Pursuing A Passion To Advance Singapore's Food Science Innovation

ASTAR_FOA_Dr Benny Chua_1000x500Dr Benny Chew, Deputy Director (Food cluster), Biomedical Research Council (BMRC), A*STAR

When the government first announced the Singapore Food Story national agenda and the ‘30 by 30’ national goal in 2019, Dr Benny Chew felt a calling to be part of this mission and took up the opportunity to be part of the pioneering team at Singapore Food Agency (SFA).

During his time in SFA, Dr Chew was involved in the development and launch of the integrated Singapore Food Story R&D Programme, which seeks to turn Singapore’s food challenges into opportunities. Together with his team members, they managed the theme on ‘Sustainable Urban Food Production’, which is mainly on urban Agri-tech and tropical aquaculture R&D.

Prior to his role in SFA, Dr Chew completed his PhD and joined A*STAR’s Science and Engineering Research Council in 2017 with the desire to formulate, implement and translate agency-wide R&D strategies.

It felt like a homecoming when he returned in 2021 to support the coordination for the Singapore Food Story R&D Programme in A*STAR, focusing on themes ‘Future Foods (Alternative Proteins)’ and ‘Food Safety Science and Innovation’, as well as A*STAR’s Agri-tech and Aquaculture Horizontal Technology Coordinating Offices (HTCO).

In this exclusive interview, we learn about Dr Chew’s passion for innovations in food science R&D, and how he is making a positive impact to solve national food challenges and contribute to bolstering Singapore's food security and resiliency.

Q: How did you end up in this field of work?

A: Largely attributed to my junior college teachers and university professors, I loved Chemistry as a subject in school. My foray into Chemistry R&D began when I completed my Masters in Green Chemistry at Imperial College in the United Kingdom. Upon returning to Singapore, I decided to continue in R&D and took up a PhD in Materials Research under the supervision of Prof Andy Hor, currently Deputy Chief Executive (Research) at A*STAR, who was then the Executive Director of A*STAR’s Institute of Material Research and Engineering.

Dr Benny Chua judging session Judging Session for National Science Challenge with A*STAR Colleagues

Q: Can you tell us what interests you about Agri-food and food technology and how working at A*STAR is helping to create an impact in this area?

A: The topic of food is culturally universal and holds a special place in the hearts of Singaporeans. It represents identity, heritage and most importantly, has a link back to the family. These are important values for me. Hence, I am devoted to my work under the Singapore Food Story R&D Programme, as well as in A*STAR’s Agri-tech and Aquaculture Horizontal Technology Coordinating Office (A2HTCO).

I recalled Prof Hor once mentioned that Agri-food and Food Innovation is multi-disciplinary. Among others, it requires different perspectives spanning across materials, Artificial Intelligence (AI), biology or chemistry. This is exactly why food innovation appeals to me, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Hence, it requires one to be able to have breadth and handle diverse topics across disciplines. It is an exciting space to be in!

Moreover, A*STAR has capabilities to complement the rest of our research ecosystem to achieve impact and contribute to bolstering our nation’s food security and resiliency. A*STAR also works closely with other public sector stakeholders in support of Singapore’s vision to be a leading Asian innovation hub for Agri-food and food technologies, to address food challenges in Singapore and beyond.

Q: Who has inspired you in A*STAR and why?

A: I am inspired by Prof Ng Huck Hui who is the Assistant Chief Executive for A*STAR’s Biomedical Research Council (BMRC). Despite Prof Ng’s hectic schedules, he holds regular engagement sessions with all BMRC staff. Staff wellbeing is a priority for Prof Ng. He regularly initiates makan sessions and we have had good times over cheese, chocolates and most recently – mooncakes.

The other person I am inspired by is our Chief Executive Officer, Mr Frederick Chew. During team lunches with him, I felt refreshed as we were able to have open and candid conversations. He is keen to understand our work and concerns, and would share his thoughts on any topics we were discussing.

With such inspiring role models, I felt motivated and derived great satisfaction knowing that the work that I do is meaningful and would eventually go towards improving health and social outcomes for Singapore. Another motivating factor is working with my amazing team at BMRC and supporting my staff in their professional journey.

Q: What is a typical day at work for you?

A: We often have team huddles and insightful discussions with both public and private stakeholders including government agencies, research institutes, institutes of higher learning and companies to discover new insights and trends, and develop relevant R&D strategies that are aligned with Singapore's economic priorities and national agenda.

Q: What are some of your interests outside work?

A: I am a foodie! I live to eat and not eat to live! I love spending quality time with my family, and it usually involves lots of good food. I also enjoy travelling, watching the world cinema and listening to film scores.


Q: Most valuable life lesson from your career so far?

A: Work-life balance is key! Spending quality time with loved ones and having “ME” time to recharge are important.

Q: If you could choose a superhero power, which would you choose?

A: X-men’s Professor X! The ability for telepathy and mind-read and control is alluring.

Q: What advice would you give to those who have a passion for science?

A: Never quench that thirst for knowledge and keep learning! Innovation, like any other endeavour, requires basic discipline through hard work and focus.

Dr Benny Chua and Dr Akira YoshinoDr Benny Chew and Dr Akira Yoshino, Nobel Chemist, at a Japanese Conference in 2018