Issue No 6: May 2003
Research growth continues
Quick reaction to SARS
Translation strategies lead to Chinese version of Buddhism
Database of 35 million characters helps scholars and writers
Confucius’ poetry collection delivers insights into symbolism
3D model smoothes problems in creating ultra-precision surfaces
Nano views of electrolyte behaviour
Sun block ‘skin’ applied to textiles
Greater efficiency for clean building formula
Spin-offs from world’s smallest nanotube
New generation of electrical ceramics

Scientists at Hong Kong universities reacted swiftly to the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) crisis.
Working day and night, they followed a number of leads in an attempt to identify the cause of the disease which is threatening the world.
Microbiologists at The University of Hong Kong announced that the primary agent involved in the atypical pneumonia epidemic is a coronavirus which is usually found in animals.
The finding was independently confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Some of the first radiological findings of SARS were provided by The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Department of Diagnostic Radiology and Organ Imaging which has been working closely with a WHO collaborative network of research centres.
Researchers worked with medical taskforces at local hospitals which were swamped with SARS cases. The disease can be transmitted by respiratory droplets over short distances of about one metre, or by contact with a patient’s respiratory secretions.
With the epidemic spreading, the WHO issued a global health alert on 12 March.
Various countries installed health checks on visitors inbound from SARS-affected areas and put in place other precautions in an attempt to protect their populations.
Said RGC chairman Prof Kenneth Young: “Scientists in the local universities reacted to the crisis swiftly and professionally. Within a fairly short time, they successfully identified viruses which were possibly responsible for the mysterious disease.
“The speed with which the Hong Kong scientists accomplished this illustrates clearly Hong Kong’s excellent research capability.”
Prof Young added: “Robust research is not established overnight. The infrastructure, research teams, and the expertise have to be built up and developed over time.”
RGC records show that more than HK$42 million has been allocated to institutions over the years to support research related to studies of viruses and pathogenesis.
“I think this epidemic argues strongly for the case that research as well as research personnel must be nurtured and developed across a broad front,” said Prof Young.
“It’s a good example of how the stock of knowledge and accumulated experiences can at some future point in time become very relevant to our everyday needs.”
In 1997, Hong Kong scientists detected the H5N1 virus responsible for an outbreak of avian flu which led to the deaths of six people and the culling of about 1.4 million chickens.

Images of SARS progressing over four days in a 27-year-old female patient - supplied by CUHK.
Coronavirus organelles attaching themselves to a cultured cell - supplied by HKU.