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RGC Collaborative Research Fund - Layman Summaries of Projects Funded in 2008/2009 Exercise

Algal Toxins: Development of Analytical and Bioassay Detection Methods and Assessment of Environmental Transfer in Marine Food Webs
Project Coordinator: Prof Paul Kwan-sing Lam (CityU)

The two major seafood-toxin illnesses in Hong Kong and Mainland China are paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) and ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP).  These illnesses occur due to consumption of seafood containing toxins produced by dinoflagellates, a type of marine algae. The occurrence of both PSP and CFP has increased in recent years with increasing international trade in seafood.  In this project, we will develop and standardize rapid methods for measuring CFP toxins in seafood to complement already-existing methods for PSP in order to protect human health.  We will also conduct experiments to determine how PSP and CFP toxins are transferred in the marine food chain in order to make predictions about where these illnesses may occur.

Study and Engineering of Surface-dependent Properties and Core-shell Composite Structures of Nanomaterials
Project Coordinator: Prof Shuit-tong Lee (CityU)

The surfaces of materials are drastically different from their bulk. Due to large surface-to-bulk ratios, surface properties play a dominant role in determining the overall properties of nanomaterials. Understanding and control of surface structures are essential to tailoring nanostructures and their applications.  The project aims at studying, controlling, and manipulating the structure and properties of single nano-objects based on the concept that any nanomaterials are essentially a core-shell structure with properties largely determined by the shell. The outcome of the project may lead to various novel nanostructured devices for renewable energy, sensors for food safety, toxins and diseases, targeted drug releases.

Studies of Fundamental Properties of Nanosurfaces and Selected Applications
Project Coordinator: Prof Michel Andre Van Hove (CityU)

The performance of nanoscale devices is often dominated by their surface properties. For example, surfaces introduce undesired electronic states in electronic and optoelectronic devices constructed from semiconducting nanostructures. By contrast, surface activity should be enhanced in nanostructures used as antibacterial agents. To improve such performance, our aim is to provide quantitative atomic-scale information about nanoscale surfaces.  Our project will achieve this by introducing a new methodology: we will intentionally design and fabricate novel and highly-controlled nanoplatforms that allow for the first time detailed determination of surface structure and modeling of their relevant surface properties.

Environmental Screening, Computational and Biological Characterization of Endocrine Disruptors, in Respect to Receptor Binding, Embryo and Gonad Physiology
Project Coordinator: Dr Chris Kong-chu Wong (HKBU)

Environmental pollutant poses potential risks to human health.  Among different kinds of environmental pollutants, endocrine-disrupting pollutants have been the focus of recent studies.  They share high structural and chemical similarities with those of endogenous hormones, leading to the modification of hormonal feedback circuitry and “DNA methylation and chromatin patterning” in the developing gametes and embryos.  Their potential hazardous effects on human health are one of the global concerns that can affect the propagation of human being.  The present study evaluates the risk of contaminated-fish consumption during pregnancy as well as to identify the possible pathological outcomes that may occur in the offspring.  An understanding on the extent of the effect and the mechanism of action of the pollutants would help the society to devise remedial strategy.

Interface Engineering for Organic Transistors: Materials, Fabrication, Characterization, and Application
Project Coordinator: Prof Jian-bin Xu (CUHK)

Organic semiconductors are of considerable scientific and technological significance. A fundamental understanding of electrical, mechanical, and optical properties of organic thin films is vital in many applications, including organic light emitting devices (OLEDs), organic field effect transistors (OFETs), RFID transceivers, biosensors and hybrid solar cells.  This project is focused on the interface engineering of organic transistors that are the key components of large area, flexible, and low-cost organic electronics.  Understanding the interface properties of OFETs is essential to device design and will lead to high performance and efficiency.  The project involves the collaboration among experts in synthetic chemistry, materials science, physical characterization and measurements, and device physics and engineering, from four Hong Kong universities.  It, if successful, will provide an excellent example of the interdisciplinary research.

Centre for MicroRNA Study - Basic Research and Clinical Potentials in Cancer
Project Coordinator: Prof Nathalie Wong (CUHK)

MiRNA belongs to a family of small non-coding RNAs (~18-22nt) that regulates gene expression by either directing mRNA degradation or repressing post-transcriptional translation. It is now becoming apparent that specific miRNAs contribute to cellular transformation and tumorigenesis through influencing translation of multiple key cellular genes.  Though rare in the West, Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma (NPC) and Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) are 2 cancers that prevail in Southeast Asia including Hong Kong.  Two viruses, Epstein-Barr virus and Hepatitis B virus, are major etiologic factors in the risk of NPC and HCC development, respectively.  We propose to undertake a comprehensive investigation on the changes of cellular and viral miRNA expressions in these two locally prevalent malignancies, which are also ideal cancer models for the study of viral-associated carcinogenesis.

Design and Realization of Structural Materials with High Strength and High Ductility
Project Coordinator: Prof Jian Lu (PolyU)

The research objective is to study the fundamental aspects of structural materials of high yield strength and yet high ductility.  We will address the four key problems emerged when integrating the nanostructured materials for structural applications:

(1) the poor ductility of nanostructured materials and the difficulty to produce such the material at a large scale;
(2) to develop advanced numerical simulation tools based on MD (Molecular Dynamics), PF (Phase Field) and EFGM (element-free Galerkin method) for the study of the combination of two highly conflicting key mechanical properties: Strength and Ductility;
(3) to develop advanced experimental methods including in-situ mechanical testing in TEM, the multiscale mechanical testing using nanoindentation-based bending and compression tests for investigating the fundamental fracture mechanisms;
(4) to develop joining technology for nanostructured materials using pulsed laser welding, and to optimize the welding conditions for conserving the nanostructures and the strength of the nanostructured materials.

Protein Trafficking: Mechanism and Diseases
Project Coordinator: Dr Jun Xia (HKUST)

Our bodies are made of billions of cells with elaborate membrane compartments.  Like in the logistics business, materials in our bodies need to be transported between different cell compartments.  The transportation of proteins between different cell compartments is called protein trafficking.  Protein trafficking is critical to cells and abnormal trafficking of proteins has been found to cause many human diseases.  This study will investigate the machineries that regulate protein trafficking, i.e., what controls the loading, transportation and unloading of cargos during protein trafficking.  We will also seek to understand how abnormal protein trafficking contributes to diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

Experimental and Theoretical Study of Carbon Nanotube Superconductivity and Nanostructured Graphene Characteristics
Project Coordinator: Prof Ping Sheng (HKUST)

Superconductivity is a state of matter in which electrical resistance is zero.  While superconductivity has been widely observed in many material systems, its existence in pure carbon, without the doping of other elements, has been an intriguing problem because many aspects of its superconducting behavior remain unknown.  This proposal is a follow-up study of our previous HKUST2/04C grant in which some preliminary results have confirmed the existence of the superconducting state in carbon nanotubes.  The significance of our research is that nanostructuring can convert a previously non-superconducting material into a superconductor, with potential implications for future nanotechnology.

Reactive Metal-Ligand Multiple Bonded Complexes.  From Biomimetic Reactions to Highly Efficient Chemical Synthesis
Project Coordinator: Prof Chi Ming Che (HKU)

Reactive metal-ligand multiple bonded complexes are a pillar of atom and group transfer reactions involved in both biological and chemical energy conversions.  In the last decade, atom and group transfer reactions have been successfully developed to practical organic catalysis.  However, the impact of reactive metal-ligand multiple bonded complexes and hence atom and group transfer catalysis in solving some of the fundamental problems of relevance to energy research and green chemistry has yet to be realized.  In this proposal, we aim to activate small molecules, and to selectively functionalize hydrocarbons under mild conditions for highly efficient chemical synthesis.  The outcomes would impact the existing technologies used in Fine Chemicals and Pharmaceutical Industries.

Liver Transplantation Research Centre: A Multidisciplinary Study for Liver Graft Injury
Project Coordinator: Prof CM Lo (HKU)

Liver transplantation is the best treatment for selected patients with end stage liver disease including liver cancer.  Because of the shortage of graft supply, liver grafts of marginal quality such as a fatty liver are frequently used.  In addition, living donor liver transplantation using a small-for-size partial liver graft has also been developed.  Such “marginal” liver grafts are more susceptible to injury after transplantation, resulting in initial poor graft function and subsequent liver cancer recurrence. We aim to perfect the outcome of liver transplantation by addressing the issue of graft injury through integrated clinical, basic and translational research.

Nano-Spintronics - Quantum Control of Electron Spins in Semiconductors
Project Coordinator: Prof Fuchun Zhang (HKU)

Spin based electronics or spintronics as a new generation of electronics is an emerging field with a great promise to advance the semiconductor industry. Spintronics aims to use electron’s spin, a tiny magnet or compass, to replace the role of electric charge in electronics. Metallic spintronics has already had a lot of applications. One of the recent focuses is the generation, manipulation and detection of spin-current, a counterpart of charge current, which may open a new route in the future spintronics. In this group project we will consolidate the existing research strength in both experiment and theory to form a versatile team in Hong Kong to focus on the generation and detection of the spin current.