NUS scientists recognised with national honours for research excellence

Three outstanding NUS scientists who have excelled in the fields of engineering and biological sciences have received Singapore’s top honours for their exceptional contributions in pushing the boundaries of Singapore’s science and technology landscape and beyond.

The President’s Science & Technology Awards, the highest accolade for research scientists and engineers in Singapore, celebrates the achievements of its winners as they create impact through their research excellence and as role models for their peers and aspiring researchers.

Adjunct Professor Quek Gim Pew from the NUS College of Design and Engineering was conferred the prestigious President’s Science and Technology Medal, which is awarded to researchers who play a key role in advancing Singapore’s development through the promotion and management of science and technology. 

Associate Professor Qiu Cheng-Wei from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering  under the NUS College of Design and Engineering received the President’s Science Award, which recognises the distinguished contributions of researchers who had a transformative effect on science and technology.

Assistant Professor Tan Yong Zi from the Department of Biological Sciences under the NUS Faculty of Science clinched the Young Scientist Award (YSA), which is awarded to researchers aged 35 and below who are actively engaged in R&D in Singapore and have shown great potential to be world-class researchers. The YSA is administered by the Singapore National Academy of Science and supported by the National Research Foundation, Singapore.  

Adj Prof Quek and Assoc Prof Qiu received their awards from President Tharman Shanmugaratnam at a presentation ceremony held at the Istana on 20 October 2023. Asst Prof Tan was presented the award by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at the same event.

2023 President’s Science and Technology Medal Recipient: Adj Prof Quek Gim Pew

Adj Prof Quek was recognised for his dedication to shaping Singapore’s Research, Innovation, and Enterprise (RIE) ecosystem. His distinguished contributions include developing local capabilities in science and technology, particularly in space technology, quantum engineering, artificial intelligence, and high-performance computing, as well as championing STEM-related initiatives to nurture the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Adj Prof Quek has dedicated over four decades of sterling service to the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), where he played a pivotal role in advancing many critical initiatives. As Chief Defence Scientist, he was instrumental in establishing innovative programmes to merge MINDEF with the local RIE ecosystem, elevating Singapore’s defence capabilities.

Adj Prof Quek is currently the Senior R&D Consultant of MINDEF and sits on various boards of agencies, organisations, and Institutes of Higher Learning.

Adj Prof Quek has also made significant contributions in building up the nation’s capabilities in quantum technologies. He served as Chair of the Centre for Quantum Technologies, where he coordinated the shift of quantum research from a primarily fundamental science-focused approach to a nationwide initiative. He later went on to Co-Chair the National Quantum Steering Committee, and drove the Quantum Engineering Programme for applications, including securing communication systems and financial services networks.

Adj Prof Quek’s influence on Singapore's quantum capabilities was exemplified by his active promotion of partnerships and collaboration between local and international entities, bolstering Singapore’s reputation as a global quantum research hub.

Additionally, Adj Prof Quek was a champion for STEM education and played an active role in nurturing the next generation of STEM talent. During his time at the DSO National Laboratories, he launched the Young Defence Scientist Programme and initiated a series of competitions to engage students through valuable hands-on learning opportunities. As Deputy Chair of the Office for Space Technology & Industry, Adj Prof Quek continues to steer outreach and student engagement through the Integrated Space Programme.

Read the full citation here.

2023 President’s Science Award Recipient: Assoc Prof Qiu Cheng-Wei

Assoc Prof Qiu was recognised for his pioneering research in topological thermal materials and diffusion physics to develop green tech solutions for emerging challenges such as global warming, the energy crisis and heat waste. His work has established new frontiers in classical fields of thermal diffusion, drastically changing the landscape of thermal science.

Assoc Prof Qiu’s seminal work in the field of quantum thermal diffusion has led to the development of innovative technologies in areas such as microelectronics, chip technologies, thermal imaging, and carbon neutrality. His recent breakthrough in materials science can enhance thermal conduction better than silver and gold, as well as potentially cool a room down without using any extra energy.

Assoc Prof Qiu’s pioneering research in the field has led to a series of innovations, which has helped to overcome pressing issues of heat dissipation, over-heating, and low-grade heat upcycling in integrated chips, computing servers for IoTs and other related industries.

Assoc Prof Qiu has published over 480 papers with more than 39,000 citations. He is also a recipient of many prestigious awards, such as the Engineering Researcher Award in NUS (2021) and the World Scientific Medal presented by Institute of Physics, Singapore (2021). He was most recently conferred the Achievement in Asia Award 2023 by the International Organization of Chinese Physicists and Astronomers in the US, and was also named by Clarivate as one of the Highly Cited Researchers from 2019 to 2023.

Beyond pursuing academic excellence, Assoc Prof Qiu is a dedicated mentor, with many former members of his lab becoming prominent figures and scientists who are making waves in science and technology.

Read the full citation here.

2023 Young Scientist Award Recipient: Asst Prof Tan Yong Zi

Asst Prof Tan was recognised for his outstanding work on developing cryogenic electron microscopy methods to analyse the structures of biologically relevant proteins at high resolution.

Through his research, Asst Prof Tan shed light on the structures of various proteins involved in diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, COVID-19, and cancer. Having a molecular snapshot of these proteins is essential to understanding how biological processes work as diseases progress, to identify potential targets for developing new treatments.

Asst Prof Tan developed cutting-edge methods and tools to help unveil the roles and architecture of disease proteins to help the international research community advance their knowledge in this field.

His research has been published in prestigious journals like Nature, Cell, Nature Methods, Molecular Cell and Nature Communications. To date, Asst Prof Tan has a total of 2,335 citations, a testament to his scientific influence and research excellence. He was awarded the George Palade Award in 2021 by the Microscopy Society of America, demonstrating international recognition for his significant contributions to microscopy and biology.

Asst Prof Tan holds a joint appointment with the Disease Intervention Technology Laboratory at A*STAR.

As a budding world-class researcher, Asst Prof Tan strongly believes in cultivating the future of Singapore’s STEM talent pool. He actively teaches various modules at NUS and trains students across different levels. He also runs the International Biology Olympiad training for the Singapore representatives, in collaboration with trainers from the National Institute of Education and the Singapore Institute of Biology. The Singapore team he had mentored for the 2022 International Biology Olympiad emerged 4th in the world, achieving 2 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze medals.

Read the full citation here.