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Professor Benjamin Cowling conferred as RGC Senior Research Fellow

Seven HKU academics conferred as RGC inaugural Senior Research Fellows and Research Fellows

Seven academics across different academic backgrounds from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) were awarded under the inaugural Research Fellow Scheme (RFS) and Senior Research Fellow Scheme (SRFS) of the Research Grants Council (RGC), for their distinguished research achievements and significant contributions to the higher education sector. Among them, four were conferred as Senior Research Fellows and three were conferred as Research Fellows, in an award presentation ceremony held by RGC in November 2020.

The schemes aim to provide sustained support and relief from teaching and administrative duties to exceptionally outstanding researchers at Associate Professor or full Professor ranks) at University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded universities in Hong Kong. Ten places across all academic disciplines are awarded under each scheme.

The seven HKU recipients are:

RGC Senior Research Fellow Scheme
Professor Douglas Wayne ARNER
Kerry Holdings Professor in Law and Director, Asian Institute of International Financial Law, Faculty of Law

Professor Giulio CHIRIBELLA
Professor and Director, QICI Quantum Information and Computation Initiative, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering

Professor Benjamin John COWLING (lower left corner of the photo)
Professor, School of Public Health, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine

Professor Chuyang TANG
Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering

RGC Research Fellow Scheme
Professor David Alexander PALMER
Professor, Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences / Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences

Dr. Shelley Xiuli TONG
Associate Professor, Academic Unit of Human Communication, Development, and Information Sciences, Faculty of Education

Professor Kevin Kin Man TSIA
Professor, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Faculty of Engineering

Biographies of the awardees

RGC Senior Research Fellow Scheme

Professor Douglas Wayne ARNER, Kerry Holdings Professor in Law and Director, Asian Institute of International Financial Law, Faculty of Law
Project title: Digital Finance, Financial Inclusion and Sustainability: Building Better Financial Systems

Professor Arner is the Kerry Holdings Professor in Law and Director and co-founder of the Asian Institute of International Financial Law at the University of Hong Kong. Professor Arner has published 18 books and more than 200 articles, chapters and reports on international financial law and regulation, including recently Reconceptualising Global Finance and its Regulation (Cambridge 2016) and The RegTech Book (Wiley 2019). He is one of the top 1% of all authors on SSRN, where his work has been downloaded more than 100,000 times. From 2012-2018, Professor Arner coordinated an RGC Theme-based Research Scheme project on Hong Kong’s role and future as an international financial centre. He leads Introduction to FinTech – launched with edX in May 2018 and now with over 80,000 learners spanning every country in the world. Professor Arner has advised on financial sector development projects around the world, as an advisor to, among others, the UN, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, APEC, Alliance for Financial Inclusion, and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He has lectured and co-organised conferences and events across Asia-Pacific, Europe, North America and Africa, and has been a visiting professor at Duke, Harvard, McGill, Melbourne, NUS, UNSW, and Zurich, among others. (Please click here for Professor Arner’s biography)

Professor Giulio CHIRIBELLA, Professor and Director, QICI Quantum Information and Computation Initiative, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering
Project title: Quantum Causal Discovery and the Foundations of Quantum Artificial Intelligence

Professor Chiribella is a renowned quantum physicist, and the director of the Quantum Information and Computation Initiative at the Computer Science Department of the University of Hong Kong. He is the recipient of the 2010 Hermann Weyl Prize “for pioneering contributions” to quantum information theory. He also received a Croucher Senior Research Fellowship (2018), a CIFAR-Arzieli Global Scholar Fellowship (2016), and a Young 1000 Talents of China Fellowship (2012). His previous academic positions include professorships at the University of Oxford and Tsinghua University. His 2020 RGC Senior Research Fellowship has been awarded for the development of new algorithms for discovering cause-effect relations at the quantum scale. The ability to identify causes and effects is crucial for a wide range of applications in science and society. However, all the existing causal discovery algorithms are based on a classical notion of cause and effect, which breaks down at the microscopic scale where physics is dominated by quantum mechanics. The goal of this Fellowship is to develop a fully quantum theory of causal discovery, and to explore its application to the design of intelligent quantum machines capable of identifying cause-effect relations at the quantum scale. (Please click here for Professor Chiribella’s biography)

Professor Benjamin John COWLING, Professor, School of Public Health, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Project title: Determining Optimal Influenza Vaccination Strategies in Hong Kong

Professor Cowling is an infectious disease epidemiologist. Since its emergence in early 2020, he has been researching COVID-19 epidemiology and transmission dynamics, publishing his work in the New England Journal of Medicine, Science, and Nature Medicine. In the past decade he has designed and implemented large field studies of influenza transmission in the community and the effectiveness and impact of control measures including vaccination. His latest research has focused on the modes of transmission, vaccine effectiveness, and immunity to infections at the individual and population level of respiratory viruses including influenza and coronaviruses. Prof Cowling’s listing in Scopus includes 480 published articles with more than 16,000 citations in total. He is one of the “top 1%” most cited scientists listed in ISI Web of Knowledge. (Please click here for Professor Cowling’s biography)

Professor Chuyang TANG, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering
Project title: Novel Polyamide Reverse Osmosis Membranes with Enhanced Mass Transfer and Integrity for Highly Efficient Water Reuse

Professor Tang is a world leader in membrane technology, desalination, and water reuse. He has made critical contributions to the better understanding of the nanoscale structures of desalination membranes and their transport behaviors. He led the invention of aquaporin-based biomimetic membrane technology that has been widely recognized in the desalination field. His pioneer work on interfacial nanofoaming elucidated, for the first time, how interfacial degassing shapes the surface morphology of polyamide membranes. His work on designing membranes to directly target micropollutant removal sets the agenda for the future development of water reuse membranes. He has >260 journal publications, with an H-index of 71. Professor Tang is a recipient of the Finland Distinguished Professor Program Fellowship Award, International Desalination Association Fellowship Award, and Singapore Ministry for National Development R&D Merit Award. (Please click here for Professor Tang’s biography)

RGC Research Fellow Scheme

Professor David Alexander PALMER, Professor, Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences / Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences
Project title: Chinese Modernity and Soft Power on the Belt and Road

Professor Palmer, recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on religion, modernity, and politics in the contemporary Chinese world, is now pioneering the extension of these fields to trans-Asian frameworks. His books have won prestigious awards in Anthropology and Asian Studies, including the Joseph Levenson Prize of the Association for Asian Studies. In recent years, he has obtained a CRF grant on “Infrastructures of Faith: Religious Mobilities on the Belt and Road,” investigating the religious impacts of the BRI, with a team of scholars from institutions spanning Asia and Europe. Through the RGC Research Fellowship, Professor Palmer plans to explore the other side of the coin: how Chinese cultural modernity spreads on the Belt and Road, and how local communities respond, appropriate, and influence it. (Please click here for Professor Palmer’s biography)

Dr. Shelley Xiuli TONG, Associate Professor, Academic Unit of Human Communication, Development, and Information Sciences, Faculty of Education
Project title: Understanding Strengths and Deficits in Chinese Developmental Dyslexia: Toward an Integrated StrengthDeficit-Based Intelligent Diagnosis and Intervention System

Dr. Tong’s work revolutionizes deficit-based understanding of children with dyslexia and provides novel insights into strength-based diagnoses and intervention approaches. Her four original theoretical models and 57 journal publications address urgent educational and clinical issues regarding children with dyslexia and/or autism, and reflect her life-long commitment to transform scientific evidence into public policy and practice for empowering millions of children with special educational needs. Her RFS project will develop an intelligent diagnosis and intervention system, i.e., Integrated Dyslexic Interface Design (I-DID), for children at family-risk of dyslexia. Unlike traditional deficit-based diagnosis and reading remediation, I-DID will capitalize on individual strengths of children with dyslexia while improving specific component reading skills. I-DID can empower at-risk children through positive diagnostic experiences and training outcomes, ultimately promoting their growth and success. (Please click here for Dr. Tong’s biography and here for information regarding Dr. Tong’s Speech, Language and Reading Lab)

Professor Kevin Kin Man TSIA, Professor, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Faculty of Engineering
Project title: Intelligent 3D Imaging Cytometer for Scalable and Hierarchical Single-cell Spatial Profiling

Professor Tsia’s project aims to develop an artificial-intelligence-powered imaging cytometry platform that characterizes the cellular biophysical and mechanical phenotypes at the single-cell precision. This imaging technology is built upon two enabling features that are otherwise missing in the current techniques: One is ultrafast 3D microscopy and in-depth correlative single-cell analysis that establishes multi-scale single-cell profiles made up of biophysical, mechanical, biochemical phenotypes and their largely underexplored spatial inter-relationships. Accessing a wealth of single-cell information, this imaging cell-based assay could lay the new foundation of uncovering the salient biophysical biomarkers – ultimately ushering in a new paradigm in intelligent label-free diagnostics. (Please click here for Professor Tsia’s biography)

About the RGC Research Fellow Scheme (RFS) and RGC Senior Research Fellow Scheme (SRFS)
The RGC Research Fellow Scheme (RFS) / RGC Senior Research Fellow Scheme (SRFS) is a yearly competitive exercise that provides sustained support and relief from teaching and administrative duties to exceptionally outstanding researchers at Associate Professor rank (or full Professor rank) at UGC-funded universities in Hong Kong. Both the RFS and SRFS provide ten places across all academic disciplines and are subject to assessment by one of two selection panels: (i) Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM); and (ii) Humanities, Social Sciences and Business Studies (HSSB). Besides the exceptional qualifications and research capability of the researchers, the RFS and SRFS also take into consideration the contribution and potential impact of their proposed research project, including knowledge transfer and research impact. The stringent assessment criteria enable the awardees to dedicate fully to research and development, and help universities attract and retain research talent.

The RGC Research Fellows and the supporting university will receive a fellowship grant of around HK5.2 million per award over a period of 60 months. While RGC Senior Research Fellows and the supporting university will be granted around HK7.8 million per award over a period of 60 months. The research funding support covers salary costs for relief teachers and support for the research project including staff, equipment, travel, subsistence, and dissemination costs.

(Source from HKU Press Release)

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