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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Sabahan Tam has become a top scientist in HK

However, the engineering professor and inventor always feels regret he could not obtain Malaysian citizenship and contribute to the country.

An award-winning inventor, engineering scholar and renowned scientist in both the optical and telecommunication fields grew up in Sabah but never got his wish to be a Malaysian citizen.

Not being given the chance to contribute to the country remains his greatest regret, Prof Tam Hwa Yaw told Sabah’s Daily Express in an interview recently.

Tam gave his interview in Kota Kinabalu, when he came as chief judge for the 10th Sabah Invention and Design Exhibition Awards Night last month.

Born in Brunei in the late 1950s, Tam and his eldest sister followed their parents to Sandakan, Sabah, where they had permanent resident (PR) status.

His parents had one more daughter. His father passed away while Tam was just 16 years old and he had to fend for his mother and two sisters from an early age.

“I helped hawkers move their goods to the Sandakan market and also gave tuition to lower classes in the afternoon.”

Tam completed his Senior Cambridge Exam at Sung Siew Secondary School in the mid-1970s.

“Being a Chinese, it was difficult to obtain citizenship status. I left Sandakan for further studies in the UK in 1979. The ruling then was that you could not live outside Sabah for more than two years, without renewing your PR status.

“However, when I applied for renewal, within the two years, while in the UK, the Malaysian High Commission in London rejected my application. They never gave any reason.”

With that, Tam lost his Malaysian PR status and he became a stateless person while studying in the United Kingdom (UK). He applied for British citizenship, which he later obtained.

“I continued my studies in the UK, got a job and became a British citizen. ”

Tam now stays in Hong Kong. He moved there in the 1990s to be closer to Sabah, where his two sisters have remained all these years.

Tam graduated with a degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from the University of Manchester in 1985. He obtained his doctorate in engineering from the same university five years later.

He then took up a position as a senior research scientist with Hirst Research Centre GEC-Marconi Ltd (London) from 1989 to 1993. It was here that he worked on optical components and systems, and erbium optical fibre amplifiers for high-speed optical communications.

“Optical fibres (glass fibres through which light can be transmitted) are used not only for telecommunications but also as sensor systems for security and safety applications.

“While in the UK, I built two of the first batch of optical amplifiers for Marconi Italiana, Geneo (Italy),” he said proudly of his early achievements, adding that he then joined The Hong Kong Polytechnic in 1993.

Tam is now the Head of Department and Chair Professor of Photonics of the Department of Electrical Engineering at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and has established several world-class research facilities there.

He said he and his team have installed the smart railway condition-monitoring system for railways in Hong Kong, India and Taiwan, and for high-speed trains (running at 350kph) in mainland China.

“We built and installed condition-monitoring systems for 90% of the trains in Hong Kong. We are installing similar systems to monitor trains in Singapore now.”

Tam has numerous other achievements and innovations to his name. He is a Fellow of the Optical Society of America and an internationally sought after keynote speaker.

He has also published more than 500 technical papers and was the Third Prize Winner of the 2014 Berthold Leibinger Innovationspreis — an event that’s held in Germany every two years and is also one of the highest remunerated international innovation prizes for laser technology.

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