Agency for Science, Technology and Research
Feature | A*STAR

At The Cutting Edge

At the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), bright minds come together to constantly redefine the impossible.

AAdvances in science and technology have the immense potential to improve lives and fuel economic growth. In Singapore, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) has made it their mission to pursue these advances. Besides paving the way for established names in research, A*STAR also seeks to nurture new talent, continuously bridging the gap between academia and industry in terms of research and development. We caught up with Dr Yang Le, 30, and Dr Andy Ng, 33, recipients of the National Science Scholarship, who are now pursuing two very different—but equally exciting—fields of research.

What was your motivation for applying for the National Science Scholarship?

Yang Le: I have always had a keen interest in the sciences and wanted to pursue a scientific career. The National Science Scholarship BSPhD scholarship in Singapore is one of the most prestigious and incentivised sponsorships for this path, especially for overseas studies. There is also a decent range of career development opportunities within the A*STAR framework to choose from after we return.

Andy: I’ve always enjoyed learning about science, but it was only during secondary school, when I had the opportunity to take part in a research project that I learned what a research career could entail – frequent failed experiments and the rare satisfaction of creating new knowledge that can benefit society. It was a logical choice to apply for the A*STAR National Science Scholarship, which offered me a chance to pursue a career in Science all the way to a PhD and beyond.

Dr Andy Ng

Dr Andy Ng Yao Zong 
National Science Scholarship (BS-PhD)
Research Fellow, Biotransformation Innovation Platform (BioTrans)
PhD in Synthetic Biology and Metabolic Engineering – Columbia University
Bachelor of Arts in Natural Sciences (Biochemistry)– University of Cambridge

What are the career and development opportunities you’ve enjoyed thanks to the scholarship?

Yang Le: The scholarship has allowed me to choose from a rich community of frontier scientists to work with and institutions to study in, from undergraduate to post-doctoral level. The scholarship also provided generous opportunities for us budding researchers in raising visibility, increasing exposure, establishing network, and gaining insight and foresight in our career.

Andy: The A*STAR National Science Scholarship provided me with the opportunity to study abroad and broaden my horizons. This unique experience allowed me to encounter diverse opinions, develop critical thinking skills, and build a network that can help to support future career development, as well as seed potential international collaborations.

“There is no single recipe for success, but I think that it is important to always keep an open mind...” Dr Andy Ng

How has A*Star empowered your research?

Yang Le: With ample scholarship support to aid my research journey during my post-graduate years, I was able to immerse myself amongst the brightest brains in the world. I joined Professor Sir Richard H Friend’s group for optoelectronics work – I found myself standing among giants in the field and was introduced to the frontiers of novel optoelectronics and plastic electronics. My scientific breakthrough came during this experience, and having done impactful work is certainly empowering.

Andy: After completion of my PhD, I joined the Biotransformation Innovation Platform (BioTrans), which is a young research initiative under the Food, and Consumer (FNC) cluster at A*STAR. The research that is performed in BioTrans is highly interdisciplinary, which has allowed me the chance to collaborate with and learn from experts in different fields. BioTrans – and indeed A*STAR in general – encourages close engagement with industry partners, which helps in translating research outcomes into practical applications that can benefit society.

Dr Yang Le

Dr Yang Le 
National Science Scholarship (BS-PhD)
Scientist I, Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE)

PhD in Optoelectronics, Physics – University of Cambridge
Bachelor of Science (Chemistry), 1st Class Honours – Imperial College London

Tell us more about the crux of your current research. How will it impact society?

Yang Le: I am now part of a large team (from the Institute of Materials Science & Engineering (IMRE) and other research faculties) working on developing smart biomedical sensors. They are for specific biomarkers, primed for next-generation healthcare devices and wearable electronics. We hope to establish our sensors as platform technologies and integrate them into practical prototypes for different healthcare needs. I am also working with luminescent materials, exploiting and controlling their photophysical properties for various applications. I hope my research topics can eventually translate into useful components in Smart Living.

Andy: My research focuses on harnessing yeast cells for the production of high value flavour and fragrance compounds. Baker’s yeast has proven to be a safe organism, having been used by mankind for centuries for the production of beer, wine, and bread. Recently, yeasts have been engineered to produce other useful chemicals such as biofuels and medicines. Building upon these tools and techniques, my research seeks to engineer yeast to produce high-value flavours and fragrances. This method of production is a green and sustainable alternative compared to existing chemical synthesis methods.

“I was able to immerse myself amongst the brightest brains in the world.”” Dr Yang Le

Any advice for students who want to pursue a scholarship and career with A*Star?

Yang Le: I am a staunch supporter of young minds going into STEM fields. Don’t feel confined by certain stereotypical impressions. I hope girls in particular wouldn’t feel intimidated by the pursuit of the physical sciences and engineering. Pursue what interests you; what stimulates and excites you; what is intellectually challenging and rewarding for you. Scientific and research career is a long journey we embark on, we never know what we will encounter along the way – be patient for what’s to come!

Andy: There is no single recipe for success, but I think that it is important to always keep an open mind and to be flexible to be able to recognise and seize on opportunities for development. The mission of A*STAR is to drive innovative science that can benefit society-at-large and contribute to Singapore’s economic growth. It is thus important that research efforts should aim to solve important problems and be directed towards producing tangible outcomes.