Strategic Programmes


Under NRF’s CREATE (Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise) initiative which seeks to attract selected elite international research universities to set up world-class research centres locally so that there will be intensive research collaboration, graduate student training as well as technology transfer activities with Singapore-based universities and research institutions, NTU College of Engineering (CoE) is participating in the following CREATE programmes through its Schools:

Competitive Research Programme

CMOS Interconnect towards Tera-scale Personalised Cloud Server

In this NRF funded Competitive Research Programme (CRP) that seeks to resolve energy-efficient communication for big-data server at Tera-scale, Assistant Professor Yu Hao from the School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering and his team will design CMOS-process based meta-devices to build high-speed data links at Terahertz for the future data server with low cost and power, better than the existing Giga-scale electronic links or the silicon photonics solution.

With the proposed spoof surface-plasmon-polariton source, modulation, and transmission, the EM-wave for data link communication can be confined at the metal interconnect surface during propagation, which will significantly reduce the radiation loss or crosstalk at high frequency. With this, one can further scale down power and size of the I/O interconnect between memory and microprocessor core.

The team will also collaborate with leading scientists at Imperial College of London, University of Michigan and industry research labs.

CMOS Terahertz interconnect for energy efficient communication of big-data server

Next Generation High Performance Transparent Conductors for Flexible Interactive Touch Devices

The current touch screens which are typically made of indium tin oxides are brittle, rigid, costly, highly reflective, tinted yellow and require high vacuum fabrication procedures. It is facing severe challenges in meeting the demand of emerging flexible touch panel devices. The objective of this CRP is to develop the next generation high performance flexible and stretchable transparent conductors by solution methods, integrated into interactive touch-based devices, to meet the explosive growth of touch and wearable technology. 

The team led by Prof Lee Pooi See from the School of Materials Science and Engineering has proposed an innovative and scalable approach to prepare transparent conductors using novel nanomaterials such as metallic-cellulose hybrid network. The resultant transparent conductor is flexible, foldable and stretchable with applications in the field of interactive communications, artificial intelligence, digital signage, commercial retail, gaming and hospitality.

Fibre Medical Device for Diagnosis of Coronary Artery Disease

Using the state-of-the-art fibre drawing facilities and expertise available in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Prof Liu, together with members in EEE, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, National Heart Centre and Harvard Medical School, aims to validate clinically viable, next generation fibre-optics technologies that are capable to obtain subcellular resolution images of coronary arteries. 

The understanding, diagnosis and managing of coronary artery disease (CAD), the leading cause of death today in the world, has been hindered due to the lack of imaging tools capable of obtaining microscopic pathological information in living humans. The work will pave way for breakthrough in these areas.

The research could dramatically change clinical practice and improve patient care. It also has the potential to act as  a platform to further develop imaging technology for other biomedical applications especially where visualisation of sub-cellular morphology inside the human body is critical, such as cancer detection and eye and skin diseases.

Optofluidic Nano-Cytometer for Virus Purification, Sorting and Quantification as an Assistive Toolkit for Virus Diagnosis

Besides energy and water sustainability, a viral pandemic is among the world’s other most critical crises facing mankind.  Most viruses have a diameter between 20 and 300 nanometres which is about one-hundredth the size of the average bacterium – about a thousand times smaller than a grain of sand. They are so tiny that you will have a hard time seeing them even with an optical microscope. Now imagine catching one of them from a small drop blood and having the ability to identify it for disease diagnosis in minutes. This presents a big leap for healthcare solutions. 

Technological bottleneck of virology and virus disease diagnosis is due partly to the lack of a robust engineering toolkit that can manipulate intact viruses. Professor Liu Ai Qun from the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and his team comprising members from School of EEE, School of Materials Science and Engineering, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, HKUST and Academia Sinica, Taiwan will embark to invent an optofluidic chip system that is capable of extracting viruses from blood samples and identify them for disease diagnosis.

The research will not only enhance Singapore’s position as world-class Healthcare Hub, the innovation if successful will have market potential of more than US$300 billion in areas such as the military, security, water, environment monitoring and agro-food sectors.

Towards the Reality of 3D Imaging and Display
3D television has not been successful so far, principally due to viewers having to wear special 3D glasses to gain the experience. Whilst this is acceptable in a cinema-viewing environment, viewers do not wish to wear these glasses at home where television is more casually watched and where viewers wish to interact with each other.

Collaborating with MIT, University College of London and the De Montfort University, Prof. SUN Xiao Wei from the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and his team have the answer to this pet peeve of 3D viewing by developing screens that display 3D images but without the need of glasses.

By harnessing the computation power of current multi-core processors and exploiting the rapid advances in the enabling display technology, display devices will be able to deliver in excess of a hundred different views of a single frame of video. This will give images with a hologram-like quality, but using much simpler technology than holographic methods. Prof Sun is also working with industry partners in OLED panel fabrication, novel optical component and high-speed low-power driver IC design providers to create prototypes of three interrelated 3D platforms to deliver this next-generation 3D experience:

Hologram-like light field multi-layer display using LCD/OLED panels driven with smart algorithms
Head tracked display where images are directed to the viewers’ eyes but with no special glasses needed
Super multiview display where >100 different images in different directions give motion parallax (the ‘look-around’ capability) and no ill effects on the viewers
With more than 200 million units of 3D ready TV sets projected to be sold in 2017, success of this research from NTU will place Singapore at the forefront in 3D Centre of Excellence for glasses-free 3D displays.


Artificial Liver Platform for Next-Generation Drug Discovery and Development

The liver is a vital organ for human health. There is tremendous interest among scientists and clinicians to study how the liver works. Unfortunately, on all accounts, studying liver biology has proven challenging because the current investigative models are not able to predict if drugs will be toxic, have poor representations to understand how infectious diseases and cancer harm the liver; and are not ready to generate artificial livers for organ transplantation.

To address this, Nanyang Associate Professor Nam-Joon Cho from the School of Materials Science and Engineering in collaboration with researchers and clinicians from the Singapore General Hospital/Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, the National University of Singapore, and Stanford University embarks to develop an artificial liver platform technology that aims to improve capabilities to study liver disease biology, thereby some of the associated big challenges in drug development and clinical medicine. The team will build an artificial liver platform that mimics the human liver. Specifically, the group discovered that 3D polymer hydrogels represent an excellent scaffold to maintain the phenotype of encapsulated hepatocytes, and which hold great potential for creating improved models of the human liver.

The artificial liver platform to be developed will also allow a range of preclinical and clinical tests and evaluations for which current technology standards are either insufficient to observe activity, or have poor accuracy, to predict effects within the human body. Target applications include early-stage drug hepatotoxicity assessment, antiviral drug discovery and development, and selection of personalised drug cocktails.

The outcomes of the research will provide a strong foundation for Singapore to become the global leader in this important field.

Liver Tissue Engineering Using 3D Hydrogel Scaffolds

Enabling the Next Wave of Ultra Low Power Nano-systems: Heterogenous Integration of Low Power Electronics with High Performance Photonics

In the past decades, integrated circuit (IC) technology is being driven by Moore's Law in which higher circuit density, reduced cost per functionality, and increased functionality have been achieved by reduction of the transistor size or "scaling". This allows rapid growth in the market for information and communication technology (ICT) products such as mobile phones and computers. However, transistor scaling is nearing physical limits. Furthermore, transistor scaling also drives the IC power density up, causing integrated circuits to be more prone to highly active and standby power dissipation and the associated heat dissipation problems. Moreover, introduction of new materials is needed to meet the market demand for ICs with higher performance and more functions at reduced power consumption. There are many challenges related to the introduction of new materials beyond the 16nm technology node that need to be addressed. With ICT-driven reduction in power consumption and the existing status of research on materials introduction in transistor technology, the electronics landscape is ripe for a disruptive paradigm shift.

In this CRP led by Prof Yoon Soon Fatt from the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, the team including professors from NUS, MIT, Purdue University and Ohio State University aims to provide a basket of novel solutions to a variety of issues in the integration of III-V compound semiconductors to various electronics and photonics building blocks within the silicon IC technology where power consumption is or will be an important issue. This is an area which could significantly enhance the global relevance of Singapore's electronics sector within the 2020 time horizon, both through technology transfer as well as spin-off companiesdeveloped in Singapore.

Excitonics Science and Technology toward Revolutionary Semiconductor Lighting: Ultra-Efficiency Excitonic Energy Transfer for Next-Generation Lighting and Displays

To combat environmental issues of increasing carbon footprint and limited energy resources, it will be vital to continuously create innovations to achieve high energy efficiency. In particular, efficiency in artificial lighting is especially important today given it is an integral part of our modern life and daily operations. However, this comes at a rather high cost. With lighting consuming a substantial level (about 19%) of total electricity generation around the globe, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated that this amount of energy consumption costs us about 1900 Mt CO2 emission per year, which is equivalent to 70% of all the emission from passenger vehicles worldwide.

In this research programme led by Nanyang Associate Professor Hilmi Volkan Demir in collaboration with overseas academic counterparts as well as industrialists, the team will investigate and exploit the science and technology of excitonics in design-based quantum materials in hybrid architectures at the nanoscale, to create 'game changer' in semiconductor lighting and displays.

By controlling and manipulating the localised excited state characteristics of such nanostructures and interfacing them highly efficiently through energy transfer and exciton migration processes, the work is expected to achieve ultra-efficiency to revolutionise lighting and displays.

Of note, this research is line with the national strategy to raise overall energy efficiency by 35% by 2030 as set out in the Government's Blueprint on Sustainable Development "A Lively and Liveable Singapore: Strategies for Sustainable Growth" in 2009.

Engineering Biology for Valuable Fuels

The School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering has successfully secured a CRP project, titled "Engineering Biology for Valuable Fuels". Led by Professor Ching Chi Bun, the latest advances will be applied in the burgeoning field of synthetic biology to engineer the metabolism of microorganisms to convert inexpensive carbon sources into end products, such as medium-chain hydrocarbons, pharmaceutical active intermediates and other specialty chemicals.

This project will employ synthetic biology to engineer the metabolism of microorganisms to convert inexpensive carbon sources into valuable fuels. In this project, we propose to engineer yeast cells for production of medium chain hydrocarbons from fatty acids, by integrating chemical engineering principles with biological science fundamentals. The end products, medium-chain hydrocarbons, will form a new class of biofuels for use in the coming decade.

Examples of fuel precursor molecules attainable from metabolically engineered microbes

Sustainable Urban Waste Management for 2020 - A joint NEA-JTC-Keppel-Sembcorp-NTU Collaboration

Much of our disposed "waste" should not in fact be considered waste; they are simply misplaced resources. Based on current waste management concepts, these resources are normally buried in landfills or incinerated. Such waste treatment/disposal approaches need to be revised as natural resources are being depleted.

To enable waste can become potential sources for resource recovery which is especially relevant to resource-limited and land scarce Singapore and many other cities in the Asia Pacific region, this programme led by Professor Wang Jing-Yuan from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering comprise three subprogramsthat aim to pave the way for developing sustainable urban waste management solutions for 2020. The 3 subprogrammes are:

Communities as Renewable Resource Recovery centres
Wastewater Treatment Plants as Urban Eco Power Stations
Rapid Land Reclamation of Closed Dumping Grounds
The outcomes from the research such as reduction of water consumption, recovery of energy from black water and food waste, reclamation of grey water on site, reclamation of land of closed urban dumping grounds and recovery of quality soil from remediated landfill site amongst others, are expected to bring long term environmental, economical and social benefits to Singapore and eventually the rest of the world.

Communities as Renewable Resource Recovery Centres

WWTPs as Urban Eco Power Stations

Underwater Infrastructure and Underwater City of the Future

In land scarce Singapore, space creation is a key strategic area that concerns the survivability and sustainability of the nation. At present, underground caverns and offshore reclamation have been used for space creation. Both methods are not sustainable or economically viable in the long run. A new approach – going underwater is proposed to make use of the sea space to construct underwater infrastructure and at the same time use the top-side of the infrastructures as reclaimed land, thus saving the need to import fill materials for land reclamation.

By making the space both above and below the reclaimed land available for recreation, living or infrastructural development, it combines reclamation, superstructure and underground constructions in one, offering an efficient and cost-effective approach for space creation and utilisation. Cylindrical structures can be put together to form a watertight seawall and thus create space behind the seawall. When designed strategically, the cylindrical structure groups can also function as effective shore protection elements against extreme waves such as storm surges or tsunami and seawater changes caused by global warming. They can also be designed to create energy using waves.

With the prospects of an underwater city being constructed using the approach proposed, living under seawater will be a reality in the near future.

Underwater City built using seawalls

Toward Efficient Sunlight Harvesting

In a single hour, more solar energy strikes the surface of the Earth than all fossil energy consumed globally in one year. Even with a tiny fraction of the earth-bound photons captured and utilised, humanity is endowed with a sustained, clean energy source for centuries to come. Harvesting sunlight efficiently for residential and industrial consumption has far-reaching impact for mankind.

In learning from Mother Nature, for example, green plants and purple bacteria are known to effectively collect solar energy with pigments and transmit it almost instantaneously into reaction centers, where subsequent electron transfer reactions convert nearly all the solar energy into chemical energy. The remarkable efficiency of energy transfer in those systems has inspired many scientists to emulate their design to harness solar energy. By bringing together an interdisciplinary team of outstanding researchers, this programme led by Professor Zhao Yang from the School of Materials Science and Engineering aims to design artificial systems capable of harvesting sunlight with high efficiency and stability. Knowledge gained will benefit various sectors of the clean energy industry through achieving better performance and lower costs.

The light-harvest antenna complexes in purple bacteria