The Young Scientist Awards, organized by the Singapore National Academy of Science (SNAS) and supported by A*STAR, are a prestigious recognition of excellence in scientific research, celebrating some of the most innovative work being conducted by young researchers based in Singapore.
Now running for the 16th consecutive year, the awards are open to entries from scientists and engineers under the age of 35 who are actively engaged in research and development in Singapore, and who demonstrate great potential to be world-class researchers in their fields of expertise.
The A*STAR/SNAS Young Scientist Awards are presented in two categories: 1) Biological and Biomedical Sciences, and 2) Physical, Information and Engineering Sciences. Those eligible to be nominated include Singapore citizens, permanent residents, or foreign citizens who have been working in Singapore for at least three years, born on or after 1 January 1977. The winners of the Young Scientist Awards each receive $10,000 in cash, a trophy and a certificate at a formal ceremony to be hosted by A*STAR in September 2012.
The search for exceptional talent
Amidst intensifying global competition for top research talent, Singapore continues to attract some of the brightest minds in science and to foster homegrown talent with both research and industry skills, thereby expanding R&D-driven research capacity and nurturing innovation and entrepreneurship.
As Singapore’s lead government agency dedicated to fostering world-class scientific research and talent for a vibrant knowledge-based economy, A*STAR has a long and abiding interest in recognizing and supporting the work of talented young scientists. “The evaluation committees are generally very interested in people with exceptional talent and potential,” says Andy Hor, Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the A*STAR/SNAS Young Scientist Awards and Executive Director of the A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering. While many candidates may display outstanding intellectual abilities, or may have already demonstrated high journal publication productivity, Hor notes that the awards are intended to recognize those who stand out from the crowd by demonstrating truly exceptional capabilities.
“’Exceptional’ implies qualities that are not commonly found,” says Hor. “The Young Scientist Awards are all about talent-scouting early, and this requires a perceptive analysis of potential. You don’t have to be 36, 37 or 38 to prove yourself. I have seen some candidates whose potential is very evident even at the age of 31, 32 and 33 — soon after they start their independent research.”
By shining a light on early-career scientists who are passionate about their work, the Young Scientist Awards are one of several prominent awards and scholarships supported by A*STAR that aim to nurture the next generation of scientists whose breakthrough discoveries and inventions will help shape the future of science in Singapore. “A*STAR has developed a comprehensive system to develop our scholars and advance their careers,” says Hor. “We need a balanced ecosystem of early career researchers and senior scientists, and a diversity of local and international talents, as well as a good mix of basic, translational and applied research activities.”
“Those who are truly outstanding look for problems that are fundamental and have far-reaching impact,” says Hor. “Many of these problems may also influence how their peers look at science, and how we understand basic concepts and principles.”
Based on his distinguished academic background in the area of organometallic complexes and catalytic materials, and renowned as an outstanding educator and mentor, Hor has many tips for young researchers embarking on a career in science. He emphasizes the importance of getting the basics right, of choosing advisors carefully, of being prepared to venture into new ground, and the need to respect experimental observations as being among some of his top tips for a successful scientific career.
In addition, Hor comments, “Being ‘target-driven’ is usually a virtue, but when you do that at the expense of ignoring the unexpected outcome, you wouldn’t be a very good scientist. Some of the greatest scientific findings in human civilization were not engineered, but arose out of pure serendipity. This is the beauty of science that our young people must appreciate. Finally, good communication is a must, for anyone who wants to do well in science.”
Building bright futures
Many of the previous winners of the A*STAR/SNAS Young Scientist Awards have gone on to pursue rewarding careers in science, technology and engineering. For Yan Shuicheng, a 2011 award winner for his work on computer vision, multimedia and machine learning, the Young Scientist Awards offered a chance to gain a fresh perspective on the applications of his research.
“The Young Scientist Awards have driven me to work on projects with even higher impact and value, especially in terms of commercialization possibilities,” says Yan. In his current position as Assistant Professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, National University of Singapore, Yan has been working on a project to develop ‘human clothing recommendation technology’ — a novel method of body detection and analysis based on algorithms that may lead to the development of personalized recommendation services, online search systems and intelligent advertisements. Yan is also working on developing core technology for a nation-scale surveillance system, exploring new ways to integrate video analytics and cloud computing as part of various collaborative research projects.
For Mahesh Uttamchandani, a 2011 award winner in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences category, the Young Scientist Awards have not only generated widespread interest in his work at the cutting edge of proteomics and genomics, but have also enabled him to take on greater risks and challenges. With regard to the growing importance of cross-disciplinary research in solving biological problems, Uttamchandani comments, “I think the greatest advances in R&D during the 21st century will come from the interfaces between disciplines and not from established fields in and of themselves. Few traverse the invisible boundaries between fields, but those who do find the journey highly enriching and rewarding… I myself find it very fruitful to interact with engineers, clinicians, artists, physicists, writers and policy makers, which has over the years shaped my research and thinking.”
Uttamchandani, who currently pursues his research as Assistant Professor at the Defence Medical and Environmental Research Institute, DSO National Laboratories, Singapore, adds that there remains much to be explored at the frontiers of interdisciplinary research: “My chosen field of research is chemical biology, which capitalizes on the interface between two seemingly divergent disciplines. As a relatively new area of research, it has much to contribute through a concerted cross-fertilization of ideas between biology and chemistry. The biggest challenge remains the ability to accurately depict and profile complex living systems in their natural state, in order to unravel the mysterious and fascinating molecular underpinnings of life.”
Chen Yuan, another recipient of the 2011 Awards in the Physical, Information and Engineering Sciences category, comments, “It is a great honor to be recognized by the A*STAR/SNAS Young Scientist Awards. It offered an excellent opportunity for me to interact with fellow recipients, as well as recipients of the President’s Science and Technology Awards through various events organized by A*STAR/SNAS. The award has provided me with fresh aspirations — it inspires me to work hard, and make real contributions to society.”
Since receiving the award for his outstanding research on carbon nanotube and nanotoxicology of carbon nanomaterials, Chen has been continuing his research as Associate Professor at the School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, Nanyang Technological University.
“My current research focuses on two aspects,” explains Chen. “From a fundamental understanding aspect, I am working with researchers from Yale and Cambridge to elucidate the chirality selectivity in carbon nanotube growth. And from an engineering application aspect, I am working with researchers from the Singapore Membrane Technology Centre to incorporate functional carbon nanotubes in membranes for water treatment applications. I am also exploring the applications of novel carbon nanomaterials in flexible energy storage devices.”
Based on his wide-ranging experiences in both basic and applied research, Chen has the following words of advice for budding scientists: “Focus on what you are good at, and make it excellent.”
Nomination forms for the A*STAR/SNAS Young Scientist Awards 2012 can be downloaded from here. All completed nomination forms must be received by 30 April 2012.
For further details about the A*STAR/SNAS Young Scientist Awards, click here.
For more information about other awards and scholarships supported by A*STAR, click here.