Dr Wong Min Hao, Strategy & Business Development Junior Group Leader at A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation and recipient of the National Science Scholarship in 2007 (BS) and 2013 (PhD)
NURTURING TOP TALENT FOR THE LOCAL R&D ECOSYSTEM
Digging into the mind of Dr Wong Min Hao: Rooting for better food security
02 Aug 2022
Do plants have conscious feelings? While it remains a divisive issue in the world of botany, Dr Wong Min Hao believes they have lots to say.
Dr Wong was awarded the A*STAR National Science Scholarship in 2007 (BS) and 2013 (PhD). He pursued his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where his research yielded ground-breaking results. By embedding nanosensors in plant cells, he found that plants could “talk” to farmers through infrared communication and relay their real-time needs.
His efforts were recognised: In 2018, he was selected for both the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list for Healthcare & Science and MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35 Asia.
Dr Wong, 34, now works with A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI) to share research capabilities with industry players in food-related areas.
The Strategy & Business Development Junior Group Leader at A*STAR explains his love for science, research and food.
Q: How did your interest in science develop?
In 2005, when I was in junior college, I did a lab internship at the National University of Singapore (NUS) under its Science Research Programme. After a few internships, I got more interested in the science. It helped that my teachers were extremely passionate about the subject, making learning hands-on and interactive.
Q: Why research?
My findings during my lab internship at NUS were published in a small section of a larger paper. Research was something I could see myself working on long-term.
Q: What brought about your interest in food tech innovation?
I love eating. Ultimately, you can be interested in a field for very personal reasons. Of course, I also think it is a field that I have the right skill set to make a difference in, because I understand the science well.
Q: What are you currently working on?
One example of a project that I am working on is the upcoming Food Tech Innovation Centre that Temasek Foundation and A*STAR have set up. It aims to close the current gap in the market and serve as a physical centre to support alternative protein companies in upscaling, be it in terms of their capabilities or equipment.
Q: Have there been any breakthroughs that you are particularly proud of?
I am really happy with my PhD work on agricultural nanosensors in plants, which I spent more than five years on. These optical nanosensors allow for instantaneous feedback from plants as they grow and develop. Sometimes, a plant can look green and healthy but is actually showing early signs of health issues. If you are planting high-value crops, this is important information that you can act on.
Dr Wong (left) with Prof Seon Kwak (now at Seoul National University) and Prof Juan Pablo Giraldo (now at University of California Riversides)
Q: What do you hope your work will achieve?
I hope that we will be able to improve the efficiency of crop growth through translating some of the work from the lab to the farm. I am rooting for the work of several groups and colleagues in Singapore who are working on various sensor modalities which I hope will make a difference to Singapore’s “30 by 30” goal.
“30 by 30” Strengthening Our Food Security
Q: Any words of advice for budding scientists?
Find the intersection between what society values, what you are passionate about and what you are good at.
Keep a very open mind, make friends and, most importantly, be persistent. Doing a PhD is a five-year commitment with its highs and lows, and you do need stamina to pull through.