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TALENT TIMES A*STAR
SCIENCE. BENEFITS. ENTERPRISE.
Discover how our Talent and their research create value for the industry.
SCI E NCE . B E NE F I TS. ENTERPRISE . The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore’s le ad public sector agency that spe arhe ads economic-oriented research to advance scientific discovery and develop innovative technology. A*STAR also plays a vital role in nurturing and developing talent who contribute significantly to the scientific ecosystem. Through a symbiosis of collaborations between our rese archers and the ind ustry, A*STAR fosters innovation and development in local enterprises. This cre ates a multitude of technologies that benefit not only the companies we work with, but also the consumers. This issue of A*STAR Talent Times showcases a selection of talent who have successfully collaborated with the industry. With varying interests and personalities, our pool of diverse talent has one guiding mission – to work with partners to collectively unlock possibilities and impact lives through science. By sharing their thoughts and ideas, we hope to give you a glimpse into what inspires and motivates them, and their pursuit for a better future.
A* S T A R T A L E N T
UNCOVERING HIDDEN POTENTIAL Dr. Wan Yue, Junior Principal Investigator, Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS)
THE MEASURE OF SUCCESS Dr. Meng Yusong, Scientist II, National Metrology Centre (NMC )
REVOLUTIONARY RESEARCH METHODS Dr. Samuel Gan, Assistant Principal Investigator, Bioinformatics Institute (BII), Product Development Lab; Adjunct Researcher, p 53 Lab
D E C O D I N G N A T U R E Dr. Shawn Hoon, Senior Research Fellow, Molecular Engineering Lab (MEL)
THE STUDY OF LIGHT Dr. Shawn Tan, Scientist II, Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE)
T H E T- U P EXCELLENCE AWARDS
B R I D G I N G T H E G A P Dr. Sidney Yee, CEO, Diagnostics Development Hub (DxD)
Agency for Science, Technology & Research Website: www.a-star.edu.sg Email: [email protected]
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A* S TA R TA L E N T T I M E S
A*S TA R TA L E N T In this issue, Talent Times sits down with some of the A*STAR Talent to gain an inside look into their fields of work, and their resonating impact.
DR. SHAWN HOON
DR. WAN YUE
DR. MENG YUSONG
Senior Research Fellow, Molecular Engineering Lab (MEL)
Junior Principal Investigator, Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS)
Scientist II, National Metrology Centre (NMC )
Hailing from different fields, meet the people who share one unifying vision — to better the world through science.
DR. SAMUEL GAN Assistant Principal Investigator, Bioinformatics Institute (BII) Product Development Lab; Adjunct Researcher, p 53 Lab
DR. SHAWN TAN Scientist II, Institute of Materials Re s e arc h and Engineering (IMRE)
A* S TA R TA L E N T T I M E S
For Dr. Wan Yue, science has always been a series of stepping stones. The Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) biologist at the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) speaks fondly of a childhood surrounded by her parents and mentors who continuously encouraged her curiosity and interest in the workings of the biological world. Yue immediately took up the opportunity of the A*STAR National S c i e n c e S c h ola rs h i p w h e n i t c a me a lon g. H e r re a s on i ng w as s tra i g h tf or w a rd : “ We h ave n ot s e e n or kn ow n e n oug h o f the world, to be able to plan or know what will actually benefit you in the long run. The only way is to try your best , embracing any opportunities that come by.” As a n A* S TAR s c h ola r, Yue p urs ue d f ur th e r s tud i e s overs e as , eventually graduating with a PhD in Cancer Biology from Stanford University. It was during her PhD studies that she was introduced to the world of scientific research.
Yue developed a breakthrough method that increases the process of obtaining the structures by several thousandfold.
Yue’s current work at GIS lies in studying how organisms utilise R N A f or th e i r f un c ti on . R N A s tr uc ture s a re re s p on s i b le fo r regulating cellular gene expression. It has also been said to cause certain diseases through mutation. To better probe these R N A s tr uc ture s , Yue d eve lop e d a b re a kth roug h me th o d that i n c re a s e s th e p roc e s s of ob ta i n i n g th e s tr uc ture s by seve ral th ous a n d f old . Th i s ma s s i ve i n c re a s e i n e f f i c i e n c y re lati ng to a s e e mi n g ly s ma ll n uc le i c a c i d h a s le d a w ave of c hange , p i on e e r i n g th e f i e ld of R N A “s tr uc turomi c s ”.
DR. WAN YUE Junior Principal Investigator, Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS)
UN COVE RING HI D DE N POT E N TI AL 4
ONE MILESTONE AF TER ANOTHER For her work in RNA sequencing, Yue has been re c o gni s e d i n M I T Te c hno lo gy Rev i e w ’s 20 16 “Innovators Under 35” Asia list. Yu e’s i nte re s t i n R NA has no t s to ppe d he re . With her breakthrough innovation, she has been able to targe t a re levant re s e arc h are a i n the world today: uncovering the link between RNA and antimicrobial resistance (AMR). “More bacterial pathogens are becoming increasingly resistant to the available therapies,” she says, explaining the phenomenon of AMR. “In the future, we could die from infections that were previously easily treatable.” By targeting R N A i n s t e a d o f t h e m o re c o m m o n l y s t u d i e d proteins, her research is expected to shine new light on drug therapies to combat AMR. Yue’s research in linking RNA to AMR carries s o m u c h c lo u t that s he has be e n aw arde d the Society in Science – The Branco Weiss Fellowship, a prestigious fellowship that allows postdoctoral researchers to pursue a project of their choice with significant relevance in today ’s world. She is the first Singaporean to win the fellowship, garnering international acclaim in the field. Her work may serve as a cornerstone to defeating AMR, with potential collaborations with pharmaceutical companies utilising her research to develop more effective drugs to benefit all. Fo r al l he r s u c c e s s , Yu e i s qu i c k to c re di t others, especially A*STAR for providing her the opportunity to study overseas. Her stint abroad pu t he r i n the c o m pany o f no te d i nte r nati o nal scientists, who are immensely passionate about bettering the world through science: a trait that has rubbed off on her. “The people I’ve met are very excited about research; it’s not just a job for them, but their passion and their life,” she says.
PASSING ON THE BATON OF SCIENCE Describing herself simply as “honest and dedicated”, Yue is of the mindset that science should be easily accessible, no matter how narrow the specialisation. “Information is power,” she says. “I think scientists have a social responsibility to be able to deliver information to the community in a clear, honest and simple manner, so that everyone in society can understand the implications of scientific research going on.” Besides research work, Yue also mentors interns at her lab. “ There are times when students will tell me, ‘ This is the best internship I’ve ever done!’ and that makes me feel a bit more accomplished,” she says. Yue hopes to pass on to them the importance of doing their best, and providing them the same opportunities she has had. Yue also believes more can be done to attract talent to the scientific field. To her, passion comes easily; but she remains frank about how the nature of a scientific career keeps some away. Science, to her, has always been a journey of trying and failing before hitting on something groundbreaking. “ There is a general culture in Asia where people are scared to fail,” she observes. “Most people care about that more than what they are actually interested in (with regard to science). I feel that this is a shame as we are actually wasting talent .” Another issue Yue speaks openly about is creating opportunities for women in science, particularly in areas like conferences and management. “If women want to succeed and they don’t want to put in as much time or effort in the family, they are not viewed as favourably (compared to men).” She believes a balance needs to be struck, with more family-friendly policies introduced to give female scientists the recognition they deserve. What’s next for Yue? As she sees it: “Science is a rollercoaster; it is a combination of time, energy and effort taken one step at a time”.
A* S TA R TA L E N T T I M E S
THE MEASURE OF SUCCESS W he n asked about his wo rk in A* STA R, Dr. Meng Yusong, a scientist at the National Metrology Centre (NMC ) says nothing about measurements is set in stone. Indeed, the study of metrology – the science of measurement – involves a great amount of unce r t ainty. Every me as u rem en t m a d e c a n only b e considered an e st im a te, a nd no t a n exact value. At the core of metrology lies the International System of Units (SI), encompassing familiar, interrelated units like the kilogramme or the second, which is the most accurate unit of measure out of the group. This system not only serves as an important point of reference for scientific research, but also for everyday life.
SEEKING ACCURACY Yusong has made it his life’s work to pursue the a b s olute tr ue va lue of me a s ure me n ts . U nde r the branch of electrical metrology at the NMC, he is responsible for developing, maintaining and disseminating the national measurement standards for radio frequency, microwave, and the millimetre-wave in Singapore. “ The work i s ve r y exc i ti n g,” h e s ays . “ We c on d u c t the ex p e r i me n ts loc a lly, b ut our c on tr i b u ti o ns are also being reviewed and accepted by the international metrology committee.” The call to pursue the truth through science for Yusong began from a very young age, when he would ask his teachers in school to explain th e w or ki n gs b e h i n d eve r yd ay p h e n om e no n. “ The pursuit of science allows me to understand, a n d to d i s c ove r h ow s c i e n c e c a n a n s w e r the questions we have about the world,” he reveals.
Scientist II, National Metrology Centre (NMC )
Under the T-Up scheme, Yusong’s secondment to Psiber Data enabled the company to develop a handheld cable analyzer capable of certifying 40Gbps Ethernet copper cabling systems. The first of its kind in the world, the instrument a l l o w s c a b l e m a n u f a c t u re r s t o a c c u r a t e l y te s t th e f un c ti on a li ty of h i g h -s p e e d cable s . The analyzer benefits everyday users by allowing service providers like data centres to provide a quality experience for their customers.
LEARNING ON THE JOB AND BEYOND
Yusong also lends his metrological expertise to the industry as a whole, as he is a technical as s e s s o r fo r the S i ngapo re Ac c re di tati o n Council – Singapore Laboratory Accreditation Scheme (SAC-SINGLAS). The scheme, managed by S P R I NG S i ngapo re , ensures that laboratories in the industry observe international standards. “It’s not just about checking the qu al i ty o f o pe rati o ns , but it is also about ensuring that all the products are consistent, of similar and high quality,” commenting on the confluence of factors that goes into ensuring the l abo rato r i e s o f SMEs succeed.
Yusong finds his work at A*STAR immensely meaningful. Having graduated from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), where his only previous point of reference was his professors, who provided a more academic view, he finds working in A*STAR provides a direct connection be tw e e n s c i e nce an d in d ust ry. “ T h e work at A*STAR enables interaction between research, scientific issues, and industry requirements, which will eventually help the industry to improve their competency,” he added.
The first of its kind in the world, the instrument allows cable manufacturers to accurately test the functionality of high-speed cables.
It was the quest for knowledge that drew Yusong into the field of metrology in the first place. A member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society, he is ke e n to wor k w i th o the r l i ke -m i nde d scientists in the field for scientific achievement. “My work lies mainly in the fields of science and technology, where there is always a very quick renewal of technology,” he says, referring to the humble evolution of the mobile phone. “What was previously new a few years ago can quickly become outdated today.” To him, learning and staying ahead is success in and of itself.
Tod ay, th e n a ture of Yus on g ’s w or k i n NM C requires him to collaborate closely with local SMEs to ensure that measurement standards are me t , w i th i n ta n g i b le b e n e f i ts th a t y i eld gre at s uc c e s s . O n e n ote w or thy c olla b ora ti on w as with Psiber Data, a company that specialises in delivering test and measurement solutions to the communication infrastructure market, which netted him the T-Up Excellence Award in 2015 . DR. MENG YUSONG
ESTABLISHING THE CONNECTION
Thi s u rge to le arn con t in uously exten ds to outside of his work too. Yusong is an avid fan o f do c u m e ntaries, especially t h ose based on events in history. “Many lessons can be learned fro m m i s take s made in t h e past , in order to improve the future,” he says. Yusong sums up his overarching philosophy of re al w o r ld le a rn in g wit h , “ T h ere is n o en d to learning.” It is due to the possibility of learning something new that he looks forward to work every day. Ultimately, Yusong aims to strive for accuracy and recognition for his work — culminating in an ongoing push for Singapore to measure up to international standards.
Comparative testing with Psiber’s handheld network analyzers in NMC’s lab
Th e h a n d h e ld c a b le a n a ly ze r w a s n ot the b e -a ll a n d e n d -a ll of h i s a c h i eve me n t , as he f i n d s h i s s uc c e s s e s s p li t w h olly b e tw e e n i nve n ti on a n d i n n ova ti on . “ For th i s p ro j e c t , w e’re n ot j us t p rov i d i n g a p hys i c a l d ev i c e ,” h e ex p la i n s . “ We a re c olla b ora ti n g w i th c omp a n i e s to p a r ti c i p a te i n i n te r n a ti o nal s ta n d a rd s c ommi tte e s , a n d to a ls o p u s h o u r c on tr i b uti on s i n to th e i n te r n a ti on a l fi e ld.”
A* S TA R TA L E N T T I M E S
REVOLUTIONARY R ES E ARCH M E T HODS A day in the life of Dr. Samuel Gan is frenetic, with his work beginning even before he steps into t he office. D u ring h is c o m m u te, he is che cking ema il s, writing p a p ers, a nd p u l l ing up lab results — a feat that he achieves on his smartphone alone, on apps he himself designed.
A LAB WITHOUT BOUNDARIES Th e As s i s ta n t Pr i n c i p a l Inve s ti ga tor a t th e B i oi n f or mati c s Institute (BII) says that the idea behind the scientific research apps stemmed from inconvenience, and frustration. A colleague h a d on c e re q ue s te d D N A s e q ue n c i n g re s ults w h i le S a m u e l w as on th e go, a n d eve n w i th th e f i le s s i tti n g i n h i s i n b ox , he c o u ld not open them without getting to a computer. “I felt that it was re la ti ve ly od d th a t w e e a c h c a r r i e d a p ow e r f ul c omp u te r i n o u r pockets, but we were constrained by artificial barriers like office space, or the availability of a computer,” he says. Unable to find a suitable alternative on the market , Samuel set out to create the app himself. The first app, DNAApp, was developed in just three months; the app allows researchers to analyse sequenced DNA samples on the go. Since then, Samuel and his team have gone on to create close to 20 apps, some of which have garnered media coverage, and publications in top journals. Approximately 10,000 users around the globe have used these apps for their own research purposes. Samuel hopes that in time, discoveries will not be limited to the lab. “One of my dreams is to have a truly mobile lab,” the selfconfessed workaholic reveals. Conjuring up images of vans that contain a lab within, he hopes to shrink things down even further. “In the future, a lab may just be a small bag containing a mobile phone, and a few peripheral devices,” he says. Seeing room for potential, the molecular cell biologist recently co-founded a specialised journal titled Scientific Phone Apps and Mobile Devices, the first of its kind in the world. Already, he has received submissions from various countries all over the world, some detailing interesting state-of-the art applications for apps.
MAKE , AND TAKE OPPORTUNITIES
Be s i de s hi s w o r k i n s c i e nti fi c re s e arc h apps , S am u e l’s w o r k s pans a w i de range o f di s c i pl i ne s . W hi le hi s l ab fo c u s e s o n anti bo dy e ngi ne e r i ng, and u nrave l l i ng the mys te r i e s be hi nd antibody structures, Samuel is also involved in fields like drug design, and even psychology. “All the disciplines are connected, and it is all knowledge,” he says of dabbling in many different fields. Samuel believes the old adage, “Never put all your eggs i n o ne bas ke t ” ho lds w ate r eve n i n s c i e nc e : “Be i ng extre m e ly s pe c i al i s e d i n ac ade m i a i s a re l ati ve ly m o de r n phe no m e no n. It may be difficult to get people to switch from their very specific fields, but it is important to adapt.”
Eve n fo r al l hi s experimen t at ion , Samuel i s s u r pr i s i ngly pragmat ic. D espite h is of tau dac i o u s approach to scien ce, h e st ill h olds a phi lo s o phy rooted in logic — t h at of h avin g a t an gible goal in wh atever h e does. Besides h avin g a cle ar dest in at ion in t h e h orizon , Samuel also t h in ks life is about mak in g use of t h e opport un it ies t h at come by. “If t h ere are n o opport un it ies, fin d w ays to make t h em,” h e s ays.
It is through Samuel’s involvement in many different fields that he can draw inspiration from unlikely places, pulling thoughts from one discipline to another. “It’s all about looking at things from a different angle,” he says.
THE CYCLE OF RESPONSIBILIT Y S am u e l’s i nte re s t i n s c i e nc e began w he n he w as yo u ng, w he re the s c i e nc e o f s ho ws l i ke X-F iles and Ju rassic Park, altho ugh improbable, fascinated him. “Whatever I learnt in school during the day, I w as w atc hi ng i t i n a fi c ti o nal fo r m o n T V at ni ght ,” he recalls. This interest was fostered by a slew of mentors he had d uring the early years of his scientific journey, including d uring his polytechnic internship at NUS-IMCB, where Samuel co-authored his first scientific publication. I n the s am e w ay he w as gi ve n o ppo r tu ni ti e s , S am u e l ho pe s to give back to the scientists of tomorrow. Under Samuel’s guidance, many of the interns and new staff in his lab have made strides of their own and garnered first-author publications. On a l arge r s c ale , S am u e l o bs e r ve s that the advanc e m e nt o f s c i e nc e i s de pe nde nt o n pu bl i c pe rc e pti o n, w he re grants are more forthcoming when the outcomes of research are seen to have understandable, and significant real-world impact. In turn, such grants can be used to train scientists, who will then apply their expertise to improving the world. He sees it as a responsibility of science to perpetuate this cycle of nurturing talent. “We have a social responsibility to distribute beneficial research out to the world,” Samuel says.
“Opportunity knocks and lingers for a very short while; grab it while you can. If there are no opportunities, find ways to make them.”
So in -bet ween co-aut h orin g books, taking courses t o b ro a d e n h i s k n o w l e d ge , a n d basically h avin g a h an d in everyt h in g, Samuel makes t ime i n hi s bu s y s c hed ule to do wh at h e believes in m o s t—c re ati ng n ew opport un it ies for h imself and o the rs .
DR. SAMUEL GAN Assistant Principal Investigator, Bioinformatics Institute (BII) Product Development Lab; Adjunct Researcher, p 53 Lab
Samuel’s apps have also garnered interest from various parties, further developed through tie-ups with companies, and eventually serving as important learning tools for the next generation of s c i e n ti s ts , or a nyon e w h o h a s a b ud d i n g i n te re s t i n s ci e nc e . This is why he offers his apps for free online, as he believes in “restoring the freedom of knowledge and science.”
A* S TA R TA L E N T T I M E S
D E C ODI N G N ATU R E S cie nce ta king the cu e fro m na t u re is no t h ing new. However, Dr. Shawn Hoon, a Senior Research Fellow at the Molecular Engineering Lab (MEL ), is poised to bring things one step further. “J u s t b e c a u s e w e ’re s t u d y i n g n a t u re , it doesn’t mean that we’re going to deplete our natural resources,” Shawn says, dispelling the misconception about research on biomaterials. His work requires more finesse, often beginning at the cellular level, such as by studying the genetic code of noteworthy species and then replicating it in the lab.
PLASTIC WITH TEETH
CASTING A WIDE NET
S h aw n’s w or k ta p s on w h a t c a n b e f ou nd a ll a roun d S i n ga p ore — d i ve rs e ma r i n e l i fe . By studying the mechanisms of marine organisms, he has created super biomaterials with many viable applications today.
Now in A*STAR, Shawn continues his work on the interface of several different fields, but with m o re fre e do m to pu rs u e the pro j e c ts that i nte re s t hi m . “ Yo u ge t to s tar t the day by asking, ‘ What should I work on today?’” he says. The congregation of talent also makes A*STAR the perfect crucible for the experimental nature of his work, where experts from different fields can collaborate to bring success to a project.
Inspired by the molecular structure of a squid’s sucker ring teeth, Shawn has worked with his collaborators at NTU to develop a plastic that is significantly harder and more durable than everyday plastics. This new biomaterial could p ote n ti a lly b e ma d e b i oc omp a ti b le f or fo o d or drug packaging, or even into hardy, waterresistant parts for organ implants. “It’s really about seeing how nature solves a problem and s e e i n g w h e th e r you c a n mi mi c p a r ts of i t ,” Shawn explains. Other developments include waterproof glue derived from mussels, and an extremely elastic material inspired by the egg capsules of sea snails. N a ture - i n s p i re d b i oma te r i a ls c a n re d u c e the world’s dependence on unsustainable resources, paving the way for a greater conservation. But the process of bringing these materials to market is an uphill climb, as synthetic materials make for a s tron ge r c a s e on i s s ue s li ke c os t . S ti l l , the p os s i b i li ti e s ex i s t , a s S h aw n i s i n ta lks w i th va r i ous c omp a n i e s to b r i n g th i s te c h no lo gy to life.
Shawn also attributes his interest in biomaterials to the vast possibilities of nature, some unknown to us even now. “People have looked at not just materials, but also at how nature has certain w ays o f do i ng thi ngs , l i ke the w ay te r m i te s c o ns tr u c t the i r ho m e s , o r ho w the s hape o f certain fishes gives it aerodynamic properties,” he explains.
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
Shawn believes that science education today should create an “environment of mentorship” and “allow students to accept failure as a part of learning”, preserving the curiosity they had as k ids. Failure, h e t h in ks, i s t h e solut ion to success. A f ter al l , t h ere is alw ays somet h in g to le arn from a failed experimen t , w h i l e a l w a y s t r y i n g t o ge t t h e r i gh t result defe at s t h e purpose of experimentation.
“It’s really about seeing how nature s o lv e s a problem and seeing whether you can mimic parts of it.”
Shawn wishes to translate his work i nto somet h in g useful , somet h in g that will indirectly contribute to the i nd ust ry in Sin gapore. D escribin g himself as “motivated, helpful and curious”, he also hopes to make use of his curiosity as a tool to guide the scientists of tomorrow.
Shawn believes the most important aspect is to o bs e r ve , and to qu e s ti o n. “I t ’s no t abo u t finding the solution, but starting first by asking the right questions,” he says. This is something he tr i e s to i m par t to the s tu de nts he m e nto rs in his lab at MEL . Shawn considers his job done w he n hi s s tu de nts gai n the c o nfi de nc e to as k questions, and conduct experiments on their own.
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS S h aw n’s f oray i n to th e f i e ld of mole c u l ar engineering was a gradual melding of his two i n te re s ts i n b i olog y a n d c omp ute r s c i e nc e . After returning to Singapore with a degree in computer engineering from the United States, S h a w n’s c h i l d h o o d i n t e re s t i n b i o l o g y w a s rekindled by the Human Genome Project, one of the largest collaborative biological projects going on at the time. The trend of information gathering and computing in biology opened his eye s to a n oth e r s i d e of th e f i e ld : “ It w as the n I could see the parallel between what I learned in computer science, and in biology.” In S i n ga p ore , a s i mi la r ge n ome p roj e c t w as a ls o i n p rog re s s . Th e f ugu ( p uf f e r f i s h) ge no m e p roj e c t a t th e N US - IM CB w a s w h e re S haw n p i c ke d up b i olog y, a n d me t h i s lon g-ti m e me n tor, D r. S yd n ey B re n n e r.
(L-R) A*STAR Dr. Shawn Hoon, NTU Asst Prof Ali Miserez and Dr. Paul Guerette; holding squid ring sucker teeth, mussels and a sea snail in a petri dish (Photo credit: NTU)
DR. SHAWN HOON Senior Research Fellow, Molecular Engineering Lab (MEL)
Squid sucker ring teeth in a petri dish (Photo credit: NTU)
A* S TA R TA L E N T T I M E S
“Art can translate certain concepts of science that are often difficult to understand, into an experience.”
T HE S TUDY OF LIGHT Despite most of his work occurring on a nanoscale level, or one b i lli on th th e s i ze of a me tre , D r. S h aw n Ta n h a s a lw ays be e n drawn to the bigger picture. Th e s c i e n ti s t f rom th e In s ti tute of M a te r i a ls Re s e a rc h and En g i n e e r i n g (IM R E) d e a ls w i th th e n a s c e n t f i e ld of s c ie nc e c a lle d n a n op la s mon i c s , w h i c h s tud i e s a n d ma n i p ula tes ho w li g h t i n te ra c ts w i th me ta l p a r ti c le s a t th e n a n ome tre s c ale . M e ta ls a t th e n a n os c a le d e mon s tra te e le c tron i c a n d o pti c al p rop e r ti e s th a t d i f f e r f rom th e i r b ulk c oun te r p a r ts , a n d the i r op ti c a l re s p on s e c a n b e e n g i n e e re d by th e p a r ti c le s i ze and re la ti ve p os i ti on i n g to ma n i f e s t d i f f e re n t c olours . Alth oug h s ma ll i n s i ze , S h aw n’s i n n ova ti on may s e r ve as a s p r i n g b oa rd f or ma s s i ve a d va n c e me n ts i n te c h n olog y.
U s i ng nano pl as m o ni c s , S haw n m anage d to create the world’s smallest reproduction of a painting, and in full colour. Referencing Claude M o n e t ’s I m p r e s s i o n , S u n r i s e ; t h e d a p p l e d brushstrokes of the Impressionist painting were reproduced on a canvas of a mere 300 micrometres across. “A spectrum of colours can be achieved by engineering the size and position of metal nanostructures, which influence how they interact with light,” Shawn explains.
Shawn’s interest in translating his innovation into more creative outlets stems from his love of art , especially local contemporary and performance art . “I have always valued exposure to new experiences and new skills,” he says. In the age of multidisciplinary work , Shawn believes that lessons learned from artists dabbling in many different mediums can be applied to science as well. “Every year, artists are renewing themselves; they are exploring and integrating new things into their work ,” he observes. “Even as a scientist , you really need to know what’s out there to do well in your work .”
With this approach, an impossibly high resolution o f approxi m ate ly 10 0,0 0 0 do ts pe r i nc h (dpi ) for printed colour images can be achieved, far surpassing available industrial printing techniques. For this innovation, Shawn has been s ho r tl i s te d as o ne o f the to p 10 i nnovato rs i n MIT Technology Review ’s Innovators Under 35 list from the Asia-Pacific region.
A MELTING POT OF EXPERIENCES
SERENDIPIT Y AND NANOPLASMONICS S haw n de s c r i be s hi s i ni ti al fo ray i nto the fi e ld o f nano pl as m o ni c s as “ tange nti al”. D u r i ng hi s s tu di e s he re and i n the US as an A*S TAR s c ho l ar, he nav i gate d to w ards s u bj e c ts l i ke c a n c e r t h e r a p y, D N A a s s e m b l y o f m e t a l nano par ti c le s , and the n fi nal ly fo u nd hi s ni c he w i th nano pl as m o ni c s .
In his free time, Shawn enjoys expanding his horizons by reading up on subjects like business and psychology, travelling, and cooking. On the topic of what inspires him in life, Shawn takes a bird’s eye view on things: “My inspiration rarely stems from a single source bu t rathe r a m e lti ng po t o f experien ces. For example, if you’re going to make a decision, you make an informed decision based on the breadth of information and experiences you can source out , or have been exposed to before.” Shawn’s freeform, cross-disciplinary approach is evident outside his work . Even when talking about his hobbies, he cannot resist drawing comparisons back to science: “ The kitchen is kind of a lab; cooking is both an art and a science, no?”
Always keeping up with the latest developments in science and technology, Shawn has his sights set on nanoplasmonics and other fields beyond. “Science is a good path to learn and discover, but there are other avenues to learn from and apply as well,” he says. He has taken courses in areas as diverse as data science, financial accounting and business analytics, and is confident these skills can be applied and complement what he has already learned at A*STAR.
DR. SHAWN TAN Scientist II, Institute of Materials Rese a rc h and Engineering (IMRE)
Full colour reproduction of Monet’s Impression , Sunrise using aluminium plasmonic pixels
As i de fro m pro d u c i ng c o lo u r i m age s , nanoplasmonics could be employed in areas of authentication and security, like to make tags that cannot be easily replicated to protect hi gh-valu e ge nu i ne go o ds and eve n c u r re nc y. “ The next s te p w i l l de fi ni te ly be o n tr y i ng to reduce costs while improving the scalability so that it can be easily adopted by the industry,” he says. Ano the r i nte re s ti ng appl i c ati o n that he ho pe s to dabble i n i s j e w e l le r y, as the te c hno lo gy could impart colours to the metals used, o r to pr i nt m i c ro -s i ze d pho to s o n j e w e l le r y, as pe rs o nal i s e d m e m e nto s .
A* S TA R TA L E N T T I M E S
T HE T-UP E XC E L LE NC E AWAR DS The T-Up Excellence Aw ards is an annual aw ard that acknowledges the outstanding contributions that A*STAR rese archers have made in their secondment to local enterprises. By tapping into the pool of R&D talent at A*STAR, companies are able to leverage their scientific expertise, identify key areas of technology and position developments that will enable local enterprises to gain traction in an increasingly globally competitive market.
LING YII LEONG ex-Re s e arc h E ngi ne e r o f Institute for Infocomm Research (I 2 R); current Head of IT, R&D Department of LDR Pte Ltd and LDR Technology Pte Ltd Part of secondment to: LDR Pte Ltd
DR XAVIER LE GUEZENNEC Senior Research Fellow of Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB)
Improvements made on a tiny, but mighty cornerstone of the research and clinical diagnostics industry – the microplate – spell big benefits for the market . A normal microplate is a plastic plate containing wells that act as small test tubes, and is commonly used in areas of analytic re s e a rc h a n d c li n i c a l d i a g n os ti c te s ti n g. Th e D rop Ar ray (DA) technology pioneered by Curiox Biosystems introduces a wall-less feature that eliminates issues of capillary action, and loss of cells from harsh washing.
With his expertise in miniaturised biological applications, Xavier then improved u p o n Ya n g ’s te c h n olog y, ex p a n d i n g th e c e ll- b a s e d a p p li c a ti on s va lue o f the optimised DA plate. DR. XIAO YANG Scientist II of Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) Part of secondment to: Curiox Biosystems Pte Ltd
Their combined efforts have allowed Curiox Biosystems to file patents on the new technology, which will serve as a stepping stone to developing more applications and forms. The launch of new products has also enabled Curiox Biosystems to increase their revenue by 200 to 300 percent , expanding into other markets around the world such as Japan, Korea, and in Silicon Valley of the USA . According to Yang, it is the day-to-day solving of problems, and their immediate im p a c t , th a t ma ke s h e r s e c on d me n t ex p e r i e n c e to c omp a n i e s s uc h a s Cu r i ox memorable. “It allows me to use the knowledge and skills I’ve gained from my research background to bring the project to success, and at the same time gain n ew k n ow le d ge f rom d i f f e re n t a re a s of ex p e r ti s e .” Xav i e r, on th e oth e r hand, is thankful for the opportunities that have opened up since his embarking on the T-Up programme. “ The road has been rich in meeting and learning from many people in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries across the world,” he says.
Who knew that the large expanse of heritage trails could be conveniently condensed into the palm of your hand? Over three secondment projects, Yii Leong assisted LDR in its effort to s tre am l i ne Pocket Trips i nto a mobile app t h at h as many uses ranging from education to customer engagement . Pocket Trips is a mobile app that allows users to publish their own location-based interactive trails without any prior programming knowledge. Yii Leong also developed an advertising model that allows F&B outlets to integrate rewards like vouchers along the trails. This commercialises the app while at the same time eschews obtrusive advertising, and most importantly enables Pocket Trips to remain free and accessible to all.
Now the Head of IT and R&D Department of LDR, Yii Leong leads his own team in tackling real world challenges with real, tangible benefits. He describes his secondment as a breath of fresh air, allowing him to work on projects that have a real impact on a consumer base. “It’s a really great experience,” Yii Leong says. “Working with SMEs allows me to tackle actual problems that customers and clients face, outside of research work.”
SMALL INNOVATION, BIG BENEFITS
Yang’s work on the DA microplate involves applying a surface treatment to the plate, ensuring that one of the three different plastic surfaces attracts water and has a long shelf life, while the rest of the surfaces remain unchanged.
PUT TING LEARNING ON THE MAP
Pocket Trips was successfully integrated into major events like the 8 th Asian Para Games and the SG50 Jubilee Celebrations via its SG Heart Map Mobile App trails in 2015 . LDR’s proprietary powerful web-based authoring platform won the coveted Gold Award for Best Innovative Infocomm Product (Enterprise) in 2015 .
This year, four winning nominees bagged the T-Up Excellence Awards 2016, which were presented at the annual A*STAR SME Day. Talent Times learns more about their work.
THE LAUNCH OF NEW PRODUCTS HAS ALSO ENABLED CURIOX BIOSYSTEMS TO INCREASE THEIR REVENUE BY 200 T O 3 0 0 P E R C E N T, E X PA N D I N G I N T O O T H E R MARKETS AROUND THE W O R L D S U C H A S J A PA N , KOREA , AND IN SILICON VA L L E Y O F T H E U S A .
POCKET TRIPS W A S S U C C E S S F U L LY I N T E G R AT E D I N TO MAJOR EVENTS L I K E T H E 8 TH A S I A N PA R A G A M E S A N D THE SG50 JUBILEE C E L E B R AT I O N S V I A I T S SG HEART MAP MOBILE APP TRAILS IN 2015. L D R ’S P R O P R I E TA RY POWERFUL WEB-BASED A U T H O R I N G P L AT F O R M WON THE COVETED GOLD AWARD FOR BEST I N N O V AT I V E I N F O C O M M PRODUCT (ENTERPRISE) IN 2015.
AO YINTAI Senior Research Engineer of Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) Part of secondment to: LHT Holdings Ltd
T H E I N N O V AT I O N HAS HELPED LHT TO MONITOR BUSINESS VOLUME AND IDENTIFY POTENTIAL ISSUES A L M O S T I N S TA N T LY, REDUCE ANNUAL BUSINESS COSTS AND HUMAN ERROR.
REINVENTING THE WOODEN WHEEL For an established timber company that churns out around 7,000 wooden pallets a day, to the tune of more than 1,800,000 pallets a year, efficient yet sustainable business practices rank high on the totem pole.
Using his expertise in sustainable manufacturing and business process management, Ao Yintai, a Senior Research Engineer from the Singapore Institute Of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech), assisted the timber company LHT Holdings Ltd in setting up systems to better manage raw materials by planning their replenishments based on customer order patterns. Yintai’s system also monitors real-time business activity in the pallet manufacturing operations through the analysis of event patterns. The innovation has helped LHT to monitor business volume and identify potential issues almost instantly, reduce annual business costs and human error. This was a huge improvement from the previously paper-based, manually entered system. This secondment project kickstarted LHT ’s in-house R&D development , thereby enhancing several aspects of pallet manufacturing. The streamlining of processes has also helped LHT to manufacture and market RFID-tagged pallets, making the pallets trackable in the supply chain worldwide. For his unexpected win, Yintai is grateful that all his efforts have paid off. However, he believes his success was a combination of effort contributed by both parties. “ The researcher helps the SME to gain R&D capabilities, improve processes and e nhanc e pro d u c ti v i ty, w hi le the s e c o ndm e nt i n t h e SME allows t h e rese arch er to better understand the needs of the industry and be more targeted in helping them,” he explains.
To find out more about our programmes, visit www.a-star.edu.sg /sme
A* S TA R TA L E N T T I M E S
Tapping into a demand in the industry for diagnostics devices that will improve patient treatment, the DxD (Diagnostics D evelopment) Hub w as set up to accelerate the development of these technologies from initial discovery to market viability. The DxD Hub brings together a variety of professionals from the rese arch and business sectors in the biomedical industry, and practising clinicians, allowing the Hub to garner valuable input for clinically-validated, market-re ady diagnostics solutions. Established in November 2014 , the DxD Hub currently has around 350 projects in the pipeline.
Can you s h are wit h us s om e detai l s of the current and upcom in g project s t h at t h e DxD H ub i s worki ng on? The bu l k o f o u r pro j e c ts at the momen t lies in molecular diagnostics. One of these involves applying liquid biopsy in detecting liver cancer. Instead of physically taking a piece of tissue from the patient, we can take a blood sample for analysis to determine if he or she is at high risk of developing liver cancer. The re i s al s o a c lu s te r o f pro j ect s in imagin g an alyt ics, wh ich involves using technology to assist pathologists to analyse tissue samples objectively and efficiently.
B R I D G I N G
T H E
To gain a deeper perspective of the inner workings of the DxD H ub, Ta le n t Ti me s s a t d ow n w i th th e CEO of th e Dx D H u b, Dr. Sidney Yee.
“The vision for the DxD Hub revolves around three objectives: capability, capacity, and the impact to the patient.” 16
H o w h a s th e Dx D H u b tra n s fo r m e d th e d eve lo pm e n t of t h e lo c a l d i a gn o s ti c s a n d m e di c a l dev i c e s e c o s ys te m? The whole point of DxD Hub is competency transfer. We’re able to not only build a team to help, but to also transfer knowledge to our local enterprises. Our approach lies in asking the right and relevant questions, identifying gaps in product development, and co-developing with local companies to plug these gaps. Hopefully, the cost-sharing aspect of what DxD Hub does will allow more local enterprises to embark on such a route.
G A P Wh at are s om e key ch allen ges t h at t h e DxD Hub face? A key challenge is the different perspectives of research, and of the market. A critical gap lies in the understanding of steps taken from a lab discovery, to a product with commercial value that someone will buy. From the market’s perspective, the intended use – whether it is screening, early detection, or a complementary test – is an important concept. It is only after we’ve understood the intended use that we can go back to decide what we can do to develop a product that fulfils the intended use.
We’re al s o begi nni ng to br i ng in devices un der t h e are a of i ntrao pe rati ve di agno s ti c s , w hich are tools t h at will allow c l i ni c i ans to di agno s e , and tre at pat ien t s at t h e s ame t ime.
As t h e C EO of DxD Hub, wh at i s your vi si on f or the H ub in t h e n ext five ye ars ? The vision for the DxD Hub revolves around three objectives: capability, capacity, and the impact to the patient . The fact that Singapore is a small market forces us to think differently. We need to think global, and to regard the whole world as our potential market . No matter where the prod uct is being sold, we need to ensure that value is captured here in Singapore. This can be done by way of manufacturing, and by ensuring that companies have the capabilities to manufacture with value in product design, in addition to contract manufacturing. The second objective is capability. DxD Hub aims to help more c o m pani e s to be able to eve ntually licen se an d develop t h eir own products.
In other words, we are in a collaborative partnership with the company. In that process, the company will eventually gain the know-how and competency to develop their own products, and garner important industry validation and deals.
DxD Hub is the “translator” in the ecosystem. We need to look at the data and identify the most suitable intended use. Then we can proceed to guide the researchers on their next steps towards product development.
W i th m o re par ti e s i n the e c o s ystem t h at are able to do so, it will help us scale our capacity, by translating a lot more of o u r i nte l le c tu al pro pe r ty fro m public in st it ut ion s in to m ar ke table pro d u c ts .
One example of such a collaborative partnership was with a local startup, which has experience in industry research, but not in product development . In the 18 months of working with DxD Hub, the startup closed a credible industry deal with a publicly listed European company dealing with molecular diagnostics solutions.
What we hope to guide and work towards is a very measured and calculated road map for product development, versus only viewing it from the research point of view where it begins with the discovery, and from possible experiments which are derived from the discovery.
Ultimately, we have to consider the overarching question, which i s “ w he the r thi s pro d u c t has the poten t ial to ch an ge clin ical prac ti c e”. I f the ans w e r to the quest ion is yes, t h en t h e impact to the pati e nt w i l l be i nc re di ble an d t h e prod uct will h ave far-reaching effects.
A*STAR SCIENCE VIDEOS ON-THE-GO! New YouTube channel features easy-to-understand, made-in-Singapore science, and how these advances could impact you.
Catch all the episodes at www.youtube.com/astartv
A modelling tool that helps you make more informed choices beyond the simple decision to carry an umbrella, people who feel different kinds of pain, and green tea as the answer to curing cancer: these are the questions you never asked about the world, answered. A*STAR TV, an easy-to-understand science YouTube channel, features bite-sized episodes of groundbreaking discoveries made by A*STAR researchers like Prof Jackie Ying, Dr. Poh Hee Joo, and Dr. Paul Bigliardi. Their innovations lie not only at the forefront of science but more importantly have the potential to impact the way we live.
View the full stories at www.a-star.edu.sg/ Media/A-STAR-TV.aspx
UPCOMING EPISODES UNDERSTANDING PAIN THROUGH HEALING Eve r touc h e d a b oi li n g ke ttle by a c c i d e n t on ly to re tra c t your h and instantly upon contact? Even before you can yelp from the pain, your body ’s pain receptors are already dispatching a myriad of cells to the wound site to patch you up. But what happens if you cannot feel pain, or experience “bad” (chronic) pain as opposed to “good” (acute) pain? F i n d out more i n th i s A* S TAR T V e p i s od e w h i c h w i ll d e mys ti f y th e concepts of pain and healing, and their significance in our daily lives.
THE NEW URBAN TOOL FOR A NEW URBAN COOL Find Singapore increasingly hot? Global warming may not be the only c ulp r i t . Th e U r b a n H e a t Is la n d (U H I) e f f e c t i s a p h e n ome n on w h ere urban areas are significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas, due to the hustle and bustle of city life. A revolutionary new tool developed by A* S TAR s c i e n ti s ts n ow a n a lys e s s un li g h t , w i n d , a n d n oi s e leve l s i n Singapore, so that urban planners can make smarter decisions. For instance, how to make use of natural wind corridors to maximise energy savings, or w h e re to p la c e w a te r f e a ture s to b r i n g d ow n th e te mp e ra tures ! All these plus other interesting ways in which this tool can help to build a cooler Singapore.
THE GREEN TEA YOU NEVER KNEW Often hailed for its anti-inflammatory properties, green tea may be the solution to thwarting cancer. Researchers have developed an innovative new drug nanocarrier by using an ingredient found in green tea. These carriers can seek out cancer cells while sparing healthy tissues. On the other hand, scientists also came up with a new painless method – similar to how we use a tea strainer to separate tea leaves from tea – to diagnose cancer. Compared to an invasive biopsy, this new device acts as a sieve to trap cancer cells painlessly, while letting the normal blood cells through. Explore more stealth-like qualities of tea in this episode of A*STAR TV.