Inspiring next-generation scientists to tackle vital global challenges

22 October 2019

Summer 2019 proved an eye-opener for Lau Shing Fai, currently a first-year Earth System Science undergraduate at Chinese University of Hong Kong, on challenges for trees posed by climate change.

Lau spent one month gaining early experience of international research and cross-cultural teamwork on this issue and other scientific areas, thanks to a Croucher Foundation award that supported his participation in the International Summer Science Institute (ISSI) in Israel.

ISSI is hosted by the Weizmann Institute, one of the world’s leading multidisciplinary basic research institutions and named after its founder and Israel’s first president, Dr Chaim Weizmann.

Each year, the Institute brings together talented pre-university students from countries and regions across the globe to work alongside top Weizmann scientists in their labs, carry out scientific projects of their own, and tour Israel.

Lau explored trees’ strategies for survival under irrigation and when left alone, finding it particularly interesting to learn how such research could help to forecast “how trees will adapt to climate change in Europe, which is predicted to become a semi-arid area like Israel”, he said.

The programme, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019, also gave Lau the opportunity to work cross-culturally, with around 75 young people from 17 countries taking part. This left him impressed with the curiosity and perseverance of his lab partners, and their readiness to ask questions of their mentors and professors – attitudes less frequently seen among Hong Kong students, he noted.

Beyond his research, Lau also recalled an unforgettable desert excursion, where he spent his birthday sleeping under the stars and discovering at first-hand the wonders of nature that his generation will soon be responsible for conserving.

During the excursions, participants “searched for snakes and scorpions … hiked in the mountains, which contain various geological features and many different types of rocks, went snorkelling in the Red Sea, and floating on the Dead Sea,” he said. “All of these experiences were unique - and precious.”