HAVE, U Can - one of the largest cross-institutional student teaching and learning programme in Hong Kong
Jul 01, 2018

The HAVE, U Can Programme, funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC) to enhance university students’ holistic competencies, was successfully completed on June 8, 2018 (Friday).

The programme was led by Dr Cecilia Chan, Head of Professional Development at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), collaborated with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong Baptist University, Lingnan University and the Education University of Hong Kong. Two hundred students from the six universities participated in the five-day-four-night programme.

“This is the biggest and the longest cross-institutional programme across universities in Hong Kong. The idea is for the students to work together to develop different competencies that we often find it difficult to integrate into our day-to-day curriculum. Because they get a chance to live together, they will get to know each other very well and that would be the kind of friendship that can last forever. We need to ensure that our students are not just academically brilliant but are all rounded and have positive attitude and values, have heart,” said Dr Chan.

A series of activities were conducted to enhance students’ holistic competencies and virtues. Students gained residential hall experience, took part in a talent show, and were challenged to formulate entrepreneurial solutions for current adolescent problems. On the second last day of the programme, students were invited to join the High Table Dinner, a traditional event in HKU.

The High Table Dinner was hosted in the College Hall at the HKU Jockey Club Student Village III. Professor James Tang, Secretary-General of UGC and representatives from all six collaborating universities were invited to celebrate the success of the Programme, while more than a hundred employers and institution leaders from Hong Kong and Asia joined the dinner to provide career advice and industry insights to programme participants.

The dinner began with opening speeches from representatives from each university and Programme Leader Dr Cecilia Chan. All university representatives acknowledged the significance of holistic competencies development in higher education, and recognised the aspirations and impact of the Programme. In her speech, Dr Chan thanked collaborating universities for their time and effort, and UGC for their generous support. She elaborated on the aim of the Programme and said: “Our motto of the HAVE, U Can Programme is to ‘transform with hearts’. We don’t just want you (participants) to perform well or excellently in academia. We want you to have all the different types of competencies. We want you to consider and appreciate the society.”

Dr Chan then presented a video of recollection of activities from the first three days of the HAVE, U Can Programme. To show appreciation, students presented hand-made knots of hearts to the guests of the High Table Dinner. The knots of hearts, made by the students themsevles, symbolise love and care. After the dinner, Professor James Tang delivered a closing speech. He expressed his gratitude to all collaborating universities for organising the Programme, and said that the UGC would continue encouraging and supporting pedagogical innovations in Hong Kong. The dinner was concluded with a cake-cutting ceremony.

A participant of the programme said: “The programme has really given me the opportunity to overcome mental hurdles and enhance self-confidence.”

“I have refined my skills in leadership, socialising, and presentation,” said another programme participant.

Following the end of the first annual HAVE, U Can Programme, continual efforts will be dedicated to support future programmes. It is hoped that through programmes like this, the importance of holistic competencies for students and institutions can be highlighted, leading to educational and cultural shift towards balancing the importance of holistic competencies with academic knowledge in the near future.

About HAVE, U Can Programme
The HAVE, U Can Programme is part of the UGC-funded Holistic Competency Hub, “HAVE Hub”. The three-year project is dedicated to supporting the development and assessment of holistic competencies in the higher education. The hub’s programmes and work include professional development workshops, designing teaching packs for teachers, as well as student competition and programmes for further enhancement of holistic competencies. Dr Cecilia Chan, Head of Professional Development and Associate Professor at the University of Hong Kong is the Principal Leader of this project.

Website: http://havehub.cetl.hku.hk/ | Facebook: https://business.facebook.com/HAVEcentre/

For more information about the HAVE, U Can Programme, please contact Ms. Luk at 3917 5272/ ytluk89@hku.hk.

SOURCE / The University of Hong Kong

NUS and SMI set up S$18m research centre to enhance global competitiveness of Singapore’s maritime and port industries
Jul 01, 2018

With the support of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI) today established a S$18 million research centre to enable Singapore’s maritime and port industries to develop innovative capabilities and enhance their global competitiveness. The agreement to set up the new centre was signed today by Professor Chua Kee Chaing, Dean of NUS Faculty of Engineering, and Mr Toh Ah Cheong, Executive Director of SMI.

The new Centre of Excellence in Modelling and Simulation for Next Generation Ports (C4NGP) will be part of the NUS Faculty of Engineering and it will work with companies in Singapore’s maritime and port sectors to improve their technical knowhow, efficiency and productivity, and prepare them for the next phase of global competition.

C4NGP will also work closely with companies to ensure that the Centre’s research and development efforts are aligned with industry needs. Over the next five years, the Centre aims to focus on the following areas:

  • Design and build maritime systems, including simulation platforms that cater to the needs of maritime and port related industries;
  • Conduct navigational channel capacity studies and develop systems to simulate and optimise incoming and outgoing marine traffic;
  • Study various port terminal systems, including automated guided vehicle optimisation, scheduling and charging strategies; container yard storage management strategies; analysis of future port systems; and traffic flows within port terminals; and
  • Examine land transport-related systems such as port gateway design systems and analysis of inter-terminal traffic movement between port terminals.
    At steady state, C4NGP is expected to have about 20 NUS researchers working on projects in these important areas.

    Professor Freddy Boey, NUS Senior Vice President (Graduate Education & Research Translation), said, “NUS is delighted to partner MPA and SMI to set up this new Centre of Excellence. The C4NGP will work closely with the industry to promote innovation in the port and maritime sectors and to co-create cutting-edge solutions that could advance these sectors. This concerted effort will greatly enhance the long-term competitiveness of the maritime and port industries, and further strengthen Singapore’s strong reputation as a global maritime hub.”

    Mr Toh said, “We are pleased to support the establishment of the C4NGP to deepen NUS’ capabilities in port modelling and simulation and to promote greater collaboration between the academia and the port community to increase the overall competitiveness of the maritime and port sectors.”

    “The establishment of C4NGP is timely as it deepens our port modelling, simulation and optimisation capabilities. The centre aims to improve the planning and operations of our Next-Generation Port at Tuas and the eco-system around the port. It will help PSA and Jurong Port with the optimisation of their existing and future operations as part of the Industry Transformation Map. Beyond our ports, we hope C4NGP can be a good repository of modelling expertise as well as serve as a platform for collaboration with institutions across the world to develop and establish standards for port modelling and simulation”, said Mr Andrew Tan, Chief Executive of MPA.

    The C4NGP Governing Board chaired by Prof Boey will comprise members from key stakeholders such as MPA, SMI and industry partners. The Centre will be jointly led by Associate Professor Chew Ek Peng and Associate Professor Lee Loo Hay from the Department of Industrial Systems Engineering and Management at NUS Faculty of Engineering.

    Assoc Prof Chew said, “The Centre aims to make significant impact to the port community, both locally and globally. We will work closely with industry partners and apply our expertise in modelling, simulation and optimisation to create next-generation ports and maritime systems as well as pioneer disruptive technologies that could potentially reshape the shipping industry.”

    This is one of the latest maritime research centres supported by SMI as part of its efforts to deepen research capabilities while developing a steady pool of quality maritime researchers in Singapore.

    SOURCE / the National University of Singapore

    ASEAN Center authorized to operate in Thailand as a foreign NGO
    Jul 01, 2018

    On 7 March 2018, the Thai Ministry of Labour's "Committee to Consider the Operation of Foreign Private Organizations" granted permission to Kyoto University’s ASEAN Center in Bangkok to operate as a foreign non-governmental organization (NGO). The NGO certificate was presented 24 May by Ms Supapitchaya Ruengves, the Ministry's labour specialist, to ASEAN Center Director Mamoru Shibayama, who is also a KyotoU professor emeritus.

    As a certified NGO, the ASEAN Center aims to further expand its activities promoting research, education, and other forms of collaboration among Japan, Thailand, and ASEAN universities and other institutions.

    Labour Specialist Ruengves and Director Shibayama

    SOURCE / Kyoto University

    Steps to Success in Four Areas of Life
    JMAMONI Lifestyle & Etiquette Institute Pte. Ltd.
    Jun 15, 2018

    I will be breaking down in detail, how YOU can start working on YOU! I will discuss how by creating an action plan and managing your schedule, it will allow you to work on the parts of yourself that get put to the side when you get too busy.

    Increase your Happiness

    Our happiness is crucial for our overall well-being as after all, what’s the point of achieving any form of success if we aren’t filled with joy?


  • Foster positive relationships
  • Control your daily mood
  • Be gracious
  • Limit your Technology Use

    Improve your overall Health

    Health is about more than just our physical state of being, it’s about what’s on the inside too as I tackled some weeks ago “mental health”!


  • Set a big Goal (eg. Improving eating habits or fitness routine)
  • Don’t forget to Breathe (e.g daily 5-15min. of meditation)
  • Talk it out (shout or scream outside or to talk to a friend)
  • Take care of your Brain (e.g. learn new things)

    Find your Purpose

    Having a strong sense of purpose in life improves happiness.


  • Balance your Commitments
  • Ask yourself what matters (priorities)
  • Don’t be afraid of change
  • Don’t fear failure (it’s part of life)

    Focus on your personal Growth

    The cornerstone of personal development.


  • Cultivate (or find) your Strengths
  • Do something that scares you (out of comfort zone e.g. I did on taking a speedy boat to an island without knowing the sailor on a windy wavy sea)
  • Set a 12-month Goal (e.g I wrote a book)
  • Take a “now” step whenever you’re stuck (step by step, baby steps to the big step)

    Company JMAMONI Lifestyle & Etiquette Institute Pte. Ltd.
    Contact Juliana Mamoni
    Telephone +65 833 279 23
    E-mail info@jmamoni.com
    Website http://www.jmamoni.com/
    Taiwan's Education Ministry Launches Online Learning Initiative, Huayu 101
    Jun 13, 2018

    TAIPEI, Taiwan--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced the launch of an online learning initiative called “Huayu 101”, a brand new online Mandarin learning material, at the end of May in Taipei, Taiwan.

    Professor Chang Yuhsin from the University of Taipei, the designer of “Huayu 101”, has more than 20 years Mandarin teaching experience. In order to provide easier learning experience, he and his team collect key phrases that people should learn for basic survival. The contents of “Huayu 101” include accommodation, shopping, food ordering, traffic, emergency help, etc. It’s useful for foreign students and travelers those stay in Taiwan, and can be applied to other Mandarin-speaking regions.

    To attract and motivate young people to learn Mandarin in Taiwan, MOE works with Logan D. Beck, a hotshot youtuber, to produce 2 videos of promoting Mandarin learning and Taiwan’s culture. The first video, “Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage” had reached 50,000 views within a night and it's over 150,000 hits now. In the press conference, Beck and Mr. Liu, a known rice cake seller, have shown the usage of “Huayu 101” with living drama of night market.

    In response to the global demand for Chinese language education, Taiwan’s Chinese language education sector is vigorously looking outward and international marketing. This led to planning and implementing the Eight-year Chinese Language Education Promotion Plan (2013–2020). Under this plan the Office of Global Mandarin Education was set up to integrate the resources and results of Chinese language education in Taiwan. In order to promote Mandarin learning in Taiwan, MOE invited the Ministry of Transportation and Communication's Tourism Bureau and the Small and Medium Enterprise Administration of the Ministry of Economic Affairs to be co-organizers, and integrated tourism and Chinese-learning resources to create a brand new study-tour model, "Mandarin On-the-Go" in Taiwan. Anyone who is interested in programs above is welcomed to check the information on the official website.(https://ogme.edu.tw/Home/tw)

    OGME (Office of Global Mandarin Education)
    Kuo-Ning Chi, +886-2-2391-1368 ext.1360

    - ASIA TODAY News Global Distribution http://www.AsiaToday.com

    Future robots need no motors
    Jun 10, 2018

    Future robots need no motors HKU Engineering invents world’s first nickel-hydroxide actuating material that can be triggered by both light and electricity

    To develop micro- and biomimetic-robots, artificial muscles and medical devices, actuating materials that can reversibly change their volume under various stimuli are researched in the past thirty years to replace traditional bulky and heavy actuators including motors and pneumatic actuators.

    A mechanical engineering team led by Professor Alfonso Ngan Hing-wan, Chair Professor in Materials Science and Engineering, and Kingboard Professor in Materials Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) published an article in Science Robotics on 30 May 2018 (EST) that introduces a novel actuating material – nickel hydroxide-oxyhydroxide – that can be powered by visible (Vis) light, electricity, and other stimuli. The material actuation can be instantaneously triggered by Vis light to produce a fast deformation and exert a force equivalent to 3000 times of its own weight. The material cost of a typical actuator is as low as HKD 4 per cm2 and can be easily fabricated within three hours.

    Among various stimuli, light-induced actuating materials are highly desirable because they enable wireless operation of robots. However, very few light driven materials are available in the past, and their material and production costs are high, which hinder their development in actual applications such as artificial muscles for robotics and human assist device, and minimally invasive surgical and diagnostic tools.

    Developing actuating materials was identified as the top of the 10 challenges in “The grand challenges of Science Robotics”1. Research in actuating materials can radically change the concept of robots which are now mainly motor-driven. Therefore, materials that can be actuated by wireless stimuli including a change in temperature, humidity, magnetic fields and light is one of the main research focus in recent years. In particular, a material that can be actuated by Vis light and produces strong, quick and stable actuation has never been achieved. The novel actuating material system – nickel hydroxide-oxyhydroxide that can be actuated by Vis light at relatively low intensity to produce high stress and speed comparable to mammalian skeletal muscles has been developed in this research initiated by engineers in HKU.

    In addition to its Vis light actuation properties, this novel material system can also be actuated by electricity, enabling it to be integrated into the present well-developed robotics technology. It is also responsive to heat and humidity changes so that they might potentially be applied in autonomous machines that harness the tiny energy change in the environment. Because the major component is nickel, the material cost is low. The fabrication only involves electrodeposition which is a simple process, and the time required for the fabrication is around three hours, therefore the material can be easily scaled up and manufactured in industry.

    The newly invented nickel hydroxide-oxyhydroxide responses to light almost instantaneously and produces a force corresponding to about 3000 times of its own weight (Figure 1).

    1 Yang, Guang-Zhong, et al. "The grand challenges of Science Robotics." Science Robotics 3.14 (2018): eaar7650.

    When integrated into a well-designed structure, a “mini arm” made by two hinges of actuating materials can easily lift an object 50 times of its weight (Figure 2). Similarly, by utilizing a light blocker, a mini walking-bot in which only the “front leg” bent and straighten alternatively and therefore moves under illumination was made so that it can walk towards the light source (Figure 3). These demonstrate that future applications in micro-robotics including rescue robots are possible.

    The evidences above revealed that this nickel hydroxide-oxyhydroxide actuating material can have different applications in the future, including rescue robots or other mini-robots. The intrinsic actuating properties of the materials obtained from our research show that by scaling up the fabrication, artificial muscles comparable to that of mammalian skeletal muscles can be achieved, and applying it in robotics, human assist device and medical devices are possible.

    From a scientific point of view, this nickel hydroxide-oxyhydroxide actuating material is the world’s first material system that can be actuated directly by Vis light and electricity without any additional fabrication procedures. This also opens up a new research field on light-induced actuating behaviour for this material type (hydroxide-oxyhydroxides) because it has never been reported before.

    The research team members are all from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at HKU Faculty of Engineering, led by Professor Alfonso Ngan’s group in collaboration with Dr Li Wen-di. ’s group on light actuation experiment and Dr Feng Shien-ping’s group on electrodeposition experiment. The research has been published in the prestigious journal Science Robotics on 30 May 2018 with a title of “Light-stimulated actuators based on nickel hydroxide-oxyhydroxide”. The first author of this paper is Dr Kwan Kin-wa who is currently a post-doctoral fellow in Prof. Ngan’s group. The corresponding author is Prof. Ngan. The complete author list is as below: K-W. Kwan, S-J. Li, N-Y. Hau, W-D. Li, S-P. Feng, A.H.W. Ngan. This research is funded by the Research Grants Council, Hong Kong.

    For the journal paper, please click: http://robotics.sciencemag.org/content/3/18/eaat4051.full

    Media enquiry:
    Faculty of Engineering:
    Dr Kwan Kin-wa (Email: kkwkwan@connect.hku.hk)
    Professor Alfonso Ngan (Tel: 39177900; Email: hwngan@hku.hk)
    Ms Rhea Leung (Tel: 3917-8519/ 9022-7446; Email: rhea.leung@hku.hk)
    Communication and Public Affairs Office:
    Ms Trinni Choy (Tel: 2859 2606/ Email: pychoy@hku.hk)
    Ms Rashida Suffiad (Tel: 2857 8555/ email: rsuffiad@hku.hk)

    SOURCE / The University of Hong Kong

    Shanghai Forum 2018 Annual Conference Closing Ceremony
    Jun 10, 2018

    On May 28th, the three-day annual conference “Shanghai Forum 2018” held its closing ceremony at Fudan University. At the closing ceremony, each high-level round table gave a report on the current status and main conclusions of their talk. Park In-kook, president of the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies, and Jiao Yang, chairperson of the Fudan University Council, delivered their speeches respectively. Chen Zhimin, vice president of Fudan University, hosted the closing ceremony.

    This year, nearly one thousand political, business and academic elites and media representatives from all over the world gathered at Fudan University. Focusing on the theme of “Asia’s Responsibilities in a World of Change”, they aim at seeking Asia's future mission in the new global political and economic pattern.

    During the conference, through various forms of seminars, round-table discussions, and high-level conversation, experiences were shared among regions ranging from North America, Northern Europe, Central Europe, to Central Asia, ASEAN, Africa, and countries along the Belt and Road. A series of important issues have been discussed, in domains of international relations, the Belt and Road initiative, artificial intelligence, green governance, green financial innovation, digital health, the response to aging problem, the exploitation and governance of polar region, etc. Policy advice and decision-making reference have been provided on how Shanghai, China and Asia should react to the profound adjustments of international political and economic patterns, and how Asia can offer its resources and wit in a broader pattern of global governance.

    The Forum believes that confronted with the restructuring of the global political and economic pattern, the current fragmented and inefficient system of global governance has become incapable of coping with the emerging global challenges. New trends and changes are constantly spreading. Asia needs to consolidate cooperation and and collaborate to meet the challenges.

    Asia has a vast land with perse cultures, various political systems, and uneven levels of economic development. Faced with a complexity of traditional and non-traditional challenges, the entire Asian region needs to be more closely united, collaborate and integrate, deepen mutual political trust, increase mutual support, and build a community of shared future that treats and helps each other as equals, that shares weal and woe. Asia needs to adhere to inclusiveness and and strengthen a pragmatic cooperation. The rapid economic growth in Asia has remained among the highest contribution rates to the world economic growth, meanwhile it is also a beneficiary of the economic globalization.

    At present, Asia should continue to promote the regional cooperation system through dialogues and negotiations between countries. It should seize the opportunity of a new round of science&technology and industrial revolution, strive to achieve interconnection among trade, capital, and infrastructure, and build an open economic cooperation that motivates a constant rapid growth of the regional economy.

    Before the closing ceremony, the forum's organizing committee specially held a high-level conversation titled “Brain Science and Machine Learning: What Next?” The invited speakers included: Peter Dayan, fellow of the Royal Society and co-recipient of the Brain Prize in 2017; Li Zhaoping, professor of computational neuroscience in the Department of Computer Science in University College London; Shi Yu, professor of Physics at Fudan University; Xu Yingjin Changjiang Young Scholar by the Ministry of Education of P.R.C., and professor of Philosophy at Fudan University; and Zhu Pinpin, CEO, creator and founder of Xiaoi Robot. They exchanged thoughts on the cutting-edge issues in relevant fields, and proposed their countermeasures and suggestions for breaking down bottlenecks. The conversation was hosted by Zhang Lifen, professor of Journalism at Fudan University and former founding editor of FTChinese.com.

    More than 400 representatives from political, business and academic fields and media representatives at home and abroad were presented on the closing day. Chen Zhimin, vice president of Fudan University, announced the successful conclusion of the Shanghai Forum 2018 and expressed appreciations to the participation of guests all over the world and the contribution of volunteers.

    SOURCE / Fudan University, China

    NUS biologists discover gene responsible for unique appearance of butterflies’ dorsal wings
    Jun 10, 2018

    The apterous A gene also impacts dorsal wing eyespot patterns and sex-specific traits

    Butterflies often display strikingly different colour or patterns on the dorsal (top) and ventral (bottom) sides of their wings. A study by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has revealed that the gene apterous A is responsible for the appearance of the dorsal wings of butterflies.

    This interesting discovery was made when Associate Professor Antonia Monteiro and her PhD student, Ms Anupama Prakash, who are from the Department of Biological Sciences at the NUS Faculty of Science, studied the expression and functions of apterous A in the African squinting bush brown butterfly, Bicyclus anynana, which has a well annotated genome, during its wing developmental stage.

    Patterns on each wing surface serve different functions

    The diversity in the appearance of the dorsal and ventral wings of many butterflies has evolved due to the varying functions of each wing surface.

    When the butterflies are resting with their wings closed, the ventral surfaces are exposed; the patterns on these surfaces usually enable camouflage and avoidance of predators. In contrast, the dorsal surfaces, seen when the wings are opened, are often coloured and patterned specifically to attract potential mates. The mechanisms involved in how these distinct differences occur, however, were not clear.

    apterous A gene responsible for unique appearance of dorsal wing

    The gene apterous A has been found to play a role in the wing development of some insect species, in functions such as the outgrowth of the wing and determination of the dorsal-ventral boundary. The research team thus hypothesised that it could be involved in differentiating the appearance of the two wing surfaces.

    The NUS biologists investigated the expression of apterous A in the butterfly’s wings and then selectively removed it from the genome in a gene knockout process to verify its functions in wing development and patterning.

    The experiments revealed that apterous A was expressed solely on the dorsal wing surfaces of the butterflies, and not on the ventral surfaces. Additionally, during the gene knockout process, the researchers discovered that mutating apterous A in the butterflies’ genome caused defects in wing development.

    However, the scientists also observed additional effects on the butterfly wings.

    “When this gene is mutated, the dorsal wing patterns of butterflies with the mutated genome develop the same patterns as their ventral wing surfaces. This means that apterous A is involved in the determination of the appearance of the dorsal surface,” said Ms Prakash.

    This gene is likely to interact with other genes found on the dorsal wing surfaces to direct the patterning of the dorsal wing surface.

    Inhibitor of eyespot patterns

    During their studies, the NUS team discovered that apterous A also acts as an inhibitor of the formation of eyespot patterns — markings that resemble an eye — on the dorsal surfaces of the butterfly wings. When the gene was deleted, multiple additional eyespots developed on these dorsal wing surfaces – as many as the number present on the ventral surfaces.

    “In the evolution of butterfly wing patterns, eyespots appeared on the dorsal wing surfaces of butterflies long after their origin on the ventral surfaces, but the reason for this was unclear,” said Assoc Prof Monteiro.

    She added, “We discovered that in the small regions on the dorsal wing surfaces where a few eyespot centres were observed, there was an absence of apterous A gene expression. This implies that the local repression of apterous A is likely to have caused eyespots to finally develop at these locations.”

    apterous A gene involved in sex-specific wing traits

    The researchers also noticed that the presence of the apterous A gene had an effect on sex-specific wing traits on the fore- and hindwings on the dorsal surfaces. On males’ dorsal forewings, it acts as a repressor, inhibiting the male pheromone producing organs and silver scale development. On their dorsal hindwings however, it acts as an activator, promoting the development of pheromone disseminating hairs and silver scales.

    The NUS researchers believe that the apterous A gene likely interacts with other sex-specific and wing-specific factors to impact the development of these traits.

    Application as a biomarker and future work

    “This study has identified a gene that influences surface-specific wing patterns in butterflies. This can potentially be used as a biomarker to understand how specific cells produce the different colours and patterns that we see on butterfly wings,” said Ms Prakash.

    “Since apterous A is expressed only in cells of the dorsal surface, we can now identify dorsal-specific cells based on this gene expression. This is very useful if, for example, we want to study how a certain colour develops. In some butterfly species such as the Morphos, the ventral surface is mostly brown while the dorsal surface is blue. Isolating dorsal-specific cells by using apterous A as a marker can help us study how these blue scales are developing,” she elaborated.

    Looking forward, the research team will continue studying the function of the apterous A gene in butterflies. This will include determining if the gene performs similarly in other families of butterflies, and in butterflies without surface-specific wing patterns, as well as investigating the way it represses eyespot pattern development.

    The findings were published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London in early 2018.

    SOURCE / National University of Singapore

    Novel water-absorbing gel invented by NUS researchers harnesses air moisture for practical applications
    Jun 10, 2018

    Unique hydrogel performs eight times better than commercial drying agents, blocks sunlight, conducts electricity and powers small devices

    High humidity causes discomfort and makes hot days feel more unbearable. A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has invented a novel gel-like material that not only effectively dehumidifies ambient air to improve thermal comfort, but it also harnesses the moisture in the air for a wide range of practical applications, such as functioning as a sun or privacy screen, conductive ink and even a battery. And all these interesting properties are inherent in the material after water absorption, without a need for external power.

    The unique hydrogel is a form of zinc oxide – a compound found in sunscreen – in a gel-like state. It can absorb water from the surrounding environment more than 2.5 times its weight and performs at least eight times better than commercial drying agents. It is suitable for both indoor and outdoor applications, and is also cheap and easy to produce.

    “Singapore, like many tropical countries, experience high levels of relative humidity between 70 to 80 per cent. In a humid environment, the air is saturated with water and as a result, sweat on our body evaporates more slowly. This causes us to feel hotter than the actual ambient temperature, leading to great discomfort. Our novel hydrogel aims to achieve a cooling effect by removing moisture from ambient air very efficiently,” said Assistant Professor Tan Swee Ching from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the NUS Faculty of Engineering, who led the research.

    “This novel hydrogel performs at least eight times better than existing drying agents, such as silica gel and calcium chloride, in removing moisture from the air – it can absorb more water, works faster and uses less material. Unlike energy-intensive dehumidifying and air-conditioning systems, this hydrogel does not require electricity to operate. It can be easily coated onto walls, windows and even decorative items (such as a sculpture) to perform the dehumidifying function,” Asst Prof Tan added.

    Enhancing thermal comfort

    Hydrogels are materials which contain large amounts of water and are commonly used in contact lenses, wound dressing and personal care products. Recently, hydrogels are also used for biomedical applications, such as tissue engineering and drug delivery. However, the ability of hydrogels to absorb water from surrounding air has not been well explored.

    The novel hydrogel developed by the NUS Engineering team extracts water molecules from surrounding air directly, and reduces relative humidity in a confined space from 80 per cent to 60 per cent – within the thermal comfort zone – in less than seven minutes.

    This material is suitable for reducing relative humidity in both indoor and outdoor environments, such as in hospital wards and classrooms without air conditioning, as well as in parks and bus stops.

    Harnessing humidity for wide-ranging applications

    Asst Prof Tan explained, “Moisture in the air is an abundant resource, but there are few attempts to harvest and put it to good use. When our novel hydrogel absorbs water, we observed that it displays interesting optical, electrical and electrochemical properties. This opens up a wide range of useful applications.”

    After taking in water from the environment, the novel hydrogel becomes opaque and reduces infrared transmission by about 50 per cent. This translates into a reduction in ambient temperature by more than seven degrees Celsius. Hence, the hydrogel can be used as a smart window material to block off the heat from natural sunlight while doubling up as a privacy screen. When used together with air conditioners, building or home owners could enjoy savings in energy cost as the cooler ambient air will require less electricity to chill it to the desired temperature.

    Another interesting application of the hydrogel is to function as a conductive ink on printed circuit boards commonly found in electronic devices. The gel-like nature of the material makes it highly attractive for flexible electronics. The hydrogel can be erased easily with common solvents such as vinegar, so that the circuit boards could be reused. This would help to cut down electronic waste.

    The research team also discovered that the hydrogel can generate about 1.8 volts of electricity – similar to the AA battery – which is sufficient to power devices such as a small digital clock. As such, the material may also be used as an emergency power source in situations where there is no sunlight or electricity supply.

    These research findings have been published online in the scientific journal Energy & Environmental Science on 24 May 2018.

    Next steps

    The development of the novel hydrogel is supported by NUS and the Singapore Ministry of Education. Following the promising results of using the hydrogel to significantly reduce relative humidity, the research team, with support from the NUS Industry Liaison Office, has received substantial funding from Temasek Foundation Ecosperity to test this novel application on a larger scale in both indoor and outdoor spaces.

    The NUS research team has filed a patent for their invention, and the researchers will conduct more studies to further advance the application of the different properties of the novel hydrogel.

    Taurine deficiency in sperm causes male infertility, study finds
    May 21, 2018

    Sperm are highly specialized cells adapted to achieve a single goal: fertilize an egg. Along the road to fertilization sperm must embark on a lengthy journey to the female oviduct, avoiding several fatal stresses that occur when they pass through different physiological environments. However, the events that allow sperm cells to achieve fertilization under these conditions are only partially understood.

    In a study published in The FEBS Journal, Atsushi Asano at the University of Tsukuba reports his research grouphas uncovered a cell volume regulator in sperm cells that plays a key role in maintaining their shape and fertility.

    Most of a cell’s mass consists of water, and this water can determine a cell’s volume. The membrane that surrounds each cell is leaky, so cells can take in or release excess water depending on how much water surrounds them (a phenomenon known as “osmosis”). This property is analogous to how a sponge behaves—like a sponge taking on too much water, changes in water levels can drastically change the volume, and eventually the shape, of a cell.

    “Cells have sensor mechanisms that let them compensate for changes in their osmotic environment,” says corresponding author Atsushi Asano, an assistant professor of the University of Tsukuba. “Without these compensatory sensors, cells would experience excessive volume changes leading to a ruptured membrane or other morphological problems. This type of sensor is fairly common in cells, but we were surprised to find one that plays a significant role in the function of sperm cells.”

    Previously, it was found that male mice lacking cysteine dioxygenase (CDO) are infertile. CDO is a protein known to make the amino acid taurine, which in turn is known to play a role in osmosis. While these facts are not new, the precise role of CDO and taurine in fertilization has been a long-standing controversy.

    In the study, the researchers confirmed that male mice missing CDO are indeed more likely to be infertile compared with their healthy counterparts – over 10 times more likely, in fact. They also found taurine levels dropped dramatically in the sperm cells of these mice. This suggested a clear link between the two defects, but was a conundrum in these findings: sperm are unable to make proteins, including CDO. How, then, were the sperm obtaining the taurine that was so critical to their function? The team discovered that, rather than making their own taurine, the sperm cells absorbed taurine while passing through the male genital tract.

    “The absorption process looks to be an important survival strategy for sperm during fertilization, since mature sperm cannot produce proteins on their own,” co-author Ai Ushiyama says. “The findings convinced us that taurine was essential to the fertilization process, but we still had to figure out what exactly taurine was doing in sperm cells.”

    The researchers keyed in on one telling clue, an unusual “kink” in the tail of the sperm. Sperm cells in CDO-deficient mice were nearly twice as likely to have a wrongly-angled tail when placed in an environment like that of a uterus. Strikingly, the defect disappeared when the sperm were supplied with extra taurine. These observations led the authors to conclude that, by controlling osmosis, taurine helped to maintain the right shape of sperm during fertilization.

    “Our findings show that the production of taurine by CDO in the male reproductive tract, and its absorption by sperm, are pivotal mechanisms for male fertility,” Asano concludes. “We believe that as sperm travel through different osmotic environments, the level of taurine inside the cell shifts to balance the change in cell volume. This prevents excess changes in shape caused by an influx or efflux of water, allowing the sperm to successfully complete fertilization under difficult environmental conditions.”

    SOURCE / University of Tsukuba Japan