This A*STAR scholar is curious about how plants are feeling
A*STAR Graduate Scholarship (AGS)

Have you ever wondered how plants are feeling?

That is the question constantly on Wong Yi Jing’s mind. As a PhD student exploring the use of flexible electronics as a sensing technology for plants at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), she spends her day thinking about how to get them to talk back to her.

She does this by attaching flexible electrodes to them. To engage in intelligent conversation with the plants, the material interface is very important. The electrodes are generally attached to the surface of the plant (e.g., stem and leaf) or inserted into plant tissues.

Similar to the medical wearables we wear on our wrists to track our vital signals, plant wearables capture electric signals emitted from the plants as they respond to different stimuli such as touch, light, and wounding (physical damage). By analysing these signals, Yi Jing can gain a better understanding as to how their environment affects them.

Why Yi Jing decided to pursue a PhD in material science

She became sure of her interest in scientific research during her third year of undergraduate studies in the Bachelor in Materials Engineering programme at NTU. As a top student in her cohort, she was invited to participate twice in the prestigious Undergraduate Research Experience on Campus (URECA) programme, an 11-month research programme,

Yi Jing used a material-based approach for her URECA projects. She first investigated the use of transparent bamboo-composite materials as a potential alternative to glass, for creating energy-saving smart windows. Another project involved improving the properties of stretchable electrodes for use on human skin to better capture EMG (electromyography) signals which are generated in the muscles when muscles contract.

The stint as a material scientist intrigued her and led her to consider a career as a scientist, and ultimately take up the A*STAR Graduate Scholarship (AGS). The AGS supports students for up to four years of PhD or EngD (Doctorate of Engineering) studies at various local universities, such as NTU, National University of Singapore, Singapore University of Technology and Design, and Singapore Management University.

Learning inside and outside the lab

Yi Jing says the best thing about being an A*STAR scholar is the extra opportunities to learn. While the university provides her access to labs and professors, as a scholar she had enhanced support in the form of scientific expertise and lab facilities in A*STAR. She also has the opportunity to participate in industry-oriented, user-inspired R&D projects and the overseas attachments that AGS offers its scholars.

Yi Jing Photo 3-edited She also enjoys being connected to a network of past and present scholars. They regularly stay in touch and use the opportunity to discuss collaborations about ongoing research projects.

This attitude of curiosity to see and learn more means Yi Jing is always looking to discover new things. For example, she joined the School Dive Club to explore the vast and beautiful ocean floor. As the post-pandemic world opens up and more travel opportunities arise, she plans to go parasailing and skiing too.

After completing her PhD studies, Yi Jing could also apply for the A*STAR International Fellowship (AIF) to pursue post-doctoral training at top overseas universities or research entities, which would give her more opportunities to continue in her field of passion while continuing to explore the world.

Advice for aspiring scientists

Yi Jing encourages those who are interested in science to consider following her footsteps: First, find out if a career as a scientist is right for you by talking to people, especially your peers, seniors, or professors. Then try it. Find opportunities to experience doing scientific work to know if you will like it. While you may not have the opportunity to join the URECA programme like Yi Jing, you can actively approach the professors whose projects you are interested in to see if there is anything you can contribute.

And when you have decided to embark on a career as a scientist, consider applying for a scholarship offered by A*STAR!

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