Sun Kwok

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Sun Kwok (Chinese:郭新) is a Hong Kong astronomer specialized in the study of planetary nebulae.[1] In 1978, he proposed that the exposure of the core and the subsequent initiation of another fast wind, lead to a "snow-plow" effect that creates a planetary nebula. This interacting-winds theory has become the standard model of planetary nebulae formation, and has led to a new understanding of the dynamical evolution of planetary nebulae as well as the origin of their different morphologies.


Born in Hong Kong, Sun Kwok was graduated from Pui Ching Middle School, the mother school of Daniel Chee Tsui, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics and Shing-Tung Yau, Fields Medal Winner.

  • Chair Professor of Space Science and Director of Laboratory for Space Research, University of Hong Kong (2016-2018)
  • Chair Professor of Physics and Dean of Science, University of Hong Kong (2006-2016)
  • President, International Astronomical Union (IAU) Commission F3: Astrobiology (2015-2018)
  • Distinguished Research Fellow and Director, Institute of Astronomy & Astrophysics, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (2003–2006)
  • Professor, University of Calgary (1983–2005)
  • President, IAI Commission 34: Interstellar Matter (2012-2015)
  • Vice President, IAU Commission 51: Bioastronomy (2012-2015)
  • Chairman, IAU Working Group on Planetary Nebulae (Division VI) (1994–2001)
  • Principal Investigator (Astronomy), Canadian participation in the Odin mission


Kwok's research is mainly on the interstellar chemistry and stellar evolution. He is widely recognized for his theory on the origin of planetary nebulae, which has transformed our understanding of the death of Sun-like stars. His more recent accomplishments include the discovery of proto-planetary nebulae, the missing link in our understanding of the late stages of stellar evolution, and the discovery of the unidentified emission feature at 21 micrometres which is believed to be an unusual carbonaceous compound . Using space-based infrared telescopes, he has found that organic compounds with aromatic and aliphatic structures can be synthesized rapidly in the late stages of stellar evolution.[2] These star-manufactured compounds are now known to have spread widely throughout the Galaxy, and are believed to have played a role in the chemical enrichment of the early solar system.[3]

His book Stardust: Cosmic Seeds of Life (Springer 2013) was selected by Choice Magazine as an "Outstanding Academic Title" for 2014.

Education reform[edit]

At the University of Hong Kong, Kwok introduced a number of education reforms, including the major/minor system in 2006, Faculty-wide common admission in 2007, experiential learning in 2007, and science foundation courses in 2012.[4]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Kwok, Sun (2000), The origin and evolution of planetary nebulae, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-62313-8
  • Kwok, Sun (2001), Cosmic Butterflies, Cambridge University Press, ISBN: 1-891389-46-7
  • Kwok, Sun (2007). Physics and Chemistry of the Interstellar Medium, University Science Books, (ISBN: 1-891389-46-7)
  • Kwok, Sun (2011), Organic Matter in the Universe, Wiley, 2011 (ISBN: 978-3-527-40986-0)
  • Kwok, Sun (2013) Stardust: The Cosmic Seeds of Life, Springer, 2013 (ISBN 978-3-642-32801-5)
  • Kwok, Sun (2017) Our Place in the Universe: understanding fundamental astronomy from ancient discoveries, Springer, (ISBN 978-3-319-54172-3)


  1. ^ Coe, Steven R. (2007). Nebulae and how to observe them. Springer. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-84628-482-3. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  2. ^ Kwok, Sun; Zhang, Yong (2011). "Mixed aromatic/aliphatic organic nanoparticles as carriers of unidentified infrared emission features". Nature. 479 (7371): 80–83. Bibcode:2011Natur.479...80K. doi:10.1038/nature10542. PMID 22031328.
  3. ^ Kwok, Sun (2004). "The Synthesis of Organic and Inorganic Compounds in Evolved Stars". Nature. 430: 985–991. Bibcode:2004Natur.430..985K. doi:10.1038/nature02862.
  4. ^ Kwok, Sun (July 2018). "Science Education in the 21st Century". Nature Astronomy. 2: 530-533. doi:10.1038/s41550-018-0510-4.

External links[edit]