Articles

Merdeka Award Young Researchers’ Circle: The WOW Factor of Success

15 JULY 2021, BY Merdeka Award
It’s easy to imagine Dr Ong Wee-Jun fitting right in a K-drama version of the Big Bang Theory as behind the boyish charm is a razor-sharp mind brimming with science-y stuff. His work has earned him many accolades, including a spot in Stanford University’s list of 2020 World’s Top 2% Scientist and Academics! As he sets out to make the world a better place,  read on to find out what his research entails and his WOW factor….

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A quick look at Dr Ong’s LinkedIn profile will inevitably turn into a long scroll. The list of awards, publications, research papers, and more are jaw-dropping to say the least. He holds multiple editorial positions in several industry-renowned publications and is cited on  Clarivate Analytics’ Global Highly Cited Researchers 2019 and 2020 index.

Dr Ong was also the recipient of the prestigious Merdeka Award Grant for International Attachment (MAGIA) in 2018 for his research project “Solar Energy Conversion and Energy Storage to Address the Seriousness of Energy Security and Environmental Issues by Mimicking the Ingenuity of Nature”. In layman’s terms, Dr Ong’s research could change the face of natural fuel sources.

He is a familiar name in the ‘green industry’ having won the Green Talent Award from the German Ministry of Education and Research in 2018. He was one of 25 young scientists chosen for the award in recognition for his research project that converted carbon dioxide and solar energy into clean fuel.

“In my project, I am developing nanostructured materials, which mimics the natural leaf. Plants in natural photosynthesis convert water and CO2 with the aid of sunlight into chemical fuels. My nano materials aim to do that – take sunlight and naturally transform it into an energy dense chemical fuel.”
Dr Ong’s particular line of research advances green energy, in line with the World Economic Forum’s Top Ten Emerging Technologies in 2020 [1]. 

“It is a way toward clean and renewable fuel production via solar-to-chemical energy conversion. This aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and also the Shared Prosperity Vision (SPV) 2030 announced by the Malaysian government as a blueprint toward a more sustainable future for our society.”

“The whole world is exploring nanotechnology, but I believe that there must be a process from fundamental research to industrialization. I hope that from this process, the efficiency can be increased for industrialization. For example, the use of nanotechnology to turn water into hydrogen via solar-light-driven catalysis by scientists Fujishima and Honda in 1972 was a momentous breakthrough in the history of mankind. This can be extended to other renewable energy processes such as the reduction of CO2 to energy fuels, and more,” he said.

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Representing Malaysia to the World

“When I applied for the Grant, I had just come back from my 2-year employment as a Staff Scientist with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore. My hope was to advance science and technology in Malaysia. I wanted to contribute back to society and uphold the spirit of Merdeka to represent Malaysia as well as bring fame to the host institutions.”

“The Grant was very essential to my early-career research. The connective collaborations, in having a senior mentor and advisor, helped tremendously in progressing my research journey. Even after the end of my attachment, I still maintain my collaboration with Professor Ager, in national grant applications as well as other on-going research activities.”

In fact, it was the technological experience that Dr Ong gained from his Grant attachment that resulted in the establishment of the Centre of Excellence for NaNo Energy & Catalysis Technology (CONNECT) at Xiamen University Malaysia.

On Dr Ong’s  website, he talks about NanoECats and CONNECT. Rest assured it has nothing to do with ‘linking felines’ but rather highlights Dr Ong’s work, his new directorship, and his passion for nanotechnological innovation. 

“The Grant advanced my research portfolios, and because of my consistent achievements and research recognition, I was appointed as the Founding Director of CONNECT from 2021. This is a wonderful and particularly important opportunity to bridge the gap among university, industry and scientific publishers.”

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International Collaborations and the WOW Factor

Dr Ong carried out his Merdeka Award Grant attachment in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and the University of California Berkeley. He was under the supervision of Professor Joel Ager, Adjunct Professor and Staff Scientist at LBNL (https://mse.berkeley.edu/people_new/ager/).

He is a strong proponent of the importance of research and international collaborations. ‘When one receives the Merdeka Award Grant, he or she is not only representing the institution, but at the same time representing Malaysia, the nation, to bring fame to the world. 

“The Grant is a significant recognition of your current research achievement, which will scale new heights in your research career or even professional careers in the near future,” he said. 

Research is not meant to be a one-man show, but rather an opportunity for collaboration between people from a multitude of disciplines. It is interdisciplinary and it is important to have good networking with the top scientists in the world. As Neil Armstrong said, ‘Research is all about creating new knowledge.’

To this, Dr Ong adds his own acronym for success. “To instil a global-oriented mindset, we need to adopt the “WOW” factor. W is for World-class; O for Outstanding; and W for Winnable. This is the best way to make us more competitive in this dynamic world, in order to scale new heights in our research and professional career, and to have impactful ideas that enable us to innovate and think outside of the box.”

And who are we to argue with one of the top scientific minds in the world! 

The Merdeka Award Grant for International Attachment (MAGIA) is a signature initiative of the Merdeka Award Trust. The Grant offers short-term attachment programmes at internationally recognised host institutions. This enables distinguished young Malaysians to engage in collaborative programmes that enhance their work, expertise, and achievements. To learn more about the Merdeka Award and its grants, please visit https://www.merdekaaward.my/

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[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/2020-top-10-emerging-technologies/
 
 
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Dr Ong Wee-Jun
Dr Ong is the Director for the Centre of Excellence for NaNo Energy & Catalysis Technology (CONNECT) and Associate Professor, School of Energy and Chemical Engineering, Xiamen University Malaysia He received his Bachelor of Engineering degree and leapfrogged to do his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering), both from Monash University. Dr Ong has won several scholarships, awards and fellowships including the Endeavour Research Scholarship research attachment in Australia. He was also a Visiting Scientist at Technische Universität Dresden, Germany and a Visiting Professor at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA. In 2020, Dr Ong received the Fundamental Research Grants Scheme (FRGS) from the Ministry of Higher Education, Malaysia.
Dr Edison Lee Tian Khoon
Dr Edison headed to Sweden’s Uppsala University, where he joined the Department of Chemistry, Ångström Laboratory, as part of his attachment stint. He is currently carrying out active research in polymer electrolyte and nanomaterials for Lithium-ion batteries. Read more about him here:
Innovating the Energy Ecosystem
Chrishen R. Gomez
Having attended the prestigious Ivy League Brown University as part of his attachment programme, 27-year-old Chrishen is now with the Wildlife Research and Conservation Unit at Oxford University. Chrishen is busy developing a genetic-based research project on the Sunda Clouded Leopard. Read more about him here: Conserving Our Forests & Future
Dr Zetty
Dr Zetty is currently working on anti-cancer compounds found in Malaysian seaweed and has continued to pursue her original project proposal of microalgae vaccine carriers for fish. A working solution has been patented by Dr Zetty and will be deployed within the coming year.
 
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