In brief

Pursuing a career in STEM in 2022

© A*STAR Research

Stars in the making

18 Mar 2022

In the pursuit of scientific excellence, the current scholars of the A*STAR Graduate Academy hope to harness their education to contribute to Singapore’s scientific ecosystem.

Over the last decade, science has progressed by leaps and bounds to tackle challenges posed by climate change, food insecurity, an aging population and—perhaps most urgently—a global pandemic.

With advanced artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms being used in vaccine development and supercomputers being used to simulate weather models, it is clear that scientific developments continue to be motivated by the world’s greatest problems.

Since its launch in 2001, the A*STAR Graduate Academy (A*GA) has nurtured generations of scientists and researchers dedicated to solving such major issues and advancing Singapore’s position as a global scientific hub.

Two decades on, scores of young talents carry on the flame of A*GA’s vision. Fueled by modern challenges and dispersed across the globe in world-class universities, each aspiring scientist is striving to develop solutions that improve lives or pave the way for further discovery.

Hear from 20 of A*STAR’s current scholars and discover the motivations and opportunities behind Singapore’s scientific stars in the making.

1. Dawn Lok
National Science Scholarship (BS), 2021
Imperial College London, UK

“I hope to bring the good practices and insights learnt from my time abroad back to Singapore and help develop technology that is useful for the community.”

Now in the first year of her undergraduate degree, Lok’s research interests lie in pharmaceuticals and food science. As a chemistry major, she seeks to understand and design molecules that play a part in improving lives.

2. Rohan Thomas
National Science Scholarship (BS-PhD), 2015
University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

“Traditional chemistry is often energy- and solvent-inefficient. I want to create green processes as they are almost always cheaper and more efficient.”

Thomas, a second year PhD student, develops novel environmentally friendly tools for industrial applications. Working with pioneers in green chemistry, Thomas hopes to integrate their work and create new biocatalysts and processes.

3. Tangsheng Zou
National Science Scholarship (BS-PhD), 2015
ETH Zürich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), Switzerland

“I believe that sustainable reaction engineering in the chemical industry can show the way forward and push efforts in other industries to meet climate targets.”

With the goal of achieving sustainable chemical processes, second-year PhD student Zou develops catalysts in the hydrogenation of carbon dioxide to methanol and aims to understand the reaction from the molecular scale upwards.

4. Hui Ting Zhang
National Science Scholarship (BS-PhD), 2014
Heidelberg University, Germany

“I hope to bring back the knowledge and skills I have learnt during my studies and apply them in the Singaporean context.”

Fascinated with the complex processes that take place during embryonic development, Zhang’s PhD research project uses new methods to study the regulation of embryo size—a long-standing question in the field.

5. Ashwin Srinivasan Kumar
National Science Scholarship (BS-PhD), 2014
Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Harvard University, USA

“The unique complexities and poor overall outcomes of this disease prompted me to delve more into this area. I am very lucky to have great mentors who have helped guide and shape my professional journey in this space.”

Hoping to effectively translate his research from bench to bedside, Kumar is currently working on treatment strategies for pediatric medulloblastoma, one of the most common and deadly brain cancers for children.

6. Michelle Lim
National Science Scholarship (Masters), 2021
Wageningen University & Research, Netherlands

“I hope to be able to contribute to the research efforts in A*STAR, and to advance science and create a positive impact on society.”

The opportunity to study overseas and experience different learning and teaching styles appealed to Lim. She is excited to continue her food science education at the top university in the field and seeks to contribute to Singapore’s growth as a food and nutrition hub.

7. Ding Xiang Chew
National Science Scholarship (Masters), 2021
Wageningen University & Research, Netherlands

“I choose to study food because food is human-centric, especially in Singapore where it is part of our identity. This field is relevant to our lives, and is something that interests people.”

Eager to do his part to develop Singapore’s food ecosystem, Chew is learning all he can from his university’s expertise in this area as well as the Netherlands’ established alternative protein market.

8. Chaitanya Krishna Joshi
National Science Scholarship (PhD), 2021
University of Cambridge, UK

“I am excited by how AI can accelerate and augment scientific discovery, from novel medicine to energy-efficient materials.”

Joshi, a first-year PhD student, hopes to develop a research path with the potential for long-term impact on global challenges. In particular, he is interested in deep learning models and how they can contribute to data-driven solutions in biomedicine and materials discovery.

9. Sidney Suen
A*STAR Computing and Information Science Scholarship, 2021
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

“Acquiring common-sense knowledge used in social interactions and structuring it in a form that machines can use will help develop AI systems that can effectively interact with people and serve their needs.”

Looking to change the face of AI, Suen is harnessing social and cognitive science to understand the factual knowledge behind cultural common sense and encode it into AI systems.

10. Umar Bin Mohamad Sahari
A*STAR Graduate Scholarship (PhD), 2021
National University of Singapore, Singapore

“Despite the lack of traction in pharmaceutical companies, I believe patients suffering from rare genetic disorders should be entitled to the same quality of treatment as any other patient.”

Umar’s research focuses on advancing therapeutics and diagnostics for rare genetic disorders. Over the course of his PhD studies, he hopes to gain the skills required to impact lives and inspire more people to pursue science.

11. Uma Tay
A*STAR Graduate Scholarship (PhD), 2021
National University of Singapore, Singapore

“The A*STAR scholarship empowers me to work towards fulfilling my research ambition of developing sustainable gelatin alternatives under the guidance of esteemed researchers from both NUS and A*STAR.”

Practical and forward-looking, Tay noticed the burgeoning gelatin market and the ingredient’s unique biocompatibility before choosing to focus her research interests on identifying plant-based gelatin alternatives.

12. Sam Oh
A*STAR International Fellowship, 2021
University of California, San Diego, USA

“I hope to take advantage of the opportunity provided by A*STAR to enhance my research experience and bring the knowledge back to Singapore.”

Oh, who had been interested in energy research since he was a polytechnic student, began developing a solid-state electrolyte that could replace current flammable organic electrolytes while pursuing his PhD studies. He continues to work on this technology as a postdoctoral scholar, in the hope that it will eventually power Singapore.

13. Jasmin Omar
A*STAR Research Attachment Program, 2021
King’s College London, UK

“Pursuing a PhD program as an A*STAR Scholar enables me to answer the previously unmet questions of my project and pursue my philanthropic vision.”

Omar is working to create novel hydrogels that can benefit patients whose retinas have pulled away from their normal position—the fifth leading cause of blindness.

14. Liam James Sargison
A*STAR Research Attachment Program, 2021
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

“The experience of completing my work in a space dedicated to addressing biological problems of the time has been inspiring.”

To address the needs of Singapore’s aging population, Sargison is researching therapeutic materials that promote natural healing—in particular, modifying pharmaceutical-grade polysaccharides to improve wound and bone repair.

15. Matheus Eduardo Garbelini
Singapore International Graduate Award Recipient, 2019
Singapore University of Technology and Design, Singapore

“My goal is to acquire the skills and experiences required to become a leading researcher, and to make improvements to the current state of wireless and IoT security across industry and academia.”

As more Internet of Things (IoT) devices are introduced each year, Garbelini works to keep such smart devices safe and secure. He currently designs software algorithms that automatically discover vulnerabilities in wireless devices.

16. Ruoqi Dang
Singapore International Graduate Award Recipient, 2021
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

“The world now faces the problem of carbon reduction and is in search of a suitable and environmentally friendly hydrogen energy source. How to store and transport hydrogen and what materials to choose to do this are worthy of study.”

Looking to develop a sustainable method for storing and transporting hydrogen, Dang’s research revolves around designing hydrogen-resistant alloys that remain strong in complex and extreme environments.

17. Joel Tong
National Science Scholarship (PhD), 2021

“During my PhD degree, I hope to learn about innovative strategies, platforms and techniques that are integral to modern interdisciplinary research— skillsets I hope to later apply in A*STAR.”

As a research officer at the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN), Tong hopes to harness his background in chemistry and chemical tools to make sense of the immune system. He is working on the development of antibody-drug conjugates and engineered cytokines for cancer immunotherapy.

18. Hia Ming
National Science Scholarship (PhD), 2017

“With a growing molecular understanding of biology, we have developed interdisciplinary tools and a systematic discipline to engineer organisms, leading to advancements in both bioproduction and therapeutics.”

Ming’s research on biosynthesis at the Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI) sees him working on two exciting projects: researching new technologies for creating DNA strands with enzymes and synthetically producing the main flavor molecule of hazelnuts.

19. Jiafei Duan
National Science Scholarship (PhD), 2021

“I am particularly interested in reverse-engineering human cognition to create embodied machines capable of human-level cognition and social intelligence.”

As the current chair of the A*STAR Scholars Network, Duan has witnessed firsthand the peer-to-peer support and interdisciplinary collaboration between scholars. Duan’s research focuses on creating artificial intelligence-enabled machines that can supplement the workforce and care for the vulnerable.

20. Clare Yijia Xie
National Science Scholarship (BS-PhD), 2018

“With increasingly sophisticated simulation techniques and faster computers, I believe there is a new materials science revolution in the making. I wish to be part of the shift to accelerate materials discovery and develop innovative technologies.”

At the Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC), Xie is developing an automated workflow for high-throughput screening of heterogeneous catalysts and applying it to the analysis of alloy catalysts for ethanol dry reforming.

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This article was made for A*STAR Research by Wildtype Media Group