President’s Science and Technology Medal 2022
Professor Hong Wanjin
Executive Director, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
Professor, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS)
“For his outstanding contributions in building up the biomedical sciences research ecosystem in Singapore, particularly through strengthening public sector, academic and clinical research partnerships, nurturing scientific talent, and promoting innovation to support Singapore’s economic development”
Professor Hong Wanjin is an internationally renowned leader in molecular and cell biology. He is currently the Executive Director of A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) and Professor at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine’s Department of Biochemistry. Professor Hong has dedicated over 30 years of his career to supporting the development of Singapore’s biomedical research ecosystem. In addition to pushing scientific excellence at IMCB, he has forged strong ties with institutes of higher learning (IHLs), the academic medical centres and hospitals, and industry partners, creating greater synergies across Singapore’s biomedical research ecosystem. He has also nurtured many local talents, who have gone on to become a critical part of Singapore’s scientific talent pool today.
Prof Hong joined IMCB in 1989, before it became an autonomous research institute under A*STAR. He was appointed Executive Director in 2011. Under his leadership, IMCB fostered strong collaborative relationships with the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), SingHealth, Duke-NUS Medical School, NTU Singapore, and NUS. He also set up joint programmes like the IMCB NCCS Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) Singapore Oncogenome Laboratory, IMCB-NCCS Joint Programme, and SingHealth @ IMCB Fellows. These efforts allowed for more knowledge exchange and facilitated the translation of upstream discoveries to bring better benefits to patients.
During the 2003 SARS outbreak in Singapore, Prof Hong oversaw IMCB researchers in the development of two antibody-based tests to diagnose SARS, with GeneLab Diagnostics. As a result, IMCB received a National Day Award commendation for contributing to combating and containing SARS. He also established a collaborative anti-viral research lab that worked together with Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Baxter Vaccines.
Under Prof Hong’s leadership, IMCB has translated scientific discoveries into impact for A*STAR and Singapore. 15 spin-offs have come out of IMCB during the past seven years, which have raised approximately $30 million collectively to date. IMCB has also established joint labs with biotech companies like Tessa Therapeutics and LionTCR, to support their growth.
Prof Hong has played an active role in nurturing young scientists in A*STAR and the ecosystem. Working under Prof Hong’s leadership at IMCB, 17 scientists have been conferred prestigious national accolades and achievements including the Young Scientist Awards, and National Research Foundation Fellowships and Investigatorships. Others have gone on to become scientific entrepreneurs, university faculty member, and more, to contribute to better healthcare and social outcomes for Singapore. To date, IMCB has also trained more than 400 PhD students, and developed more than 1,000 postdoctoral fellows.
Prof Hong also has a distinguished career in the area of molecular and cell biology research. He has contributed significantly to the global scientific community’s understanding of membrane transport in the secretory and endocytic pathways, and the Hippo signaling pathway in human cancer. His contributions extend to editorial board appointments for top scientific journals like the journal of Biological Chemistry, Traffic, and Science Signalling; and he has been consistently invited to speak at international scientific symposia by Keystone and the American Association for Cancer Research.
Prof Hong’s research in Singapore has resulted in more than 300 peer-reviewed publications which have garnered over 27,000 citations internationally. He is a National Science Award winner (1999) and the recipient of many other prestigious awards including the CUSBEA Fellow (1983) and the 19th A-IMBN Arthur Kornberg Memorial Lecture Award (2016). This year, he was conferred the prestigious Singapore National Academy of Science Fellowship.
Prof Hong has held leadership positions in leading scientific associations, such as the President of the Science Council of Asia and member of the Board of Trustees for the Human Frontier Science Program. He has also held a range of local and international appointments on review and award selection panels.
President’s Technology Award 2022
Professor Wang Rong
President’s Chair in Civil and Environment Engineering, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore)
Director, Singapore Membrane Technology Centre, Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute, NTU Singapore
Co-Founder, H2MO Technology Pte Ltd and Aromatec Pte Ltd
“For her outstanding contributions to the field of membrane science and technology, leading to more energy-efficient liquid purification and desalination to support Singapore’s sustainability goals”
Professor Wang Rong is a world-leading scientist in the field of membrane science and technology. In the past 14 years, she has made many pioneering contributions in the development of novel membranes for use in applications such as energy-efficient desalination, water reclamation and wastewater treatment, liquid purification and gas separation, and is at the forefront in novel hybrid membrane system development. She is also successful in translating promising prototypes into commercial-sized membrane modules deployed in pilot-scale testing, in partnership with government agencies and industry, and has overseen the entire technology transfer value chain, from fundamental research to eventual commercial deployment.
NEWater, one of Singapore’s four National Taps, is a key pillar in the country’s efforts to strengthen water resilience and sustainability. Prof Wang’s research is well-aligned to the national goal of lowering the energy cost for water reclamation and achieving a lower carbon footprint. Prof Wang’s achievements include the development of a novel bio-programmable hollow fibre reverse osmosis membrane that leads to lower operating pressures and significant savings of up to 50 percent in the energy needed for pumping during the NEWater production process. The membrane uses a unique type of synthetic biomolecules to bring about higher water permeability, as compared to commercial membranes, while maintaining the same salt rejection rate. As a platform technology, this membrane can also be tailored for other types of water purification processes.
This membrane was successfully upscaled and tested in one of the operational water reclamation plants of Singapore’s national water agency PUB. Prof Wang’s team is now expanding the pilot to one that can produce 100m3 of NEWater daily. Since 2020, this technology has also been licensed to Prof Wang’s spinoff company, H2MO Technology Pte Ltd in Singapore, for worldwide commercialisation.
In 2010, Prof Wang and her team also pioneered the world’s first thin-film composite hollow fibre membrane for forward osmosis, which found use in the food and beverage industry to concentrate high-value products at a lower temperature. This preserves the flavour and nutrients that are usually lost in the energy-intensive vacuum evaporation process. A spinoff company, Aromatec Pte Ltd, was set up in 2018 and is now exporting pilot prototypes to clients worldwide, such as in China, Sweden, France, Canada and Brazil.
Prof Wang is a co-founder and the current Director of the SMTC at NEWRI, which is regarded as one of the top university-based membrane centres in the world. For her innovative scientific research, she was one of two Singapore-based scientists awarded the Alternative Water Resources Prize, under the prestigious Prince Sultan Abdulaziz International Prize for Water (PSIPW), in 2016. She was also featured among the top 25 leading water researchers globally by LUX RESEARCH in 2013. In 2020, she was elected as Fellow of the Academy of Engineering, Singapore.
Prof Wang is an Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Membrane Science, the flagship journal for the global membrane community, and serves as the current President of the Aseanian Membrane Society. From 2014 to 2020, she was the Chair of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, NTU Singapore. Prof Wang was listed in the latest Singapore 100 Women in Tech (SG100WIT) as a strong advocate for young women to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). For her contributions to education, she received the Public Administration Medal (Silver) in 2022.