The Inaugural InnoSharing

Topic: Making Impact in a Technology-Driven World – My Leadership Journey in Academia
Speaker: Professor Xiang Zhang, the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong

Moderator: Professor Norman C. Tien, Head of Innovation Academy, The University of Hong Kong
Date: Feb 3, 2021 (Wednesday)
Time: 2:30pm HKT

Sharing insights on innovation-related topics and success stories.
About InnoSharing
InnoSharing is a series of forums and dialogues organized to invite guest speakers of diverse backgrounds, such as entrepreneurs, industry partners, researchers or alumni, to share their insights on innovation-related topics and success stories. The format of the sharing is flexible, spanning from talks to one-on-one dialogue to panel discussion.
Inaugural InnoSharing on Feb 3, 2021

Professor Xiang Zhang, the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), has called on students to be creative and persistent in pursuing their dreams and interests at an inaugural talk held at the University’s new Innovation Academy of Faculty of Engineering.

His talk marked the launch of the InnoSharing series of forums and dialogues that are among activities and programmes run by the academy to foster innovation and cultivate talents.

A former Chair Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Zhang recounted his research efforts in metamaterials and material physics, which helped lay the basis for breakthroughs in the invisibility cloak and supermicroscope. Advancement in the areas have wide applicational value, from nano-scale imaging, compact high frequency (resolution) MRI to bio-molecule sensing.

Professor Zhang’s talk was entitled “Creating Materials that Do Not Exist in Nature – From Super Lens to Invisibility Cloak”. An elected member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Foreign Member), US National Academy of Engineering and Academia Sinica, he recently received the 2021 SPIE Mozi Award conferred by the International Society for Optics and Photonics in recognition of his seminal, fundamental contributions in optical physics and experimental research in the optical perfect lens.

He stressed that innovation should not be limited to STEM fields alone, but is also needed in fields including medicine, social sciences, and arts etc. “We hope HKU will show the world that we can create a better world by synergizing Innotech with humanities.”

But he acknowledged that failure and hardship are an inevitable part of innovation. “In scientific research, you fail 95% of the time. Many students may have already experienced that. The spirit of never giving up and keeping a clear goal is very important.”  He therefore emphasised that one should be prepared to embrace failure.

Research innovation is often driven by curiosity, he added. But success never come easily. “We can aim high but don’t expect a score of 100; if you can get 80, that’s pretty good.”

Twenty-five years ago, he recalled, he failed to get funding support for a project on 3-D printing of human organs. Nowadays, biological printing is a big thing.

“It was not the right timing for me,” he said. “But as an innovator we should not give up; persistence is very important, you have to be resilient.”

“While in the midst of recruiting 100 top professors worldwide, HKU also seeks to involve more students in innovation projects with professors and encourage more student start-ups,” said Professor Zhang.

Emphasising the importance of creativity, he told students not to be intimidated by limited knowledge. “Bill Gates didn’t finish college, and Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was a school dropout. It’s creativity that drove them. And they worked very hard towards their goals.”

An invaluable lesson he learned when he was an undergraduate student was never to be afraid of asking questions, he recalled. He was inspired by an academic who had returned from the States and who kept asking students questions at a seminar. “Challenging the books and existing knowledge, that’s how you can make advancement.”