Awarding Emerging Scientists
By Emilia Ismail.
Penang STEM’s effort to cultivate the interests of youths in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics is now beginning to bear fruit.
Penang STEM and the six centres under its eco-system, namely Tech Dome Penang, Penang Science Cluster, Penang Math Platform, @CAT, Penang Skills Development Centre and Penang Digital Library, successfully organised its inaugural Penang STEM Carnival 2018 last July, as yet another of its numerous key initiatives to spark curiosity and interest amongst the younger generations towards Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
More than 30 booths showcasing interesting science and technological exhibits and activities including drones, robots, augmented reality, nature and simple sciences for the very young were set up to motivate and drive young minds.
However, Penang STEM shone the spotlight on some local young talents in various international and national competitions.
Three categories of champions from three different competitions were presented with the STEM Excellence Awards. The winners consist of Ooi Yue Sheng, who won the 2017 Molecular Frontiers Inquiry Prize, Silent-X Assassins team, who emerged as the 1st runner-up for best robot performance in the First Lego League (FLL), and students from Penang Chinese Girls Primary School, who did their school proud by winning the top school and runner-up internationally in the annual International Singapore Math Competition (ISMC) 2018.
“My heartiest congratulations to the winners. Hopefully, this will not only spur them to strive for further accolades in the future but also inspire others to aim for STEM excellence in the near future.” says chief minister Chow Kon Yeow when he launched the carnival at Beach Street.
“The main goal of taking part in competitions is not to win them but to gain experience and build confidence. Winning is a bonus. Education should not just be limited to what is taught in the textbooks. Our school encourages our students to participate in various events and contests like these. The purpose is to allow the students to learn from the exposure and to increase their belief in themselves,” says Wong Bee Choo, the headmistress of Penang Chinese Girls Primary School.
Every Invention Stems from a Question
“I was curious about how the placebo effect works,” says Ooi Yue Sheng, a student from Sekolah Menengah Chung Hwa Confucian. “I got the inspiration to ask this question after falling ill. When the doctor first prescribed me my medication, I did not know how they work. I took the prescriptions, but they were not very effective in relieving my illness. Later, after I googled how these prescriptions work, I found out that by understanding how a medication works, the prescription seemingly works better, although it could also be my false perception. That was the moment that sparked my curiosity towards placebo effect.”
Ooi participated in the Molecular Frontiers Inquiry since he was 14. He won the 2017 Molecular Frontiers Inquiry Prize when he was 15. “I was motivated to join the competition out of curiosity and to shed some light on the placebo effect. This topic has the potential to improve the medical field,” adds Ooi.
“My most memorable experience from this competition is the research I got to do on this subject. I appreciate this opportunity that was given to me from this competition,” says Ooi.
“I always encourage my students to participate in this competition. The panel of judges consists of Nobel winners,” says Ooi’s teacher Kang Chia Ui.
“We dedicated 20 hours of our time each week and spent about six months on the FLL preparation,” says Oh Jie Yang, the team leader of the Silent-X Assassins team. “We were competing against 100 teams from 50 countries, so the competition was stiff.”
“During this experience, we learnt how to prioritise and manage our time. Juggling robotics with our studies was not a big issue for us as we knew how to manage our time,” says Jeetran Vemasit one of the members of the Silent-X Assassins team.
“I feel honoured being the only girl on the team, and it was a fun and interesting experience getting along with my team members. I met a lot of other female participants in the Estonia competition, and they were all extremely friendly,” says Valyn, the only girl in the Silent-X Assassins team.
“FLL has four aspects that involve robot game, project research, technical presentation, and core value presentation. Assigning the right person to do the right tasks according to their strengths is important for the team,” says the Silent-X Assassins coach Minna Ng.
Using Mathematics to Solve Everyday Problems
“Mathematics is much more than just adding and multiplying numbers,” explains Lim Fang Yann, a teacher in Penang Chinese Girls Primary School. “We can solve many problems and can anticipate certain situations through calculations. It is useful in all areas of our lives. For instance, a cattle farmer may want to know how many cows he can feed in a field of grass. Students will need to estimate how fast the grass grows, how much grass each cow consumes, and what is the optimum number of cows in that patch of grass.”
Chin Hooi Ling is the teacher in charge of ISMC 2018 for Penang Chinese Girls Primary School. Wong Jia Wen is an 8-year-old girl who is one of the youngest participants in the competition.
Wong looks up to her father who is also a Mathematics teacher. Khor Yan Xun is a 10-year-old boy who developed an interest in Mathematics since he was two years old.
“Our school is very grateful to working individuals who voluntarily spend their time coaching our students and teachers on how to best perform in these competitions. How Guan Aun is one of these individuals. He is located in Taiwan and would return to Penang during the summer holidays to coach willing-to-learn teachers on how to train and teach students on problems for International Mathematical Olympiad,” says Lim.
“Getting funding to participate in these international competitions is not always easy. Most parents need to cover the expenses of sending their children overseas for these international competitions. Majority of parents cannot afford this, as such the students would forego participating in these events even though the students qualify and might stand a chance to win them,” says Lim.
“Gifted students are often scouted by foreign countries like Singapore. There are two students this year who were awarded full scholarships to Singapore to further their studies. Our top student Alisha Koay Pei Zhen got a placement in Nanyang Girls’ High School in Singapore,” adds Lim. “It is a bittersweet feeling as it is an honour for this recognition and opportunity, yet, it is a loss for our country. Talents who go abroad very seldom return,”
Penang STEM is a great achievement by the Penang state government. It’s vision to establish Penang as a centre of excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics is not an easy feat. The talents that surfaced from this initiative is a testament to the work of Penang STEM. The next hurdle that they might want to focus on is how to retain these talents they cultivated. It will be an uphill battle. Nevertheless, the most fruitful rewards are almost always never easy.