PolyU: PolyU’s Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology Dr Franco Leung receives the Croucher Innovation Award 2021

Dr Franco King-chi LEUNG, Assistant Professor of the Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), has received the Croucher Innovation Award 2021 (the Award) in recognition of his outstanding achievements in supramolecular and material science research. Each award carries a value of up to HK$5 million over five years for the research expenses of the award winner.

Dr Leung is pleased to receive the Award and considers it a motivation to continue his research. He said, “I am most grateful to the Croucher Foundation for their recognition of my research on a Supramolecular Robotic System of Photoresponsive Molecular Amphiphiles. I hope this research can facilitate the development of a supramolecular robotic system and be applied in medical and other fields to make a positive impact on society.”

Dr Leung attained a Bachelor of Science degree (BSc) in Chemical Technology and a Master of Philosophy degree (MPhil) from PolyU in 2011 and 2013 respectively. He carried out his Master’s research on catalysis and chemical biology. As one of Dr Leung’s teachers during his undergraduate studies, Prof. Wing-tak WONG, Deputy President and Provost of PolyU, was delighted to learn that his student’s research capability is being recognised. In his congratulatory message, Prof. Wong said, “PolyU is committed to advancing research development and encourages students to get a taste of research during their undergraduate studies. Dr Leung’s achievements demonstrate the promising potential of young scientists. PolyU will continue to offer staunch support to interdisciplinary research, and we look forward to the further discoveries of Dr Leung’s research.”

Dr Leung expanded his research scope during his Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) studies on supramolecular chemistry and material science under the guidance of Prof. Takanori Fukushima at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan. In April 2017, he joined Prof. Ben L. Feringa’s group (2016 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry) at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, as a postdoc fellow and was awarded the Croucher Postdoctoral Fellowship, where he developed photoresponsive soft materials of molecular motors and switches.

Since June 2019, Dr Leung has returned to PolyU as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology. In the last two years, Dr Leung and his team’s research has been designed and orientated to exploit the full intrinsic potential of synthetic organic chemistry to build new supramolecular structures, functions and hierarchical systems. The major goal is to design novel supramolecular functional systems, across length-scale, into stimuli-responsive functional soft materials. He expects the novel soft material created can leverage its photoresponsive characteristic in a medical aspect, in order to achieve more precise treatment. Dr Leung and his team have successfully created a supramolecular robotic system of photoresponsive molecular amphiphiles which is able to be photo-actuated.

Dr Leung said this development is only one stage of the entire research project, and he will continue to conduct in-depth research on applications based on this in the future. The team’s research focuses on the following two major areas: (1) Life-like Supramolecular Soft Actuators – This research programme aims to develop highly dynamic, reversible, and biocompatible supramolecular soft actuators, which are complementary to existing polymeric soft actuators; (2) Controlled Supramolecular Transformations of Hierarchical Systems – This research programme is designed to control reversible transformations of supramolecular assembly and organisations at different hierarchical levels, in supramolecular soft materials and self-assembled two-dimensional structures on various substrate surfaces.

Dr Leung has been obsessed with chemistry since secondary school, and decided to devote himself to research after entering PolyU. He thanked his alma mater for laying a solid academic foundation for his scientific research. “PolyU has always attached great importance to the development of scientific research and provided support to research teams in various ways. The University’s laboratories are well-equipped with advanced equipment to facilitate researchers to carry out experiments. PolyU’s interdisciplinary research culture also helps to integrate expertise from different disciplines to deepen and widen the scope of research.”

Although some people are sceptical about the value of basic research, Dr Leung said with a smile that there are many basic research results that can change the world and benefit mankind. He encouraged young people who are interested in participating in scientific research to interact with friends from different fields to develop thinking from different perspectives.