15 July 2016: Two Yale-NUS students spend their summer conducting scientific research under a prestigious Singapore-MIT Fellowship

By Daryl Yang | Images as credited 

Two Yale-NUS students were selected to participate in the research projects of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) faculty members as part of the Singapore-MIT Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SMURF), which aims to expose undergraduate students to research experiences involving an internationally diverse group of investigators.

Clarissa Leong and Tiffany Sin, both from the Class of 2017, are spending the summer from 1 June to 29 July at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Centre, a research enterprise established by the MIT in partnership with the National Research Foundation of Singapore (NRF).

Established in 2007, the SMART Centre serves as an intellectual hub for research interactions between MIT and Singapore at the frontiers of science and technology. MIT’s first research centre outside of the United States, is located conveniently next to Yale-NUS College in the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) at University Town in the National University of Singapore.

Tiffany Image provided by Tiffany Sin

Tiffany has been working under Professor Les Norford, Director of Building Technology Group at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, on thermal comfort in urban environments after spending the past semester since January 2016 working for the Center for Environmental Sensing and Modeling at MIT.

“Using numerical simulations and the physics of heat balances and flow patterns, we simulate wind, temperature, pressure, and other parameters of an urban canyon which are translated into a thermal comfort index. My role is in improving the efficiency of the simulation code and adapting it to study complex geometries (for example, to be able to model a building straight from an architect’s design), and also contributing to the writing of the research paper,” she explained.

The project was a perfect fit for Tiffany who is majoring in Physical Sciences with a minor in Urban Studies. “I’ve been interested in numerical simulations of urban areas since Integrated Science in my first year, when we were tasked to present on a topic that integrated two of the disciplines we studied and my group had presented on city ventilation.”

Clarissa editedImage provided by Clarissa Leong

For Clarissa, who was curious about the work done to bridge the knowledge and attitude gap between institutions and researchers working on the climate change issue and the general public, her role has been in performing qualitative research on a mobile carbon sensing project.

“My team at the Future Urban Mobility research group is developing a mobile application which provides users with personalised information on how to reduce their carbon emissions by tracking their daily activity patterns. I organise interviews and focus group discussions with participants who have used a trial version of the app and show them various representations of their personal carbon emissions from data gathered through the app. I then evaluate the most compelling approaches to motivate people to reduce their travel emissions.”

The most memorable experience for Clarissa was having the opportunity to hear a spectrum of opinions about climate change from people highly knowledgeable about the issue to people who are more hard pressed to deal with daily bread and butter issues, which helped her realise the challenges working on such complex environmental issues. “Changing attitudes towards climate change is a very complicated issue to address especially when human beings find multiple ways to ignore the effects of climate change,” she noted.

Tiffany shared that she has been learning many different skills on the job, such as coding and scientific writing but the greatest lesson she has learnt is that a large part of research is about answering the short but very complicated question of “Who cares?”.

“SMART prioritises making a real impact in the research it conducts. Because of this, I’ve had some good discussions about the applicability and impact of our research. Which agencies care? What country other than Singapore would look to computational models before pursuing major developments? How do you convince an architect that that X is a better design than Y? What’s your standard of a “good” public space?”

On her plans after graduation in a year’s time, Clarissa shared that she plans to pursue a master’s degree after graduation. “I’ve always been interested in policy work and this fellowship has helped me understand the processes and challenges of research that inform policy decisions.”