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Singapore National Science and Technology Awards

Reflects city-state's transformation into knowledge economy

Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore

Scientists in Singapore unravel the inner workings of cells, invent a new global standard in audio compression, develop high bandwidth broadband communications for multimedia gaming and IPTV, and explore novel ways to produce clean energy - these are some of the winning works of this year's National Science and Technology Awards.

A total of three National Science Awards (NSA), two National Technology Awards (NTA) and two Young Scientists Awards (YSA) were presented to 14 recipients comprising three teams and four individuals by Mr Lim Hng Kiang, Minister for Trade and Industry, at the 2007 NSTA Awards Presentation Dinner today. The awards ceremony saw a gathering of more than 500 key players from industry, academia, research institutions and the public sector to honour the achievements of these outstanding scientists and researchers.

The work of this year's NSTA recipients have put Singapore on the global scientific map, set international technology standards, and demonstrated that Singapore is a competitive place for industry to develop and launch innovative products for the world market. The vibrant R&D environment is also conducive for investigators and younger scientists to pursue basic science and explore novel ideas. It has also enabled firms, local and international, to attract high quality research talent to Singapore, diversifying the expertise of the talent pool and contributing to the transformation of the economy as we move towards the next phase of growth. The various achievements of the recipients have also put the spotlight on Singapore as a growing research hub.

National Science Award 2007

Three National Science Awards were presented to outstanding scientists whose basic research have led to the discovery of new knowledge.

  • Dr Ng Huck Hui identified the gatekeepers for self-renewal and pluripotency of embryonic stem cells, and proposed an integrated circuit map of transcription factors controlling gene expression. His work, which is a valuable resource for the global stem cell community, is highly cited. At 36, Dr Ng from the Genome Institute of Singapore and the National University of Singapore is one of the youngest recipients of the National Science Award.

  • Assoc Prof Uttam Surana from the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology examined the intricacies of cell division, one of the most fundamental activities of living cells that allow them to multiply. He uncovered novel schemes used to regulate cell division and to maintain chromosome stability in yeast cells. Using his understanding of cell cycle coordination, he designed genetic screens to identify compounds that could prevent division and induce cell death in cancer cells.

  • The team comprising Prof AJ (Jon) Berrick and Assoc Prof Wu Jie from the National University of Singapore's Department of Mathematics uncovered deep connections between algebraic topology and the theory of braids. This fundamental work which brought together two branches of mathematics lays the foundation for other researchers to apply the mathematical structures to situations requiring precise control of complex multi-object multi-dimensional movement, as in the case of air traffic control, robotic motion and the folding of proteins to create new drugs.

National Technology Award 2007

The two teams receiving the National Technology Awards this year reflect highly innovative technology development in the private and public research laboratories in Singapore.

  • The team from the Institute for Infocomm Research invented the Advanced Audio Zip, a flexible audio coding tool that is capable of compressing any music file (such as a CD track) to less than half of its original size, as well as restore every bit of the original data during playback without any loss or distortion. At the same time, the coder allows fine-grain bitrate scalability and backward compatibility. This compression technology has been adopted as an international compression standard by the International Standard Organisation (ISO), a significant achievement by a Singapore institute as standards are typically dominated by big industry players such as Sony and Philips. This has also put the spotlight in this field of research on Singapore for the first time. The AAZ team is made up of Dr Susanto Rahardja, Dr Yu Rongshan, Dr Lin Xiao and Mr Huang Haibin.

  • The team of four from Infineon Technologies Asia Pacific successfully developed the world's first end-to-end VDSL2 (Very High Speed Digital Subscriber Line) solution serving up to 8 different service subscribers for switching equipment, as well as the integrated modem for home users. Infineon's VDSL2 product codenamed "VINAX" is the world's first VDSL2 standard-compliant product. This Singapore innovation is the first VDSL2 product to be commercially deployed by Europe's largest telecoms group, Deutsche Telekom, providing real IPTV, video-on-demand services with HDTV quality. The Infineon team comprises Mr Jain Raj Kumar, Dr Sim Hak Keong, Dr Goh Chee Kiang and Mr Teo Tee Yong.

Young Scientist Award 2007

The YSA recognises young researchers, aged 35 years and below, who have shown great potential to be world-class researchers in their fields of expertise.

  • Dr Yu Fengwei from the Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory studied the fruit fly to understand how asymmetric cell division is controlled. His findings may potentially lead to the treatment of some neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease.

  • Assoc Prof Ng How Yong from the Division of Environmental Science and Engineering, NUS, focused on developing novel membrane processes and enhancing membrane technologies for water treatment and reuse. He also developed microbial fuel cell technology for alternative clean energy production.

  • 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 selection 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, Chairman, Board of Trustees, SIM University, chaired the selection committees for the National Science Award and the National Technology Award respectively. Prof Leo Tan, President of Singapore National Academy of Science (SNAS) was the chair for Young Scientist Award committee.

This year's NSTA winners are:

National Science Award (NSA) 2007

  • Dr Ng Huck Hui
    Genome Institute of Singapore, A*STAR &
    Department of Biological Sciences, NUS

    "For his outstanding research in gene regulation in stem cell biology"

  • Assoc Professor Uttam Surana
    Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, A*STAR

    "For his outstanding contribution to the understanding of cellular circuits that are crucial in regulating cell division and maintaining genome stability"

  • Team comprising:
    Prof A J (Jon) Berrick
    Assoc Prof Wu Jie
    Department of Mathematics, NUS

    "For their fundamental work on the deep connections between algebraic topology and the theory of braids"

National Technology Award (NTA) 2007

  • Team comprising:
    Dr Susanto Rahardja
    Dr Yu Rongshan
    Dr Lin Xiao
    Mr Huang Haibin
    Institute for Infocomm Research, A*STAR

    "For their outstanding contributions to advancement in digital audio coding technologies, adopted as an international standard for audio compression"

  • Team comprising:
    Mr Jain Raj Kumar
    Dr Sim Hak Keong
    Dr Goh Chee Kiang
    Mr Teo Tee Yong
    Infineon Technologies Asia Pacific Pte Ltd

    "For their outstanding contribution to the development of next generation, high performance and robust broadband technology"

Young Scientist Award (YSA) 2007

  • Dr Yu Fengwei
    Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory

    "For his research on neural development and neurological disorders"

  • Assistant Professor Ng How Yong
    Division of Environmental Science and Engineering, NUS

    "For his research on membrane technologies and alternative clean energy using microbial fuel cell"

###

For media enquiries, please contact:
Ms Ng Koon Ling
Corporate Communications, A*STAR
DID: 6826 6338
Email: ng_koon_ling@a-star.edu.sg

Ms Michelle Khor
Corporate Communications, A*STAR
DID: 6826 6339
Email: michelle_khor@a-star.edu.sg

Encl. Annex A Citations of 2007 NSTA and YSA winners Annex B NSTA Award Brief

ANNEX A

National Science Award 2007

Dr Ng Huck Hui
Genome Institute of Singapore, A*STAR &
Department of Biological Sciences, NUS

"For his outstanding research on gene regulation in stem cell biology"

Dr. Ng is currently a senior group leader at the Genome Institute of Singapore and an assistant professor with the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore. He has spent more than a decade in research on understanding the intricacies of gene regulation and how they related to cell biology.

Dr. Ng's laboratory studies the regulation of gene expression in stem cells at different levels: epigenetic, chromatin-mediated, and transcription factor-driven. The control of gene expression is essential for the special behaviors of stem cells. Transcription factors are keys to unlock these expression programs and they interact with DNA in a specific way. His group is one of the pioneers who used chromatin immunoprecipitation to elucidate the targets of transcription factors in living cells. His research harnesses cutting edge technologies to dissect the complex gene regulatory networks which are composed of numerous transcription factor / DNA interactions. These interactions are landmarks in the genome and provide valuable information for scientists to crack the stem cell genomic code.

Through multi-disciplinary collaborations, Dr Ng's recent major breakthroughs include the identification of whole-genome cartography of transcription factor targets in embryonic stem cells and gate-keepers for self-renewal and pluripotency of embryonic stem cells, and construction of an integrative model for embryonic stem cell transcription circuitry.

His research programme has led to a deeper understanding of gene regulation that specifies embryonic stem cell physiology. The genomics effort has also generated a valuable resource for the global stem cell community as in-depth knowledge of the genetic / epigenetic makeup and control of embryonic stem cells is required to uncover central themes of stem cell biology and to harness the full potential of these cells. This knowledge may assist in deviation of clinically relevant cells and their applications.

Dr Ng's research is widely recognized and published in prestigious journals. To date, his publications have registered over 4000 citations.

For his outstanding contribution to research research on cellular circuits that are crucial in regulating genome stability and cell division, Dr Ng Huck Hui is awarded the 2007 National Science Award.

National Science Award 2007

Assoc Prof Uttam Surana
Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, A*STAR

"For his outstanding research on cellular circuits that are crucial in regulating cell division and maintaining genome stability"

Cell division is one of the most fundamental activities of living cells which allows them to multiply and perpetuate their lineage. The division process involves precise activation and coordination of a myriad of cellular events. Any misstep in this precise coordination can result in genome instability which profoundly compromises cells' fitness and, in extreme cases, their ability to survive. Cancer cells are one notable example of erroneous cellular coordination.

Associate Professor Surana and his team have been investigating the regulatory circuits that ensure orderly progression through the cell division cycle and maintenance of genome stability using yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae as an experimental system. The regulatory pathways that control cell division are highly conserved between yeast and human cells despite millions of years of evolutionary distance between them.

Associate Professor Surana's laboratory studies cell cycle coordination at two levels: (i) controls that impose intrinsic dependence among major cell cycle events such as chromosome replication, onset of mitosis, proteolytic destruction of a class of proteins called cyclins, and cytokinesis (ii) coordination imposed by surveillance systems known as the checkpoint controls; many cancer cells are known to be defective in the checkpoint pathways.

His investigation has uncovered novel control schemes that cells used to regulate progression through the division cycle and to mount response to genotoxic stresses to maintain chromosome stability. His discoveries include the role of Cdc20 protein in chromosome segregation, biphasic mode of cyclin destruction, mechanism underlying the early steps in the biogenesis of mitotic spindle, and checkpoints of novel cellular targets of replication and DNA-damage. These discoveries have provided a deeper insight into some of the organizing principles of the cell division cycle. To a greater extent, the understanding of regulatory links in yeast may serve as effective targets for chemical compounds that can be developed into therapeutic agents to prevent uncontrolled proliferation in cancer cells, considering that the high conservation of cell division pathways in yeast and human.

Based on this premise, Associate Professor Surana's team has designed yeast based genetic screens to identify chemical inhibitors that could target evolutionarily conserved pathways. One such screen has led to the identification of a chemical compound named ENA which prevents progression of replication forks and strongly activates DNA replication checkpoint. ENA has shown promising results when tested on human cells. It is able to induce cell death and work effectively as an anti-proliferative/tumour agent when tested on a subset of cancer cell lines and human xenografts in nude mice. Associate Professor Surana has expanded these screening-strategies to target other conserved pathways.

For his outstanding contribution to the understanding of cellular circuits that regulate cell division and maintain chromosome stability, Assoc Prof Uttam Surana is awarded the 2007 National Science Award.

National Science Award 2007

Prof A J (Jon) Berrick
Assoc Prof Wu Jie
Department of Mathematics, NUS

"For their fundamental work on the deep connections between algebraic topology and the theory of braids"

Topology is the study of the shapes of geometric objects. In applications, such objects may be as small as knotted DNA or long-chain polymers, or as large as the universe itself. Algebraic topologists attempt to distinguish such continuously varying objects by associating to them discrete and algebraic invariants (such as homotopy groups). This process is comparable to capturing analogue data in digital format.

New connections and applications of topology are emerging in important ways. The team, in joint work with others, has discovered an interesting qualitative description of the homotopy groups of the two-dimensional sphere in terms of braids. The two-dimensional sphere is a well-known object. Braids are geometric objects consisting of intertwined strands of strings. For centuries, braids have been used by many cultures for decoration, art or fastening purposes. This connection, completely unexpected, touches on several areas of mathematics as well as potential applications. Technically, the team demonstrated that the homotopy groups of the two-dimensional sphere are given by natural sub-quotients of the braid groups.

This contribution has advanced the fundamental understanding of the unexpected connection between algebraic topology and the theory of braids significantly. It also has deep impact on many applications ranging from air traffic control to optimizing robotic motion, to protein folding and the creation of new drugs.

Subsequent work by the team explored the link between the pure braid group and the Torelli group (a structure well studied in mathematical physics), and found ties to the study of "train tracks". Furthermore, these types of mathematical structures are now attracting applications outside of mathematics, in areas such as Smale's complexity of algorithms as well as applications to robotics as in work of S. LaValle and others.

For their fundamental work on the deep connections between algebraic topology and the theory of braids, Prof Jon Berrick and Assoc Prof Wu Jie are awarded the 2007 National Science Award.

National Technology Award 2007

Dr Susanto Rahardja
Dr Yu Rongshan
Dr Lin Xiao
Mr Huang Haibin
Institute for Infocomm Research, A*STAR

"For their outstanding contributions to advancement in digital audio coding technologies, adopted as an international standard for audio compression"

Coding technology has played an important role in providing CD-like quality with a small file size since the introduction of digital audio. With recent advances in semiconductor and communication technologies, it is now possible to store and deliver digital audio with highest fidelity. As a result, there have been tremendous efforts in digital audio coding research for a tool that provides lossless compression and at the same time allows smooth transition from legacy systems.

After several years of research, the team from the Institute for Infocomm Research has invented the Advanced Audio Zip (AAZ), a flexible audio coding tool that is capable of compressing any music file (such as a CD track) to less than half of its original size, as well as restore every bit of the original data during playback without any loss or distortion. It is bit-to-bit exact in translation and is compatible with Advanced Audio Coding (AAC), the lossy codec that is currently used in Apple's iPod. This is the first technology in the world that has lossless audio compression capability, fine-grain bitrate scalability and at the same time backward compatibility to AAC.

In AAZ, there is a series of novel technologies that are superior. The team proposed a novel and yet simple perceptual-based bit-plane coding scheme, called Bit-Plane Golomb Code (BPGC). This scheme utilises arithmetic coding and a novel frequency assignment algorithm derived from statistical properties of a geometrically-distributed source to code audio signals in an optimal and efficient way. The team also proposed a new algorithm for realizing fast integer Modified Discrete Cosine Transform (IntMDCT), which reduces computations into fewer lifting steps, fewer rounding operations, and lower complexity, but at the same time achieving a significantly higher compression ratio. To further improve the compression, the team proposed a context-based arithmetic coding method, where the dependencies of probability distributions of the IntMDCT bit-plane symbols are exploited through the combination of different contexts. Finally, the complexity of the system is further reduced by introducing an efficient algorithm targeting the lazy bit-plane, which eventually achieves more than 10% complexity reduction without affecting the compression ratio.

Besides providing fine-grain bit-rate scalability from lossy to lossless, AAZ, when compared to other lossless-only audio codecs, is able to achieve better compression ratio. This is a significant achievement as additional functionalities of AAZ such as backward compatibility and fine-grain scalability add definite complications to the design of the algorithm, which, alone, would have brought the compression ratio to a level that would be worse than audio codecs with only lossless capability. As a result, AAZ was selected as a reference architecture in MPEG standardisation. After a 4-year standardisation process, the International Standard Organisation (ISO) officially published AAZ in the normative section of MPEG-4 SLS (Scalable Lossless Coding) in June 2006.

For their outstanding contributions to the advancement in digital audio coding technologies, Dr Susanto Rahardja, Dr Yu Rongshan, Dr Lin Xiao and Mr Huang Haibin are awarded the 2007 National Technology Award.

National Technology Award 2007

Mr Jain Raj Kumar
Dr Sim Hak Keong
Dr Goh Chee Kiang
Mr Teo Tee Yong
Infineon Technologies Asia Pacific Pte Ltd

"For their outstanding contribution to the development of next generation, high performance and robust broadband technology" Broadband communication is an important pre-curser to content-rich, multi-media applications on the internet. Amongst the broadband technologies that enable high bandwidth communication, VDSL2 (Very High Speed Digital Subscriber Line) is perceived as the most advanced and prominent broadband communication technology that exploits existing and widely-deployed infrastructure of copper wires used in telephone services. With VDSL2, deployment of Triple/Quad Play services such as IPTV for video and high definition television (HDTV), Voice over IP (VoIP), interactive gaming and internet access can be supported at the same time. VDSL2 provides dedicated data rates of up to 250 Mbits downstream and upstream. Compared to the current generation of ADSL technology, VDSL2 easily expands downstream bandwidth by a factor of 10 and the upstream bandwidth by a factor of 100, truly enabling home office and peer-to-peer services. The need to deliver high video quality and high bandwidth for HDTV exemplifies the complexity of signal processing demanded in VDSL2 technology. HDTV requires not only high transmission rates but at the same time a robust transmission medium free from any errors caused by interference. In addition, power consumption, backward compatibility and costs have to be addressed to make the VDSL2 product commercially viable. The Infineon team in Singapore focused on innovative solutions to increase the robustness of signal processing and developed new algorithms that address high performance with higher throughputs and better signal quality, and high quality with new error detection and correction methods. Multiple inventions and patent applications have been filed on such innovations and algorithms that enabled a highly sophisticated and robust VDSL2 system. The Infineon team developed the world's first end-to-end VDSL2 solution serving up to 8 different xDSL service subscribers for switching equipment, as well as the integrated modem for home users. A significant number of contributions/papers towards the development of an international standard for VDSL2 makes Infineon a major contributor towards the foundation of the VDSL2 standard. Infineon's VDSL2 product code named "VINAX" is the world's first VDSL2 standard-compliant product. The VINAX is the first VDSL2 product to be commercially deployed by Europe's largest telecoms group, Deutsche Telekom, with the launch of VDSL2 services since 2006, providing real IPTV, video-on-demand services with HDTV quality. For their outstanding contribution to the next generation, high performance and robust broadband telecommunication system, Mr Raj Kumar Jain, Dr Sim Hak Keong, Dr Goh Chee Kiang, and Mr Teo Tee Yong are awarded the 2007 National Technology Award.

Singapore National Academy of Science Young Scientist Award 2007

Dr Yu Feng Wei
Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory

"For his research on neural development and neurological disorders"

One of the key questions in developmental biology is how cellular diversity is generated during development. It is generally believed that asymmetric divisions of neural stem cells primarily lead to generation of the neuronal diversity in animals. Dr Yu focuses on understanding molecular mechanisms controlling asymmetric cell divisions of neural stem cells using Drosophila, a powerful genetic model system.

Dr Yu and his team have discovered several novel molecules and elucidated their critical functions using the combination of biochemical, cell biological and genetic approaches. Dr Yu's work has opened a whole area of studies on the role of heterotrimeric G protein signaling during asymmetric divisions of neural stem cells. Dr Yu's team has also been involved in studying the in vivo functions of various Parkinson's disease-linked genes in regulating age-dependent degeneration of Drosophila dopaminergic neurons.

The studies from Dr Yu and his team have been published in 15 articles in internationally prestigious journals such as Cell, Nature Cell Biology, Genes and Development and JCB. Dr Yu makes his achievements in local research institutes including Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL) as well as Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), A*STAR.

Dr Yu's achievements have gained international recognition. His articles have been cited over 350 times and highlighted/featured by the editors from most prestigious journals including Cell, Science, Nature Cell Biology and Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology. Dr Yu has given more than 10 invited seminars in top research institutions and conferences/symposiums in US, Switzerland, Australia and Japan.

For his research on neural development and neurological disorders, Dr Yu Fengwei is awarded the Young Scientist Award 2007.

Singapore National Academy of Science Young Scientist Award 2007

Assistant Professor Ng How Yong
Division of Environmental Science and Engineering, NUS

"For his research on membrane technologies and alternative clean energy using microbial fuel cell"

Dr Ng How Yong's research focuses on the development of novel membrane processes and enhancement of membrane technologies for water treatment and reuse, and the development of microbial fuel cell technology for alternative clean energy production.

Dr Ng's research has produced significant results in three areas. Firstly, by incorporating nanotechnology, he has successfully developed a novel concept and a new generation of membranes for forward osmosis. This breakthrough will enhance water productivity and potentially decrease the cost of water reuse and desalination. Taking it a step further, his team is currently developing a similar type of membrane for reverse osmosis process. Secondly, Dr Ng has identified the key parameters controlling fouling in a membrane bioreactor and is focusing on elucidating the fouling mechanisms. Thirdly, he has successfully developed an efficient microbial fuel cell system for the direct production of electricity from organic wastes - a groundbreaking technology in an era of increasing energy cost and global warming. This technology may be brought to market soon as his team is currently optimizing the components and working on a prototype for field application.

These achievements of Dr Ng's have gained him international recognition. In 2006, he was the recipient of the International Water Association Young Professional Award, a prestigious international award that recognises individuals who have made outstanding achievements and demonstrated potential to be a leader in the field. Recipients of this award are anticipated to play an influential role in water science and technology in the future.

As a result of his research, Dr Ng has published more than 60 scientific articles in international journals and conferences, and has delivered a number of invited talks in international conferences. Four of his inventions are also currently being filed for patents. Furthermore, in recognition of his expertise, he has even been invited to be an Associate Editor of Water Research, a top-tier journal in the field.

For his research on membrane technologies and alternative clean energy using microbial fuel cell, Dr Ng How Yong is awarded the Young Scientist Award 2007.

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.

As time is needed before the impact of the contributions can be felt, the medal may not be awarded every year.

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 recognises 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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