most talented researchers working in physics for optical triggered micro/nanorobotics. He completed his PhD at Columbia University, and he is an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong. His research undertakes the development of nanorobotic systems for application in optical manipulation at nanoscale, and the biological application of active particle systems. This work will place him at the forefront of international research in the domain of light-driven micro and nano robots.

Yeung Ying-yeung

Professor, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Chinese University of Hong Kong 

Yeung Ying-yeung. Credit: Croucher Foundation, photo by Henry Wong

Catalysts are central to the production of fuels, foods, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and materials. Professor Yeung Ying-yeung may soon revolutionise the development of asymmetric catalysis through a novel concept for cooperative catalysis. The success of his project may result in a powerful tool in the synthesis of functional compounds and would represent a paradigm shift in catalyst design. The newly developed catalytic protocol would significantly broaden the scope of reactions. The ease in optimisation of chemical transformation can simplify the optimisation process, which would enable industries to adopt greener manufacturing processes and facilitate them to achieve sustainable development. Yeung has already developed a considerable track record, well known for his work on organo-catalysis, both in terms of catalyst design and applications in methodology development. He obtained his PhD in Chemistry at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he is currently a professor at the Department of Chemistry.

Croucher Senior Research Fellowships 2023

Li Quan 

Professor, Department of Physics, Faculty of Science, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Li Quan. Credit: Croucher Foundation

Quantum sensors based on nitrogen-vacancy centres in diamond have emerged as a promising platform for a wide range of applications from physics and materials science to biomedicine. Within this rapidly evolving field, Professor Li Quan’s research has already made impressive contributions internationally. Sensing of local magnetic fields with the optically detected magnetic resonance of NV centres in diamond are one of the leading approaches for future quantum sensors with close to two decades of history. The unique features of diamond-based quantum sensing, including its high sensitivity at room temperature, versatility, and sensor stability in various environments, make it a very favourable candidate for applications in biomedicine. After receiving her PhD from Northwestern University in 2001, and since joining the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has conducted interdisciplinary research on nanostructured materials. Professor Li’s proposed study would open exciting possibilities, making the bio-mechanic study of live cells a practical reality.

Stephanie Ma

Associate Professor, School of Biomedical Sciences, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong

Stephanie Ma. Credit: Croucher Foundation, photo by Henry Wong

Hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of primary liver cancer, is prevalent in greater China as well as Southeast Asia, and is recognised as a major public health concern. Dr Stephanie Ma and her team have made major contributions to the study in hepatology. Her proposed work will advance into new initiatives to identify novel regulators of response to antigen presentation, T-cell mediated cytotoxicity, and anti-PD1 therapy in hepatocellular carcinoma. Ma proposes a highly ambitious set of goals, towards which she proposes to carry out three state-of-the-art screens: two whole-genome CRISPR screens and one drug screen with 620 FDA-approved anti-cancer compounds. Ma obtained her MSc in Experimental Medicine at the University of British Columbia and her PhD at the University of Hong Kong, where she is currently an associate professor. If successful, the proposed research will add significant scientific value to the knowledge of hepatocellular carcinoma.

Wang Zuan Kai

Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Wang Zuan Kai. Credit: Croucher Foundation, photo by Henry Wong

Professor Wang Zuan Kai studies novel interactions between liquids and designed surfaces, and applies this understanding towards advances in technologies. His innovative research has had a significant impact, particularly his recent work on suppressing the Leidenfrost effect, a classical phenomenon characterized by the levitation of liquid on hot surfaces imposed by the evaporating vapour. Wang intends to advance our understanding of the classical Leidenfrost effect and translate the insights one step further to explore practical applications such as in ultra-high heat flux pool boiling, ultra-fast and efficient cryogenic cooling using liquid nitrogen, and drag reduction by at least one order of magnitude at extreme high temperatures. The impact of the project is far-reaching, foretelling the advent of levitating high-speed transportation and might open a new avenue for frictionless transportation and wear-free lubrication, especially under high-temperature environments.