Visiting Scholar at Harvard: UM’s Macao Fellow Dr Lei Ka Meng

Text│Cravina Chong, Senior UM Reporter John Ngai
Photo│Eric Tam, Ella Cheong, with some provided by the interviewee

Dr Lei Ka Meng, who was born and raised in Macao, obtained a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering and a PhD degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Macau (UM). Because of his outstanding research achievements, Dr Lei was recruited by UM as a Macao Fellow after graduation. ¬ is year he has been invited by Harvard University to be a visiting scholar

Deciding to Become a Researcher in Sophomore Year

Dr Lei received his bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering from UM in 2012. He was also among the rst cohort to graduate from the UM Honours College (HC). Because of his outstanding performance in research, he was admitted to the university for PhD studies directly after graduation.

Dr Lei has benefited greatly from the university’s new educational model. As one of the first graduates of the HC, he says that an HC programme which is designed to help students gain research experience encouraged him to set his career goals. The programme provides each student with the opportunity to conduct research under the guidance of a professor from his or her faculty. Through this programme, Dr Lei was able to participate in some of the best research projects of UM’s State Key Laboratory of Analog and Mixed-Signal VLSI (AMS-VLSI Lab). These projects helped him develop a solid foundation in scientific research and allowed him to gain hands-on experience that would later prove invaluable.

Dr Lei says he was very fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in important research projects during his sophomore year at UM. ¬ rough those projects he realised there was enormous untapped potential in applying microelectronics technology to biological research, which ultimately led to his decision to pursue a career in this field. ‘¬ at year was a turning point in my life,’ says Dr Lei. ‘Although I encountered many challenges in research and often had to work all night to complete those projects, I enjoyed the process very much. No words can describe how happy I am to learn that my research findings are recognised by others.

Research to Lower Cost and Time of Diagnostic Tests

Dr Lei is currently working on his research project, a parallel nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) platform combining advanced microfluidic, magnetic-sensing and integrated circuits technologies, which can significantly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of NMR experiments. The technologies can be applied to biological diagnostic tests, such as blood and protein tests. They can effectively reduce the cost and time of traditional diagnostic tests. ‘¬The current diagnostic tests usually require the use of large devices and a lot of manpower and time. With the NMR technique, we no longer need to use large devices for diagnostic tests and can bring down the cost from between MOP 500,000 and MOP 600,000 to between MOP 30,000 and MOP 40,000,’ he says. ‘In addition, this technique allows diagnostic tests to be done outside hospitals. Even clinics in remote and backward regions can afford it. I hope this technique will be promoted to all parts of the world.

A CMOS nuclear magnetic resonance system for point-of-care diagnosis can significantly reduce the cost and time of traditional biological diagnostic tests

It so happens that some researchers at Harvard University are conducting a similar project. Learning of Dr Lei’s research, Harvard invited Dr Lei to be a visiting scholar for a two-year term, starting from the second half of 2017. When asked whether he is nervous about conducting research at a world-class university, Dr Lei says he feels very calm. ‘ I have learned how to maintain a positive attitude towards opportunities and challenges after many years of experience conducting high-quality research at UM,’ he says. ‘I will read more related research documents to prepare myself for it.’

Gaining International Recognition

In February 2017, Dr Lei received the prestigious Predoctoral Achievement Award from the Solid-State Circuits Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which is given to outstanding postgraduate students in the field of solid-state circuits. Lei’s PhD thesis will be expanded into a research book to be published in 2017 by Springer, the world’s largest science publisher

Dr Lei’s research capacity has been recognised since he was an undergraduate student. One of his research projects during that time led to a paper published by an SCI-indexed journal. Another of his papers received the Best Paper Award at the Asia Symposium on Quality Electronic Design 2013. During his PhD studies, Dr Lei focused on a new multi-disciplinary direction, a CMOS NMR system for point-of-care diagnosis, which makes possible intelligent detection of biological targets on a handheld platform. ¬ e related findings have been published in well-known journals, namely IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits, Lab on a Chip, and Analyst, as well as presented at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), IEEE Asian Solid-State Circuits Conference (ASSCC), and the International Conference on Miniaturised Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences

Dr Lei Ka Meng’s research can help to significantly reduce the cost and time of traditional biological diagnostic tests

In November 2015, Dr Lei presented a paper at the IEEE ASSCC. He also demonstrated his work in the Student Design Contest and received the Distinguished Design Award. Subsequently, he was invited to submit his work to a special issue of the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits (JSSC). In February 2016, Dr Lei presented work developed with collaborators from the University of Pavia, Italy, at the IEEE ISSCC and received the ISSCC Silkroad Award, which is given to outstanding students from Asia, Australia, and the Pacific region. In addition, this work was selected for live demonstration during the conference. It was the first time that a work from Macao, Hong Kong, or mainland China had been selected for live demonstration at the ISSCC. ¬ e related paper was also selected as one of the ISSCC Technical Highlights of the conference. Because of his excellent performance at the conference, Dr Lei was later invited to submit a full-length paper to a special issue of the JSSC.

Faculty members and students from the AMS-VLSI Lab present their research findings at the 64th IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference held in San Francisco, United States. Six papers from UM were accepted at this year’s conference, placing the university among the institutions with the most papers presented at the event. This shows international recognition of UM’s leading position in the field in Asia.

Grateful to UM for Abundant Resources

If the foundation of a university is its campus, then the soul of a university must be its faculty members. Dr Lei met his mentor, Prof Mak Pui In, when he was an undergraduate student. ‘Prof Mak is not only my teacher; he is also my friend. He has been guiding me since the beginning. His dedication to research and his passion have had a great influence on me,’ says Dr Lei. ‘He is willing to spend a lot of his personal time solving problems together with his students. I admire him for that.’

UM devotes considerable resources to research and provides great support for student researchers. ‘When I was a PhD student, I did not have a full-time or part-time job,’ says Dr Lei. ‘UM’s research funding and scholarships allowed me to focus on research.’ He adds that UM provides students who are involved in research activities with financial support equal to the salary of a full-time job, in order to spare them financial worries.

A photo of Dr Lei Ka Meng with Prof Mak Pui In (right) and Vice Rector (Research) Prof Rui Martins after Dr Lei received the Predoctoral Achievement Award from the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society

In addition to providing state-of-the-art research facilities for faculty members and students, UM has also launched the Macao Fellow Programme to encourage talented young scholars from Macao to participate in research. Participants in the programme will receive sponsorship to develop their academic careers. Dr Lei’s research activity at Harvard is supported by the programme. ‘I hope to return to UM to teach after completing my research at Harvard, because I was born and raised in Macao and my family and friends are all here,’ he says. ‘I hope to publish more papers and achieve better results in research as my way of repaying UM.

ISSUE 16 | 2017

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