I am interested in Astrobiology, which concerns the origin, evolution and the future of life on Earth and elsewhere. On the timeline of 13.7-billion-year evolution of the Universe, Earth is the only known planet that has a 4-billion-year record of life. My recent research projects are focused on mineral records of the important evolutionary transitions of life in Precambrian: I. The earliest interactions between the proto-atmosphere and the ultramafic rocky crust; II. The high-resolution morphology of the earliest sedimentary rocks from Isua, Greenland; III. The mineral ecophysiology of the early oxygenic photosynthesis; IV. The phosphatization mechanism of the early proto-metazoan.
After completing a BSc (Hons) in Palaeobiology and Evolution at Portsmouth University (UK) and an MSc in Geoscience at University College London (UK) my interests turned to astrobiology. My self-proposed PhD research at University College London (UK) was supported by an Origins scholarship and focused on self-assembled reverse vesicles in hydrocarbon solvent. These reverse vesicles were studied as analogues for potential compartmentalisation mechanisms for putative hydrocarbon-based (rather than water-based) biota inhabiting Titan’s alkane lakes. This included the use of dynamic light scattering (DLS), small angle neutron and X-ray scattering (SANS and SAXS), transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and fluorescence confocal microscopy. I am currently working on astrobiological research with Dr YiLiang Li at HKU which includes studying some of the earliest metazoan fossils. My research interests include: the origins of life and multicellularity; the habitability of icy worlds and environments; theoretical, experimental and simulation research concerning the plausibility of non-water based biota; the self-assembly of micellar structures; and planetary science – specifically focused on Titan.
Prof. Kwok's research is mainly on 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 microns, 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. 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.
Prof. Kwok has been a guest observer on most of the leading space and ground-based telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, Infrared Space Observatory, the Gemini Observatories, Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, and the Very Large Array. More details of current research programs can be found here.
Prof. Kwok has lectured extensively around the world. He has given colloquia at universities and research institutes, lectures at symposia and conferences, and talks to the general public in over 20 countries.
Prof. Kwok has published over 300 articles in professional journals and popular magazines. He has two books published by Cambridge University Press: The Origin and Evolution of Planetary Nebulae in 2000 and Cosmic Butterflies in 2001. His book Physics and Chemistry of the Interstellar Medium (University Science Books, 2007) is used as textbook in many leading universities in the world. His most recent books are Organic Matter in the Universe (Wiley 2011) and Stardust: The Cosmic Seeds of Life (Springer 2013).
I currently hold a joint appointment as a research scientist at the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics (SCIPP) and a research assistant professor in the Physics Department at the University of Hong Kong. I am a member of the Fermi LAT collaboration. I am also a member of the Milagro and HAWC collaborations. My research interests cover a broad range of topics in high-energy astrophysics, including pulsar astrophysics, gamma-ray bursts, and X-ray binaries. You can read about some of my work in the UC Santa Cruz News/Events page.
Emission-line Surveys: Taxonomy of emission-line stars, Symbiotic stars, Cataclysmic variables
Planetary Nebulae: Multi-wavelength classification techniques; Distance scales; Population studies; Central stars; Role of binary interactions; Nebular spectroscopy/abundances
Astronomy Education: Space To Grow ARC-linkage Research Project
History of Astronomy: Ancient star catalogues; Historical light-curve of η Carinae; Archaeoastronomy; Australian Aboriginal Astronomy