Grad who made 3D-printed 'fish' among A*Star scholarship holders

Mr Umar Mohamad Sahari (far left), 25, and Ms Uma Tay, 23, are among 69 aspiring scientists who received scholarships from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research yesterday. Ms Tay's vegan "salmon" (below, left) is made with red lentils and p
Mr Umar Mohamad Sahari, 25, and Ms Uma Tay (above), 23, are among 69 aspiring scientists who received scholarships from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research yesterday. Ms Tay's vegan "salmon" is made with red lentils and pea protein.PHOTOS: A*STAR
Mr Umar Mohamad Sahari (far left), 25, and Ms Uma Tay, 23, are among 69 aspiring scientists who received scholarships from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research yesterday. Ms Tay's vegan "salmon" (below, left) is made with red lentils and p
Mr Umar Mohamad Sahari (above), 25, and Ms Uma Tay, 23, are among 69 aspiring scientists who received scholarships from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research yesterday. Ms Tay's vegan "salmon" is made with red lentils and pea protein.PHOTOS: A*STAR
Mr Umar Mohamad Sahari (far left), 25, and Ms Uma Tay, 23, are among 69 aspiring scientists who received scholarships from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research yesterday. Ms Tay's vegan "salmon" (below, left) is made with red lentils and p
Mr Umar Mohamad Sahari, 25, and Ms Uma Tay, 23, are among 69 aspiring scientists who received scholarships from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research yesterday. Ms Tay's vegan "salmon" (above) is made with red lentils and pea protein.PHOTOS: A*STAR

While watching documentaries about farmed animals with her family years ago, four-year-old Uma Tay was saddened by the plight of cooped-up cows and chickens.

"I wondered why the farms were so crowded and why they were crammed together. Do they just spend their lives being caged?"

Growing up, Ms Tay wondered if there were more sustainable ways to produce food.

Her opportunity came in university when she made 3D-printed vegan salmon using pureed red lentils and pea protein.

The 23-year-old is one of 69 aspiring scientists who received scholarships from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) yesterday.

This year marks 20 years of the A*Star scholarships, with more than 1,700 PhD holders and postdoctoral scientists emerging through its scholarships and fellowships.

Ms Tay received the A*Star Graduate Scholarship, and will be pursuing a PhD in food science and technology at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Wanting to create plant-based "fish" that has the same flaky and layered texture as real fish, she worked on 3D-printing salmon as part of her final-year undergraduate project at NUS.

The red lentils replace the fish flesh, while the white pea protein acts as the connective tissue.

Printed in alternating layers, the "fish" imitates the pink and white patterns that salmon is known for.

Ms Tay also blended her lentil puree with camelina oil, which is rich in Omega-3.

Her plant-based "salmon" earned her the outstanding undergraduate researcher prize in NUS.

And a local company is interested to license her technology to produce plant-based "salmon" and "pork belly".

Ms Tay's PhD research will focus on unlocking gelling agents or proteins from plants such as soya, lentils and legumes - to replace gelatin derived from animal body parts.

Another A*Star graduate scholarship recipient is Mr Umar Mohamad Sahari, 25, who has spent the past year helping with the nation's daily efforts to process Covid-19 swab samples and identify positive cases.

Since June last year, he has been overseeing 40 lab technicians at a Covid-19 testing facility set up by A*Star and the National University Health System, called the Stronghold Diagnostics Lab.

Mr Umar will be pursuing a PhD at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, where he will focus on rare genetic diseases.

"Rare diseases such as frontonasal dysplasia don't get much attention from many pharmaceutical companies and other labs," he noted.

Frontonasal dysplasia is a rare disorder that leads to abnormalities in the head and face before birth.

"By understanding the origins of such diseases and how they affect the body, you can use that knowledge for more common diseases such as cancer," he said.

National Science Scholarship recipient Summer Li grew up doing science experiments with her mother, a former researcher who developed test kits for diseases such as dengue and tuberculosis.

Mother and daughter, then nine, had a secret lab at home - in a spare bathroom - equipped with a microscope, pipette, beaker and a weighing machine.

"My mum purchased a book titled 500 Fun Experiments For Your Kids, and we would work on the experiments," said Ms Li, 20.

She also has fond memories of collecting water samples at the beach with her mother to run them through the microscope.

Ms Li will be reading biological sciences at Imperial College London.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2021, with the headline 'Grad who made 3D-printed 'fish' among A*Star scholarship holders'. Subscribe