HKU to cancel Astronomy and Maths-Physics Majors

The University of Hong Kong (HKU) is planning to cross out two majors from its list in Faculty of Science: Astronomy and Mathematics-Physics, starting from the academic year 2018/19. (Source)

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One of my colleagues shared this news to me through an HK Podcast (Cantonese). As a Physics graduate, I could empathise what the students and alumni shared in the interviews. Based on what reasons should these two majors be cancelled? What would happen to the only Astronomy major offered in the whole Hong Kong?

HKU’s Dean of Science Matthew Evans explained to the students that “[they] are not choosing to enroll on these majors.” The low enrollment rate is the main reason cited. He also said that the efficient use of resources and academic time prompted the action. Such decision upset the students and alumni.

Lam Chiu-ying was one of the graduates from the HKU’s mathematics-physics major in 1971. He was also the former director of the Hong Kong Observatory. He thinks that a good university should not be chasing after fleeting trends and only focusing on subjects that brings in students. He likens such phenomenon to a supermarket – a place only offering popular items.

It kind of reflects how cut throat the competition in Hong Kong is. It is not unusual for a university to close unpopular courses, but HKU has a unique position: it is the only Hong Kong university that runs an astronomy major. According to Scival, University of Hong Kong has strong scholarly output in the field of Physics and Astronomy. The publications is increasing over the years, for example about 2,000 publications in the last 5 years. 20.6% of the works are in the top 10% most cited worldwide, and 37.0% of the publications are published in the top 10% journals worldwide as well.

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We need to relook at the role of university. It is supposed to be the center of scholarly research and innovation, and at the same time the place where future generation gets advanced education. I think that HKU should put more thoughts in getting more students interested in such subjects instead of simply closing them down. By working with high schools and government authorities, the university can give more exposure to the astronomy and physics and ignite the passion among Hong Kong young generation.

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With Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson (Day 1)

“HE IS COMING!”

It was my first reaction when I heard that Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson would be in Singapore on Thursday and Friday. What a dream come true!

In case you don’t know who he is, he is an astrophysicist (and the sexiest one, to boot), cosmologist and science communicator. He demoted Pluto to a dwarf planet (and still receiving hate emails from kids). He also appeared on popular shows such as The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and The Big Bang Theory. Oh yes, he wrestled too.

It was 1983. Still looking good today.

Together with National Geographic team, he was here to promote a TV documentary series COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey. Full of splendid visuals and charismatic narration by Neil, this show surely will be one of the “must-watch” documentaries in this decade. It is also the follow-up to the original series COSMOS: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan, arguably the most famous astrophysicist of all time.

The press conference and media preview was held at ArtScience Museum in the morning of Thursday.

DSC07887 DSC07897We watched the very first episode of the show – probably the first in Asia region. In particular the presentation of Cosmic calendar (compressing the whole history of universe into one year), the hand-drawn animations and witty comments from Neil were so much “edutaining”.

Many questions were asked by the media. He shared his view on the possibility of asteroid impact, the rise of social media in science communication and the astronomy education in schools. His answers proved to be a strong support to me – I always believe that the use of social media is crucial in communicating science to a wide audience, especially Gen-Y people.

The Funniest question of the day: “What would you be called if you were a professional wrestler? What would be your move?”

The answer?

Or more precisely, “Double Tidal Lock”. In astronomy it means the two bodies, such as Earth and the Moon, face each other with the same side all the time due to their gravity while moving around in their orbits.

The highlight of the day was the cocktail party at 1-Altitude – I was too happy and drunk to take any worthy photos except this one:

DSC07905Day 2 report coming soon!

 

Starry starry night~~and a constellation (and first post! Yay!)

I like to talk about stars and planets and universe. Period. Why? They are so beautiful, accessible and deep. I will attempt to communicate astronomy (not astrology!) in this blog through simple explanations and visual materials.

For starters, I will always choose either of these two famous constellations – Orion and Scorpius. This month onwards, we can see Orion in the night sky if the weather shows us some mercy.

Look towards the East around 8pm tonight, you can see something like this:

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When you connect the dots (as what the ancient Greeks did), you can see patterns emerging:

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Yes, that human-shaped pattern at the centre is Orion the Hunter.

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The three stars in a line are called Orion’s Belt, and if you zoom in somewhere around his crotch, you can see (with a powerful telescope of course):

Orion Nebula
Credit: NASA

Breathtaking, isn’t it? 😉 Try spotting Orion tonight if you haven’t done so! 🙂

PS: I also help manage the social media of Science Centre OBservatory (SCOB), please follow us if you like it! 🙂

FB: https://www.facebook.com/SCOBservatory

Blog: http://scobbers.blogspot.sg/