Chapter IV
Making an impact through research

HKMU's research profile has risen sharply in recent years, and this momentum is continuing to accelerate. In the past year, HKMU researchers across the board have engaged in numerous practical and meaningful projects that are making a direct impact for good on our society. In the process, many have won prestigious peer recognition and attracted important research funding.

Targeted support for impactful research projects

Knowledge transfer — the movement of knowledge from the University into the industrial and commercial world — is a particularly important goal of HKMU's research activities. This year, we renamed the Office of Research Affairs as the Office of Research Affairs and Knowledge Transfer, to reflect its expanding role in facilitating the transmission of knowledge generated in the University to the wider world. We also established a Patent Committee to review the University's research outcomes and consider potential patent protection for new inventions. By August 2023, a total of ten inventions had been identified from research projects for patent applications. In terms of funding support, the University's new HK$50 million HKMU Startup Fund is specially earmarked to support staff, students and alumni looking to turn creative ideas into viable commercial products and solutions.

The University has also begun increasing its support for high potential, high-impact research projects that make a real difference. An essential first step was to lay out an explicit policy describing our goals and strategies in the areas of research activity, creative work and knowledge transfer. Guided by this policy, researchers are able to draw on funding from our Research Impact Fund, established in 2021 with the specific aim of nurturing and supporting the development of the University's strategic research areas. This year, a new strategic research area, namely “Personalised Care” under the School of Nursing and Health Studies, was approved by the University.

The recently launched online platform “HKMU Scholars” showcases the research development and achievements of the University. It is helping to enhance our research impact by providing easy access to detailed information about our research areas, scholars, researchers and research activities.

These and other initiatives designed to stimulate and expand the research culture at HKMU are quickly bearing fruit, both in terms of external funding and overall research output.

Some research highlights of the year

The University's research is diverse and often fascinating in its potential for being applied in practical and beneficial ways.

Virtual reality (VR) for driver training

A final-year project by a group of graduates of the Computing and Interactive Entertainment programme introduced the concept of a VR-based Driver Training System. The practical value of the system was first recognised by the Lee Kin Driving School, then by the Government's Smart Traffic Fund. Funds have now been made available for its further development at the School of Arts and Social Sciences (A&SS) under the leadership of Dr William Lai Chi-fu. The VR system will enable trainees to experience driving situations that are difficult to arrange in traditional driving courses, and hopefully help reduce the pressure caused by large numbers of learner vehicles on the roads near driving test centres.

Enhancing language skills through extended reality (XR)

Another A&SS project in the field of VR/AR focuses on the challenges of interpreting and public speaking training, especially given the lack of the authentic settings that are essential for learners looking to develop all-round professional competence. Dr Venus Chan Wing-man has developed an open-access extended reality mobile app XR MALL to address this problem, featuring learning modules on English-Chinese and Chinese-English interpreting as well as public speaking. It provides fully immersive VR simulated scenarios, which enable interpreting and public speaking trainees to improve their skills through self-paced practice.

Hong Kong's first open-access microalgae collection and research centre

Microalgae are single-celled photosynthetic organisms living in freshwater and marine environments. Although they average only 5 micrometres in length, the impact they have on the environment can be huge. The red tide species of microalgae can be very harmful to marine life, for example, whereas some other species have the potential to be converted into biofuels. To facilitate the identification and analysis of microalgae in the Greater Bay Area and Southeast Asia, the School of Science and Technology (S&T) established the Metropolitan Algal Repository and Supply (MARS) in 2022. MARS is the first open-access microalgae collection and research centre in Hong Kong. Among other initiatives, it will organise public events and establish an online platform for public education and academic exchange.

Eco-friendly sea walls supporting marine life

Dr Juan Carlos Astudillo Placencia of S&T has been working to develop eco-friendly materials for sea walls. In a collaborative project, he helped invent special eco-tiles that not only reduce carbon emissions by 20% to 40% compared with traditional concrete, but also imitate natural habitats for sea-life, encouraging biodiversity and helping to heal the marine ecosystem. The project won a Gold Medal with Congratulations of the Jury at the 48th International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva, and a Gold Medal in the 2023 Asia International Innovative Invention Exhibition. Dr Astudillo is currently extending his research to explore other eco-engineering methods and materials, such as recycled bamboo rods.

Integrating Traditional Chinese and Western medicine

High blood pressure is a known side effect of the common Western cancer drug Bevacizumab (Bev), and researchers have turned to traditional Chinese medicines for solutions. Dr Emily Wong Sze-wan of S&T has teamed up with colleagues from the LKS Faculty of Medicine of the University of Hong Kong in investigating how best to extract the anti-hypertensive properties of the traditional Chinese medicine Danshen. Their work is proving important in integrating Western and Chinese treatments for cancer for maximum efficacy. This ongoing research is supported by over HK$1.3 million of Government funding.

Better robots through pose estimation research

With robotics becoming an increasingly important part of industrial automation, a team led by Dr Wyman Wang Weiming of S&T has been exploring issues connected with how robots estimate the positioning and orientation of objects in three-dimensional space — what is known as “6D object pose estimation”. To improve the accuracy of 6D object pose estimation in complex industrial environments, the team has developed an innovative representation learning network called SO(3)-Pose. Their work is contributing significantly to the growth fields of robotics and augmented reality.

Improving medical response times in emergencies

Electrocardiograms (ECGs) are commonly used to identify abnormalities (e.g. cardiac arrhythmias) and to guide diagnosis, for instance by determining whether chest pain has a cardiovascular or non-cardiovascular origin. Dr Jonathan Ho Ka-ming and his team from the School of Nursing and Health Studies discovered that emergency nurses responsible for triage were not always able to correctly interpret ECGs with their existing training, and that recognising heart block was a particular problem. The published research will help improve the quality of care in the triage system of local hospitals.

Improving wireless network functionality

In wireless networks, “latency” refers to the delay in transmitting data from one point to another. Low latency networks are essential for today's high-volume, high-speed internet usage. To reduce the problem of latency when many devices are operating simultaneously on a limited network bandwidth, Dr Fu Yaru of S&T and her team have developed an algorithm to optimise network content caching, recommendation, and transmission, all of which effectively reduce network latency. The results represent a significant step forward in improving the overall performance of wireless networks.

Top researchers raise HKMU's research profile

HKMU has an ever-growing research momentum, and is further boosting its research output by recruiting leading scholars from around the globe. Most recently, it welcomed Prof. Eva Man Kit-wah, author of over 40 books on topics ranging across philosophy of art, comparative aesthetics, gender and cultural studies and Neo-Confucian philosophy, as Chair Professor of Humanities in the School of Arts and Social Sciences. Another important signing has been Prof. Roy Vellaisamy as Chair Professor of Intelligent Systems in the School of Science and Technology, as well as Leader of the University's Molecular Electronics group. An expert in intelligent sensors and quantum technologies, Prof. Vellaisamy is working closely with industries in the UK and the GBA on knowledge transfer and technology development.

Newly appointed Chair Professors

They are just two of a growing range of elite academics and researchers making HKMU home. The chart shows the strides being made by the University in attracting and retaining high-performance researchers from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds. HKMU's research endeavours are also being lifted by a new Faculty Research Startup Fund, which makes significant funding available for faculty looking to get their research plans up and running quickly.

Prof. Eva Man Kit-wah

Prof. Roy Vellaisamy

Recognitions for HKMU researchers

The quality of the research being generated by HKMU researchers is increasingly being recognised through awards, medals, and other international prizes.