LED by science

RYSA 2015 goes to three students for development of self-sanitising door handle.

By Monique Vuillemin

Curiosity, passion, determination and a touch of genius led three young Hong Kong students to design and produce a self-sanitising door handle, thereby winning the Roche Young Scientist Award (RYSA) and a round trip of Roche sites in Switzerland.

It all began when Michael Li observed a lady opening a public door with her handkerchief. It is a known fact that bacteria can spread through direct, as well as indirect contact, for instance through touching surfaces or objects that carry germs.

Michael thought there must be a way to overcome the fear and impact of infection. He immediately got his two friends, Simon Wong and Peter Kwok, on board for intense brainstorming. The trio from Hong Kong’s CCC Tam Lee Lai Fun Memorial Secondary School shares the same enthusiasm for science and they each specialise in different topics such as physics, chemistry and mechanical engineering that contributed to their invention. Their idea of a self-sanitising door handle soon took shape and after receiving the endorsement from the school’s Vice Principal, Mr Jeremiah Tang, the project went into gear.

Light vs germs

The design involves inserting an UV-LED light into a silicon dioxide door handle powered by a self-charging  generator, which is activated every time someone opens and closes the door. The surface of the handle is coated with titanium dioxide (TiO2), a naturally occurring oxide of titanium with a wide range of applications from sunscreen to food colouring. When the UV light touches the handle surface through a total internal reflection process, it activates the sanitising effect. Experiments conducted by the team revealed the TiO2-UV combination eliminates E. coli more effectively than any ordinary light source. The door handle is easy to produce, very cost-effective and innocuous. The 2015 winners hold a Chinese patent on their idea and hope to further develop it into other applications to benefit public health.


Launched in 2012, the RYSA programme is a joint Roche Pharma and Diagnostics initiative that offers students in Hong Kong a chance to bring their creative ideas to life. Students are invited to submit a project that addresses a health issue and makes a practical difference to human lives. Submissions can be in the form of scientific research or an invention.

RYSA also just won the 2015 award for the best campaign by company in the Asia-Pacific Communications Summit.

To co-organize the RYSA awards, Roche Pharma and Diagnostics in Hong Kong are partnering with some of the leading local academic organizations, including Hong Kong Education City (HKEdCity), as well as the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) School of Science, which enjoys an international reputation for world-class education programmes. Founded in 1991, HKUST’s mission is to promote the advancement of society by producing global leaders, innovators and new knowledge. In 2011 it was declared the number one university in Asia by a major university ranking survey.

Prestigious panel, tough criteria

From around eighty three-minute project videos submitted for the 2015 award, 15 top projects were selected. Five finalist teams were then shortlisted and the overall winners selected by a panel of experts and executives from academia, the Hong Kong Anti-Cancer Society, the local Hospital Authority and Roche Pharma and Diagnostics Managers. The selection criteria included the level of innovation, the scientific approach, practicality of the project, benefits to the community at large and the team members’ presentation skills.

Ensuring success

In order to provide impactful mentoring to RYSA participants before they face the judging panels, Roche is cooperating with the Hong Kong Speakers Bureau as an official training partner. It offers mentor-mentee workshops for students from the HKUST School of Science who then coach the top 15 RYSA teams on their projects. Runners-up thereby have the opportunity to work with the HKUST student mentors to review, rehearse and refine the presentation of their project to the judges.

Full programme

Accompanying the 2015 RYSA laureates were Mr Jeremiah Tang, the champion team’s school vice-principal and Raphaella So, herself the winner of the HKUST best mentor award.

Upon arrival in Switzerland, guests first enjoyed a guided visit of Basel city.  After a History Tour and background presentation at Roche headquarters, they gained insights, among other areas within drug discovery, into Crystallization and X-Ray facilities, 3D Modelling, High Throughput and High Content Screening. In Kaiseraugst the group had a glimpse into the Experio Roche school laboratory and teams in Rotkreuz had organized a System Development Tour within Roche Molecular Diagnostics.

Another highlight of the programme was the visit to the Kantonsschule Wettingen, a state school about 25 km from Basel. Located in historic buildings on the grounds of a former Cistercian Monastery, this school offers inquisitive, self-motivated learners a high-quality education and granted the RYSA winners opportunities for lively exchanges with local bright minds. No doubt the trip opened new horizons for the RYSA trio, thereby enhancing their striving for academic excellence and service to the community.

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