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Introducing Kenneth Mei-yee Leung

I very much enjoy remembering my childhood - everyday was fun and exciting with so many undiscovered things ahead. In fact, I never dreamed of becoming a scientist – a research assistant professor in DEB. Why did I end up as an aquatic toxicologist/ marine ecologist? I suspect that my past might provide some cues. My father was a marine engineer of the Hong Kong government’s Marine Department and he often took me to work when I was a kid. I have fallen in love with the sea since then, and not just because of the taste of seafood.

Interestingly, I didn’t do well in school or open exams. I put that down to having too many extra-curricular activities, such as serving as a cadet for the Civil Aid Services. At eighteen, my exam results were not good enough to be accepted by the University and I had to decide whether to repeat one more year at school, with a view to re-sitting exams, or do something different. Then I asked myself what I would like to be in the future. It was a tough question. I wanted to do something meaningful and good for society. Finally, I made up my mind and took a new post-secondary course Diploma in Environmental Studies at Chai Wan Technical Institute, where I learned up-to-date environmental technologies for pollution monitoring and control. During this study, I turned into a proactive student as I wanted to help to improve our environment for the future. This was one of the most important milestones of my life.

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Applied Environmental Sciences at the University of Portsmouth in England, I returned to Hong Kong and took up a lecturer position at the Department of Applied Sciences of Shatin Technical Institute. I realised that I would like to do research as well as teaching and decided to quit my job to do a Master’s degree in mariculture at City University of Hong Kong. I spent over 26 months investigating the nitrogen metabolism in two commonly cultured fish species, the areolated grouper, Epinephelus areolatus, and mangrove snapper, Lutjanus argentimaculatus, and estimating the nitrogen pollution loading from fish farming activities in Hong Kong. I had a very bad time because of a massive fish kill event that killed my study fish, but, in general, it was a good project in which I learnt a lot about scientific research. After completion of my Master’s project, I spent a brief period as a research assistant at CityUHK and at SWIMS, studying the eco-physiology of the threatened local seagrass, Zostera japonica, with the hope of conserving this rare marine plant in Hong Kong.

During 1996-1999, I received a James Henry Scholarship from John Swire & Sons (HK) Ltd to undertake a PhD programme in marine science and technology at the University of Glasgow in Scotland where I met some of the best ornithologists in the world. I was amazed that these bird guys were endlessly energetic and enthusiastic about their research. They also taught me a lot about biometrics. My doctoral study was concerned with the use of metallothioneins in marine gastropods as biological markers for metal contamination and toxicity. This involved extensive field work in the freezing cold western coasts of Scotland. To be honest, it is much more enjoyable doing fieldwork in HK. In late 1999, I spent three even more freezing months in Iceland, investigating metal contamination profiles in Icelandic coasts through biomonitoring.

Upon completion of my doctorate, I took up a Croucher Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Royal Holloway, University of London, in England. My postdoctoral research centred on the development of a probabilistic and realistic approach to assessing ecological risks of industrial chemicals on aquatic environments. In the UK, we often had very productive and fruitful discussions about sciences over beer or ale. Interestingly, my colleagues were able to count how many pints I had by just looking at the degree of redness of my face. I miss these ‘healthy drinks’ very much. In mid-January 2002, I took up the current position in DEB and currently teach ‘Biometrics and Computing’ to undergraduate students. My research interests include mariculture, ecophysiology of marine organisms, biomonitoring, aquatic toxicology and ecological risk assessments. You may visit my web page to find out more about me (

I wish I could go back to my childhood again in some ways. Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) said "I don’t know what I may seem to the world, but, as to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me" [source: Carey, J. (1995) The Faber Book of Science, London. pp. 30-34].

Kenneth Leung




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