Outstanding young NUS scientists lauded in list of Asia Pacific luminaries

Four scientists from NUS have been lauded in the 2022 edition of MIT Technology Review’s “Innovators under 35” list for making game-changing advances in Science and Technology.

Announced on 14 November 2022, the list recognises the 35 best young talents in the Asia-Pacific region who have demonstrated expanding influence in their field of research and pioneered cutting-edge achievements. 

Each year, MIT Technology Review recognises brilliant talents for making important discoveries in diverse technical fields such as biotech, artificial intelligence, materials science, energy, computing, and quantum technology. These outstanding innovators are commended under five categories: Inventors who build the stuff of the future; Entrepreneurs who hope to turn innovations into disruptive businesses; Visionaries who find powerful new uses of technology; Humanitarians who take unconventional routes to bring about a healthier, cleaner, and more adaptable world; and Pioneers who push the edge of science to create new approaches to tackling technology challenges.

Pioneer: Assistant Professor Hou Yi

The vast majority of solar panels today are made with silicon, a plentiful and reliable material that has lowered the cost of solar energy production similar to coal and natural gas power plants. However, silicon solar cells are still relatively expensive to manufacture and can only capture a limited portion of solar energy. Perovskite is believed to be the answer for the next generation of solar panels.

Despite being ultra-efficient and cost-effective, perovskite-based solar cells still have a number of issues as an early-stage technology. Presidential Young Professor Hou Yi from the NUS College of Design and Engineering (CDE) and the Solar Research Institute of Singapore at NUS has found a way to solve one of them: a series of losses of perovskite/organic tandem solar cells that reduce power production efficiency.

Asst Prof Hou led a team that developed a novel and practical route to simultaneously reduce various losses to combine high efficiency, longevity, and low cost in one tandem solar cell, which resulted in a record-breaking efficiency of 23.60 per cent. This research clears a major obstacle to the development of perovskite/organic tandem solar cells, demonstrating that they can match or even outperform their rivals’ performances.

Asst Prof Hou said, “It is a privilege to be named in the MIT Technology Review Innovators Under 35 Asia Pacific 2022. Special thanks to my group and former mentors who had supported my application. It has been very exciting working in the field of the renewable and sustainable arena at NUS.”

Inventor: Assistant Professor Liu Yuxin

The human neural system is fundamentally flexible and dynamic, yet existing neuroelectronic devices are not able to intelligently adapt to such a complex biological microenvironment.

To overcome this challenge, Presidential Young Professor Liu Yuxin from NUS CDE, NUS N.1 Institute for Health, and NUS Institute for Health Innovation & Technology developed the first implanted electronic device with Young’s modulus comparable to nervous tissues and addressed the problem of foreign body reaction and implant rejection.

To accommodate dynamically moving organs, Asst Prof Liu developed a soft and elastic neurotransmitter sensor array, with which he achieved seamless tracking of multiple neurochemical messengers along the brain-gut axis for the first time. In collaboration with doctors and clinicians, the neurochemical sensors have demonstrated their potential to serve as diagnostic devices for depression and Parkinson’s patients, as well as for new treatments through gastrointestinal intervention.

To make neural interfaces “grow” with developing brains and nerves, Asst Prof Liu designed a new type of implanted device: morphing bioelectronics that can change its morphology in a way similar to living tissues in the body and can automatically react to the growth of cells and organisms. Morphing electronics technology make implantable devices safe for paediatric patients.

Asst Prof Liu said, “I am honoured to join the list of MIT Technology Review Innovators Under 35 Asia Pacific. I am excited to develop next-generation bioelectronics and neurotechnology together with my students and colleagues at NUS. I hope our innovation can go from bench to bedside and benefit patients who suffer from chronic diseases in the near future.”

Inventor: Assistant Professor Lum Yanwei

The manufacturing of carbon-based materials, such as plastics, disinfectants, and pharmaceuticals, accounts for 10 per cent of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions due to the high energy consumption and use of non-renewable fossil fuels as raw materials.

Scientists have been investigating methods to construct these materials from the other way around: building up the molecules from carbon dioxide and water using electricity produced from renewable sources.

At the heart of such reaction processes is the catalyst. Traditional catalyst discovery is mainly empirical, making the design less efficient and slow. Presidential Young Professor Lum Yanwei from NUS CDE developed a suite of novel techniques to label the atoms in the reaction mixture based on their origin, to yield entirely new insights into the catalytic mechanisms.

The breakthrough hints at the possibility of creating catalysts that only produce one product, eliminating the need for energy-consuming downstream product separations. Using these innovative techniques, Asst Prof Lum also uncovered the role of oxides in the catalyst systems and the importance of water in the reaction mixture. These findings have inspired new strategies to control the carbon dioxide conversion reaction pathways, which could finally lead to the construction of catalyst systems with unprecedented performance.

Asst Prof Lum said, “I am very honoured to receive this award and would like to express gratitude to all the brilliant colleagues and collaborators who have worked hard together with me. I believe the carbon conversion technology that we are developing can help reduce our reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels and enable a sustainable future."

Pioneer: Assistant Professor Steven Touzard

From pioneering experiments in quantum error correction to novel proposals for quantum networks, Presidential Young Professor Steven Touzard is recognised for his work in quantum technologies. Steven is an Assistant Professor at NUS CDE, as well as the NUS Faculty of Science, and a Principal investigator at the Centre for Quantum Technologies at NUS and MajuLab at NUS.

Earlier in his career, Asst Prof Touzard made significant contributions towards developing quantum error correction – a potentially important ingredient in realising the unprecedented power of quantum computing. This approach counters the noise that naturally affects quantum bits, or qubits. He demonstrated techniques that led to noise suppression in the so-called cat qubits and GKP qubits.

His current work focuses on building quantum networks, with the goal of connecting superconducting qubits with telecom photons. This could simultaneously offer a way to scale quantum computers towards performing useful tasks, a way to transmit un-hackable information, and a way to improve sensing by connecting quantum sensors.

Asst Prof Touzard said, “I am honoured to be on the list of Innovators under 35 APAC. Although such awards always bring one name forward, it must be seen as a recognition of the wonderful collective work, enabled by the brilliant people I've had the chance to work with.”