She wins top science award for Muslims

Professor Jackie Ying (above), executive director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at A*Star, won the inaugural Mustafa Prize. She was recognised, among her many scientific achievements, for her role in developing a special way o
Professor Jackie Ying (above), executive director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at A*Star, won the inaugural Mustafa Prize. She was recognised, among her many scientific achievements, for her role in developing a special way of delivering insulin to diabetics only when needed.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Her research work 'improved human life, expanded perceptions about the world'

A Singapore-based scientist has won the top science and technology award of the Islamic world, which comes with a US$500,000 (S$702,000) cash prize.

Professor Jackie Ying, 49, executive director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), will be awarded the inaugural Mustafa Prize in the Top Scientific Achievement category today, in a ceremony to be held in Teheran, Iran. This prize is for individuals whose research has improved human life and "expanded... our perception about the world".

Among her numerous scientific contributions, Prof Ying was recognised in particular for her role in developing glucose-sensitive nanoparticles that deliver insulin to diabetic patients only when their blood glucose levels are high. The system does away with external blood glucose monitoring by finger pricks, and allows insulin to be delivered orally or via the nasal passage, instead of through injections.

  • Distinguished career

  • Professor Jackie Ying is executive director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) at A*Star.

    Her research has led to many new materials and systems with unique functions and properties that tackle major challenges in medicine, chemistry and energy.

    These inventions have been applied in areas such as drug delivery; cell and tissue engineering; biosensing and diagnostics; catalysis and pharmaceuticals synthesis; and battery and fuel cell systems.

    Prof Ying, 49, joined the faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992, where she was professor of chemical engineering until 2005. She has been IBN's founding executive director since 2003.

    She has 340 publications in leading journals and over 150 primary patents issued or pending.

    Prof Ying and her institute have won numerous awards and accolades this year alone. For instance:

    • Last month, she was elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for her contributions to the fields of nanotechnology and bioengineering. The association is the world's largest general scientific society and publisher of the leading journal, Science.

    • In March, she was elected to the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering's College of Fellows.

    • Also in March, a new drug delivery system from the institute - that uses green tea to fight cancer - won the Grand Prize at The Crown Prince Creative, Innovative Product and Technological Advancement Award 2015. The award was organised by the Institut Teknologi Brunei and Brunei LNG.

Professor Hossein Zohour, head of the scientific committee of the Mustafa Prize, said the groundbreaking research holds "great promise for improving the quality of life of mankind".

The other top award winner, under the Nano Science and Nanotechnologies category, was Jordanian chemist Omar Yaghi, co-director of the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. The pair edged out 600 other nominees, including Nobel laureates and scientists at the top of their fields.

The Mustafa Prize recognises leading researchers and scientists of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states, and Muslim researchers from around the world.

Prof Ying - who was born in Taipei, and raised in Singapore and New York - converted to Islam in her 30s. She said she intends to use a portion of the prize money to get more students intrigued about science, such as through exchange trips to renowned overseas science institutions and better-equipped school laboratories. She will start her effort at her alma mater, Raffles Girls' School.

"Students cannot be obsessed with just results. They need to understand how science works and be better prepared to do something novel and innovative instead of regurgitating information from the textbook," she said. She believes such experiences will create Singapore's next generation of passionate, driven scientists.

The chemical engineer is known for her strong work ethic - she works 80 hours a week and has published 340 papers in leading journals with over 150 primary patents issued or pending, many of which have been licensed for commercialisation by multinational companies and start-ups.

Touching on Singapore science, she said research here has come a long way, due to an emphasis on good research backed by generous funding.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2015, with the headline 'She wins top science award for Muslims'. Print Edition | Subscribe