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

Among the many subfields of polymer science, it’s easy to see why Prof. Gao is fascinated by UHMWPE. This incredible material is considered to be the world’s strongest material and has seemingly endless actual and potential applications. With the global COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of stopping, Prof. Gao wondered if UHMWPE might be a potential solution to viral transmission. She could see, too, that there was huge potential for a material that allowed behindthe-mask communications — for the benefit of people who are hard of hearing, teachers, performers, and anyone needing to read lips or facial expressions. And so, Prof. Gao found yet another pioneering application Discovery isn’t just measured by inventing something that wasn’t there before; it is about transforming an existing resource into a substance with a much higher value. for polymers: an ultrathin polymer nanofilm (the width of a hair divided 3,000 times) constructed from UHMWPE that could be used to create breathable, transparent, and virusproof face masks. Prof. Gao’s approach to science prioritizes social benefits, something she shares with many of her HKUST colleagues and students, and this goal often motivates her to leap from the lab to the real world. In 2021, she guided her students in the development of a UHMWPE-based smart sweat sensor that tracks and analyzes the user’s muscle-fatigue levels via sweat biomarker data collected from skin — a real gamechanger for sports. UHMWPE