Professor Ada Yonath
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2009
All cells in living organisms contain tiny factories called ribosomes. These translate the genetic code into proteins, which are essential to life. They act in the same fashion in all living cells, whether in bacteria or in elephants. In humans, ribosomes produce proteins that transport oxygen, capture viruses, create energy and carry out many other tasks.
In the late 1970s, Professor Ada Yonath turned her attention to these minuscule wonders and, against all odds, eventually succeeded in determining the structure of the bacterial ribosome, a breakthrough that shed light on how all ribosomes function.
Since the ribosome is a major bacterial target for antibiotics, her discoveries have also led to the design of new innovative, eco-friendly and pathogen-specific antibiotics, and to a better understanding of antibiotic resistance, which the World Health Organisation calls one of the biggest threats to global health.
For her seminal work, Professor Yonath was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry alongside two other scientists. The Nobel Prize committee noted that when Professor Yonath began her research, the ribosome was considered impossible to crystallise - a key step to determining its structure - because of its size, lack of internal symmetry and instability.
Despite steep odds and widespread derision, she persevered. She overcame the instability problem by using ribosomes from tough bacterial strains found in the Dead Sea, hot springs and nuclear facilities’ waste, and after 25,000 searches for the right crystallisation conditions, succeeded in obtaining ribosomal crystals.
The crystals, however, decayed almost instantly at ambient temperature in X-rays used for data collection. Professor Yonath thought the cause was motion within the sensitive crystals, and invented a way to minimise their internal energy and reduce the motion by deep cooling.
To avoid ice formation within and around the crystals, she dipped them in a high viscosity hydrocarbon polymer before snap-freezing them to cryogenic temperatures. This technique is now called cryo-bio-crystallography and is routinely used in structural biology.
Due to her innovations, others tried to determine the ribosome’s structure. In 2000, she and her fellow Nobel Laureates were the first with almost simultaneously published papers.
Professor Yonath is the Martin S. and Helen Kimmel Professor of Structural Biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, where she is working on the translation of the genetic code, antibiotics that hamper it, antibiotic resistance issues, and the origin of life.
Sir Konstantin Novoselov
The Nobel Prize in Physics 2010
When Sir Konstantin Novoselov and Sir Andre Geim isolated graphene and mapped its properties in 2004, they not only unlocked a wonder material but also spurred a global research frenzy.
Consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms, graphene is many times stronger than steel, lighter than paper, an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, and flexible to boot. Scientists are now investigating its use in countless applications, from ultrathin and light body armour that can stop bullets, to membranes that can better filter salt out of seawater.
Before Sir Konstantin and Sir Andre’s breakthrough, other scientists had tried to obtain graphene from materials with multiple layers of carbon atoms, such as graphite, but failed. Many thought that it was impossible to isolate such a thin material.
The solution, it turned out, was Scotch tape. By using copious amounts of the sticky tape, Sir Konstantin and Sir Andre were able to rip off thin flakes from a piece of graphite, and then get thinner and thinner flakes from the original ones.
The ingenious method, however, was only step one. Even after repeated use of the tape, some parts of the flakes would still have more than one layer of carbon atoms. To identify the fragments of graphene among the graphite, Sir Konstantin and Sir Andre came up with the successful idea of attaching the flakes to a plate of oxidised silicon and then putting the plate under a microscope. This enabled them to go on to study graphene’s properties.
When the two scientists were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work, the Nobel Prize committee noted that “a vast variety of practical applications now appear possible, including the creation of new materials”. Their discoveries also sparked new and accelerated research worldwide into other two-dimensional materials.
Sir Konstantin himself is now looking into such materials - and the possibility of combining them to create novel materials - as Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the National University of Singapore. He said: “There is now a huge pool of two-dimensional crystals that cover a massive range of properties. In theory, we could design any new material, layer by layer, for any new application.”
Beyond the Nobel Prize, Sir Konstantin has been conferred numerous honours, including a knighthood in Britain in 2012.
In every human being, millions of cells divide and replace themselves every second to keep the body healthy. In the 1980s, Sir Tim Hunt discovered a family of proteins that keeps a tight control over this crucial process.
Sir Tim was studying protein synthesis in fertilised sea urchin eggs, labelling the proteins being made after fertilisation with a radioactive tracer and tracking them until the eggs divided for the first time, when he noticed odd behaviour in one particular protein.
It was made at high levels after the eggs were fertilised, but disappeared abruptly just before eggs divided, only to return, reaccumulate to high levels, and then disappear again at the next and every cell division thereafter. This was extraordinary and inconceivable at the time.
Intrigued by the cyclical nature of the protein’s presence in the cell, and inspired by his love of cycling, Sir Tim named the protein a “cyclin”, and investigated further. He found that clams, starfish, frogs and even humans had cyclins, suggesting their widespread importance. He and others eventually found that the family of cyclins controlled cells’ growth, duplication and division, acting like a “go” signal.
For this important discovery, Sir Tim shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with fellow scientists Lee Hartwell and Paul Nurse. In 2006, he was knighted and received the Royal Medal from the Royal Society of London.
The study of the relationship between the cell cycle and diseases such as cancer continues to be the focus of many scientists. Blocking specific cyclins could inhibit cancer cell divisions.
As for Sir Tim himself, he retired at the age of 67, a few years after his knighthood, to the surprise of many, but he explained his decision: “It’s a good time to stop, while you’re ahead.” He now resides in Japan, where his wife is provost of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, and is working on The Problems Book, an accompaniment to the leading Molecular Biology of the Cell textbook by Alberts et al.
Sir Tim Hunt
The Nobel Prize in Physiology
or Medicine 2001
Professor Michael Grätzel
The 2010 Millennium
Nature is one of the best teachers in Science. Drawing inspiration from the process of photosynthesis, Professor Michael Grätzel invented a high-efficiency and low-cost photovoltaic cell that uses special dyes attached to an array of titanium dioxide nanoparticles to capture sunlight and convert it into electricity.
When Professor Grätzel was awarded the 2010 Millennium Technology Prize, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious prizes for technology, for his creation, the prize committee said that the cells “show great promise as an inexpensive alternative to costly silicon solar cells and an attractive candidate for a new renewable energy source”.
Today, the cells are manufactured on a multi-megawatt scale, and can be found in a range of products, including smart glass windows, solar-powered backpacks and e-book readers.
They were also the launchpad for the current development of perovskite photovoltaics, which could boost the adoption of solar power further. Professor Grätzel is working on developing perovskite solar cells whose efficiency already exceeds that of the market leading polycrystalline silicon cells. He is also researching these cells’ use as an energy source for producing fuels from water, carbon dioxide and sunlight via artificial photosynthesis.
Over the years, Professor Grätzel has pioneered other research in energy and electron transfer reactions in mesoscopic systems, and their use for solar generation of electricity and fuels as well as for lithium ion batteries.
A prolific author with more than 1,500 publications and several books to his name, he is one of the most highly cited chemists in the world, and has won many awards, including the Millennium Technology Prize, Albert Einstein World Award of Science, Global Energy Prize and Balzan Prize.
Furthermore, in August 2019, he was ranked first in a list of 100,000 top scientists selected from seven million researchers across all fields. The ranking method was based on a new, more accurate standardised citation metric, developed by scientists led by Stanford University, that weeds out abuses of the traditional citation system, such as self-citations.
Professor Grätzel is now a Professor of Physical Chemistry at the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, where he directs the institute’s Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces. He is also a Visiting Professor at Nanyang Technological University and an External Scientific Member of the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research.
Professor Wendelin Werner
The Fields Medal 2006
Large systems with many random inputs often look deterministic on a large scale, for instance when the randomness averages out.
However, when materials are precisely at a critical point, at the cusp of a phase transition, such as when liquid becomes gas, the macroscopic behaviour still looks pretty random. This randomness possesses some specific features that are interesting and important to describe, and has been a major subject of investigations in chemistry and physics.
Professor Wendelin Werner has been a pioneer of the mathematical aspects of finding the order that unites chaos. As he has put it: “I’m interested in what happens when many random events occur together, and the number of independent inputs becomes infinitely large. What global continuous structures are formed, and what are their properties?”
In 2006, he was awarded the Fields Medal, regarded as the Nobel Prize of mathematics, for answering such questions. Together with his collaborators, he developed the mathematics to describe and shed light on what exactly happens when a substance undergoes a phase transition in two-dimensional space.
The Fields Medal committee said of his influential work, which combined his specialities of probability theory and complex analysis: “His research has developed a new conceptual framework for understanding critical phenomena arising in physical systems, and has brought new geometric insights that were missing before.”
“The theoretical ideas arising in this work… have had an important impact on both mathematics and physics, and have potential connections to a wide variety of applications,” the committee continued.
Professor Werner’s research on random interfaces in two dimensions has solved several conjectures proposed by theoretical physicists, and Mandelbrot’s conjecture on the fractal dimension of the outer boundary of planar Brownian paths.
Apart from the Fields Medal, his awards have included the European Mathematical Society Prize, Fermat Prize, Rollo Davidson Prize and Heinz Gumin Prize. He is now a Professor of Mathematics at ETH Zürich.
Dr Anand Andiappan is a SIgN Fellow at the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN), and Senior Scientist at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).
He has an undergraduate degree in Industrial Biotechnology, a doctorate in Biology from NUS, Department of Biological Sciences and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Management of Technology (MOT). He has spent the last 10 years in Singapore studying allergies and infection and has published many scientific articles in reputable international journals.
Lastly, he also enjoys communicating Science to the public, young and old!
Dr Anand Andiappan
SIgN Fellow at the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN), and Senior Scientist at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
Professor David Cameron-Smith is a Senior Principal Investigator at the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, part of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).
He leads clinical research focused on dietary proteins, diabetes risk, and aging.
Prior to coming to Singapore, Professor Cameron-Smith was University Chair in Nutrition at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. He received his Ph.D. from Deakin University, Australia. Professor Cameron-Smith has completed many nutrition studies, including numerous collaborations with leading scientists around the world. He is passionate about understanding how the health of the aging population can be improved through tasty and nutritious food solutions.
Professor David Cameron-Smith
Senior Principal Investigator at the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, part of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
Dr Neerja Karnani
Senior Principal Investigator leading the Systems Biology and Integrative Omics group at Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS), A*STAR
Dr Neerja Karnani is a Senior Principal Investigator and leads the Systems Biology and Integrative Omics group at Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS), A*STAR, Singapore. After completing her PhD at the School of Life Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Dr Karnani carried out her postdoctoral work at the University of Virginia, USA, in association with the ENCODE consortium (NHGRI) involving the understanding of the epigenetic landscape and instability in the human genome.
Subsequently, she moved to SICS, A*STAR, in 2013 to start her own lab, where she focuses on identifying diagnostic markers and interventions related to women and child health adversities. She is using multi-omics approaches and integrating big data to develop better molecular insights into metabolic diseases, micronutrient deficiencies, and mental health adversities.
Dr Karnani is also a part of the science management group for the EpiGen consortium, a collaboration between 3 countries (Singapore, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom) to study the developmental origins of health and disease. Her group’s research findings have attracted the attention of major nutrition, pharmaceutical, and diagnostic industries and fostered translational programs. Dr Karnani is also a key Member and Contributor of Singapore’s National Precision Medicine program that aims at studying human genetic variation for population stratified risk prediction of health adversities.
Dr Pavitra Krishnaswamy
Scientist, Principal Investigator and Deputy Division Head at the Institute for Infocomm Research at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
Dr Pavitra Krishnaswamy is a Scientist, Principal Investigator and Deputy Division Head at the Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R) at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). She leads Research and Development efforts interfacing with Artificial Intelligence with Healthcare applications. Her research focuses on statistical learning and inference, interpretable machine learning, and predictive analytics for multimodal clinical data. Her work has led to several publications and patent filings and contributed new tools for clinical diagnostics, decision support, and digital health applications.
Pavitra earned dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering and Physics from the University of Southern California, and an S.M in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. She then completed a Ph.D. in Electrical and Medical Engineering from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, where she also trained in clinical medicine. Following this, she completed a postdoctoral stint at the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. She has received several honors including the Dupont MIT Alliance Presidential Fellowship, the MIT Shillman Fellowship, and was nominated as a Future Leader of the Science and Technology in Society (STS) Forum in 2017.
Dr Su Yi
Principal Scientist at the Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC)
Co-Programme Director of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) Medical Technology Programme Office
Dr Su Yi is a Principal Scientist at the Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC). He currently serves as the Director of Strategic Planning where he heads research, resource, and talent planning to ensure long term competitiveness and sustainability of business at IHPC. Concurrently, he is also the Co-Programme Director of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) Medical Technology Programme Office where he spearheads and coordinates MedTech R&D between A*STAR and the national healthcare ecosystem.
Prior to these appointments, Dr Su Yi served as the Director of the Data Analytics Department at SMRT Corporation. He was responsible for strengthening SMRT’s operational capability and created unique competitive edge through the build-up and exploitation of data analytics and artificial intelligence expertise. He was also in charge of technology management and supports business units on technology prospecting and road mapping, as well as management of intellectual property, collaboration relationship and governance. Dr Su Yi also headed the A*STAR-SMRT Urban Mobility Innovation Centre (UMIC), where he was responsible for the formation, execution, and governance of research projects.
Over the past 19 years, Dr Su Yi carried out research and development in the areas of Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS), Aerospace Engineering, Geospatial Modelling, Biomedical Engineering, and Botanical Modelling. He was the founding leader of the Geometrical Modelling Group and he played a key role in driving the Computationally-driven Biomedical Research Programme at IHPC, where he led the development of technologies in Computer-aided Cardiac Diagnosis, Image Analysis in Digital Pathology and Virtual Surgical Simulation.
Dr Su Yi had won multiple competitive research grants from various grant bodies, such as the A*STAR, National Medical Research Council (NMRC), SingHealth Foundation and National Research Foundation (NRF). Based on the novelty and commercial relevance of his work, he grew a portfolio of patents and had been awarded the Second Prize in the International 2014 PhysioNet/Computing in Cardiology Challenge and the “Best Innovation in Biomedical & Pharmaceutical Applications” in the National Instruments ASEAN Graphical System Design Achievement Awards 2011.
Dr Su Yi obtained his PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the National University of Singapore in 2003.