Alumnus hopes for a better life through research

“Research is not only about staying in the lab all day. It is about contributing to the society and impacting people’s life. An ingenious invention could bring about good change to a million lives worldwide,” said Belle Sow Miao Er, our NUS High-Tay Eng Soon Scholar, on what drew her to research.

Belle once witnessed how a foldscope, costing only $1, could detect contagious diseases like malaria, and yet could also be used as simple educational tools in classrooms. She was amazed and now aspires to create such innovations one day.

When she had the opportunity to attend the Overseas Student Academic Programme at the University of Queensland, Belle relished the experience. Supported by the Tay Eng Soon Endowment managed by Temasek Foundation, the programme allowed her to learn more about biomedical research and ways to detect terminal illnesses, such as cancer, using innovative technologies.

Belle’s passion for research was inspired by her father, a Physics professor in the National University of Singapore. Belle and her father would spend hours in the lab, conducting research and sharing their challenges. Research can be a long process, and at times, there were moments when she felt like giving up. With her father’s encouragement and her own determination, Belle, a NUS High School alumna, feels the joy and pride when her experiments show positive outcomes.

In 2015, Belle embarked on a two-year long project to better understand the fluorescence properties of a 2D nanomaterial called tungsten sulfide. Fluorescence is used in many applications around the world: solar cells, transistors and sensors. Tungsten sulfide provides the fluorescence we need for high sensitivity optoelectronic applications. Through her research, Belle managed to re-create the fluorescence of tungsten sulfide using two methods: gold deposition and laser modification. The hybrid gold-tungsten material can be used as a possible chemical sensor in the near future. Belle’s research was selected for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and was published in the journal “Advanced Optical Materials”.

“There are always many challenges in research. The most difficult was when multiple batches of tungsten sulfide showed conflicting changes in fluorescence. While cracking my head for months, trying to eliminate possible sources of errors, part of me didn’t want to go to the lab because I might see another failed or unexplained sample. But the Eureka and unforgettable moment is when I could figure out what's wrong, and for me that's one of the best parts of research.”

Belle aspires to take her love for research further, understanding the different needs of society and helping creating a better life for those living in Third World countries.

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