Congratulations to Katherine and Darren!
River Valley High School, Singapore, GCE O levels 1999-2002 Hwa Chong Junior College, Singapore, GCE A levels 2003-2004
National University of Singapore
PhD student aka professional lab rat
National University of Singapore
Favourite thing to do in my job: Asking questions. As a scientist in training, asking “why” or “what if” is what I do on a daily basis. Then I perform experiments to answer those questions. More often than not, the answers to these questions lead to even more questions. That’s what keeps Science alive and kicking.
I study pond scum, otherwise known as microalgae to understand how they can make useful products for us and stop our planet from overheating.
Microalgae are photosynthetic microorganisms (think of them as tiny, microscopic plants) that can be found in most environments. You might know some of them as pond scum (the green things found in ponds that are sometimes a nuisance). Photosynthesis is a useful process as it captures carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and converts them to other products in the cells. In recent years, as you may know, there has been an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to human activities. Too much carbon dioxide is bad for the planet as carbon dioxide retains heat from the Sun that would otherwise be lost to space. This results in global warming which can lead to other disastrous effects such as rising sea levels and climate changes. A solution to this problem would be to use photosynthesis to reduce carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. As compared to plants, microalgae are much more efficient when it comes to photosynthesis. So my work then is to understand the processes of photosynthesis in microalgae so that we can make them better at capturing and using more carbon dioxide.
Microalgae also make useful products for us. Did you know that some of the colourings in food are made by microalgae? Many compounds which are important in the industry are also made by microalgae. So by studying them, we can also make them better at producing these products.
My Typical Day
Experiments (usually the very first thing I do when I step into the lab is to check that the algae are healthy), supervising honours year undergraduate research students, discussing data and ideas with my supervisor and members of my lab, teaching undergraduate laboratory modules, “household” chores to be done around the lab e.g. washing glassware (my least favourite). Of course, there’s always the occasional distractions of Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.
Actually, there really isn’t a “typical” day in the lab. That’s part of the reason I love what I do. Everyday is different. I might be doing lots of experiments one day and doing nothing except write reports the next day. Or I may spend some time learning how to use a new equipment. I also mentor and teach undergraduate students in my lab and department during office hours and sometimes after office hours (which means even less time for myself!). But I find this extremely satisfying, knowing that you have an impact on someone else’s scientific training.
Anyway, here are some pictures of the microalgae.
Microalgae on the shaker
The microalgae need light and agitation to grow healthily. So we use a fluorescent light as a light source and grow them in flasks on the shaker.
When we want to grow them in larger volumes, we use a culture vessel like this.
The culture vessel has an inlet for carbon dioxide supply and the stirrer ensures that everything is properly mixed.
So what more can I say? I really love the little green critters.
What I'd do with the prize money
I would use it to fund some of the science projects from the junior scientist programme in my Secondary school (priority would go to Microbiology related projects). This programme introduces young people like yourselves to scientific research. When I was your age (which wasn’t a very long time ago), the programme gave me the opportunity to work on a project to investigate fungal growth on wallpaper under the guidance of a university professor. It was a life changing experience that led me down the road to becoming a microbiologist. So I would like to show my support and give something back by sponsoring similar projects. £500 can go a long way in buying equipment and materials that the projects need.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Stubborn, hardworking, enthusiastic
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Sharing my research with other people through seminars and being a spokesperson for microalgae. Only through sharing can knowledge be passed along and improved upon. Once, 6 months after my presentation, another postgraduate student came up to me and told me that she found my research interesting. So for every presentation that I give, at least one more person walks away with a better understanding of microalgae.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Nope. I was a good girl. Besides, I figured my parents would kill me if I got into trouble.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Westlife. I know they are old and have disbanded but I still like their music. A bit sappy but great for easy listening on days when experiments don’t work the way they are supposed to.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
A 2 week trip to Canada to see the Niagara Falls. Getting there from Singapore (where I live) was already an adventure in itself.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
More publications (important if you want to be recognised in your area of research), more (exciting) surprises in my research, more time for myself (more time for sleep and other leisure activities is always good)
Tell us a joke.
Qn: What do you call a microbiologist who has travelled to many countries and can speak 10 languages? Ans: A (wo)man of many cultures.