Date
11 December 2017
Dr Vivien Lu Lin (inset), an associate professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, led a research effort to develop a cost-effective, self-cleaning nano-coating for glass curtain walls. Photos: PolyU, HKEJ
Dr Vivien Lu Lin (inset), an associate professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, led a research effort to develop a cost-effective, self-cleaning nano-coating for glass curtain walls. Photos: PolyU, HKEJ

Universities as innovation drivers: The challenges are many

Window washing is considered a strenuous task that comes with the danger of falling. One way to minimize the risk is to use self-cleaning glass that doesn’t require frequent scrubbing. However, there is a problem as self-cleaning glass curtain walls are often considered too expensive. 

To address the issue, Dr Vivien Lu Lin, an associate professor at the Department of Building Services Engineering at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, led a research effort to develop a cost-effective, self-cleaning nano-coating for glass curtain walls.

In an interview with the Hong Kong Economic Journal, Lu spoke about the PolyU invention and discussed the challenges in commercialization and industrialization of research from academic institutions.

Spending four years on developing the nano-coating technology, Lu said she was struggling to find a balance between commercialization and technology research.

“For us, teaching and research should be a top priority, that’s our responsibility. If all the research staff in the universities go to start their own businesses, who would do the teaching?”

Lu and her research team invented a low-cost self-cleaning nano-coating for glass that can keep walls clean and durable. Benefits include the ability to block up to 99 percent of UV rays and over 90 percent of Infrared rays, and to dissolve organic dirt through photocatalysis.

The PolyU invention won the Global Innovation Awards at the TechConnect World Conference and Expo 2017.

Apart from curtain walls, mirrors and glass windows, the coating can be readily applied to buildings and skyscrapers in the city.

The coating has already attracted several property developers and has been adopted on a trial basis in a shopping mall. However, it is not always easy for Lu and her team to convince the prospective customers to try out the new technology.

“Companies in Hong Kong don’t like to take risk; they want to see if there is any actual application case before they consider trying it themselves. But then, who would be the first to try?” said Lu.

She also outlined the challenges that one faces in hiring suitable technology talents for research.

“Hong Kong graduates, in general, have low interest in research jobs in labs,” Lu said, noting that her team consists mainly of people from mainland China.

As Chinese companies compete to hire young talents in the field, dangling eye-popping salaries and perks, it is not easy for universities to retain top professionals.

“For a professor in the scientific field, Chinese companies would offer an annual salary of up to HK$2 million, with an established research team and research funding of around HK$20 million,” said Lu.

Driven by technology innovation, the so-called ‘new economy’ sectors are enjoying fast growth in the mainland, and companies are paying huge salaries for tech talents.

Lu said she knows of some professors from Shanghai universities who secured huge salary hikes when they switched to work as consultants in business firms.

“They then pooled their money to invest in real estate and have now become multi-millionaires.”

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 4

Translation by Ben Ng

[Chinese version 中文版]

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BN/RC

Hong Kong Economic Journal

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