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August 2018
What Makes a Scientist?
Prof. Gary Wong, Head of Department of Chemistry, HKBU
Science is crucial to our lives. It is one of the most important channels of knowledge since it helps generate solutions for everyday life and helps us answer the great mysteries of the universe. Scientific research, essentially, is one of the ways in responding to societal needs and global challenges. It also acts as a variety of functions for the benefit of our society by improving education and increasing the quality of our lives.

Talking about my invention, Lanthanide Toolbox, I came up with the idea when I first got to know about Joubert syndrome. It is a rare genetic disorder that affects the cerebellum, an area of the brain that controls balance and coordination. About one in every 100,000 babies born is affected in the world. I believe early detection is important so that patients could benefit from stimulation, such as physical, occupational, speech and hearing therapy. Joubert syndrome is a member of an emerging class of diseases called Ciliopathies a dysfunctional molecular mechanism in the primary cilia (PC) structures of the human cell. It is also found that the dysfunctions of PC signaling correlate strongly in human polycystic kidney diseases, epithelial ovarian cancer, as well as aberrant skeletal development diseases.

Yet, the role of primary cilium in cell regulation and major signaling pathways has not been clearly known since there is a lack of direct and specific imaging methods. Therefore, I developed a new product called “Lanthanide Toolbox”. It is actually a marker which helps visualize primary cilium directly. The invention provides simplicity of the design and synthesis of a compound which exhibits the specific subcellular localisation in the PC.

As a research scientist, I find there are two most common characteristics among many of us, logical thinking and patience. The former is important because it enables one to analyse, evaluate and explain the scientific method and uncertainty. Through this process, they can understand and identify the connections between ideas and also strengthen the arguments. It allows me to keep going ahead to the next project or experiment too. Besides, scientists must have patience to undergo years of work to make a discovery in the scientific field. They should keep a sense of optimism even failing most of the experiments. They need to keep trying and be patient to repeat the work multiple times to obtain a satisfactory result since every time they failed, they could be one step closer to the conclusion.

If you are thinking of pursuing scientific research in the future, let me share with you a few tips. First, most people might think science is an uncreative field. In reality, people pursuing scientific research must be creative. You have to ask as many questions as possible (of course meaningful questions) and always ask ‘Why something happens?’. This allows you to think outside the box and get new ideas. Second, you should not be afraid of failure when doing scientific research. Nowadays, many teenagers are likely to escape from failures or matters that bother them. However, they should be determined and understand that the research work may take several years to reach a conclusion. There are more challenges ahead and each of them is a milestone to achieve success. Last, you must be able to work independently and as part of a team. It may be true that you often work alone when conducting research. Yet, you should support and help one another. Sometimes, you might get innovative ideas from your team members just by chatting or sharing your experience with them.

During my journey of discovery, I am so grateful to have Prof. David Parker from the University of Durham as my supervisor in my post-doctoral fellowship. He is not only a boss but a role model and an inspiration to his students. His generous support as well as all the formal and random discussions with him has definitely influenced my research interest in this field. He is always willing to share his experiences with us, no matter whether it’s related to the scientific research or daily life matters. That's how we have been keeping the relationship until now and still counting!

Contributed by Prof. Gary Wong
Head of Department of Chemistry, HKBU

Prof. Gary Wong
Prof. Gary Wong (left) poses for a photo with Prof. David Parker (right).
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