Since its establishment in 2015, the Hong Kong Branch of the National Precious Metals Material Engineering Research Center (NPMM) has been devoted to strengthening the national center’s overall capacity by advancing research on precious metals and nanomaterials. The NPMM is now entering its 6th year and is continuing to carry out fundamental and applied research to develop new precious metallic materials, upgrade conventional precious metallic materials and develop new fabrication processes for novel materials with novel structures and enhanced properties, while also striving to commercialize outstanding research outcomes.
2021 was a challenging year, and the world is still experiencing difficulties related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Measures such as flexible work arrangements and quarantines have delayed or led to the suspension many activities. Numerous international conferences have been rescheduled, the delivery of purchased equipment has been delayed, and some of our laboratories have had to close for disinfection to ensure the safety of our members and researchers, resulting in unavoidable disruptions to research activities.
The Innovation and Technology Bureau (ITB) has nevertheless demonstrated its full support for NPMM. In July 2021, Mr. Alfred Sit, JP (Secretary for Innovation and Technology), Dr. David Chung, JP (Under Secretary for Innovation and Technology ), and other ITB colleagues visited our laboratories and had face-to-face conservations with our core members and young researchers. We appreciated this opportunity to discuss the development of the Center with Mr. Sit and his team and to share our difficulties and thoughts with ITB. We are grateful to Mr. Sit and his team for their recognition of our work.
We believe that determination can always lead us forward. Although we had difficulties holding physical meetings in 2021, our Annual Steering Management Meeting was successfully held online, and involved fruitful discussions. Although it has been challenging for the Center to maintain normal operations, NPMM members have continued to strive to achieve their goals. In particular, NPMM’s core members have published 188 journal papers, filed 17 patent applications and been granted 15 patents.
In 2021, NPMM members’ hard work and devotion were recognized. Both Prof. Hua ZHANG (both Chemistry and Materials Science) and Dr. Zhanxi FAN (interdisciplinary) were honored as highly cited researchers in their fields. Prof. Hua ZHANG and Prof. Xunli WANG received The President’s Award 2021 for their remarkable achievements in their respective academic arenas in support of the University’s enhancement and development. Prof. Xunli WANG received the Croucher Senior Research Fellowship, and our new member, Dr. Tao YANG from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, received the Early Career Scheme Award from the Research Grants Council (RGC). I congratulate our members for their significant accomplishments.
Furthermore, some of the work performed by our core members has won national or international invention awards. The project “Super Bamboo – Sustainable Structural Bamboo Materials with High Strength and Multi-function”, conducted by Prof. Yang LU and his team, was awarded the Gold Medal at Inventions Geneva Evaluation Days 2021. The project “An Underwater Water Quality Monitoring System Using Structural-Morphological Transformation”, conducted by Prof. Xiaoqiao HE and Prof. Jian LU’s team, received the Gold Award (Invention) at the 25th National Exhibition of Inventions – Belt & Road and BRICS Skills Development & Technology Innovation Competition organized by the China Association of Inventions and various government units. In the same competition, the projects “High-Quality Multifunctional Sensor at Low Cost” and “The Application of 4D Printing for Ceramics on Consumer Electronics,” both developed by Prof. Jian LU’s team, received the Silver Award (Invention) and Bronze Award (Invention), respectively. Congratulations to all of our members and young researchers for their novel work.
Establishing a prestigious research organization for the Greater Bay Area (GBA) remains our top priority. During this reporting period, in collaboration with Shenyang National Laboratory for Materials Science (SYNL) in the Greater Bay Joint Division, we have continued to conduct research on precious metals and feasibility studies on their potential applications. We have also joined the Shenzhen/Hong Kong Innovation Circle in Futian. Although the pandemic has slowed progress, NPMM has been working closely with Sino-Precious Metals Holding Co., Ltd. to establish a GBA branch of the State Key Laboratory of Advanced Technologies for Comprehensive Utilization of Platinum Metals. Fundamental research will be conducted in Futian, and projects with commercialization potential will be carried out in Qianhai. We are looking forward to the opening of this research platform, as it will provide training to outstanding scientists and transfer the research outcomes to industry. In addition, it is encouraging to share that the City University of Hong Kong – Shenzhen Qianhai Institute of Research and Innovation on Precious Metals Material will be established soon, with the support of the Authority of Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Service Industry Cooperation Zone of Shenzhen (前海深港現代服務業合作區管理局) (hereafter “Qianhai Authority”). This new institute will not only provide space for conducting research related to industrialization in Hong Kong but will also facilitate research collaboration, technology transfer and the development of entrepreneurship in the Qianhai Cooperation Zone. With a team of world-class scientists and this well-equipped research platform, in the coming year we look forward to more outstanding research outcomes and collaborations in the GBA.
In the future, our Center will contribute to and focus on basic research work related to the various research areas stipulated in our foundation statement. We will continue to conduct systematic studies on the phase-dependent physicochemical properties of noble metal nanomaterials, and also examine the effect of phases on other properties of noble metal nanomaterials, including optical, electrical, magnetic and mechanical properties, as well as other applications. The feasibility of ultrafine gold nanostructures for a variety of unique applications will also be explored. The development of the high-entropy alloys comprising various combinations of materials will be continue, allowing us to study their feasibility in catalysis applications. In addition, we will research the 3D/4D printing of precious metals and ceramics with complex shapes that can serve as the matrices of noble-metal-based catalysts. The novel Au/Ag wires we have previously developed are supersensitive: they can detect very small amounts or even single molecules of pesticide residues, drugs and other chemicals in living tissues, food or healthcare products. Thus, we will explore the potential application of these novel Au/Ag wires in other areas, such as to detect SARS-CoV-2.
In 2021, Prof. Minhua SHAO, Professor of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Director of the HKUST Energy Institute of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), and Dr. Ye CHEN, Assistant Professor of the Department of Chemistry of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), joined NPMM as associate members to enhance our academic exchange with various research groups and institutions. We extend our warmest welcome to these new members! With internationalization as our core mission, we will continue to work closely with national and international corporations for further development. We firmly believe that precious materials will play a critical role in building the national economy by facilitating high-tech industrial development.
We always keep this motto in mind: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”
Professor LU Jian
Director of NPMM
20th March, 2022