Bringing science to the community

Technological advancements have enabled us to solve many challenging problems of mankind and improve our quality of life. To help the general public better appreciate the positive impact of technology, a team of six NUS scientists led by Assistant Professor Andy Tay showcased their research work in an exhibition titled “Technologies for a Future-ready Singapore” held at Cheng San Public Library from 3 to 20 March 2023.

Asst Prof Tay, who is from the Department of Biomedical Engineering under the NUS College of Design and Engineering (NUS CDE), said, “Science outreach is a subject very close to my heart. As a first-generation university graduate, I did not have access or opportunities to come into contact with researchers. One of my fondest memories as a child was to visit the library on weekends to read science books. It was with this in mind that we collaborated with the National Library Board to have the exhibition in a heartland library to bring science closer to the residents.”

This exhibition was organised in the wake of a successful science outreach exhibition held at Woodlands Regional Library last year where six NUS researchers created videos in mandarin to share their work in the areas of regenerative medicine, digital health and cancer science.

Preparing Singapore for future challenges

The exhibition focused on how the work of scientists can help Singapore be better prepared for challenges associated with an aging population, infectious diseases and climate change.

Mr Donald Ting, who is a doctoral student in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (NUS Medicine), presented his project on studying how sugar molecules protect the dengue virus from being detected and eliminated by our body's immune system. His work could contribute towards vaccine development and drug design by finding ways to circumvent the sugar shield of dengue virus.

A pharmacist by training, Dr Sonja Chua, who is a Scientific Manager at the Immunology Translational Research Programme under NUS Medicine, showcased her work to identify and study novel host proteins that is hijacked by the flu virus during its life cycle. That way, it may be possible to develop a drug that targets all flu strains to reduce complications caused by the virus.

The exhibition also featured the research projects of three doctoral students from NUS CDE.  Mr Kanishka Fernando, who is from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, is engineering a platform to grow tumours outside of the body. This model that mimics the actual patient tumour environment would facilitate more effective drug screening and enable personalised cancer treatments.

Mr Zhang Jiawei, who is from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is developing algorithms to optimise the design and management of lithium-ion batteries. In his work, Jiawei reviewed an All-Climate Battery technology that uses nickel foil to tackle low-temperature issues. This technology could improve the reliability and safety of battery electric vehicles in cold climates.

Over at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Ms Keshia Saradima Indriadi is designing a new catalyst that can break down ammonia into hydrogen more efficiently so that hydrogen can be harvested as a clean fuel.

Lastly, Dr Matias Quintana, Research Fellow in the Department of the Built Environment which is part of NUS CDE showcased an application developed at the research lab he is part of. The smartwatch application collects physiological data like heart rate and users’ perception of their environment, which is used to create an AI model to better understand how climate conditions such as temperature, chill factors and wind factors influence indoor comfort experienced by building occupants. His work could contribute to the development of energy-saving applications for the built environment.

Role models for young scientists

Besides making scientific discoveries more accessible to the general public, Asst Prof Tay and his team also hope to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. On 11 March 2023, the NUS team also organised a ‘meet-the-scientists’ session at the Cheng San Public Library.

Asst Prof Tay said, “The researchers had a great time meeting library visitors and explaining our work to them. Through such meaningful and engaging interactions, we hope to inspire more children and young people to consider pursuing an education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)!”

This latest exhibition is organised in collaboration with the National Library Board and supported by the National Youth Council through the Young ChangeMakers grant. Asst Prof Tay and his team plan to hold similar exhibitions in other local neighbourhoods to bring science closer to the heartland.