Multimedia gets creative about science
Published on 08 Dec 2021

Many Croucher scholars have acknowledged the benefits they have obtained from involvement in Croucher Science Week. In the case of Dr Krates Ng Hing Ngok (Croucher Scholarship 1995), the positive experience also inspired him to extend his own career horizons as well as those of the students he teaches. “Education is my passion. I love to talk to kids and teens, and I think the world needs more scientists because science and technology, put to good use, can help society,” he said.

Ng is an electronic engineer and computer scientist, who specialises in computer animation, graphics, and multimedia programmes for education. He is currently Senior Lecturer in the School of Science at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).

Ng clearly remembers how he was first inspired by science and technology at secondary school, but not during a formal lesson. He observed some of his teachers playing Space Invaders on an Atari video game console and was immediately fascinated. He joined the school computer club and learned some basic programming skills. Following this, he joined the Amateur Radio club.

On completion of secondary school, he became the first generation of his family to go to university, taking a Bachelor’s degree in Electronic Engineering at the University of Northumbria in the UK. Later, he went on to complete a DPhil at the University of Sussex, receiving his Croucher award in 1995 to support his studies.

At Sussex, he explored computer animation of soft materials, such as clothing, for film, game and TV production applications. He also holds an MBA from the University of Birmingham, UK, an MA in Visual Culture Studies from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and recently a Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) at the Education University of Hong Kong to enhance his teaching skills further.

As a scientist or engineer, you need to be multidisciplinary, he noted. “If you want to design a successful product, you really need to know about the target market first. We live in a business world and scientists need to be practical,” he said.

In addition to his teaching and research roles, Ng acts as an honorary technical advisor to commercial start-ups. These enterprises include Farm 66, a high-rise indoor aquaponics farm business, and AllRightsReserved, an award-winning creative studio, which brought the giant yellow rubber duck to Victoria Harbour as a maritime art installation in 2013.

As an educator, Ng is concerned about the traditional cultural bias in Hong Kong that means parents tend to encourage their children to pursue careers in law, medicine, or finance, while science and technology carry less social status. However, he believes attitudes are gradually changing as more students possess a global outlook and are willing to study or work overseas.

Ng has also been involved in designing curricula in international and local schools and has found different philosophies at work, with local schools often less inclined to encourage students to engage in experimentation and questioning. “Most kids are born as scientists. They ask questions all the time and they are curious about the natural world. But the current education system cannot always satisfy their hunger for knowledge,” he said.

When Ng received information from The Croucher Foundation in 2017 about its Science Week communication programme, he immediately signed up and attended an interview. He and other Croucher scholars went on to receive special presentation training from professional instructors. “We really had to perform as entertainers, so it was a challenge for an introvert scientist, even one with years of teaching and lecturing experience,” he said.

For Ng, the “big takeaway” from the course was the importance of audience reaction. He took that into the performances he subsequently delivered with colleagues at the Hong Kong Science Museum, and to students in local primary, secondary, and special needs schools.

His show combined a presentation of his own career, along with a set piece replicating Galileo’s Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment. As part of the experiment, students attending the event had to predict which of two balloons of different mass would land first when dropped from the same height. The reaction was overwhelming. “After we performed our show with water-filled balloons, the kids just went crazy,” he recalled.

When Ng discussed his work in computer animation, he told his student audiences of his first experience watching special effects in action in the film, Star Wars, and took a lightsaber on stage to attract the audience’s attention. He does not regard this as dumbing down or trivialising serious scientific research and endeavour. “As scientists and educators, we have a duty to promote science. If you can find an approach that can engage the general public, you are obliged to try this new idea,” he said.

As with many Croucher scholars who engage with the Croucher Science Week, Ng found that he derived benefits from the experience. His presentation skills in particular improved because he learned how to put himself in the shoes of his audience and look for their reaction.

It also had the immediate impact of inspiring Ng to expand his experience as an educator and to change his job from assistant professor at the Vocational Training Council’s Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong, where he had worked since 2012, to the school sector.

On joining the Independent Schools Foundation (ISF) Academy in 2018 as research scientist, Ng was tasked with re-designing the school’s science and technology education content and presenting a roadmap to its directors. He based this ambitious project on the principles learned at the Croucher Science Week: if science and engineering course content is fun and relevant to daily life, students will be better engaged and learn more effectively.

One example was setting up a l computer programming project related to the school’s air-quality monitoring sensors. Students had to obtain air pollution data and relate this to locally reported cases of asthma using Python programming. In this way, computer knowledge was used to explore the correlation between air quality and human health. Data processing, which had previously been perceived as a boring subject, became a topical enquiry into the environment and health.

Ng has adopted the same principles in his current senior lecturer role at HKUST, which he joined in 2020. There, he has responsibility for curriculum content design, which he combines with lecturing and research.

His effectiveness as a university lecturer has also been positively affected by his Croucher Science Week communication training. Now he notices that his students answer questions more. He looks for eye contact. He also sees they are laughing and engaged during lectures. “It has made a huge impact on my daily teaching duties. Some university lecturers are contented to talk and allow students to listen passively. But now I emphasise greater audience participation and interaction,” he said.

Meanwhile, he is setting an example to his students on the impact of science and technology on innovative real-world applications, he has been working with different companies to develop research projects using the latest technologies and one of which is an ambitious artificial intelligence (AI) research project proposal that will allow TV production companies to maximise commercial revenue from digital programme content.

“Why can’t you apply your scientific skills in a creative way?” he said.

Dr Krates Ng Hing Ngok is Senior Lecturer at the School of Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He has a BEng (Hons) in Electronic Engineering, DPhil, and MBA from Northumbria, Sussex, and Birmingham universities in the UK, respectively, an MA from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and a PGDE at the Education University of Hong Kong with Distinction . He is a dedicated educator and computer scientist, with a passion for education using technology, and close to 20 years’ experience of curriculum design, programme leadership, and teaching of technology-related subjects. He also has solid experience in the commercial sector of the multimedia field. He received his Croucher award in 1995.

Further Reading:

  1. Dr Ng’s personal profile (The Croucher Foundation): https://scholars.croucher.org.hk/scholars/ng-hing-ngok-krates
  2. Photos of the giant yellow rubber duck maritime art installation in 2013: https://www.campaignasia.com/gallery/giant-rubber-duck-makes-victoria-harbour-its-bathtub/341908