Fall 2019 > IAS Scholars

IAS Tin Ka Ping Fellowships

Let’s turn back the clock to March 11, 2008. This date marks a special occasion—the establishment of the Tin Ka Ping Education Fund by the Tin Ka Ping Foundation in support of research development at the IAS. Prof. Paul CHU, former HKUST President and Founding Director of the IAS, received a $3 million cheque from the late Dr. TIN Ka-Ping, Chairman of the Tin Ka Ping Foundation. “This donation will help attract more young talent from Mainland China to the IAS to explore new horizons of knowledge,” Chu said.

Eleven years have passed. Thanks to government matching and additional donations from the Foundation in recent years, the Fund now amounts to $11.6 million. Over the years, six young and potential mainland scholars, called IAS Tin Ka Ping Fellows, have benefited from the Fund and have been given the opportunity to learn from the best―assisting professors in their research and teaching work at the IAS.

Mr. TIN Hing-Sin (third-left) and Mr. TIN Wing-Sin (third-right) of Tin Ka Ping Foundation present a cheque to President Wei SHYY (second left), Prof. Lionel NI, Provost (first left), Prof. Andrew G. COHEN, IAS Director (second right), and Prof. King CHOW, Director of Interdisciplinary Programs Office and Acting Dean of Students (first right).

“There are many unforgettable moments from my life at HKUST,” said Prof. WEI Zhiyi, the very first IAS Tin Ka Ping Fellow (2011-13), who obtained his PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Science and Technology of China. He recalled his time at HKUST, during which his kids were also born, as the best four years of his life. “I learned how to become a good husband, a good father and a good scientist,” Wei said.

This was a truly life-changing period for Wei. As a Research Assistant Professor, he worked alongside Prof. ZHANG Mingjie, Kerry Holdings Professor of Science and IAS Senior Fellow, to carry out research on an animal visual detection systems at HKUST’s Biology Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Center. In 2011, the research group achieved a significant breakthrough in understanding how animal photoreceptors can detect light signals across very broad intensity ranges and at very high speeds. The discovery, which was published in the prestigious scientific journal Cell, contributed to research on human visual disorders, such as retinitis pigmentosa and night blindness.

Prof. Wei Zhiyi (first right) and his research team at SUSTC.

The taste of success inspired Wei to follow his dream. “To me, exploring the science of living things is more interesting and important than anything else. Many things have shaped my thoughts and driven me to become a better scientist,” Wei said.

Currently, as Associate Professor at Southern University of Science and Technology of China (SUSTC), Wei focuses on decoding the mystery of life, paying particular attention to protein-mediated interaction and molecular machinery assembly in biological processes, especially in neuronal development and related diseases. “Recently, we determined the crystal structures of human CRTH2 with antagonists, revealing a semi-occluded amphipathic pocket with a novel conformation and structural features for the binding of different CRTH2 antagonists,” Wei said. This finding provided key structural information for developing target drugs against inflammatory diseases and was published in the international journal Molecular Cell last year.

Like many rising young professors, Wei also has a teaching role. In addition to teaching two undergraduate courses, Wei serves as a life tutor at Zhicheng College, one of the six colleges at SUSTC. His love of tutoring even won him the Excellent College Tutor Award last year. “I have been an advisor for 29 undergraduate students. They come to me for suggestions on course selection and future academic developments. We have developed life-long friendships,” Wei said gratefully. It seems that Wei has not only learned to be a good scientist, but also picked up a few tips on how to be a good educator.

In contrast with Wei, Dr. ZHOU Dongying is the new kid on the block.

As the newest IAS Tin Ka Ping Fellow, Zhou was appointed in 2018. He joined the IAS under the support of the Hong Kong Scholars Program—a joint endeavor of the Society of Hong Kong Scholars and the China National Postdoctoral Council under the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

“Before coming to HKUST, I visited the Center of Super-Diamond and Advanced Films at City University of Hong Kong twice as an exchange student during my Master’s from 2010 to 2012. There, I learned about the prestigious Hong Kong Scholars Program and was lucky enough to be chosen to conduct research with Prof. Ching W. TANG, IAS Bank of East Asia Professor. He is a big name in our field! I first heard of him during my undergraduate studies,” Zhou said admiringly.

Dr. ZHOU Dongying

Opportunities do not come to all who work and hope for them. For Zhou, working with Tang is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “He has lots of ideas that always inspire you. This opportunity has changed the way I do research. In China, and probably in Hong Kong too, PhD students are required to publish tons, I mean, tons of papers to graduate. Prof. Tang, however, always encourages us to study something valuable, apart from writing papers,” Zhou said.

Zhou added that young researchers like him should seize every academic opportunity in their early careers. During his PhD, his supervisor Prof. Hany AZIZ, a full professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo and an expert in organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), asked him to do an exchange in his department for a year.

“I am really interested in physical phenomena. It is always fascinating to see physical processes take place. I studied organic materials in my undergraduate studies but then my focus shifted to physics mechanisms and device engineering in OLEDs and perovskite solar cells. The year I spent at the University of Waterloo opened my eyes to the latest research in the interdisciplinary area of organic electronics and optoelectronics. The freedom to conduct research and to explore different things without any burdens was really the best experience I have ever had,” Zhou said.

After receiving his PhD in Physics from the Institute of Functional Nano and Soft Materials at Soochow University, China, in 2014, Zhou worked at the School of Energy as an Assistant Professor. Currently, his research focuses on the development of tandem configuration and TADF materials toward large-area OLEDs with high efficiency and long stability. “OLEDs were invented in 1987 and have already been commercialized, with many products available on the market. People may think that not much more can be done with OLEDs, but I think otherwise. I am now conducting research to determine why blue light, which ejects high energy, has such a short lifespan.”

Zhou will return to Soochow University this December to resume his role. Zhou and two past IAS Tin Ka Ping Fellows, Dr. DONG Shoucheng and Dr. ZHANG Ting, were delighted to meet the representatives of the Tin Ka Ping Foundation Board in person at a donation ceremony held in July to express their gratitude to the Foundation for supporting young mainland scholars like them.

“My time spent at HKUST has been very fruitful. What I have learned here will be brought back to my alma mater, where I will continue conducting research and teaching,” said Zhou, whose heart is filled with thankfulness, is now ready for his next journey in life.

Mr. David DAY, Chief Executive of the Foundation (first left), invited Dr. Zhang Ting and Dr. Dong Shoucheng (middle and right) to give talks to students from Jilin Tianjiabing Senior High School (吉林市田家炳高級中學) earlier this year