3 Singaporean students reach finals of Google Science Fair

Raffles Girls' School students (from left) Samantha Kwok, 16, Tricia Lim, 15, and Kang Yi Xi, 16, will present their proposal on a treatment for liver inflammation to panellists, including Nobel laureates.
Raffles Girls' School students (from left) Samantha Kwok, 16, Tricia Lim, 15, and Kang Yi Xi, 16, will present their proposal on a treatment for liver inflammation to panellists, including Nobel laureates.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Three Singaporean teenagers will pack their bags next month for Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Their goal - to do Singapore proud in the third Google Science Fair, where their proposal on a treatment for liver inflammation is one of 15 to have made the cut as a finalist from thousands of submissions from 120 countries.

Raffles Girls' School students Kang Yi Xi, 16, Samantha Kwok, 16, and Tricia Lim, 15, will present their work to panellists, including Nobel laureates.

They are on the cusp of a small but significant discovery, said Professor Hanry Yu of National University of Singapore's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, who mentored them.

Their 20-month journey started when they enrolled in the Science Mentorship Programme for gifted education students, and were scouring journals and papers to identify a gap in studies.

They noticed that men are more likely than women to suffer from liver fibrosis, or scarring due to chronic liver diseases that may arise because of conditions like alcoholism. They then hypothesised that the presence of female sex hormones might have had a significant effect on liver fibrosis, one of the top five causes of death among middle-aged people in many developed countries.

They set about experimenting with different types of hormones, and varying the dosages.

Their journey has been fraught with obstacles, such as having to redo experiments due to cell contamination, and rejection - the project failed to make the cut for the Singapore Science and Engineering Fair this year.

Said Tricia: "We were disappointed, but used the energy to analyse our report and find other ways to extend our research."

Prof Yu added: "Their level of independence is quite rare for their age, and even among some undergraduate students."

Google Science Fair is for budding young scientists aged 13 to 18. The grand prize winner will get a US$50,000 (S$63,500) scholarship and sponsored prizes.

waltsim@sph.com.sg