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What excites Dr Lum Yanwei: The thrill of discovery
21 Jul 2022
Dr Lum Yanwei, Scientist at A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering and Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore
Dr Lum Yanwei was an inquisitive child who used to fiddle with electrical sockets despite his parent’s warnings, sometimes plunging his home into a temporary state of darkness.
But his dangerous play has also led to lightbulb moments, resulting in him pursuing a career in sustainable science. Today, the 34-year-old A*STAR scholar is a scientist at A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) and holds a Presidential Young Professorship at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
He is also a Principal Investigator at the Centre for Hydrogen Innovations, a new $25 million initiative that aims to make hydrogen a viable clean energy source. Dr Lum is working on producing low-cost hydrogen carriers, which could one day power our vehicles.
Dr Lum, who was awarded the A*STAR National Science Scholarships in 2007 (BS) and 2013 (PhD), shares his journey in scientific discovery.
Q: How did your interest in science develop?
My dad is a civil engineering lecturer at the Nanyang Technological University and when I was younger, I used to visit his lab, where he was working on designing asphalt-based pavement materials. I also liked to go to the Science Centre to read science magazines, which was what developed my interest
Q: How did sustainability become your research focus?
After my bachelor’s degree in Materials Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, I was attached to a battery research programme under A*STAR, led by Professor Andy Hor. I worked on a new lithium-sulphur battery system to develop a new energy-efficient electrode technology, which sparked my interest in sustainability.
Q: What research project are you currently working on?
At IMRE, we are studying the conversion of carbon dioxide to formic acid, which functions as a non-toxic, safe, and low-cost carrier of hydrogen. We believe formic acid will one day be our green fuel of choice that can power vehicles.
Dr Lum (second from left) and his colleagues at the lab
Q: Have there been any breakthroughs?
We are at the preliminary stages of catalyst research and reactor design. We think our new system can be a game changer in how we store, use, and transport hydrogen at lower costs.
Q: What keeps you motivated in your career?
In a scientific career, most ideas develop when you are daydreaming.
Nine out of 10 times, what you think will work is not going to work, but research is all about learning. The thrill of discovery keeps me going – when I try something new that nobody has done before and it actually works.
Q: How do you juggle work with your personal life?
My son was born last year, so taking care of him has taken up a large portion of my time. Regardless of my workload, it is very important to be organised and focused. I have a clear timetable and to-do list.
I have also been trying to exercise at least two or three times a week. I enjoy running regularly to keep fit and I also play floorball every weekend with a small group of friends. Exercise not only helps me lose calories but also gives me the space to relax.
Dr Lum and his family
Dr Lum playing floorball
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Q: Any word of advice for budding scientists?
The research path is difficult and there will be a lot of disappointment. It is important to identify the area that you are passionate about, stay curious, and keep learning.