Women in Science: Prof Jackie Ying, NBL

The 'Women in Science' series aims to break down gender inequalities and celebrates the achievements of our female scientists and researchers in A*STAR. Hear their stories and discover how their unique personal lives and perspectives shape the great work they do.

Prof Jackie Y. Ying, A*STAR Senior Fellow and Head, NanoBio Lab (NBL)

Prof Ying is a nanotechnology scientist and the founding director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) at A*STAR. In 2014, she was elected into the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame and earlier this year elected as a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. She has also won numerous accolades throughout her career. 

Q: Why did you choose scientific research as your career?

 I had excellent Chemistry professors at the Cooper Union. Because of them, I switched my major to Chemical Engineering and started doing research in my freshman year of university. My Chemistry professor recruited me in the first week of classes to do research, which became a life-long passion. I would spend whatever free time I had in university on my research project; I was really immersed in it. My PhD research at Princeton University involved materials chemistry, and my postdoctoral work in Germany was in materials physics. I then worked on nanomaterials for a variety of applications at MIT and in Singapore. Research provides me with a creative outlet and allows me to gain new knowledge. There are always many unknowns and challenges, but this is the part that makes it most exciting.

Q: What do you like the most about your job?

There are many things I love about my job. Conducting multidisciplinary research is a lot of fun. Discovering something new and applying new knowledge to a different field in a new context always has an unexpected outcome and synergism.

 In particular, I really love research because it allows us to address important problems and challenges. Science, technology and entrepreneurship offer direct means for us to make a significant impact society, and research provides the pathway to achieve scientific breakthroughs and disruptive technologies.

 The type of research that we do now has a potential impact not only on healthcare, but also on sustainability. We have developed nanotechnology as a toolbox for applications that cut across medical diagnostics, nanomedicine, energy storage and food technology.

 I also really enjoy working with young people. It is very fulfilling to nurture them and witness their growth and passion for research. 

Prof Ying and her team at NBL celebrating her birthday in 2019.

Q: What is the secret to your success?

 There is really no secret. It is a lot of hard work and perseverance. Research involves a lot of unknown, and once you decide what problem you want to tackle, you need to work through it despite scientific or funding challenges. The most important part is to have a great team. I am very blessed to be working with a very driven and talented team of researchers. 

Prof Ying during the awards ceremony of the Mustafa Prize.

Q: What is your advice for young people?

 I encourage young people to take up internships in areas that interest them. For example, if you are interested in research, take on a research internship to see what it's like, gain exposure and develop competency in that area. This will help you determine what directions you want to pursue in university or graduate school.

 At NanoBio Lab, we have a Youth Research Program (YRP) that organises various outreach activities, including workshops, seminars and lab tours. Since 2003, our YRP's research internship program has trained approximately 3,000 students in full-time research attachments with us for at least one month. Many of the students have gone on to pursue further studies in STEM. I think this is a great way to gain experience, and hopefully, the students will find research to be of interest as a career.