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[USR Summit 2022 Post-Event Highlights] PolyU interdisciplinary research offers solutions to global challenges

(Presented by: Prof. Wenzhong Shi, Director of Otto Poon Charitable Foundation Smart Cities Research Institute and PolyU-Shenzhen Technology and Innovation Research Institute (Futian); Prof. Xiao Lin Zhao, Chair Professor of Civil Infrastructure; Ir Prof. Shengwei Wang, Director of Research Institute for Smart Energy, Chair Professor of Building Energy and Automation, Otto Poon Charitable Foundation Professor in Smart Building, Department of Building Environment and Energy Engineering; Ir Prof. Yongping Zheng; Henry G. Leong Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Director of Research Institute for Smart Ageing, Director of Jockey Club Smart Ageing Hub, Chair Professor of Department of Biomedical Engineering; and Ir Prof. Albert Chan, Dean of Students, Associate Director of Research Institute for Sustainable Urban Development, Able Professor in Construction Health and Safety, and Chair Professor of Construction Engineering and Management/ Moderated by: Prof. Qingyan Chen, Director of PolyU Academy for Interdisciplinary Research (PAIR), Chair Professor of Building Thermal Science, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University)

With unprecedented challenges threatening the world, interdisciplinary research has the strength to tackle issues that cannot be solved with traditional discipline-specific research. An interdisciplinary research hub established by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University showcased a number of impactful collaborative research addressing issues relating to climate change, energy shortage, ageing population and the recent pandemic in an international summit.

The International USR Summit 2022, co-organised by the University Social Responsibility Network (USRN) and The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), was held virtually from 16 to 18 November 2022. Scholars from The PolyU Academy for Interdisciplinary Research (PAIR), a central research platform at PolyU dedicated to providing interdisciplinary solutions to significant societal challenges, presented their research projects in the PAIR plenary panel on “Collaborative Research to Address Global Challenges” to the global audiences.

Prof. Xiao Lin Zhao, Chair Professor of Civil Infrastructure at PolyU, presented a research project on Sustainable and Smart Floating Structure Solution (S2FS2) as a response to United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – in particular Goal 2 on zero hunger, Goal 7 on affordable and clean energy and Goal 11 on sustainable cities and communities. It is a collaborative effort of five PAIR’s research institutes at PolyU, namely Research Institute for Land and Space, Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence of Things, Research Institute for Future Food, Photonics Research Institute and Otto Poon Charitable Foundation Research Institute for Smart Energy (RISE).

The research took reference from floating farms in Singapore, Rotterdam, China and Hong Kong, and floating farm and city ideas from Barcelona, New York, and other places, to understand the challenges of building and maintaining a sustainable and smart floating farm in terms of scale, efficiency, stability, durability, energy transmission and energy storage.

“The world’s population is increasing rapidly and our cities are getting very crowded,” said Prof Zhao, “so we need innovative solutions to create land and also to enhance livability. We strongly believe that the floating solution could partially replace land reclamation with reduced environmental impact, construction time and cost.” He advocated for more collaborative research addressing the global challenges.

On the other hand, in high-density cities like Hong Kong, how high-rise buildings achieve carbon neutrality is a real challenge. Prof. Shengwei Wang, Chair Professor of Building Energy and Automation and Director of RISE at PolyU, presented a collaborative research project on smart energy technologies and carbon-neutrality. He highlighted that energy flexibility and efficiency could be practical and effective contributions of high-rise buildings for overall carbon-neutrality by facilitating high renewable penetrations in power grids.

“We are applying this energy-efficient and energy-flexible building technologies in newly developed macro buildings, like the West Kowloon Station topside commercial development. This is what we’ve done in collaboration with the major developer,” said Prof. Wang.

Prof. Albert Chan, Dean of Students, Chair Professor of Construction Engineering and Management and Associate Director of the Research Institute for Sustainable Urban Development at PolyU, led a research project focusing on engineering solutions to reduce the risk of heat stress specifically for outdoor workers.

“Global warming induces a lot of heat-related incidents, not only in Hong Kong, but in other parts of the world,” said Prof. Chan. The subtropical climate of Hong Kong poses extra risk to construction industry workers who have prolonged hours of work in an outdoor environment with strenuous physical activities.

Prof. Chan and the team collaborated with experts in occupational safety, textile science and sports science to develop an anti-heat stress work uniform for construction workers. The uniform is made up of a polo shirt top and cargo pants bottom, both made with advanced fabrics that leverage nanotechnology to wick sweat away from the skin. The uniform was recommended by government departments in Hong Kong and Macau, and was introduced to other outdoor workers of gardening, logistics and drainage. The technology was also exported to Cambodia and Saudi Arabia.

“This demonstrates how active collaboration among academics, industry and government can improve health and safety policy, practice and processes across the construction industry and beyond,” said Prof. Chan.

Rapidly increasing ageing population is another big challenge globally. By 2030, one in six people in the world will be aged 60 years or over.

Prof. Yongping Zheng, Chair Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Director of the Research Institute for Smart Ageing (RISA) at PolyU, introduced RISA in the Summit. RISA is a unit composed of scholars from six faculties and three independent schools, with ageing research connected with all these different academic departments and other partners and practitioners, locally and globally.

“We not only support non-governmental organisations taking care of the elderly, but also collaborate with them. We have professionals visit them to see how gerontechnology is being used,” said Prof. Zheng. He explained the need to bridge the gap between research and applications of gerontechnology, “Users sometimes may not have the same information as the providers, and researchers do not always know what the real situation is.”

As an important aspect of collaboration, RISA has successfully recruited a number of smart ambassadors who are 70 years old on average. Prof. Zheng said with a smile, “Many of them are very smart. They can demonstrate and present the new technology even better than our undergraduate student assistant.”

The outbreak of COVID-19 shows how unprepared the world can be in front of a pandemic. Prof. Wenzhong Shi, Chair Professor of Geographical Information Science and Remote Sensing and Director of the Otto Poon Charitable Foundation Smart Cities Research Institute of PolyU, trusted that predicting the spatiotemporal risk of COVID-19 is the key to formulating place-specific precise control measures.

He introduced the applications of the lately developed extended Weight Kernel Density Estimation model for short-term COVID-19 spatiotemporal onset risk prediction. By flexibly incorporating COVID-19 cases data, virus transmissibility and mobility data in different granularities, the model has been used to predict COVID-19 onset risk and evaluate anti-epidemic measures in various countries, regions and cities.

He also recommended the use of urban informatics to support the building of smart cities. He co-edited a book named Urban Informatics, which introduced systematically the principles of urban informatics, including urban system theories, techniques and tools for urban big data acquisition, infrastructure and analytics, as well as focusing these new tools on urban problems and possible solutions.

International USR Summit 2022 Plenary Panel: Collaborative Research to Address Global Challenges
by PolyU Academy for Interdisciplinary Research (PAIR)

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