The Faculty’s research landscape is wonderfully rich. We have defined four key strategic research areas: Sustainability, Health Technologies, Robotics Technologies and Frontier Technologies. Our concerted efforts of global outreach, a focus on our strengths and core competences, and the promotion of cross-disciplinary collaborations provide us with a solid foundation to sustain and extend the work of discovery.
Water Environmental Engineering
Not only does this research area align with the University’s Strategic Research Themes (SRTs) of Clean Energy and Earth as a Habitable Planet, sustainability also aligns with one of the key policy directions identified in China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, namely, “low carbon economy and sustainable development”.
The Faculty has earned a solid international reputation in water environmental engineering. Remarkable achievements have also been made by researchers in sustainable infrastructure: to name just a few, the Hong Kong Housing Authority project to develop a Carbon Energy Estimation Model for calculating the life cycle carbon emissions of new buildings, which has subsequently been adopted as a benchmark in six major cities in China; a Shenzhen Key Laboratory for Carbon Emission Enabling Technologies; the Construction Industry Council (CIC) funded projects; a Hong Kong Green Building Council commissioned study on formulating a green building products labeling scheme; a RGC-funded project to develop low carbon building refurbishment; and a RGC CRF grant to investigate ventilation in a high-rise city, etc.
Improving the quality of life and advancing health through technological innovation is a noble vision that is being pursued by the Faculty’s multi-disciplinary team of researchers, with success particularly in the areas of Biomedical Engineering and Bioinformatics.
Biomedical Engineering research encompasses the following 4 major areas: biomedical imaging, biomaterials, tissue engineering, and bio-signal processing and medical devices. These research areas are in line with the University’s SRT of Biomedical Engineering and Nanotechnology which is led by the Faculty of Engineering. The research work of Biomedical Engineering researchers were regarded of exceptional quality in the RAE 2014 exercise. Engineering principles and methods are applied to develop medical imaging systems and methods (including magnetic resonance imaging, ultrafast optical imaging, ultrasonic imaging and EEG imaging), biomaterials, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, surgical robots, diagnostic devices (including microfluidics) and therapeutic devices. Members will also continue to expand the translational applications of these technologies by working more closely with clinicians and physician scientists. Efforts will be also made to pursue collaborations with industrialists and companies to expedite the technology transfer. The combined expertise of the research team – members of which hail from the Faculties of Engineering, Medicine and Dentistry is well recognized and are highly active in pursuing internationally competitive and leading research, participating in two Area of Excellence projects and strengthening collaboration with leading oversea scientists to pursue transdisciplinary research ideas to maintaining and advancing our research excellence globally and locally. 45 external competitive research grants in total of HK$44.9M have been successfully secured by the inter-faculty teams in the past three years.
Bioinformatics research group, in line with the SRT of Genomics in the strategic research area of Frontier Technology, mainly develops effective state-of-the-art software tools for medical and biological research. The group consists of several staff in the Department of Computer Science, whose research direction is to study specific diseases and cancers, in particular on the next generation high-throughput sequencing data, with local and overseas medical researchers. The establishment of HKU-BGI Bioinformatics Algorithms and Core Technology Research Laboratory with Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI ), the world’s largest genome sequencing centre, has enhanced our research and continues to tap into external research funding, GRF and ITF. The group has successfully developed software for transcriptome/genome assembly, metagenomics analysis, short read alignment, biological database design and biological information visualization, which receive thousands of downloads. The group’s research publications appear at the top conferences, such as RECOMB and ISMB, and journals, such as Bioinformatics. The group established close collaboration with Centre for Genomic Sciences, School of Biological Sciences and the Department of Civil Engineering. Outside HKU, the group collaborated research with experts in CUHK, Joint Genome Institute of Department of Energy of US and Partner Institute for Computational Biology in Shanghai.
The Faculty of Engineering introduced its “Advanced Robotics Initiative” as one of the strategic development areas in 2012 with the aim of fostering the development of leading-edge technologies in Hong Kong as well as entering the world stage in the field of robotics.
Robotics research is multidisciplinary and applicable in diverse areas: industrial manufacturing, robotics surgery, health care and rescue and disaster operations. The Faculty seeks to become a world-class player and Asian leader in leading-edge robotics technologies by exploiting interdisciplinary synergy across disciplines – both intra-Faculty and inter-Faculty (e.g. Medicine) through our Robotics research group.
The Faculty has established an Advanced Robotics Laboratory in 2012. Two new Assistant Professors and a Chair Professor have been recruited. Together with the current teachers who specialize in artificial intelligence, tele-operation, manipulation, virtual reality, mechatronics, there are around 10 teaching staff in the broad spectrum of robotics in different departments. Our research has already attracted international attention through the participation in the international competitions such as the worldwide robotics challenge in the US. By participating in the high-profile international competitions, the Faculty increased its global presence and showcased the innovative talent of Hong Kong.
New courses on robotics will be open to UG and PG students in addition to the existing foundation courses in system automation, sensing and communications, and manipulation. The robotics research group will explore possible industrial partnerships to assist the manufacturing sectors to remain cost-competitive, to assist human workers in hazardous and polluting environment as well as improving robotics surgery. In the long term, the products of the robotics research can be commercialized, as evidenced by the commercial production of other academic-developed robots.
The development of frontier technologies helps to extend technological boundaries in identifying solutions to problems that were previously impossible to solve. Frontier technologies such as Bio-Nanotechnology explores new nano-scale phenomena at the interfaces between biology, mechanical and materials engineering and their applications, Information and Communication Technologies which enable people with easy access to information that was difficult and time-consuming to obtain a decade ago. Service Engineering applies industrial engineering approach to deal with the optimal deployment of resources such as man, machine, material and money in a methodological fashion, aiming at providing a total solution to problems in the service sector.
Bio-Nanotechnology is an important front of the University's new SRT on Biomedical Engineering and Nanotechnology. It focuses on exploring how biological systems work in nature and for application of such knowledge in designing and fabricating new materials and engineering devices. Nano-scale units in life, including cytoskeleton network, ion channels, myosin units, and so on, are crucial elements for motion in nature, and their working principles can be utilized to make new actuating systems which may revolutionize mechanical engineering in the future. Research efforts will continue to focus on the nature and effects of nano-scale structures and protein units in living tissues, their relation to associated diseases and disorders, and drug delivery systems. Research will also continue on nanotechnologies and nanomaterials for human body tissue repair, regeneration and other biomedical applications.
Information and Communication Technologies
In relation to Information and Communication Technologies, Faculty members are engaged in various key research areas, including wireless communications, cloud computing, social networks, distributed computing, optimization, meta-heuristics, algorithms, database, big data, computer systems and network, graphics and vision, information security and forensics, and software engineering. HKU is one of three key participants in the Area of Excellence in Information Technology. The Faculty has successfully obtained research grants from multinational companies such as Cisco and NTT DoCoMo. Our academic partners include MIT, CalTech, Cambridge University, University of Southern California, and Tsinghua University. There is active collaboration with the international research community, such as with UCSB on cloud data management and with the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology, CAS (SIAT) in China on social networks and schema matching. A proposal (involving EEE, CS and IMSE) led by Professor VKO Li has been shortlisted for establishment of HKU Branch of CNERC. This proposal would be beneficial to scholarly exchanges and collaboration with our Mainland researchers as the proposed Mainland partnering CNERC hosted at the Tsinghua University is a very prestigious research center.
Motivated by the growth of service-oriented industries worldwide, Service Engineering is a rapidly growing field within Industrial Engineering that, in a holistic sense, captures the offerings of manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, finance, education, transportation, and business. Key research areas include the optimization and management of service operations, service-oriented manufacturing, modelling and simulation of service systems, and designing and managing advanced e-logistics systems. The Faculty will leverage its applied research in collaboration with various service-sector companies, such as DHL, Hong Kong International Terminals, Cathay Pacific Service Limited, SF-Express, Hong Kong Air Cargo Limited, Asia Air Freight Company Limited and MTRC Corporation. One major Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF) project of about HK$10M was awarded in 2014 for researchers in the Faculty to conduct research and development in smart construction. Researchers have joined theme-based research project in the area of Healthcare Operations Management awarded in 2014. New ITF proposals have been approved in principle or under serious consideration for awards in 2015.