16 outstanding researchers receive Singapore's highest honor in science and technology

Visionaries who inspire

Singapore – An innovative sequencing technology to comprehensively characterise the human genome, advanced micro motor technologies for hard disk drives, and robotic technologies used in surgery - these are some of the winning works of this year's National Science and Technology Awards.

The highest honour of the Awards, the National Science and Technology Medal, was presented to Dr Sydney Brenner, Distinguished Professor of the US Salk Institute of Biological Studies, and Chairman of the A*STAR Biomedical Research Council. Dr Brenner was recognised for his distinguished and strategic contributions to the development of Singapore's scientific capability and culture, particularly in the biomedical sciences sector.

Two National Science Awards (NSA), one National Technology Award (NTA) and four Young Scientists Awards (YSA) were also presented to 15 recipients comprising three groups and four individuals.

One NSA went to the team that pioneered the innovative Paired End diTag sequencing technology that can be used to comprehensively characterize the human genome and transcriptome. The team was led by Dr Ruan Yijun from the Genome Institute of Singapore, and comprised Dr Wei Chia Lin, Dr Patrick Ng and Dr Sung Wing Kin.

The other NSA was awarded to the team that made outstanding contributions in the field of quantum coherence and developed an internationally recognised "Singapore Protocol" for quantum key transmission. Professor Oh Choo Hiap of the Physics Department at the National University of Singapore led the team comprising Professor Berthold-Georg Englert, Assistant Professor Dagomir Kaszlikowski, and Associate Professor Kwek Leong Chuan.

The NTA was awarded to a team of research engineers who had developed spindle motors that were tiny, silent, fast, high in power density and reliable in uncontrolled environments – properties critical to miniaturized hard disk drives and mechatronics systems. This team was led by Dr Bi Chao, with members Dr Jiang Quan and Dr Lin Song, all from the Data Storage Institute.

The YSAs were clinched by four young researchers - Assistant Professor Yeo Yee Chia, Dr Han Yu, Dr Yu Hao, and Assistant Professor Louise Phee. These young scientists have shown much potential to be world-class researchers and have achieved much in their respective fields of nanoelectronics and semiconductor devices, nanoporous materials, functional genomics and systems biology, and biomedical robotics engineering early in their research career.

These winning awards reflect deep passion for science, hard work and tenacity in finding answers to tough questions, and innovative out-of-the-box thinking. With passion, creativity and perseverance, the winners excelled in their field of work, and made a deep contribution to science and technology and the development of R&D in Singapore.

The NSTA awards were officially presented to the winners on 11 October 2006 by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports and 2nd Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, at the NSTA Awards Dinner where more than 600 key players from industry, academia and research institutions will gather.

The National Science and Technology Awards are administered by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). The Young Scientist Award (YSA) is organised by Singapore National Academy of Science (SNAS) and supported by A*STAR.

The award selection panels comprised key representatives from the industry, academia, defence and research institutes. The main NSTA committee was chaired by Mr Peter Ong, Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Trade and Industry. Prof Lim Pin, University Professor of NUS and Prof Cham Tao Soon, Distinguished Professor of NTU, chaired the National Science Awards and the National Technology Awards Selection Panels respectively. Prof Leo Tan, President of Singapore National Academy of Science (SNAS) was the chair for Young Scientist Awards committee.

This year's NSTA winners are:

National Science and Technology Medal (NSTM) 2006

Dr Sydney Brenner

Distinguished Professor, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, USA &

Chairman of Biomedical Research Council, A*STAR

"For his distinguished and strategic contributions to the development of Singapore's scientific capability and culture, particularly in the biomedical sciences sector"

National Science Award (NSA) 2006

  • Team comprising

Dr Ruan Yijun (Leader)

Dr Wei Chia Lin

Dr Patrick Ng

Dr Sung Wing Kin

Genome Institute of Singapore

"For their innovative work in developing the Paired End diTag sequencing technology for comprehensive characterisation of the human genome and transcriptome"

  • Team comprising

Professor Oh Choo Hiap (Leader)

Professor Berthold-Georg Englert

Assistant Professor Dagomir Kaszlikowski

Department of Physics, National University of Singapore and

Associate Professor Kwek Leong Chuan

National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University

"For their outstanding contributions to theoretical research on quantum coherence and its applications in quantum information science"

National Technology Award (NTA) 2006

  • Team comprising of

Dr Bi Chao (Leader)

Dr Jiang Quan

Dr Lin Song

Data Storage Institute

"For their outstanding contributions to advanced micro motor technologies used in hard disk drives and miniaturized mechatronic systems"

Young Scientist Award (YSA) 2006

  • Assistant Professor Yeo Yee Chia

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

National University of Singapore

"For his research on nanoelectronics and semiconductor devices"

  • Dr Han Yu

Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology

"For his research on nanoporous materials and their biomedical applications"

  • Dr Yu Hao

Department of Biological Sciences

National University of Singapore & Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory

"For his research on functional genomics and systems biology"

  • Assistant Professor Louis Phee

School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering

Nanyang Technological University

"For his research on biomedical robotics engineering"

Annex A

National Science & Technology Medal 2006

Dr Sydney Brenner

Distinguished Professor, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, USA and Chairman, Biomedical Research Council, Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Singapore

"For his distinguished and strategic contributions to the development of Singapore's scientific capability and culture, particularly in the biomedical sciences sector"

For more than two decades, Nobel Laureate Dr Sydney Brenner devoted his time and energy to helping Singapore develop into an emerging global hub for biomedical research.

He played an instrumental role in convincing the government to establish the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) in 1987. This proved to be a strategic milestone and critical starting point for Singapore's efforts to develop biomedical sciences. He served as Chairman on IMCB's Scientific Advisory Board from 1987 – 1997, and continues to serve as a member on that Board to this day.

Dr Brenner shared his vision, deep expert knowledge and insights with the Government of Singapore since 1984. He shaped the development of science and technology in Singapore through his contributions to numerous national committees.

Dr Brenner was a key member of the National Biotechnology Committee set up in 1988 to spearhead the development of biotechnology in Singapore. In 2000, he was appointed co-chair of the newly formed Biomedical Sciences International Advisory Council (BMS IAC) and member on the Biomedical Sciences Executive Committee. In 2001, Dr Brenner was appointed to the A*STAR Board and to the Biomedical Research Council and Science and Engineering Research Councils' Board. Dr Brenner also played an advisory role in the biomedical sciences investment funds of the Economic Development Board.

Dr Brenner is one of the founding fathers of modern biology, winner of two Albert Lasker Awards and the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. This scientific giant is a constant source of ideas and insight. Many of the initiatives and progress in Singapore's biomedical sciences sector originated from or were deeply influenced by Dr Brenner. He connected A*STAR and Singapore to internationally renowned scientists, many of whom, at his behest, have joined Singapore as Scientific Advisors, Principal Investigators, distinguished visitors, collaborators and partners. He was a strong advocate of postgraduate education and influenced A*STAR to invest in talent, the most critical resource in science.

On the scientific front, Dr Brenner contributed directly to science in Singapore.

Dr Brenner was Principal Investigator at IMCB where he led the group to study the Fugu genome. The team published a landmark paper in Nature in 1993, and was a key party in the international consortium that sequenced and published the pufferfish genomic map in prestigious journal Science in August 2002, putting tiny Singapore on the international scientific map.

Scientists, post docs and students in his laboratory at IMCB and more recently, clinician scientists, at the Centre for Molecular Medicine have benefited from Dr Brenner's supervision. Many of these individuals who worked with Dr Brenner have matured into independent investigators and are in turn supervising PhD students and younger scientists. Dr Brenner has also been involved in countless discussions at research institutes and university departments, and in giving scientific talks and public lectures. These public lectures were always interesting, peppered with characteristic wit and humour, and delivered on key points. He spoke to the public and students in a way that they could understand, thereby helping to elevate the level of science consciousness and interest in Singapore.

Today, Singapore is internationally recognised as a growing biomedical research hub. Dr Brenner's ideas and influence on policies and initiatives have left a deep imprint in enhancing Singapore's capability and reputation in contemporary and leading edge biomedical science research.

For his distinguished and strategic contributions to the development of Singapore's scientific capability and culture, particularly in the biomedical sciences sector, Dr Sydney Brenner is awarded the National Science and Technology Medal 2006.

National Science Award 2006

Dr. Ruan Yijun

Dr. Wei Chia Lin

Dr. Patrick Ng

Dr. Sung Wing Kin

Genome Institute of Singapore

"For their innovative work in developing the Paired End diTag sequencing technology for comprehensive characterisation of the human genome and transcriptome"

The human genome sequence, which was completed in 2004, provides a framework of the entire genetic information in Homo sapiens. However the vast functional content within the genome is not well-defined. In order to fully understand human genetics, it is necessary to identify all the functional elements and analyze how these elements interact with each other to deliver biological outcomes.

The research focus of the Genome Technology and Biology group at Genome Institute of Singapore, led by Dr. Ruan Yijun and Dr. Wei Chia Lin, is to elucidate the structure of all functional DNA elements in the human genome with a focus on transcriptome characterization and transcriptional regulation. To achieve their goals, they assembled a team that includes Dr. Patrick Ng of the group and Dr. Sung Wing Kin with computational skills from the Informatics group, and developed an innovative DNA sequencing strategy for studying the human genome.

The concept behind this technology is to extract short 5'-end and 3'-end signatures from each of many fractionated DNA segments to form the Paired End diTags (PET) structure for efficient sequencing analysis. Based on this PET strategy, the team devised Gene Identification Signature (GIS) analysis to precisely demarcate the boundaries of gene coding regions in the genome. GIS analysis has proved to be 30-fold more efficient than conventional sequencing approaches for transcript annotation, and possesses the unique capability of identifying unconventional transcripts derived from trans-splicing and chromosomal rearrangements. Leveraging on this new capability, the team invented the ChIP-PET (chromatin immuno-precipitation coupled with paired-end ditagging) analysis method for highly accurate, robust and unbiased genome-wide identification of transcription factor binding sites.

The team achieved a further 100-fold efficiency improvement over the conventional sequencing methods for PET experiments by developing the multiplex sequencing for paired end ditag (MS-PET) analysis technique, which utilises a new parallel pyrosequencing method. The team has also developed total computational solutions, including an ultra-fast tag-to-genome mapping algorithm (SAT2G), a complete software suite (PET-Tool), and a graphical browser (T2G) to accommodate and process the high volume of data generated from each PET experiment. Collectively, this team has established an integrated, high throughput and high precision technology platform that has been demonstrated to be effective for the comprehensive characterization of the human genome and transcriptome.

The team has numerous publications on their invention of these technologies and exciting biological discoveries in prestigious journals including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature Methods, Nature Genetics, and Cell. The team has been also awarded a USD$1 million grant by US National Institutes of Health to further develop their technology. It is anticipated that the PET technology can be widely applied to many aspects of genome interrogation, and it is emerging to become a premium technology in the post-genomic era. Its application to addressing biological questions is expected to provide insights into normal and diseased genomes and transcriptomes for years to come.

For their innovative work in developing the Paired End diTag technology for comprehensive characterisation of the human genome and transcriptomes, Dr. Ruan Yijun, Dr. Wei Chia Lin, Dr. Patrick Ng and Dr. Sung Wing Kin from the Genome Institute of Singapore are awarded the National Science Award 2006.

National Science Award 2006

Professor Oh Choo Hiap

Professor Berthold-Georg Englert

Assistant Professor Dagomir Kaszlikowski

National University of Singapore

Associate Professor Kwek Leong Chuan

National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University

"For their outstanding contributions to theoretical research on quantum coherence and its applications in quantum information science"

Quantum Information Science is an emerging multidisciplinary field to which numerous global projects have been devoted in recent years, including the Quantum Information Technology (QIT) initiative at the Faculty of Science of the National University of Singapore.

The team has advanced the understanding of coherent quantum phenomena and how the governing fundamental laws of physics can be harnessed to dramatically improve the acquisition, transmission, and processing of information.

The team's research ranges from the invention of new methods of secure communication to the study of geometric phases in mixed states, from trade-offs between single-particle and multi-particle interference to entanglement detection via Bell-type inequalities, including higher dimensional generalisation. Their results have been published in leading journals, such as Physical Review Letters, and the QIT theory group has become known as one of the strongest in the field.

One highlight is the introduction of a new class of protocols for quantum key distribution for which the security analysis is based on the full knowledge of the properties of the quantum channel, rather than on estimates of the transmission error rate. One of the novel protocols is the Singapore Protocol. In contrast to other schemes, the Singapore Protocol utilises all data for the key generation, is 25% more efficient under ideal circumstances than its competitor, and can be implemented even if the channel is too noisy for the standard protocols. Together, the complete characterisation of the channel and the key generation procedure amount to a new paradigm in quantum cryptography.

Other highlights are an exploratory study of the possibility of manipulating quantum systems through geometric phases, which are robust in noisy environments, and the investigation of the entanglement between many bodies, which is of great use for quantum computation.

The experimental realization of these quantum coherent phenomena, such as the implementation of secure communication and the detection of quantum entanglement in atomic systems, is possible. In particular, the resulting developments in secure communication may also lead to a significant boost in industrial exploitation of the technology.

For their outstanding contribution to theoretical research on quantum coherence and its applications in quantum information science, Professor Oh Choo Hiap, Professor Berthold-Georg Englert, Associate Professor Kwek Leong Chuan and Assistant Professor Dagomir Kaszlikowski, are awarded the National Science Award 2006.

National Technology Award 2006

Dr Bi Chao

Dr Jiang Quan

Dr Lin Song

Data Storage Institute

"For their outstanding contributions to advanced micro motor technologies used in hard disk drives and miniaturized mechatronic systems"

Computer hard disk drives (HDD) play a vital role in defining the digital lifestyle. HDDs are widely used for data storage in many consumer electronics products, from PCs, PDAs, MP3 players, video recorders, mobile phones to GPRS in automobiles. The growing demand for more powerful digital applications has fueled the need for high capacity, high performance data storage.

Meeting this need depends to a large extent on the advances made in motor technologies research for miniaturized HDDs. Many indispensable technologies such as the optimal design of the motor structure, the robust drive of motor system, and the precise measurement of motor parameters, are paramount and yet are often taken for granted.

The team at the Data Storage Institute (DSI) has focused their research on spindle motors, a critical component in 2D data recording on a HDD. They developed several structures for high performance miniaturized spindle motors through electromagnetic and mechanical synthesis together with innovative application of new materials. They were the first to identify the major source of acoustic noise in modern spindle motors as the commutation field in the motor, and have, based on the finding, significantly reduced acoustic noise with their advanced motor drive technology. Another first for the team is a suite of high precision electrical and mechanical motor testers for the HDD industry. The testers have delivered accurate testing for motor characterization with mechanical measurements down to the nanometer resolution.

DSI motor technologies enable motors to be small, fast, silent, high in power density, and reliable in uncontrolled environments. The low vibration/acoustic noise will allow higher data recording density, while the compact structure opens up numerous applications in new generation small form factor HDDs. The motor technologies can also be applied to many other fields where miniature high performance motors are needed.

The team has published 32 papers, applied for 9 patents, and authored one book around the high performance tiny motor technology. The team's has secured several collaborations with multi-national companies in high performance motor research and has played a key role in supporting and anchoring Singapore's HDD industry.

For their outstanding contributions to advanced micro motor technologies used in hard disk drive and miniaturized mechatronic systems, Dr. Bi Chao, Dr. Jiang Quan, and Dr. Lin Song from Data Storage Institute are awarded the National Technology Award 2006.

Young Scientist Award 2006

Assistant Professor Yeo Yee Chia

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

National University of Singapore

"For his research on nanoelectronics and semiconductor devices"

Assistant Professor Yeo is an expert in the field of nanoelectronics and semiconductor technology. His research work contributed to the speed enhancement of electronic devices, and more particularly to the realization of nanoscale transistors with superior performance.

His research team demonstrated Singapore's smallest transistor and leads Singapore's microelectronics research into the nanoelectronics era. His team recently reported transistors as small as 25 nanometers along with new techniques of improving performance such as speed and power consumption. His team was also the first in the world to incorporate a new material comprising silicon and carbon in transistors to tweak the inter-atomic distance and the speed at which charge carriers move, thereby enabling electronics to operate at significantly higher speeds. He also led a research team to invent and realize a new semiconductor device that could potentially lead to immense reduction in power consumption in electronics.

Assistant Professor Yeo is a co-author of more than 120 scientific articles in international journals and conferences. His achievements have gained international recognition: he won several prestigious awards, including the IEEE Paul Rappaport Award, and he has delivered 7 invited talks in international conferences. His scientific innovation contributed to the advancement of semiconductor technology through more than 80 inventions. He works closely with research institutes and semiconductor companies to discover new material and device technologies and to advance the frontiers of nanoelectronics.

For his research on nanoelectronics and semiconductor devices, Assistant Professor Yeo Yee Chia is awarded the Young Scientist Award 2006.

Young Scientist Award 2006

Dr Han Yu

Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology

"For his research on nanoporous materials and their biomedical applications"

Dr Han's research is focused on the development of new nanoporous materials, which are very important for catalysis, separation and biomedical applications. He has developed new synthesis routes for nanoporous materials which significantly improve their stability and therefore their usability as catalysts in petroleum chemistry. He has also developed a generalized fluorocarbon surfactant-mediated method for synthesizing nanoporous materials, which enables the unprecedented, simultaneous control of particle morphology and porous structure. Using these materials, he and his colleagues at IBN have prepared a series of asymmetric catalysts with high activity and selectivity for pharmaceutical synthesis. He is now utilizing nanoporous materials for biomedical applications, such as the separation of proteins, the controlled release of drugs and the regeneration of bone tissue.

Dr Han's achievements have gained international recognition. In 2004, he was named as a TR100 Young Innovator by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's magazine of innovation, Technology Review. The TR100 Young Innovator award recognizes the world's top 100 young innovators below the age of 35. Dr Han was among the youngest to be included in the TR100 list in 2004 for his original work in materials chemistry research, and for the potential his nanotechnology invention has on chemical, biomedical and functional materials applications. His results have been published in 28 articles in international journals such as Angew Chem Int. Ed., Journal of the American Chemical Society and Chemistry of Materials, and have been cited over 650 times.

For his research on nanoporous materials and their biomedical applications, Dr Han Yu is awarded the Young Scientist Award 2006.

Young Scientist Award 2006

Dr Yu Hao

Department of Biological Sciences

National University of Singapore & Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory

"For his research on functional genomics and systems biology"

Dr Yu's research focuses on the understanding of molecular mechanisms by which transcription factors control other sub-regulatory or structural genes in cell identity establishment and genetic engineering of economically important crops.

By integrating functional genomics with other cutting edge technologies, Dr Yu has studied transcriptional regulation of cell specification and hormone signaling in a key plant developmental process, namely flowering. He discovered novel regulators and genetic networks in the control of flowering time and specification of floral meristem identity, and established the molecular link between phytohormones and floral organ development.

With the gene resources from the fundamental research, Dr Yu has pioneered the creation of various genetic transformation systems for manipulating floral traits of orchids, which is a major economically important crop in Singapore.

A key challenge in biology is to understand how different cells are specified and coordinated to generate functional units during development. Dr Yu's discovery is of significant interest to those who are studying and applying developmental mechanisms because the genetic regulatory mechanisms of many cognate developmental processes are conserved in different eukaryotic systems. Dr Yu is currently working on the construction of blueprints for the initiation and maintenance of transcriptional networks involved in complex developmental processes.

The results from Dr Yu's research have been published in eighteen articles in international refereed journals, such as Nature, Nature Genetics, Plant Cell, PNAS, and Plant Journal. He was the recipient of Gold medal of International Society of Plant Molecular Biology (ISPMB) for outstanding NUS Ph.D thesis in 2001.

For his research on functional genomics and systems biology, Dr Yu Hao is awarded the Young Scientist Award 2006.

Young Scientist Award 2006

Assistant Professor Louis Phee

School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering

Nanyang Technological University

"For his research on biomedical robotics engineering"

Assistant Professor Phee's achievements in biomedical robotics engineering are internationally held in high regards. He is a pioneer and expert in the development of in-body locomotion devices and his scientific papers in this area are extensively cited. Amongst other research related awards, Assistant Professor Phee was the first Singaporean to win the Best Paper Award at the prestigious IEEE International Conference on Robotics & Automation 2005 in Spain, beating 1700 paper submissions in the process. He was also awarded the Tan Kah Kee Award in 2001. In the course of his research, he has 2 U.S. patents granted and 3 pending and has developed an automated colonoscopy robotic system which resulted in a spin-off company with more than S$2 million in investments.

Assistant Professor Phee's current groundbreaking research involves the use of robotic and haptics technologies to develop a system to perform natural orifice translumenal endoscopic surgery. He is also working on developing a novel biodegradable, self-tightening suturing thread made from shape memory polymers. At the same time, Assistant Professor Phee is working on using ultrasound and CT imaging, coupled with mechatronics technologies to enable liver tumors to be localized during liver resection surgery. Assistant Professor Phee's significant breakthroughs aim to revolutionize the way surgery is performed.

Apart from his academic contributions, Assistant Professor Phee's research also has significant social and pragmatic ramifications, reducing the length, cost and trauma of hospital stay. He aspires to play a leading role in placing Singapore in the international map of biomedical robotics engineering.

For his research on biomedical robotics engineering, Assistant Professor Louis Phee is awarded the Young Scientist Award 2006.

Annex B

The National Science and Technology Awards (NSTA)

The National Science and Technology Awards (NSTA) are Singapore's highest honour presented to recognise outstanding research scientists and engineers for their invaluable contributions to the development of Science and Technology in Singapore. These annual awards are administered by the Agency for Science, Technology And Research (A*STAR).

National Science and Technology Medal (NSTM)

The award accords national recognition to outstanding individuals who have made distinguished, sustained and exceptional contributions and played a strategic role in the development of Singapore through the promotion and management of R&D.

Award recipients will receive a specially designed gold medal and a citation.

National Science Award (NSA)

The award recognises research scientists and engineers in Singapore who have made outstanding contributions in basic research leading to the discovery of new knowledge or the pioneering development of scientific or engineering techniques and methods.

Award recipients will receive a crystal trophy, a citation and a prize of S$15,000.

National Technology Award (NTA)

The award recognises scientists and engineers in Singapore who have made outstanding contributions to research & development resulting in significant technology with industrial applications.

Award recipients will receive a crystal trophy, a citation and a prize of S$15,000.

Young Scientist Award (YSA)

The YSA is presented to young researchers, aged 35 years and below, who are actively engaged in R&D in Singapore, and who have shown great potential to be world-class researchers in their fields of expertise. This award is organised by the Singapore National Academy of Science and supported by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

Recipients receive a trophy, certificate of commendation and a prize of S$10,000.

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