Outstanding Scientific Talent Conferred Singapore’s Highest Honours

Singapore – Earlier this evening, the 2022 President’s Science and Technology Awards (PSTA) celebrated top scientific talent in Singapore in the fields of biomedical sciences, medtech, advanced membrane technology, and chemistry.

The PSTA is the highest honour conferred upon research scientists and engineers in Singapore whose work has resulted in significant scientific, technological or economic benefits for the country. Two awards were given at this year’s PSTA ceremony:

The winners received their awards from President Halimah Yacob.

The President’s Science and Technology Medal was awarded to Professor Hong Wanjin, Executive Director, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and Professor, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore. The President’s Technology Award was awarded to Professor Wang Rong, President’s Chair in Civil and Environment Engineering, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Nanyang Technological University Singapore (NTU Singapore).

The Young Scientist Awards (YSA) were presented by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Mr Heng Swee Keat, alongside the PSTA. Organised by the Singapore National Academy of Science (SNAS) and supported by A*STAR, the YSA recognises the accomplishments of researchers under 35, who have shown strong potential to be world-class experts in their chosen fields. Two outstanding individuals were recognised: Dr Bi Renzhe from A*STAR and Dr Koh Ming Joo from the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Building up Singapore’s biomedical sciences research ecosystem by strengthening partnerships, nurturing talent and promoting innovation

The President’s Science and Technology Medal was awarded to Professor Hong Wanjin for his outstanding contributions in supporting the development of Singapore’s biomedical research ecosystem. In addition to pushing scientific excellence at Singapore’s oldest life sciences institute, Prof Hong has dedicated over 30 years of his career to strengthening public sector, academic and clinical research partnerships. He has also nurtured many up-and-coming local talents and promoted innovation to support Singapore’s economic development.

Prof Hong first joined A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) in 1989 from the United States, and went on to win the National Science Award, the predecessor to the President’s Science Award, for his work in protein transport 10 years later. He has led the research institute since 2011. During this time, he established strong collaborative relationships with institutions such as the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), SingHealth, Duke-NUS Medical School, NTU Singapore and NUS through joint programmes. This has created greater synergies and facilitated the translation of upstream discoveries to benefit patients. For example, the IMCB-NCCS Joint Programme that was set up in 2014 brought together scientists and clinicians to foster more collaborations on developing novel drug targets and potential cancer therapeutics.

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. These have fund-raised approximately $30 million collectively to date. Prof Hong has also played an active role in nurturing young scientists in A*STAR and the larger ecosystem. 17 of them have gone on to receive national accolades and achievements such as the Young Scientist Awards, and National Research Foundation Fellowships and Investigatorships. Others have become scientific entrepreneurs, university faculty members, and more, contributing to better healthcare and social outcomes for Singapore.

Translating novel membrane technology to strengthen Singapore’s water resilience and sustainability

Professor Wang Rong from NTU Singapore was awarded the President’s Technology Award for her outstanding contributions to the field of membrane science and technology. Over 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 led the forefront in novel hybrid membrane systems development. She has also successfully translated and deployed promising prototypes for pilot-scale testing in partnership with government agencies and industry.

NEWater, one of Singapore’s four National Taps, is a key pillar in the country’s efforts to strengthen water resilience and sustainability. Her achievements include the development of a novel bio-programmable hollow fibre reverse osmosis membrane that led to lower operating pressures and significant savings of up to 50 percent of energy needed for pumping during the NEWater production process. This membrane was successfully upscaled and tested in one of national water agency PUB’s operational water reclamation plants. As a platform technology, this membrane can also be tailored for other types of water purification processes.

Prof Wang has also fostered great synergy among the local and international scientific community in developing cutting-edge membrane technology in her role as an Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Membrane Science, the flagship journal for the global membrane community and current President of the Aseanian Membrane Society (AMS). Her efforts help pave the way for the development of next-generation membrane technology, benefitting Singapore and the world.

Advancing bio-optical technologies and medtech innovation for better healthcare diagnostics

Dr Bi Renzhe from A*STAR was awarded the Young Scientist Award for developing novel bio-optical technologies and translating medical technology innovations for disease diagnostics. He developed a non-invasive, portable smart optical skin analysis device that has been used for quantitative eczema assessment, treatment efficacy evaluation and skincare product validation through collaboration with the National Skin Centre. Such innovations will help clinicians quantitatively evaluate more suitable treatments for patients in other areas as well, such as cardiovascular disease, and cancer diagnosis.

Dr Bi’s work has resulted in three patents that are assigned or licensed to Singapore-based medtech companies.

Transforming sustainable chemistry through more efficient catalysts and reagents

Dr Koh Ming Joo from NUS was awarded the Young Scientist Award for his research in sustainable catalysis and radical chemistry. His work has led to the discovery of cheaper, energy-efficient catalysts and reagents that significantly enhance chemical synthesis efficiency. Dr Koh and his team have leveraged these innovative catalyst systems to transform cheap and abundant feedstock chemicals into value-added functional products with less energy consumption, less waste production and lower environmental footprint. This is expected to revolutionise the way important chemicals are prepared, and make a difference in many areas including agriculture, therapeutics and plastic waste upcycling.

Dr Koh also co-owns a number of patents, some of which have been licensed by XiMo AG, a Swiss-based company that develops catalysts for use across various chemical sectors.

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ANNEX A – List of PSTA winners
ANNEX B – Citations of PSTA winners
ANNEX C – List of YSA winners and information sheet on YSA
ANNEX D – Citations of YSA winners
ANNEX E – Fact sheet on PSTA selection committees

About the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore's lead public sector R&D agency. Through open innovation, we collaborate with our partners in both the public and private sectors to benefit the economy and society. As a Science and Technology Organisation, A*STAR bridges the gap between academia and industry. Our research creates economic growth and jobs for Singapore, and enhances lives by improving societal outcomes in healthcare, urban living, and sustainability. A*STAR plays a key role in nurturing scientific talent and leaders for the wider research community and industry. A*STAR’s R&D activities span biomedical sciences to physical sciences and engineering, with research entities primarily located in Biopolis and Fusionopolis.
A*STAR is the secretariat for the annual President’s Science and Technology Awards.