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A*STAR Talent Search 2011 Finalists


The A*TS short-listing interview round took place on 31 March 2011. Eight finalists were selected and will proceed to the final judging on 26 April 2011.

Here are the eight finalists and a short write-up of their projects:

Name Jim Chentian
School Raffles Institution (Junior College)
Mentor Dr. Liao Ping, National Neuroscience Institute
Project Title Molecular alteration of the TRPM5 channel in pancreatic β-cells and its effect on glucose tolerance
Project Category Cellular and Molecular Biology
Diabetes mellitus is caused by a combination of insulin resistance and ineffective insulin secretion by pancreatic β-cells. TRPM5, an ion channel in the membrane of β-cells, plays a critical role in mediating the glucose-induced membrane potential and calcium ion oscillations that trigger insulin secretion, with TRPM5 knock-out mice secreting 50% less insulin and maintaining elevated glucose levels for a prolonged duration. By including or omitting certain exons in forming the mature mRNA product, alternative splicing changes the amino-acid sequence of proteins, which may lead to an alteration of function, influencing the insulin-secreting ability of β-cells. We thus investigate the changes in splicing patterns of TRPM5 in β-cells, and we unexpectedly discover higher proportions of the functional isoform and lower proportions of putatively truncated TRPM5 channels in diabetic models as compared to non-diabetic β-cells, highlighting the important role of alternative splicing and suggesting a novel compensatory mechanism to cope with diabetes.

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Name Cheng Herng Yi
School NUS High School of Mathematics and Science
Mentor Mr. Cheong Kang Hao from NUS High School of Mathematics and Science
Project Title Composing Right Frusta to fold Axial Symmetric Origami
Project Category Computer Science
An original and novel method has been derived to use origami to fold three-dimensional solids which have rotational symmetry. Using geometry, the pattern of lines on the paper after unfolding the solid is predicted based on the target solid and drawn on paper. The paper is then folded on those lines and collapsed to produce the final solid. A computer program has been written, allowing users to specify a target solid and generating the pattern of lines that folds into that solid. Potential applications include folding nanostructures out of graphene and folding programmable matter into tools that mechanically shapeshift according to the needs of different situations.

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Name Li Xuanji
School NUS High School of Math and Science
Mentor Mr Tan Jiaqi from DSO National Laboratories
Project Title State Merging for Automatic Test Generation
Project Category Computer Science
In this work, techniques to explore the capabilities of multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWNTs) in sorting nanoparticles (NPs) were presented. Quantum dots (QDs), which are nanoparticles that are able to fluoresce under light, were deposited onto MWNTs surface using a syringe. Photoluminescence (PL) and fluorescence microscopy (FM) revealed that MWNTs are able to sieve in both the lateral and vertical direction. QDs with different chemical properties were used to explore whether the effects of chemical properties on the sieving capability of MWNTs. Results also suggested that micro-patterning, the use of laser to create micro-patterns on the MWNTs, could aid in separation of QDs and thus improve sieving capability of MWNTs. A multi-colored display of MWNTs and QDs could be achieved through the removal of desired amount of QDs decorated MWNTs using a controlled laser power.

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Name Chan Yarn Kit
School Hwa Chong Institution (College SSection)
Mentor Huang Mo Chao, A*STAR, Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology
Project Title Methods for Generating High-Fidelity Synthetic DNA
Project Category  Engineering: Materials and Bioengineering
My project, Methods for Generating High-Fidelity DNA, focuses on the de novo synthesis of genes (that means from scratch!) at base-level precision, which allows for the creation of genes of any length and sequence. Such genes can be used to yield gene products, such as proteins, that are not found naturally; this method can also be applied to produce novel organisms or molecules that are beneficial to the environment, for example, organisms that contribute towards efficient biofuel production or carbon sequestration, or for the research of viruses without the need for the actual, infectious viral particles (virions). However, modern methods of gene synthesis still require substantial cost, time and labour, and synthesised DNA is prone to errors. This bioengineering project sought to overcome these limitations by developing rapid and economical methods for generating high-fidelity synthetic DNA that can be further assimilated into automated, lab-on-a-chip technology for increased convenience and accessibility.

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Name He Zhiyuan
School Raffles Institution
Mentor Dr. Li Jun, Institute of Materials Research and Engineering
Project Title Synthesis and Characterisation of Co-polymer with High Charge Mobility for Application in Organic Field-Effect Transistors
Project Category Engineering: Materials and Bioengineering
The objective of this project is to design an organic polymer-based transistor to be applied in flexible electronic devices. Organic semiconductors are noted for their greater mechanical stability and ease of processability compared to conventional silicon-based ones. A main factor to determine their performance is the ease of charge transport, or hole mobility in this case. By maximising the electronic interaction between adjacent layers of the polymer and yet ensuring that the polymer is soluble, this project has achieved one of the best hole mobility reported to date. Furthermore, the polymer was found to be stable to heat and oxidation and has potential in commercial applications. Further work is carried out to try to achieve a polymer with minimal processing steps for greater ease of incorporation into electronic products.

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Name Xiong Siyi
School Raffles Institution
Mentor Associate Professor Heng Wan Sia, Paul, Dr. Celine Valeria Liew, Department of Pharmacy, National University of Singapore
Project Title Design of an Anti-Pyretic Dosage Form with a Temperature-Mediated Drug Release Reservoir for Fever Management
Project Category Medicine and Health Sciences
To manage fevers in more effectively and efficiently, an intelligent pharmaceutical dosage form with sequential release of two separate doses of antipyretic drug, ibuprofen, was designed. The first dose is released immediately upon administration of the dosage form. The second is temperature-mediated and will release only if fever persists; otherwise, it is minimally released and subsequently excreted. Temperature-mediated release properties of the second dose were achieved via encapsulation in a matrix of thermotropic liquid crystals. 2 prototypes were fabricated – a tablet-in-tablet and a capsule-in-capsule. As the liquid crystal matrix could not be fully solidified into tablet form and subsequent compression coating of the immediate release layer onto the tablet resulted in drug leakage, the tablet-in-a-tablet idea proved infeasible. In comparison, the capsule-in-a-capsule faced no process problems. Subsequent dissolution studies showed that this prototype only resulted in full drug release in response to heightened temperatures, highlighting clear potential for such a dosage form.

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Name Alan Aw Jin
School Raffles Institution (Junior College)
Mentor Dr Ku Cheng Yeaw, Department of Mathematics, NUS
Project Title The covering radius problem for sets of perfect matchings
Project Category Mathematical Sciences
An important problem studied by mathematicians working in the field of combinatorics is the following question in extremal combinatorics: given a collection of structures, what is the maximum size of the collection such that we can find a structure that shares at most c elements with each structure in the collection? In our research, we studied collections of a particular graph-theoretic structure known as a perfect matching. We proved that in any collection of perfect matchings, as long as each edge1 of the graph does not appear too frequently in our collection, then we can always _nd another perfect matching that does not share too many elements with each perfect matching in our collection. This has potential applications in coding theory, in which the result could be used to optimize the size of any collection of perfect matchings to minimize cost.

1A graph is a set of points and lines. Often, we refer to the points as vertices, and the lines as edges. A perfect matching in a graph is a set of non-adjacent edges (i.e. the edges do not share a vertex) such that each vertex of the graph is contained in exactly one edge.

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Name Low Jia Zhen
School Dunman High School
Mentor Mrs Serene Chu & Mr Nigel Koh, Dunman High School
Project Title Analysis of the phytoremediative ability of macrophytes and a phytofiltration design for Singapore’s waterways
Project Category Environmental Science
Nitrates and phosphates are pollutants when present in high concentrations. PUB, Singapore's National Water Agency, aims to achieve a reduction in N and P concentrations in storm waters.

In this project, we aimed to use aquatic plants to reduce N and P concentrations. The N and P uptake capabilities of five tropical aquatic plants, namely Typha angustifolia, Cyperus haspan, Hydrilla verticillata, Cabomba aquatica and Lemna minor were studied. Their uptake kinetics, N and P removal rates as well as growth rates were analysed. These plants were subsequently evaluated for growth in different areas, and these results can be applied to constructed wetlands or in our proposed phytofiltration system.

The phytofiltration system which makes use of existing float booms to attach enclosures containing specific submerged aquatic plants to waterways was also designed. Specific macrophytes can be planted at different bands of the float booms, thus maximising the phytoremediative abilities of each macrophyte.

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