What do antibiotics, airliners, smartphones and selfie sticks have in common? All exist because of hard work done by scientists and mathematicians.
On January 9, 12 promising young minds gathered at the Hong Kong Jockey Club in Happy Valley to compete for the honour of the Student of the Year Award - Scientist & Mathematician.
All of the candidates had participated in science or maths competitions locally and abroad. They were also keen to use their talents to help fellow classmates, the elderly and the underprivileged learn about subjects such as technology and engineering.
They each had eight minutes to present their achievements and aspirations to a panel of judges and then respond to questions about their work.
While some people think maths is too hard, Stevenson Mark Chan, who studies at HKMA David Li Kwok Po College, disagrees. "One problem is that [students] don't know what maths is used for and why they should study it. The other problem is the teaching methods. It's just about exams, quizzes and tests," says the 18-year-old, who moved to Hong Kong from the Philippines six years ago. He says the education system puts students under a lot of pressure to get good grades without appreciating the subject. So to help change that, Mark tries to promote science by making fun videos.
Yu Hoi-wai, 15, hopes to make a difference by becoming a teacher. Hoi-wai says it's more important to explain thought processes than the result, "so [students] can learn and get the results by themselves". The La Salle College student says by teaching he "can influence the world more effectively than if I became a banker".
Hoi-wai, who became addicted to Horrible Science and Murderous Math books when he was a child, has won awards in several international competitions. While some were individual achievements, Hoi-wai says he found it most memorable to work in a team. "Two heads are better than one," he says. "A person cannot do their best working on their own."
Modern science relies on collaboration with scholars around the world, so good communication skills are crucial for success, says judge Allen Ma Kam-sing, CEO of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation.
"Teachers must explain to students that science is not going to be a one-man-band effort; there will be cross-disciplinary research and people will converge into research teams," he says.
But scientists who lack communication skills shouldn't fear; there are plenty of things they can do to improve. Wa Ying College student Yu Lai-san, who has Asperger's syndrome, found it difficult to express his ideas fluently, but the judges were more than satisfied.
"It was inspiring," says Bien Perez, senior technology reporter at the SCMP.
"He told us his family encouraged him to take up acting classes to improve his elocution. He did it his way with style."
Ma advises students to stay curious, continue to ask questions and develop hobbies which they may build into a business when they grow up. Both he and Perez were deeply impressed by all the candidates. Both said they could not have achieved so much when they were young.
For the students, the final day of judging was a sobering experience.
"Seeing how much others have achieved [helped me shed] my complacent attitude," Mark said. "Even if you are the best in your school, it doesn't mean there aren't people who are better than you."