Inno Wing TECH TALKs

About the Inno Wing Tech Talk
Tech Talk is a series of forums and dialogues given by engineering researchers of diverse academic backgrounds to share their insights on innovation-related topics.
TECH Talks

Tech Talk – Smarter, smaller and softer robots for medical image-guided minimally invasive surgery

In recent years, there has been a trend towards integrating small, soft and deformable structures into surgical robot systems. Target applications include endoscopy or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-guided intervention, where researchers take advantage of soft and flexible robots for their inherent mechanical compliance. However, these flexible robotic systems are often controlled in an open loop or with positional feedback from 3D tracking devices. Not only the real-time feedback of flexible/soft robot configuration or morphology itself is of importance, but also the robot manipulation modelling, as well as its intelligent control, become an area of interest in the field. To this end, this talk will present various robot prototypes, which attempt to resolve unmet clinical and technical challenges for image-guided intervention or surgery, either in strong magnetic field (1.5-3T) by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner or in confined anatomical space through endoscopy. Machine intelligent approaches, and also the recent advances in continuum robot design and learning-based sensing/control will also be overviewed. These robots have to incorporate with efficient mechanical transmission, thus enabling delicate mechanical force/motion transmitted from actuators to surgical tools in a long and flexible route. The ultimate goal is to provide high-performance control of robotics instruments for safe, precise and effective surgical manipulation. The speaker will not only share his research outcome, but also various difficulties in his up-and-down research journey, from R&D in university, (pre-)clinical trials in hospital, then technology transfer for clinical applications.

Tech Talk – Wastewater-based Epidemiology: A lesson from COVID-19

Infectious diseases are one of the grand challenges to the public health today. The ability to rapidly monitor the spread of diseases in a large scale is the key for prevention, intervention and control of these diseases. Wastewater-Based Epidemiology (WBE) is based on the wastewater of a population, which means the pooled samples from thousands of people, to monitor the disease outbreaks at the community level. In the past two years, COVID-19 sewage surveillance has been applied to provide the early warning signal, to monitor the spread trend of the virus, to uncover the infected persons, and to trace the spread of different variants. In Hong Kong, the sewage surveillance technology developed by the multidisciplinary team of Civil Engineering and Public Health of the University of Hong Kong has been incorporated into the whole control strategy against COVID-19 since December 2020. Currently, the routine sewage surveillance programme of the Hong Kong Government covers more than 150 regular sampling sites in different areas, providing monitoring results for over 5 million people. Similar WBE surveillance systems have also been well-established in many countries, including USA, EU members, Australia, Singapore, etc. In the future, the wastewater surveillance systems are not only helpful in the fight against SARS-CoV-2 but also will be an essential part of the smart city to protect people’s health from known pathogens and unknown emerging new pathogens. In summary, wastewater tells us the health of a city, and we are learning how to listen to it carefully.

Tech Talk – Plastic Response of Cells: from Embryo Development to Disease Detection

Living cells need to undergo significant shape changes during processes such as cell division, migration and tissue formation. Therefore, it is commonly believed that the deformability of cells is intimately related to their capability in executing different biological duties as well as the progression of diseases. In this talk, I will discuss how irreversible deformation of cells ensures proper axial extension of embryos during their development and how the plastic response of tumor cells can be used in monitoring the progression of cancer. Specifically, I will show that the presence of active intracellular/intercellular contraction will trigger the severing and re-bundling of actin filaments in cells (leading to cellular anisotropy and plasticity), elevate the internal hydrostatic pressure of embryo and eventually drive its elongation. In particular, the gradual re-alignment of F-actins must be synchronized with the development of intracellular forces for the embryo to elongate, which is then further sustained by muscle contraction-triggered plastic deformation of cells. In addition, I will also introduce a microfluidic setup developed in our lab allowing us to impose precisely controlled cyclic deformation on cells and therefore probe their plastic characteristics. Interestingly, we found that significant plastic strain can accumulate rapidly in highly invasive cancer cell lines and circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from late-stage lung cancer patients with a characteristic time of a few seconds. In comparison, very little irreversible deformation was observed in the less invasive cell lines and CTCs from early-stage lung cancer patients, highlighting the potential of using the plastic response of cells as a novel marker in future cancer prognosis and monitoring.

Tech Talk – Re-understanding of Active Volcanoes

The conventional understanding of active volcanoes is based on the theory of hot magma (molten rock) from mantle. Although this magma theory has been widely believed in Earth Science, the prediction of volcano eruption can be incorrect. For example, the recent massive eruption of the Tonga Hunga volcano was not predicted. The devastating eruption of the Mount Ontake volcano in Japan on Sept. 27, 2014 was also not predicted and/or warned at all, consequently caused 55 fatalities, 9 missing and more than 60 injured.

In this Tech Talk, Professor Yue will present his re-understanding of active volcanoes using his methane gas theory. This methane gas theory of active volcanoes is original and can interpret all the observed phenomena associated with active volcanoes. It can be used to correctly predict and effectively reduce the occurrence of damaging volcano eruptions. It can be further used to obtain the huge amount of natural gas resources from gas chambers of active volcanoes at several kilometers below the ground rocks

Tech Talk – Unravelling the transmission of vertical outbreaks: Each drainage stack is an aerosol factory

More than 10 vertical outbreaks of COVID-19 have been observed in high-rise housing in Hong Kong. Together with the 2003 SARS Amoy Garden outbreak, these outbreaks suggest the roles of building drainage pipes in the transmission of infection, probably not limited to SARS and SARS-CoV-2. In collaboration with the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), we conducted field measurements in some of the infection venues and explore the transmission mechanisms. In this Tech talk, Professor Yuguo Li, Chair Professor of Building Environment, shall demonstrate how his proposed chimney effect explains most of these infections, how the drainage pipe was poorly ventilated, what one can do to protect our family, and what society can do to provide healthy housing. 

Inaugural Tech Talk – DIGITIZATION

The Managing Directors of two Health@InnoHK and AIR@InnoHK projects at the Faculty of Engineering, Professor Anderson Shum and Professor Norman C. Tien gave the Inaugural Tech Talk with the theme “Digitization” and introduced insightful research projects and their future development plan.

TECH Talks: Research Student Series

Tech Talk – Engineering of quantum nanodiamonds

Diamond, the most famed of all gemstones, is unique in many ways. However, beyond the sparkle, diamonds have many unique properties for copious applications. In particular, nanoscale diamond particles, generally known as nanodiamonds (NDs), have several outstanding material qualities, offering a wide range of potential for basic science and industrial applications. The practical applications of the quantum NDs are highly dependent on obtaining a well-defined surface through cleaning. Here, this talk will first present a simple, reliable, and reproducible purification method, namely, the salt-assisted air oxidation treatment, which enables scale-up manufacturing of clean NDs. At the same time, it is discovered that NDs could work as an effective agent against oral infections. These findings will significantly enhance the scope of these little gemstones in diverse scientific and industrial fields, particularly in demanding areas such as biomedical and quantum sensing.

Tech Talk – Short-range exposure during close contact and the environmental interaction

Debate and scientific inquiries regarding airborne transmission of respiratory infections such as COVID-19 and influenza continue. Exposure was investigated under a face-to-face scenario, where people experience the highest risk of respiratory infection. The short-range airborne route was found to dominate exposure during close contact. Based on the fact that most of the outbreaks occurred in indoor environments, we built the link between long-range airborne transmission and short-range airborne route. Results suggest that effective environmental prevention strategies for respiratory infections require appropriate increases in the ventilation rate while maintaining a sufficiently low occupancy.