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Standing out in STEM – and triumphing over the competition

The National STEM Championship showcases young innovators going beyond book smarts to pit their analytical, scientific and communication skills against one another.

The victors of this year’s NSTEMC were the students from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) (ACS (I)). The first, second and third runners-up were the students from Raffles Institution (RI), Raffles Girls’ School (RGS) and Temasek Junior College (TJC) respectively. All the teams comprised 15-year-old Secondary Three students.

Any one of the finalists could have won – or been eliminated – thanks to the competition’s hands-on interdisciplinary focus, which demanded quick thinking and resourcefulness.

ACS (I) member Emmanuel Soon recalled the team sacrificing weekends and after-school hours to develop a prototype for a solar dryer using limited materials. As team member Ken Yokota Soh revealed, they diligently pored over videos and challenges from past competitions.

Yet, unexpected twists, like the task of constructing ball-and-stick models of organic molecules from memory during the quarter finals, took them by surprise. “After the time was up, we had only built one model,” recounted team member Reyes Lee.

To secure a spot in the grand finals, the ACS (I) team relied on the Wildcard Round, a crucial second chance. Said team member Aiden Lim: “It opened our eyes to the scope of the challenge and drove us to produce our best work and expand our scientific knowledge.”

RGS, too, got a shot at redemption during the Wildcard Round. Teammates Claire-Leia Ng and Janhvi (who goes by one name) made a nerve-wracking dash to complete numerous tasks and questions on topics spanning zoology to programming in under one hour.

The team’s elation upon learning of their advancement to the grand finals was palpable, as they realised that their efforts had finally borne fruit.

COMMUNICATING STEM TO A WIDER AUDIENCE

The NSTEMC placed a premium on strong collaborative and communication skills, ensuring that participants could convey their knowledge in easily understood presentations and responses.

Judge Dr Aniq Ahsan, a scientist at the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology at A*STAR and technical advisor to the National Climate Change Secretariat at the Prime Minister’s Office, enjoyed the creative team presentations, which included start-up pitches, commercials and skits. Another judge, Dr Li Jingmei, group leader of the Laboratory of Women’s Health and Genetics at A*STAR, appreciated how teams crafted compelling narratives to bring scientific concepts and equations to life – some even incorporated aspects of Singapore’s history.

Fellow judge Assistant Professor Yvonne Gao, Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore, agreed, noting the teams’ confidence and their ability to articulate strategies and scientific rationale.

APPLYING STEM PRINCIPLES TO THE REAL WORLD

During an Onsite Challenge visit to the National Kidney Foundation, the teams had a firsthand look at how STEM advancements improve patients’ lives. “The teams demonstrated a keen interest in learning and actively engaged with the experts and facilities they visited,” said judge Dr Lee Song Choon, director of KidsSTOP, Events and Engagement, at Science Centre Singapore:

Indeed, the RI team said that the championship has inspired them to pursue STEM careers aimed at improving future standards of medical care and welfare.

Addison Ang expressed his fascination with medical technology, while Harry Zhong Zihe noted that the study of medicine is a meaningful pursuit. Linus Ong hopes to explore precision medicine – which creates targeted, personalised treatment based on a patient’s data – while Swaagat Bikash Saikia is keen to explore natural language processing to create data-driven models that can address global community challenges.

Judge Dr Felix Lena Stephanie, senior lecturer at the Nanyang Technological University’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said the annual NSTEMC is a celebration of innovation, creativity and collaboration among young minds.

“Viewers should tune in, not just to see the impressive technical prowess on display, but to be inspired by our nation’s emerging STEM leaders. They turn academic theories into tangible solutions while navigating unexpected challenges. It’s not just a competition, but a testament to Singapore’s commitment to nurturing future-forward thinkers and innovators.”

Catch the National STEM Championship 2023 on mewatch.

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