NUS University Awards 2023: Celebrating our flag-bearers in education, research and service

Six outstanding individuals were honoured at the University Awards 2023 held on 8 September 2023. The annual event recognises members of the NUS community who have dedicated themselves to excellence in the areas of education, research and service to the University, Singapore and the global community.

Speaking at the event at Raffles Hotel Singapore, NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye said, “We are very proud of the winners of University Awards 2023. They are the University’s flag-bearers of excellence, and…have brought NUS one step further in our quest for quality and excellence. Even through the difficult years of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were determined, and stayed on the course.”

Professor Tan also encouraged Deans and Department Heads to raise the bar in their recruitment efforts and take a more personal, targeted approach in bringing in top academic talent, likening it to a courtship process. “This will distinguish us from what other institutions are doing and help us to be more effective and persuasive in recruiting the talent that we want,” he added.

Outstanding Service Award – Hallmark of serving the University and society with distinction

This year, the prestigious Outstanding Service Award was conferred on Professor Barry Halliwell, Distinguished Professor at the Department of Biochemistry, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at NUS, and Senior Advisor (Academic Appointments and Research Excellence) at NUS Office of the Provost; and Mr Quek Gim Pew, Chairman of the National Supercomputing Centre Steering Committee, and Co-Chair of National Quantum Steering Committee, in recognition of their inspiring leadership and dedicated service. Both are accomplished leaders who have made sustained contributions in selflessly serving the University and society.

Professor Barry Halliwell

Prof Halliwell joined NUS as Head of the Department of Biochemistry in 2000. In 2006, he went on to become NUS’ first Deputy President for Research and Technology for a 10-year period. He served as Senior Advisor to the NUS President from 2015 to 2018, before taking on the role of Senior Advisor (Academic Appointments and Research Excellence) at NUS Office of the Provost since 2018.

Prof Halliwell’s 25-year career at NUS has seen him play a pivotal leadership role in driving the University’s research excellence and global reputation as a top research-intensive university. He was instrumental in promoting NUS as a hub for excellence in life sciences at the Life Sciences Institute, where he heads the Neurobiology Research Programme; and in establishing NUS research institutes, centres and programmes, contributing to successful bids for four Research Centres of Excellence.

An internationally acclaimed biochemist, and one of the world’s most highly cited researchers in biology and biochemistry, Prof Halliwell is distinguished especially for his seminal work on the role of free radicals and antioxidants in biological systems. His transformative research, particularly on Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders, includes the identification of the most important antioxidants in the human diet as well as the development of novel antioxidants to treat diseases.

Prof Halliwell’s outstanding contributions have garnered him numerous accolades, including the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Society for Free Radical Biology and Medicine, USA in 2008, and in 2021, the Citation Laureate, a distinction awarded by Clarivate to the most highly cited researchers in their field and whose work is of Nobel class. In 2013, he was awarded the Science and Technology Medal by the President of Singapore for sustained and exceptional contributions to Singapore’s science and engineering landscape.

Delivering the citation for Prof Halliwell’s conferment, Professor John Eu‐Li Wong, Executive Director, NUS Centre for Population Health, noted that NUS has benefitted substantially from Prof Halliwell’s leadership and global stature; this has given credibility that “NUS and Singapore are places where great research in science takes place – where a generation of scientists could do internationally competitive work.”

Sharing his vision for the University, Prof Halliwell said: “The powerful research profile of NUS enables us to make major impacts in many areas, especially on human health and disease in an ageing population. In particular, we aim to discover a means of slowing the onset and progression of dementia in the elderly, based on our research on novel antioxidants.”

Watch this inspiring video on Prof Halliwell’s dedicated contributions towards the University and society.

Mr Quek Gim Pew

Throughout his 42-year engineering career, Mr Quek has made significant contributions to the development of advanced defence technologies for the Singapore Armed Forces during his stints as CEO of DSO National Laboratories and Chief Defence Scientist at the Ministry of Defence. In his roles as former Chairman of the Centre for Quantum Technologies’ Governing Board and current Co-Chair of the National Quantum Steering Committee, he has driven the enhancement of Singapore’s capabilities in space, quantum and digital technologies.

A strong advocate for STEM education, Mr Quek has initiated various nationwide programmes to enhance the accessibility of STEM education among young Singaporeans, such as the Young Defence Scientist Programme, as well as outreach programmes that promote STEM through space science and satellite technology.

As a board member of various educational institutions in Singapore, including several institutes of higher learning, Mr Quek has contributed to the strategic development of the nation’s education and research capacities, as well as industry partnerships and entrepreneurship efforts at local universities.

Mr Quek was Chairman of the Governing Board of the Centre for Quantum Technologies hosted at NUS from 2016 to 2022. Delivering the citation for Mr Quek’s conferment, Professor José Latorre, Director, Centre for Quantum Technologies at NUS, paid tribute to “his leadership in the transformation of Singapore’s approach to quantum research, shifting the country’s primary focus on fundamental research to a nationwide initiative that harnesses quantum technology to support economic and national imperatives.”

Envisioning the future directions of the University, Mr Quek said: “NUS has nurtured generations of talents over the years and contributed much to the success story of Singapore. It is my fervent wish that NUS will continue to spearhead our country’s growth and development through its leadership, excellence and dynamism.”

Watch this inspiring video on Mr Quek’s dedicated contributions towards the University and society.

Four exemplary educator and researchers honoured

NUS also recognised the accomplishments of four leading educators and researchers from Duke-NUS Medical School, the College of Humanities and Sciences, and the Centre for English Language Communication.

University Research Recognition Award

Senior Vice Dean for Research at Duke-NUS Medical School, Professor Patrick Tan Boon Ooi, who is also from the School’s signature research programme in Cancer and Stem Cell Biology, was lauded for his groundbreaking research that has positioned NUS at the forefront of his area of expertise. The internationally renowned cancer researcher is a pioneer in research using genomic approaches to unlock the molecular and clinical diversity of gastric cancer and other Asian-endemic malignancies, paving the way for advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of Asian cancer patients.

Young Researcher Award

Two up-and-coming researchers were also commended for the potential of their research to extend the frontiers of knowledge in their respective fields:

1) Helming the Koh Research Group at NUS Department of Chemistry, Assistant Professor Koh Ming Joo from the Department of Chemistry, College of Humanities and Sciences, is at the forefront of research on sustainable catalysis and leads global efforts in the drive towards cost- and energy-efficient chemical synthesis with lower carbon emissions and waste generation.

2) A Provost’s Chair Professor of Philosophy at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Professor Qu Hsueh Ming is an expert in the philosophy of David Hume. As a result of his scholarship, he was recently listed as one of the key figures in Early Modern Philosophy, alongside giants of other subfields such as John Rawls and David Lewis.

Outstanding Educator Award

Associate Professor Lee Kooi Cheng was honoured for being an exemplary educator who has excelled in engaging and inspiring students in their quest for knowledge. As Director of the Centre for English Language Communication, she is known for driving the conceptualisation and designing of courses that integrate disciplinary knowledge with writing, thinking and communication competencies, through partnerships with university faculties and departments. Holding a joint appointment as Master of Helix House, she also has a keen interest in the impact of experiential learning and living-learning programmes on students’ university experience.

Read more about the NUS University Awards recipients here and the NUS press release here.