6 December 2019, SINGAPORE – In an age where science and technology continues to break new grounds every day, women still remain underrepresented at 29%* of researchers globally, despite their remarkable discoveries. The program helps young female scientists take remarkable steps in advancing Science in their areas of research, and to achieve scientific excellence.
“As we celebrate the 11th anniversary of For Women In Science Singapore National Fellowship this year, I am proud to spearhead our continued efforts in supporting talented young female researchers throughout their career, and also the close partnership with UNESCO,” shared Isabelle Lim, L’Oréal Corporate Communications Director.
“L’Oréal-UNESCO Partnership For Women in Science is leading the world, and especially for the last 11 years in Singapore… which sets them as one of the role models for all countries in the world,” said Professor Shahbaz Khan, UNESCO Director of the Regional Science Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.
Dr. Ng Shi Yan, the new recipient of the 2019 Life Sciences award, is a Principal Investigator at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, A*STAR, as well as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physiology, National University of Singapore. Her research focuses on neurotherapeutics and stem cells, and aims to elucidate metabolic changes in motor neurons preceding Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and to reverse these pathogenic pathways to restore motor neuron health. Her final goal is to translate her research findings into tangible outcomes that can benefit ALS patients.
Dr Nancy Chen, the 2019 Physical and Engineering Sciences fellow, is the Lab Head at the Aural and Language Intelligence Department, Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R), A*STAR as well as Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. Her work focuses on conversational artificial intelligence and aims to develop improved conversational AI from deep understanding to an ethical language generation.
Both Dr Chen and Dr Ng join the ranks of more than 275 talented young women scientists awarded globally each year. They were selected based on criteria that involves intellectual merit, research proposals, potential for scientific advancement and relevance to innovative scientific solutions to problems confronting current issues.
Both fellows were selected by an esteemed jury panel made up of five eminent members of the scientific community whose active participation in the program was crucial in ensuring scientific excellence at every step of the selection process. The jury members are:
Professor Christina Chai – Jury President
Head of Department of Pharmacy in National University of Singapore
Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacy, National University of Singapore and the Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences, A*STAR.
Associate Professor Low Hong Yee - Jury Member
Associate Head of Pillar (EPD), Associate Professor (EPD) & Director of the Digital Manufacturing and Design Centre (DManD), Singapore University of Technology and Design
Professor Lam Yeng Ming - Jury Member
Chair, School of Materials Science & Engineering and Director, Facility for Analysis, Characterisation, Testing and Simulation (FACTS) of Nanyang Technology University
Professor Leo Tan - Jury Member
Professor of Department of Biological Science in National University of Singapore
Dr Mark Phong - Jury Member
Head of Advanced Research and Business Development Asia, L’Oréal Research & Innovation
More details about the winners and their research as follows:
Conversational AI: From Deep Understanding to Ethical Language Generation
Researcher: Dr Nancy Chen Fang Yih, Lab Head at the Aural and Language Intelligence Department, Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R), A*STAR; Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design
Research Content: With a research focus in conversational Artificial Intelligence, Dr Nancy Chen, 39 years of age, is awarded the 2019 Physical and Engineering Science fellowship. The deployment of conversational AI technology in the form of chatbots or spoken dialogue systems across various industry sectors has been limited in their ability to be flexible to unique situations and individuals. While improvements in deep learning have enabled tremendous progress in this area, there are still gaps in the quantity or quality of training data, which is essential in data-fueled machine learning approaches such as deep learning. As such, Dr Chen’s research aims to tailor conversational artificial intelligence to enable an ethical language generation
Dr Nancy Chen’s presence of female leadership in AI stands in stark contrast to the uniform scene of male figures in the field of AI. As a strong female representation in conversational AI, she is regularly invited to talks, panel discussions and international workshops.
Stem Cells and Neurotherapeutics
Researcher: Dr Ng Shi Yan, Principal Investigator at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, A*STAR; Assistant Professor at the Department of Physiology, National University of Singapore; Visiting Scientist at the National Neuroscience Institute
Research Content: Dr Ng Shi Yan, age 34, is the new recipient of the 2019 Life Sciences Fellowship for her research on stem cells and neurotherapeutics. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is an age-onset neurodegenerative disorder that causes death of motor neurons that control voluntary muscles. With approximately half a million people worldwide suffering from ALS, there is still a lack of effective drugs due to the lack of knowledge for the exact mechanisms of ALS pathogenesis and progression. Using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) as invaluable tools for modeling ALS, Dr Ng aims to elucidate metabolic changes in motor neurons preceding ALS, and to reverse the pathogenic pathways to restore motor neuron health.
Dr Ng have been actively organizing science outreach programs to primary school students, and she also hopes to promote interest in Sciences through education and to nurture deep and critical thinking in her students, including but not limited to postdoctoral fellows, PhD students, undergraduates and primary school students.
Runners Up: The 2019 Life Science Finalists (not in order of merit)
Name/Designation: Rufaihah Binte Abdul Jalil, Assistant Professor and Principle Investigator at the Department of Surgery, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, NUS
Research Topic: Customizable 3D-printed hydrogel grafts for bone and wound healing applications
Research Summary: Dr Rufaihah’s primary research objectives are directed towards the generation of cellular and molecular therapies that are more effective and practical in treating diseases. Through the usage of hydrogels with enhanced physical properties and specific biological properties, these biomaterials are designed to be used in a variety of regenerative medicine projects to promote adequate repair of the diseases tissues and organs. Her eventual goal is to develop hydrogel-based therapeutics that can replace or complement current treatments to improve healing time, reduce complications and reduce costs.
Name/Designation: Dr Gloryn Chia Le Bin
Research Topic: Development of next-generation personalized cancer vaccines
Research Summary: Personalized neoantigen vaccines are emerging as a class of highly promising immunotherapy. However there are challenges that will potentially impede clinical implementation. Dr Gloryn Chia’s research focus is to address the limitations of developing effective cancer vaccines through the engineering of an artificial antigen presenting cell, with the ultimate goal of translating the research findings into clinical practice.
Runners Up: The 2019 Physical & Engineering Sciences Finalists (not in order of merit)
Name/Designation: Dr Chew Jia Wei, Associate Professor, School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, NTU
Research Topic: multi-phase flow and particle technology, with a key focus in membrane-based separation applications.
Research Summary: The purification of the nanoparticulate (NP) active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), with its attendant benefit of high specific area for promoting dissolution and absorption, is critical to ensure the biological tolerance for the product. Conventional purification techniques are shortchanged by many limitations, including low capacity, highly time consuming, product loss by non-specific binding, tedious recovery and large amounts of required solvents. Therefore, the scale, yield, efficiency and potential for clinical translation of the NP-API are limited. Dr Chew Jia Wei’s proposed research aims at addressing these issues by a cross-flow membrane cascade design which will not only allow for commercially available membranes with insufficient separation performance to be used, but also much greater process versatility.
Name/Designation: Dr Eliza Fong, Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, NUS
Research Topic: Reverse-engineering patient tumors outside the body for personalized drug testing
Research Summary: As one of the leaders in the tumour engineering field, Dr Fong and her team have pioneered many approaches to investigate a diverse spectrum of biomaterials and scaffolding technologies to recapitulate tumors in vitro. Her work focuses on capturing complex cancer-stromal interactions in engineered tumors, which is necessary to improve their predictive power for drug testing.
For more information about each organisation:
The L’Oréal Singapore For Women In Science National Fellowship
The L’Oréal Singapore For Women In Science National Fellowship programme was established in 2009, and is organized with the support of the Singapore National Commission for UNESCO and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). The programme recognizes talented women researchers in the scientific field, and aims to encourage women to not only pursue and maintain careers in science; but actively participate in Singapore’s research and development sector as well. Since its inception in 2009, L’Oréal Singapore has consecutively awarded the fellowships over the past ten years; thus far, 24 women scientists have been honoured with fellowships. The fellows can use their grants with no restrictions. 20 Years of Supporting Women in Science Created in 1998, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowships were established by the L’Oréal Corporate Foundation as the first international awards dedicated to women scientists around the world. 20 years later, the programme continues to be a benchmark of international scientific excellence and an invaluable source of motivation, support, as well as inspiration for women in the fields of science. Since it was founded in 1998, the program has honoured more than 100 laureates (including three who went on to win the Nobel Prize), and supported more than 3,000 Fellows from over 117 countries - women who are making contributions in every field of research.
L'Oréal Singapore was established in 1990 and currently has around 20 international brands across luxury, masstige, consumer and hair categories. With more than 550 employees and a Research & Innovation Centre, L'Oréal Singapore is consistently voted as one of the top employers, and was ranked in Universum 2017 as the #1 FMCG Company to Work For. Since 2009, the For Women In Science programme is one key program that recognize talented young women pursuing research in Singapore, while Brandstorm has been leading the field as an innovation incubator for talents and projects since 2001. L’Oréal Singapore is also committed to sustainability, ethics and the community, with multiple initiatives that meet environmental, social and consumer needs. www.loreal.sg
Singapore National Commission for UNESCO
Since Singapore re-joined UNESCO in 2007, the Singapore National Commission (SNC) for UNESCO was set up to coordinate Singapore’s activities and programmes with UNESCO. The SNC was officially launched on 28 May 2008. The Education, Science, Culture and Information Sub- Commissions were established to support the mission of the SNC. Members of the National Commission and Sub-Commissions include representatives from government ministries, educational, scientific and cultural institutions, as well as relevant agencies and organisations. Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) is Chairman of the SNC and Mrs Rosa Daniel, Deputy-Secretary (Culture) is the Secretary-General. The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth serves as the SNC Secretariat. For more information on the Singapore National Commission for UNESCO, please visit www.unesco.sg.
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore's lead public sector agency that spearheads economic oriented research to advance scientific discovery and develop innovative technology. Through open innovation, we collaborate with our partners in both the public and private sectors to benefit society. As a Science and Technology Organisation, A*STAR bridges the gap between academia and industry. Our research creates economic growth and jobs for Singapore, and enhances lives by contributing to societal benefits such as improving outcomes in healthcare, urban living, and sustainability. We play a key role in nurturing and developing a diversity of talent and leaders in our Agency and research entities, the wider research community and industry. A*STAR’s R&D activities span biomedical sciences and physical sciences and engineering, with research entities primarily located in Biopolis and Fusionopolis. For ongoing news, visit www.a-star.edu.sg
I am very happy that L’Oréal Singapore has been very instrumental to the journey of women scientists, and that we have helped to showcase the work on a global stage. Thank you so much to everyone and UNESCO for being part of this journey together with us.” says Ms Isabelle Lim, Director of Corporate Communications at L’Oréal Singapore.