Annual Research Recognition Awards celebrate Yale-NUS faculty achievements

7 June 2021

By Dain Kim

Images provided by (from left to right) Asst Prof Naoi, Asst Prof Mathuru, Assoc Prof Sergey, Assoc Prof Bailey, and Asst Prof Gastner.

The annual Yale-NUS Research Recognition Awards recently honoured five faculty members for their outstanding contributions to research and scholarship. These awards included the Early Career Award, the Distinguished Career Award, and the Faculty-Student Collaboration Award.

This year, the Early Career Award was presented to two awardees who have made a major contribution in their field of research in the form of a peer-reviewed journal publication, book publication, or other scholarly or artistic work.

Assistant Professor of Humanities (Art History) Nozomi Naoi received the award for the impact of her book, Yumeji Modern: Designing the Everyday in Twentieth-Century Japan, a study of Japanese artist Takehisa Yumeji and the role of his graphic art in a rapidly changing twentieth century Japan. Asst Prof Naoi Nozomi has given talks about her research on Yumeji at several academic venues including Oakland University, the University of Melbourne, and the National University of Singapore. Her book has been recognised as illuminating the role of reprographic art in understanding modern and contemporary art in Japan.

Elaborating on her future plans to publish a second book, Asst Prof Naoi said, “I am excited and grateful to receive the research grant which will allow me to work on my second book. My second book builds upon my knowledge of the media environment in modern Japan. It will focus on the development of modern Japanese poster designs and the role of department stores in the flourishing of design culture and commercial design during the twentieth century.”

The second recipient of the Early Career Award was Assistant Professor of Science (Neuroscience) Ajay Mathuru whose work focuses on studying the behaviour of zebrafish to examine neural connections in organisms exposed to addictive substances. To aid his research, he has developed models to quantify animal behaviour as well as methods to selectively switch on neurons to follow disease progression, especially neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Asst Prof Mathuru is grateful to many people who had aided him throughout the years. He said, “Receiving the inaugural early career award this year brings me to recognise the influence of so many people without whom this would not be possible. Direct contributors like my lab mates, colleagues, and collaborators; and the invisible hand of inspiration of my dad, who also had a deep intellectual interest in my research. I dedicate this award to his memory.”

Two faculty members – Associate Professor of Science (Computer Science) Ilya Sergey and Associate Professor of Humanities (Philosophy) Andrew Bailey – received the Distinguished Researcher Award, which is presented to faculty members in any division who have demonstrated outstanding achievement over the past three years or longer, such as journal or book publications, external research grants, or prestigious award wins.

Asst Prof Sergey’s research focuses on the semantics of computer programming languages, as well as mathematical models of computation and computer-assisted formal reasoning. His work has formed the theoretical foundations for applications in distributed programming, development of formally correct programs, and distribution of secure applications. He was awarded the AITO Dahl-Nygaard Junior Prize in 2019 and has also co-developed a programme language called Scilla to aid the development of secure smart contracts.

“This prize bears a very special meaning, as a sign of recognition by Yale-NUS that it is possible to conduct impactful research in Computer Science (CS) at a liberal arts college,” expressed Assoc Prof Sergey. “With this award, I am planning to increase the visibility of Yale-NUS College in my research community, by using the funding that comes with it to organise seminars with prominent speakers from the CS community and, when the situation permits, invite research visitors.”

The co-nominee for the Distinguished Researcher Award was Associate Professor of Humanities (Philosophy) Andrew Bailey. The award was presented to him for his highly interdisciplinary work, which spans many areas of philosophical topics, such as metaphysics, the idea of God, and the modern-day prominence of cryptocurrencies. His research also focuses on the newly arising global issues at the intersection of philosophy, economics, and politics. Assoc Prof Bailey’s recent work aims to understand the way Bitcoin as a cryptocurrency integrates into these three areas.

In 2020, he also secured a Tier 1 Grant from the Singapore Ministry of Education as a co-principal investigator. Furthermore, his monograph Monotheism and Human Nature is also scheduled to be published later this year.

“I’m grateful for the College’s generous research support, and I can’t wait to delve further into new interdisciplinary work on Bitcoin,” said Assoc Prof Bailey. “I’m sure it’ll help me grow as a teacher too, given strong student interest in cryptocurrencies!”

This year, the inaugural Faculty-Student Collaboration Award was presented to Assistant Professor of Science (Mathematical and Computational Science) Michael Gastner, who worked with Ian K. Duncan (Class of 2021) and Shi Tingsheng (Stinson) (Class of 2020) on a series of three research articles focused on methods for constructing contiguous area cartograms. One of these papers was published in one of the most prestigious academic journals in visualisation science, the IEEE Transactions of Visualisation and Computer Graphics.

Asst Prof Gastner said, “When Ian and Stinson proposed that we should design our research agenda for one of the top journals in the field, I initially thought: ‘I wish I had their optimism.’ The research involved human-subject experiments, and none of us had worked in this area before. For me, winning the Yale-NUS research award shows that the College appreciates it when our students conduct ambitious research.”

He also recognised the value of an environment that places such high importance on all types of research. Yale-NUS students have extraordinary opportunities to work closely with faculty to conduct original research, enabling them to increase their competitive edge as they consider graduate studies or other professional opportunities. Asst Prof Gastner said, “When students start doing research early in their college career, they have more time to work on substantial and ambitious projects. Ian and Stinson worked with me for several years, which gave them some time to develop their ideas. Now the baton will be handed over to the next cohort.”