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Invitation of Applications for the Second Round of the
Theme-based Research Scheme

Research Grants Council (RGC) Chairman Professor Roland Chin said that the vetting of the first round of the Theme-based Research Scheme had been successfully completed. Six projects have been funded on the basis of their academic excellence, and are relevant to the strategic importance of the long-term development of Hong Kong.

Four of the six awarded projects revolve around the theme of ‘Promoting Good Health’. They include ‘The Liver Cancer Genome Project: Translating Genetic Discoveries to Clinical Benefits’; ‘Massively Parallel Sequencing of Plasma Nucleic Acids for the Molecular Diagnostics of Cancers’; ‘Personalized Medicine for Cardiovascular Diseases: From Genomic Testing and Biomarkers to Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Platform’; and ‘Cell-based Heart Regeneration’. The other two projects – ‘Challenges in Organic Photo-Voltaics and Light Emitting Diodes – A Concerted Multi- Disciplinary and Multi-Institutional Effort’ and ‘Transforming Hong Kong’s Ocean Container Transport Logistics Network’ – are on the respective theme of ‘Developing a Sustainable Environment’ and ‘Enhancing Hong Kong’s Strategic Position as a Regional and International Business Centre’.

Partial Nitrification from Ammonia to Nitrite by Enriched Ammonia- oxidizing Archaea in Sewage

Ammonia is one of the major pollutants existing in sewage. The major removal process for ammonia is biological nitrification which is a two-step process including oxidation of ammonia to nitrite and further oxidation of nitrite to nitrate. It is widely used together with denitrification, which reduces nitrate/nitrite to nitrogen gas, in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to achieve nitrogen removal target for environmental protection.

For a long time, a group of bacteria, called ammonia- oxidizing Bacteria (AOB) have been thought to be mainly responsible for the oxidation of ammonia in WWTPs and natural environments until it was found a few years ago that ammonia-oxidizing Archaea (AOA) is another major player and may contribute even more to oxidation of ammonia to nitrite than AOB. AOA is diverse and abundant in various natural environments, such as sediment, soil, estuary and seawater.

FlexiBOL®: Flexible Street Bollard and Railing System for New and Changing Urban Environment

Street functions have become increasingly dynamic in recent years. Streets are used daily by pedestrians and vehicular traffic, but also serve a number of other functions, such as serving as the locale for irregular or even unexpected events. Hong Kong residents are familiar with a host of events that take place on the territory’s streets, for example, the Lunar New Year Night Parade, the Hong Kong Marathon and political rallies. Many thousands of people gather on the streets to participate in these events or simply to take a peep at the action, thus requiring the Police and the Transport Department to implement a number of crowd management measures, including closing walkways and roads and rerouting traffic. Controlling crowds and managing the flow of traffic not only require a significant amount of manpower, but also the adjustment of such street furniture as bollard and railing systems. Existing bollard and railing designs, however, are not sufficiently flexible to allow these adjustments to be made with ease.

In collaboration with the Hong Kong Highways Department, related government departments and social organisations, Prof K W Michael Siu has led a team of researchers and designers in carrying out applied research projects whose aim is to generate flexible design solutions to meet today’s continuously changing urban needs. On the basis of longterm site observations and product analysis of existing street furniture, the research team has developed a set of bollards and railings designed to meet the needs of Hong Kong and other densely populated metropolitan areas.

Development of Highly Efficient Semiconductor Nanoparticles as Photocatalysts for the Degradation of Organic Pollutants in Water under Visible Light
The amount of organic pollutants in wastewaters discharged by various industries is increasing every year and is causing serious global environmental problems. These pollutants include a wide range of persistent organic chemicals, such as pharmaceuticals and endocrine-disrupting compounds. We are now faced with the challenge of removing these compounds from their effluents before they are discharged. In this regard, photocatalysis is a promising technology for wastewater treatment as it offers many advantages over conventional and other advanced treatment options. Traditional physical techniques (adsorption on activated carbon, ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, coagulation by chemical agents, ion exchange on synthetic adsorbent resins, etc.) have been used for the removal of these pollutants, but these methods only succeed in transferring organic compounds from water to another phase, thus creating secondary pollution. Microbiological or enzymatic decomposition, biodegradation, ozonation and advanced oxidation processes such as Fenton (Fe2+ + H2O2), photo-Fenton (Fe2+ + H2O2 + UV), H2O2/ UV processes have also been used for organic pollutants removal from wastewaters, but these methods are either ineffective or too expensive. On the other hand, photocatalysis is energy saving and is able to completely oxidize the organic pollutants to water and carbon dioxide. Metal oxide semiconductor nanoparticles have been used as high activity photocatalysts; such as ZnO, TiO2, CdS, Fe2O3 and HNbO3. These semiconductors, however, can only be excited by UV light due to their large band gaps. For better utilization of sunlight and indoor illumination, it is desirable to develop photocatalysts that can be excited by visible light.

Coupled Heat and Mass Transfer in Passive Silicon-based Direct Methanol Fuel Cells
The topic:
Environmental concerns and sustainable development call for a new generation of energy-conversion technologies to replace the existing fossil-fuel, combustion-based energy systems. Due to their inherent advantages, such as high efficiency and low/zero emission, fuel cells have become one of the most attractive energy-conversion technologies. Hydrogen is the cleanest and most efficient fuel for fuel cells. However, the widespread commercialization of hydrogen-fed fuel cells is limited by the significant challenges in the production, transportation and storage of pure hydrogen. Liquid methanol is an ideal alternative to hydrogen. This hydrogen-rich fuel offers multiple advantages over pure hydrogen, including higher energy density and ease of transport, storage and handling. For this reason, interest in developing direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs) has grown rapidly all over the world in the past decade.

One of the key challenges to the widespread commercialization of this type of fuel cell, however, is its low power density. In addition to the sluggish electrochemical oxidation of methanol and the methanol crossover problem, two challenging problems lead to low power densities in conventional DMFCs. One is the cell’s inability to handle the crossing over of excess water that evolves during fuel cell operation to the cathode. The other is that conventional designs render too much heat loss, resulting in a rather low cell operating temperature. Solving these two problems requires extra attention to be given to thermal and water management.


Liquid-filled Glazing Technology

In buildings, glazing plays an important role in influencing energy demands and lighting requirements. The interrelation between fenestration design and thermal/visual performance has been receiving much attentions. As a matter of fact, extensivelyglazed buildings from commercial complexes to residences are common in modern architecture for their lightness and good exterior appearance. But this design trend intensifies the solar heat gain and therefore the air-conditioning electricity consumptions. Most buildings in the warm climate are singleglazed, with clear glass offered for residential developments and absorptive/reflective glass for commercial applications. Alternatively, ventilated double-glazing with a stream of air flowing through the glazing cavity can be used. For the warm climate region, solar heat absorption by the air stream has no direct application value. Instead, solar heat absorption via a liquid water stream can be readily transferred to a domestic hot water system. In this study, the system performance of liquid-filled double glazing integrated with a water-heater has been investigated. Figure 1 shows the working principle. The cavity in a double-pane glazing is incorporated with water inlet and outlet headers at its lower and upper ends. Together with a water-to-water heat exchanger at the top and the interconnecting tubing at the side (all are housed in the window frame), this forms a fully-enclosed water circuit. The heat conversion to another water stream via the heat exchanger allows the full utilization of the absorbed solar heat.


A Novel Magnetic-geared Electronic-continuously
Variable Transmission Propulsion System
for Hybrid Electric Vehicles

With ever increasing concern on energy efficiency and environmental protection, there is fast-growing interest in hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). Differing from batterypowered electric vehicles, HEVs involve two energy sources, namely the gasoline and the battery, as well as two propulsion devices, namely the engine and the motor. Hence, they take the definite advantages that they can offer a much longer driving range and be easily refueled at existing gas stations. Their key challenge is how to effectively combine the engine driving force and the motor driving force in such a way that the engine can always operate at its optimal efficiency and produce the minimum tailpipe exhaust. The existing HEVs essentially adopt the same technology, termed the planetary-geared electronic-continuously variable transmission (E-CVT) propulsion system, to combine the engine driving force and the motor driving force. However, this system suffers from the drawbacks of low power density, high transmission loss, wear-and-tear problem and annoying audible noise.

Rather than using physical contacts to perform force transmission as adopted by mechanical gears, magnetic gears can transmit the force using contactless magnetic attraction. The use of coaxial arrangement can further enable magnetic gears to simultaneously utilize all magnets for force transmission. By purposely designing the modulating ring of the magnetic gear to be rotatable, it can work as the planetary gear for power splitting. Namely, the engine power flow can be split into two paths – one path is via the outer rotor of the magnetic gear (shared with the rotor of the motor) while another path is via the inner rotor of the magnetic gear (shared with the rotor of the generator). The corresponding power flow is controlled by using two back-to-back converters separately coupled to the stators of the motor and the generator. Increasingly, both the motor and the generator can be integrated into the magnetic gear to form a single machine unit. By artfully controlling the converters to perform power splitting, effective E-CVT propulsion can be achieved.


Areas of Excellence Scheme Project:
Achievement Summary of The Institute of Molecular Technology for Drug Discovery and Synthesis

The Institute of Molecular Technology for Drug Discovery and Synthesis (IMT) is established under the Areas of Excellence (AoE) Scheme administered by the University Grants Committee (UGC) of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. IMT has led Hong Kong to become a leading research center for drug discovery and synthesis by the following means:

Identification of anticancer metal-based drug leads
Through this project, Hong Kong has become a center with international reputation in research on Metal Based Drugs. Libraries of bioactive compounds of gold, ruthenium, platinum and rhodium with promising anticancer activities have been created. In particular, the anticancer gold compounds gold-1a, gold-2a and gold-3d identified in this project show exceptionally good in vivo activities for killing drug resistant cancer cells and with much higher potencies than the clinically-used cisplatin. Gold-2a shows significant inhibition to tumor growth of breast cancer in vivo with no apparent toxic side effect. Gold-3d shows anticancer property toward hepatocellular and nasopharyngeal carcinoma in nude mice and rat models. Preclinical safety pharmacological evaluations, including acute toxicity and genotoxicity studies on gold-3d, have revealed promising results. Potential molecular targets of these gold drug leads, including topoisomerases, roteasome, deubiquitinating enzymes, HDAC,  Bcl-2, Wnt, TrxR and Fas, were identified by a combination of computational, transcriptomics and proteomics techniques. The international pharmaceutical companies Servier (France) and Goldebv Biotech (Taiwan) have agreed to co-develop or have provided sponsorships to develop these drug leads. Three patents have been granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office and one patent has been granted by Taiwan Intellectual Property Office on Metals in Medicines. The Inorganic Medicines has drawn substantial attention from and stimulated active researches in various tertiary institutions to develop this research field in Hong Kong.

Areas of Excellence Scheme Project:
Molecular Neuroscience: Basic Research and Drug Discovery

As the proportion of the world’s elderly population increases, the number of people afflicted with brain diseases is similarly increasing since most of these are age-related conditions. Age-related brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease already represent a leading cause of mortality in the elderly with enormous social burden, but despite their rising incidence, there are few approved drugs in the market to effectively cure these ailments. In some cases, they are not effective in all patients or exhibit side-effects, while in other cases, they merely alleviate the symptoms of the disease. Hence, the development of effective therapeutic drugs to treat diseases of the brain is of paramount importance.

The main obstacle towards developing treatments for brain diseases is the lack of a clear understanding of the disease. The complex and delicate biological processes within both the normal and diseased brain must be understood at a molecular level, and specific molecular targets linked to different disease states have to be identified. As a means to address this, in 2001, a cross-institutional research project led by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) was allocated HK$26.8 million from the University Grants Committee (UGC) Areas of Excellence (AoE) Scheme to conduct a five-year project on “Molecular Neuroscience: Basic Research and Drug Discovery”.