Skip to main content

U of I Graduate Student Wins $100,000 Singapore Challenge Prize

Champaign, IL - Carlos Duarte-Guevara, a graduate student in Electrical and Computer Engineering, received the Singapore Challenge 2016 Prize. The prize, which provides $100,000 for research support, was presented by Singapore’s President, Dr. Tony Tan, during the fourth annual Global Young Scientist Summit @ one-north (GYSS) held January 17 - 22, 2016 at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.Carlos Duarte-Guevara, a graduate student in Electrical and Computer Engineering, received the Singapore Challenge 2016 Prize.

Hosted by the Office of the Prime Minister of Singapore, GYSS brings together young researchers (doctoral students and postdocs) with science and technology leaders from around the world for a multidisciplinary summit that covers topics ranging from chemistry, physics, and medicine to mathematics, computer science, and engineering. Speakers are globally recognized researchers, including recipients of the Nobel Prize, Fields Medal, Turing Award, Millennium Technology Prize, and the IEEE Medal of Honor.

Participation in the summit is by invitation only.  Only select universities worldwide are invited to nominate students, and nominees submitted by universities are chosen for participation by the GYSS organizing committee.  At the U of I, the Graduate College administers the campus selection process as well as providing the GYSS Travel Grant program to cover transportation costs for all attendees.    

The Singapore Challenge competition takes place during the summit, and it invites participants to submit a white paper proposing an innovative solution to an identified global challenge. This year’s Challenge topic was “Sustainable and Livable Cities.” Three hundred young scientists from around the world were invited to participate in the Challenge, and only eight were selected as finalists.

Duarte-Guevara was one of five University of Illinois graduate students invited to attend the conference and one of two U of I finalists for the Challenge.  The other attendees were Ran Chao (Chemical and Biomedical Engineering), Aadeel Akhtar (Neuroscience), YuHao Liu (Materials Science and Engineering), and Dolaana Khovalyg (Mechanical Engineering).  Khovalyg was also selected as a Challenge finalist.

According to Ken Vickery, Director of the Graduate College’s Office of External Fellowships, “The GYSS conference targets some of the most promising young researchers from around the world, and all five of our campus’s representatives deserve praise for having earned entry.  Carlos’s achievement in winning the Singapore Challenge, however, is spectacular. The prize recognizes bold, novel, impactful research, and it carries the imprimatur of the world-renown scientists who participate in the conference.”    

Duarte-Guevara’s white paper presented the research that he is currently conducting under the guidance of his advisor, Dr. Rashid Bashir.  The project aims to develop a portable, point-of-care biosensing system that can detect harmful food-borne pathogens in about eight hours and without the need for a trained technician. This could speed up diagnosis dramatically during food-pathogen outbreaks, thereby saving money and lives. He hopes to commercialize the device in two to three years’ time. See the Electrical and Computer Engineering website for more information about Duarte-Guevara’s research.

"The experience was challenging but very rewarding," Duarte-Guevara said. "It forced me to think about specific problems and organize my thoughts with a simple and clear structure. And winning the prize is a once in a lifetime experience. I was able to chat with the president of Singapore, talk to scientists from different fields, and open up collaborations."

For the five Illinois graduate students who attended this year’s summit, the trip to Singapore was an incredible opportunity. The chance to listen to and interact with some of the premier scientists in the world was a highlight for many of the Illinois students. “I can now check ‘having lunch with a Nobel Laureate’ off my bucket list,” Aadeel Akhtar said.

 “The most unique feature of the conference for me was that a person who is just starting their scientific career has the chance to learn from those who already passed this long journey,” Dolaana Khovalyg said. “It brought together lots of young people from the best schools around the world. It was great to meet them, talk to them, and make new friends.”

Left to Right: Dolaana Khovalyg, Ran Chao, Nobel Laureate in Physics, Sir Anthony Leggett, YuHao Liu, Carlos Duarte-Guevara, and Aadeel Akhtar at GYSS in Singapore.

Khovalyg, who works on increasing the efficiency and sustainability of microchannel heat exchangers for cooling purposes, said that her biggest takeaway from the conference is a renewed commitment to research quality. “Everything I learned has already impacted my research quality, I’m more thoughtful about my research and its future applications. I feel more responsible for my research. Each time now that I work on my research, I am trying to do it one step forward, to make it really something that is worth it and that will have future applications,” Khovalyg said.

This future-oriented sentiment was echoed by other Global Young Scientist Summit attendees. “They are thinking on a different level than we normally do,” Ran Chao said. “Sometimes as a grad student, we tend to focus on little details in our research but [the Nobel Laureates] are looking at the bigger picture. All of these Nobel prize scientists are from different fields - computer science, physics, biology – but they can sit in the same room and talk to each other and concern themselves with the big problems we have in human society,” Ran said. “Attending those talks and interacting with those scientists, I understand now that my research can fit into that bigger picture.”

For more information about GYSS@one-north and the Graduate College’s GYSS Travel Grant program, visit the GYSS listing in the Fellowship Opportunities database.

Top photo courtesy of GYSS, second photo courtesy of Aadeel Akhtar.