Croucher Image Awards 2020 runners-up

30 September 2020

In April 2020, The Croucher Foundation inaugurated its first Croucher Image Awards competition. The winning image was submitted by Dr Christy Hung (Croucher Cambridge International Scholarship 2013), who captured laboratory-made cortical neurons in a way that suggested “The Milky Way”. Below are the pictures of the Croucher Image Awards runners-up and the stories behind their scenes.

Aerial courtship

DR MAURICE LEUNG (Croucher Fellowship 1982)


A sunset walk on Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak in January 2020 proved one to remember for paediatrician Dr Maurice Leung, not for the city’s magnificent skyline but for the two black kites in the midst of courtship that he chanced upon. Leung, who has recently added photography to a long list of scientific and medical achievements, had no more than a minute to collect his shots before the birds flew off. The captivating image of the majestic birds that resulted, taken with a 500mm telephoto lens, brought Leung his inaugural Croucher Image accolade. Photography was a boyhood hobby but had to be set aside for decades as Leung concentrated on a successful career in Hong Kong as a researcher, professor, and latterly, a physician in private practice treating children with congenital heart disease. Now with more time to explore the city’s natural beauty, he has become aware of the many different birds that also call Hong Kong home or visit for a short while on their way to other lands. Examples range from the bridled and black-naped terns of Sai Kung to the migratory birds in the protected wetlands of Mai Po. Leung hopes his stunning photograph will prompt even more people to appreciate the beauty and abundance of Hong Kong’s natural wildlife, and more scholars to take up photography, which he feels can be a complementary part of academia. “It is a different appreciation of life actually,” he said.

To view Dr Leung’s Croucher profile, click here.

Night vision

PROFESSOR ALBERT KONG (Croucher Fellowship 2000)

Institute of Astronomy, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan

In “Circumpolar Star Trails”, observational astronomer Professor Albert Kong combined close to 900 images taken over more than five hours at the Lulin Observatory, situated 2,862 metres above sea level in Taiwan. Kong has worked at the Institute of Astronomy, at National Tsing Hua University since 2007 and frequently visits Lulin for his research on compact objects, such as black holes, neutron stars, and white dwarfs. His composite image for the Croucher Image Awards shows star trails in the night sky. Due to the Earth’s rotation, the entire northern sky appears to encircle Polaris at the north celestial pole. Near the horizon, the glow of light pollution from across the Taiwan Strait can also be seen. To Kong, the image “wonderfully connects my research with the beautiful night sky”. He collected the photographs by setting up a camera outside the observatory where it took hundreds of pictures over the five-hour period. Kong’s research normally takes him to remote locations around the world, including ground-based observational facilities in Hawaii, and Chile. The coronavirus and ensuing travel restrictions have made this next to impossible. Fortunately, Kong can still control the telescopes from his office, allowing him to continue his work. Recent investigations have looked at gravitational waves from black holes, using X-ray and Gamma-ray telescopes to study high-energy emissions. He has also observed that in the past decade, more East Asian students, including those in Hong Kong, have become interested in astronomy. He would like his image to shine further light on the field as well as science in general.

To view Professor Kong’s Croucher profile, click here.

Preparing for new life

DR NICK CHUN SO (Croucher Scholarship 2016, Max Planck Croucher Postdoctoral Fellowship 2020)

Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry

Before an egg becomes fertilisable, it discards half its chromosomes during a maturation process called meiosis. This process is error prone in humans, leading to miscarriage and congenital disorders, such as Down’s syndrome. How eggs assemble the machinery for chromosome segregation is still not well understood. The image submitted by postdoctoral fellow Dr Nick Chun So for the Croucher Image Awards comes from his PhD research on phase separation during meiotic spindle assembly. Showing an egg as it prepares for division during meiosis, the image tells a story of what was known in the field and what So discovered during his studies. Since the first ultrastructural study in the 1950s, how eggs assemble the spindle differently from body cells has remained largely unknown. So discovered a liquid-like structure around the meiotic spindle that helps to enrich proteins necessary for spindle assembly and faithful chromosome segregation. By labelling 70 different proteins followed by high-resolution imaging, he identified 19 proteins localised to this structure in mammalian eggs. “This image shows how special eggs are,” So said. Unlike the many pictures of dividing cells in cell biology textbooks, he points out that this image shows “how much larger the egg cytoplasm is, with a spindle that is made of many more microtubule fibres”. So sees the new Croucher Awards as a platform to share scientific research through visual storytelling and a rewarding challenge for microscopists like himself, who believe “seeing is believing”. “The visual image allows you to display the beauty in subcellular structures. This is the best way of promoting science communication between cell biologists and the public,” he said.

To view Dr So’s Croucher profile, click here