As well as generating products that add value to society, HKUST researchers deliver social impact through directly working with different sectors of the community to transfer new knowledge. A notable venture of this kind, led by Prof. ZHANG Xin, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is bringing the results of decades of leading-edge aerodynamic research to Hong Kong’s elite athletes and high-performance teams in a growing number of sports, including cycling, windsurfing, and triathlon.

With funding support from the two-year A. Kwok Sports Aerodynamics Science Initiative and the ITC, both starting in 2019, the HKUST research team has worked with the Hong Kong Sports Institute to lift Hong Kong teams’ global competitive edge in sports of wide community interest and potential national and international acclaim for the city. As such, cycling has been a special focus.

The HKUST researchers’ cycling aerodynamic R&D platform utilizes advanced wind tunnel test equipment and computational fluid dynamics simulations based on Formula One racing car and aerospace technology. It includes a next-generation test rig that accurately measures aerodynamic forces acting on a cyclist in wind. It can be used to evaluate cycling equipment, athletes’ performance, and develop new skinsuits. Meanwhile, full simulation software running on Tianhe-2, China’s second largest high-performance supercomputer, examines the aerodynamic force distribution and flow field around cyclists, among others; helps design cycling equipment; and assesses overtaking strategies for competitions.

Drawing on these innovative technological tools, HKUST researchers have worked together with Hong Kong’s leading cyclists, including Olympic medalist LEE Wai-Sze, to analyze individual competitive factors such as posture, riding equipment, and cycling apparel as a whole, using advanced wind tunnel tests to generate reliable data to optimize performance. The collaboration has contributed to better preparation for top events, such as the Tokyo Olympics, UCI Track Cycling Nations Cup, and National Games of China. Other Hong Kong sports teams gaining enriched performance insights from HKUST’s aerodynamic expertise range from windsurfers to triathletes. The Hong Kong Olympic Committee has also visited HKUST to discuss the collaborative sports science initiative. Beyond athlete beneficiaries, HKUST researchers’ sports performance enhancement work has generated wider community interest in the engineering technologies involved. This has seen high school students take up internships with the research team and gain hands-on experience of related experiments as well as a public showcase of the technologies at the Inspiration of Hong Kong photo exhibition at Olympian City in September 2021.

The research team is now looking into ways to develop specialized equipment and sensors for regular training sessions and assessments of athletes, and make the new cycling suits more cost-effective to enable a greater number of sporting enthusiasts to progress.