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Viva Voce

Physics: Sense and Sensibility

Prof. Dickon Ng, chairman of the physics department, expounds what makes Physics@CUHK strong and unique, why he appeared on TV to promote physics understanding, and ultimately his view of the best thing in life.

Dickon Ng: 'The three strengths of Physics at CUHK are outstanding staff, excellent teaching quality, and a harmonious working atmosphere.' <br /><em>(Photo by ISO staff)</em>

Prof. Dickon Ng
Chairman, Department of Physics

After the Department of Physics had celebrated its golden jubilee two years ago, how will you steer the department?

In order to keep up with the latest trend in scientific research, we are developing related academic programmes and research projects ranging from neutrino physics, quantum computer and information, turbulence, nano-materials, solar cells, condensed matter physics, to the formation of new celestial objects. This year, we have introduced a new undergraduate programme called ‘Enrichment Stream in Theoretical Physics’ and admitted 23 very outstanding students. We also wish to further enhance the level of internationalization by recruiting students and staff from all over the world.

Can you name three strengths of Physics at CUHK?

Outstanding staff, excellent teaching quality, as well as a harmonious working atmosphere. It’s only when people are happy and willing to cooperate can they reach higher goals. We have very high standards for teachers, students and researchers. Students may find it difficult at times but almost all of them enjoy the challenge. In order to facilitate communication among teachers and students, we encourage teachers to spend more time socializing and chatting with their students and to understand the latter’s needs and interests. Personally, I enjoy having conversations and even breakfast with my students.

You have been teaching at CUHK since 1991. What changes have you seen in the students?

I think there is always a group of young people who are passionate about science and physics in any era, so I do not see major changes in terms of their learning attitude over the years. However, the ways of learning have changed enormously. In the past, students had to rely on their teachers for most of the information they needed. Nowadays, they have access to a variety of online resources and they can always obtain information from the Internet.

What do physics graduates usually do?

After receiving their Bachelor’s degrees, about 30 per cent of our physics students go on to pursue postgraduate studies. Thereafter, some of them become postdoctoral fellows and teaching staff in local and overseas universities. You can also find our graduates taking up scientific portfolios at government offices such as the Hong Kong Observatory, Science Museum and Space Museum. Some of them find opportunities in engineering firms, research centres, consultant and testing agencies, or in hospitals and in the financial sectors.

What’s your experience of promoting physics understanding in the media?

I think it is an interesting and effective way to promote CUHK and the Department of Physics, as well as to share some basic knowledge in physics to a mass audience through TV. It also allows the public to understand what physicists do behind the closed laboratory doors. It is only that I could not fully explain every point as I had wished due to various constraints in production.

In what ways is your College work rewarding?

I had been warden at United College for 15 years (1994–2009) and dean of students at Lee Woo Sing College for two years (2010–12). I have been receiving a lot of trust, support and encouragement from my working partners. The College is like my ‘backyard’, it is a place where I can relax and spend leisure time with those who share similar interests and values.

As a physicist, do you believe that God plays dice?

I believe that the universe has its laws and order. As a physicist, my duty is to describe the laws of nature, which I think determine almost all natural outcomes. But somehow I can’t even find a way to explain certain natural phenomenon. That is why I believe there is a Creator and we are merely creatures. I am a Christian physicist and see no contradiction in being one. My belief offers me an effective way to reach the truth and scientific knowledge.

Dickon Ng: 'The best thing in life is to be yourself and know that you're on the right track.' <br /> <em>(Photo by ISO staff)</em>

What do you think the best thing in life is?

To be yourself and know that you’re on the right track. You will enjoy the freedom and still know that things are not out of control. I like to stay curious and always want to engage in new activities. When I was young, I used to work in a dairy farm in Canada and ride a motorcycle to the university. Later, I even obtained a pleasure vessel master license and a scuba diving certificate. Even though I am getting busier nowadays, I still enjoy travelling, doing exercise and walking my dog with my family every evening.

This article was originally published in No. 467, Newsletter in Nov 2015.

Dickon Ng Chairman Department of Physics physicist Faculty of Science