Intellectual Hub

Frontiers of Science

Gordon Research Conferences 2016

How can we improve medical treatment for cancer? What happens when we combine organic and inorganic materials? Can we build better solar power conversion systems to meet increasing energy demands?

These are just some of the big questions explored at this year’s Gordon Research Conferences (GRC) hosted by IAS, which were attended by more than 1,000 regional and global scholars, researchers, and postgraduate students in an effort to advance the frontiers of science.

The Story of the GRC

In the late 1920s, Dr Neil Gordon, Professor of Chemistry at the Johns Hopkins University, wanted to bring together people who were working at the frontiers of research so that they could engage in extensive discussions on recent advances and stimulate new directions for research. The first meeting of what was to become the GRC took place at the Johns Hopkins University in the summer of 1931, and the meetings continue to be held in more or less the same manner to this very day. From modest beginnings, the GRC has grown significantly in size and scope over the past 85 years.


In 2011, GRC had the vision to expand the meetings geographically to Asia and to cover more research areas. HKUST IAS was chosen to be one of the host sites for the GRC in Hong Kong, and many topics of the meetings hosted were brand new. This is a mutually beneficial partnership: IAS offers venues and partial logistics support for the GRC, and the GRC attracts hundreds of global scholars to HKUST each year to facilitate academic exchange and stimulate new ideas among global and local conferees.

What is Special about the GRC?

Part of the GRC’s success stems from its distinctive format, which aims to encourage much-needed debates among scientists and kindle lifelong friendships and collaborations that further scientific research outside the conferences.

\ Locations with a stimulating research environment are intentionally selected as GRC host sites. The HKUST campus provides an ideal location with excellent facilities, a collegial atmosphere and breathtaking scenery for the conferees to focus on the intellectual discussions.

\ The meeting schedule is similar to the one first established in the 1940s: a combination of formal presentations in the mornings and evenings, poster sessions or informal social gatherings in the afternoons. The opportunities for intense interactions allow conferees to broaden their academic network and develop new research ideas with their peers.

\ The GRC has an off-the-record policy. Recording or publicly referencing information presented during a conference is restricted. This policy promotes the free exchange of novel ideas, fledgling theories, and early experimental results.

\ The Power Hour initiated by the GRC in 2016 is an optional open forum for conferees to support and facilitate the professional growth of women in their respective communities. During the sessions, conferees share with each other the challenges women face in science while offering mentorship and guidance to those in need of support in their research life.

Big Ideas at GRC 2016

This summer, we organized eight Gordon Research Conferences and two associated Gordon Research Seminars on the following cutting-edge research areas in engineering and biological, chemical, and physical sciences.

Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology
Novel technologies in genome editing, optogenetics, and tissue clearing among other recent developments, which can generate new understanding of neural development and neural circuitry assembly, function, and plasticity.

Hybrid Electronic and Photonic Materials and Phenomena
The phenomena brought about by combining organic and inorganic materials, and the development of hybrid electronics and photonics fields, which can unlock solutions in solar energy use and environmentally friendly technologies.

Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma
How host genetics, Epstein-Barr virus infection, and environmental factors contribute to the development of this deadly cancer, which arises in the nasopharynx and occurs most often among southern Asians.

Personalized Medicine
Key achievements and the way forward in using precisely tailored therapy to improve efficacy, response rates, and patient safety in medical treatments.

Solar Energy Conversion
The major challenges such as control over material properties and reliability of solar energy conversion devices; and potential breakthroughs in converting and using solar power to meet increasing global energy demands.

Genomic Instability
Diverse research areas on genomic instability caused by faulty DNA transactions, which can be associated with developmental defects, premature aging, and a dramatically increased cancer risk.

Advanced Materials for Sustainable Infrastructure Development
The science and engineering aspects of sustainable concrete, and how to connect engineering technologies and materials science to improve the properties of concrete, the most commonly used material in construction.

Tissue Niches and Resident Stem Cells in Adult Epithelia
The stem cell control of epithelial tissues, which regenerate during adult life due to constant activity of the stem cell pools, and how it may shed light on repairing or replacing cells or organs damaged by injury, disease, and aging.

What HKUST Faculty Say

Each GRC has Chairs and Vice Chairs who are responsible for the meeting contents and selection of discussion leaders, speakers and attendees. Since 2013, a total of 13 HKUST faculty members from Chemistry, Life Science, Physics, and Civil and Environmental Engineering have served as Chairs and Vice Chairs. Here is the feedback from some HKUST professors who chaired the meetings.

\\  As a result of the GRC, research collaboration was established between HKUST and Monash University on the development of tricalcium silicate and graphene products. Two HKUST students were sent to Monash University for two weeks to help with the preparation of tricalcium silicate and they learned an efficient approach to preparing graphene. One of the students also worked with a faculty member there to develop a proposal on graphene research.  \\

Prof Zongjin Li & Prof Christopher Leung
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, HKUST
Chair and Vice Chair, GRC on Advanced Materials for Sustainable Infrastructure Development 2014

\\  The GRC meeting has been of great value to us. We have established collaborations with our international counterparts at the conference, and shared our research materials and samples with them. We also managed to publish high-quality papers with a professor at the National University of Singapore, who also attended the GRC.  \\

Prof Benzhong Tang
Department of Chemistry
IAS Senior Fellow, HKUST
Chair, GRC on Hybrid Electronic and Photonic Materials and Phenomena 2014

\\  Without doubt, these events have further increased the visibility of the internationally renowned marine research at HKUST, and our students have benefited greatly from interaction with the conference delegates. We also invited one of the speakers at the GRC to return to HKUST to teach a summer course for our postgraduate students.  \\

Prof Stanley Lau
Division of Life Science, HKUST
Vice Chair, GRC on Marine Molecular Ecology 2013 & 2015