To Inspire. To Be Inspired. – 30 Stories on HKUST Faculty, Alumni and Students

What does it mean to devote your life to something invisible? For Prof. Luk KamBiu, science is all about uncovering the unseen and revealing the universe’s hidden truths — something his work epitomizes. Becoming a world-renowned physicist means embracing the enigmatic, pushing every boundary, and having out-of-this world resilience. In recent history, few deserve the recognition as much as the experimental particle physicist Prof. Luk Kam-Biu. He has had a lifelong interest in physics, and he learnt to build models and even telescopes as a child. Admitting he was “not very good at memorizing names and vocabulary” at school, Prof. Luk says he was a hands-on learner and spent his childhood deconstructing things to understand their mechanisms. He eliminated biology and chemistry from his future path early on and applied himself with gusto to the field of physics. Fast-forward to the early 1980s when Prof. Luk was studying a PhD in 41 experimental particle physics in the United States, and he was hot on the heels of the universe’s most elusive particle: the neutrino. Why do scientists care so much about these tiny particles? Prof. Luk said, “They are fundamentally tied to our existence. Our bodies are made up of ordinary matter — biological cells all the way down to atoms and smaller still to elementary particles, one of which is the neutrino.” Sixty-five billion neutrinos pass through every square centimeter of your body every second. These “shy” and even “ghostly” particles are capable of changing their character while travelling through space, a behavior known as neutrino oscillation. Prof. Luk uses a simile to explain this characteristic: “Neutrinos are like magicians. They can change their identity right in front of us.” Since neutrinos are invisible and pass through the earth with barely an impact, they are indescribably difficult to detect, let alone study. Locked within the mysteries of the neutrino are clues about our universe and the secrets of human existence. © The Regents of the University of California, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.