By Mavis Teo
NUS High School’s Research Congress is an annual celebration of our students’ passion and dedication in research, kindly sponsored by our valued partner DSO National Laboratories. This year, we were proud to showcase our various accomplishments to a plethora of guests including Professor Tai-Shung (Neal) Chung, the keynote speaker, Professor Lim Tit Meng, CEO, Science Center, Mr Quek Gim Pew, CEO, Defence Science Organisation (DSO), and representatives from NUS High School’s Board of Governors, Ms Seah Jiak Choo and Professor Andrew Wee.
Research Congress is a mass grading exercise, where students present their research findings to teacher graders, who grade the project based on execution, novelty, and the presentation itself. Beyond that, it is also an opportunity for students to learn more about the calibre of research conducted both internally and in partnering schools. The event also serves as a platform where students can rehearse for the Singapore Science and Engineering Fair (SSEF) later on in March.
Mrs Lee Bee Yann, the principal of NUS High School, opened the event with an inspiring speech about Nobel Laureate Tu Youyou and her discovery of antimalarial drug artemisinin. Mrs Lee highlighted that despite Tu having neither study or research experience abroad, nor membership of any national academies, she became the first Chinese citizen to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine through hard work and perseverance. Mrs Lee’s welcome address stressed the importance of passion and hard work in research, a concept that struck a chord in many audience members.
Following that, Dr. Tai-Shung (Neal) Chung, the Provost’s Chair Professor of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in the National University of Singapore delivered his keynote address. Professor Chung was equal parts witty and informative, managing to crack the audience up multiple times whilst sharing his research experience. It was evident that his research in polymeric membranes has not only benefitted Singapore, but also the rest of the world as they adopt newer membrane technologies for clean water and clean energy. Yet the most memorable portions of his speech were when he talked about how research gave him intellectual satisfaction and fulfilment in life. The rousing applause from the audience at the end of his speech signalled a clear appreciation for his refreshing candour and motivational speech.
The next segment of the ceremony was the presentation of the Inspiring Research Mentor awards. NUS High presents these awards to recognise and showcase our appreciation towards the time and energy that the external mentors put into guiding our students’ research. They have put in tireless hours in mentoring our students in their research projects.
Last but not least, four groups of NUS High School students presented their year-long research projects. A wide range of topics were covered, from ionospheric modelling to predicting Starcraft battle outcomes using machine learning. Another project involved microencryption via direct laser writing. This was indeed a valuable opportunity for the students to proudly showcase the fruits of their success with the rest of the community in a formal academic setting. “The opportunity [to present my project in front of an audience] was truly a humbling experience,” stated Jeff Cheng, on his project regarding dental carrie formation.
From the auditorium, the guests adjourned to the hall to view the rest of the research project exhibitions. This year’s Research Congress revealed our students’ diverse interest beyond Mathematics and Science in areas such as the Humanities. A couple of projects were interdisciplinary, ranging from combining biological extraction techniques with analysis methods rooted in physics, or using statistics to prove economic theories.
For instance, Arunan Karthikeyan’s project investigated the optical properties of Reflectin, a protein extracted from the Hawaiian Bobtail Squid. As a project that straddled the fields of Physics and Biology, Karthikeyan and his teammates initially found it hard to find a mentor and eventually had to shuttle between Biopolis and NTU for the necessary guidance and resources to complete their research. Projects like these are indeed a testament to the diverse passions our students possess and the lengths they are willing to go to achieve their dreams. As his teammate, Chang Ting-Wei shared, “even though it was hard, I’m glad we followed through and completed it.”
Being the West Zone Center of Excellence for both Mathematics and Science and Research, NUS High School also plays a key role in mentoring primary school students with their own research projects, many of which were also presented during Research Congress.
Hopefully Research Congress has inspired budding young scientists to venture into a career of research, where intellectual ambition, relentless questioning and the endless pursuit of knowledge pave the way to solving contemporary world issues.