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A*Star Talent Search 2018 recognises research excellence in cardiology, gene therapy and mathematics

Last week, about 200 young researchers gathered in Biopolis to celebrate future innovations at the A*Star Talent Search (ATS) and Singapore Science and Engineering Fair (SSEF) Awards Presentation Ceremony 2018.

The SSEF and the ATS are flagship science outreach programmes jointly organised by A*STAR, Science Centre Singapore and the Ministry of Education. Both competitions have provided students with opportunities to showcase their research work and encouraged them to further explore science and technology for over a decade now.

The SSEF is an annual competition for students in secondary schools and junior colleges to showcase their research projects. Selected winners go on to compete at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the world’s largest pre-college science competition. Selected students will represent Singapore on an international stage, where they will compete with 1,800 students from over 75 countries, regions and territories to showcase their independent research.

This year, more than 620 projects tackling real-world problems were submitted for the competition. According to the press release, the submissions demonstrate innovative and critical thinking skills in finding solutions to pressing needs and debunking precepts in established areas of knowledge.

This year’s submissions include research on the use of alternative gene Cpf1s for Type II CRISPR system in the fight against viral infections, new precise biosensors to maximise production of useful biomolecules such as antibiotics, and innovation in the electrochemical treatment process of sludge.   

A total of 123 awards, including 24 Gold, 27 Silver, 32 Bronze and 40 Merit awards were given out at SSEF 2018. These SSEF award winners were eligible to proceed for ATS, which recognises student projects that excel in scientific research across multiple disciplines.

The ATS is the pinnacle award that shortlists from SSEF participants and identifies top young scientific talents from amongst students aged 15 to 20 years old with a strong aptitude for science and technology. The projects are reviewed by an extensive network of scientists from local and international universities, defence and medical research organisations, and A*STAR research institutes. The 8 ATS finalists present their work in biomedical engineering, environmental sciences, materials sciences and medical sciences to a distinguished panel of judges, headed by an internationally eminent Chief Judge.

This year’s Chief Judge of the ATS 2018 is Professor Arieh Warshel. Professor Warshel was a joint winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2013 for pioneering the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.

The judging panel consisted of distinguished scientists and researchers from A*STAR, Science Centre Singapore and universities including Singapore University of Technology and Design President Prof. Chong Tow Chong, and Science Centre Singapore Chief Executive Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng. 

According to Professor Ng Huck Hui, Executive Director of A*STAR Graduate Academy, “the projects displayed a high-level of critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, and maturity beyond the years of the young participants”.

“A*STAR Talent Search and Singapore Science and Engineering Fair are key platforms where we seek to ignite curiosity and solidify resolve in solving pressing challenges among budding scientists. Through these competitions, students can interact with like-minded compatriots in their pursuit of knowledge, future careers in science and technology, and contribute to Singapore’s future economy,” he added.

The first prize for the Student Category was awarded to Vijayakumar Ragavi from NUS High School of Mathematics and Science. She designed a humanised Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy model that recapitulates the disease phenotype. The subsequent findings lay the foundation for gaining insights into disease pathology and therapeutic intervention.

In the School Category, NUS High School of Mathematics and Science clinched the top position.  Schools are ranked and awarded based on a points system tied to the results of their students’ projects.  Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng, Chief Executive of Science Centre Singapore, said initiatives such as SSEF and ATS with a strong research focus “not only celebrate the ability of our youth to find solutions to real-world challenges but also help us to identify and nurture our next generation of scientists and engineers”.

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