Engineering Goes Global: Undergrad reflects on research exchange with National University of Singapore (NUS)

Singapore. Photo by Gabriel Patron
Photo: Gabriel Patron

Last May, Gabriel Patron (Year 4 ChemE), through the U of T’s Summer Research Abroad program, embarked on a unique opportunity — the chance, as an undergrad, to conduct research at the National University of Singapore (NUS). From May through August 2016, Patron researched new ways to make use of wood waste from the forestry industry while experiencing South-east Asia.

Summer Research Abroad is a for-credit research-based summer course. Depending on the nature of the research project, the course may count toward a student’s U of T Engineering degree or minor. It’s an exciting opportunity for upper-year undergraduates to acquire hands-on lab and research experience. Summer research projects are available at partner institutions for 12 weeks during the summer.

Interested? Contact your department’s undergraduate office for details.

Why did you decide to participate in Summer Research Abroad?

The prospect of immersing myself in an unfamiliar culture while doing research in a field that I was interested in greatly excited me. Immersing myself in a country that is as concerned with innovation and growth such as Singapore is seemed like a good opportunity to help me grow as a person and as an engineering student.

What kind of research did you undertake while in Singapore?

My research project was entitled “The Liquefaction of Woody Biomass in a Formic Acid Medium.” It involved refining wood waste into robust platform chemicals or bio-oils/biofuels using formic acid and noble metal catalysts.

Basically, I studied the different ways that wood breaks down in acid in order to make chemicals like biofuels. The aim of this project was to apply this process to wood waste from the forestry industry.

What was your favourite part of your exchange?

Academically, my favourite part of the exchange was the ability to learn from the highly experienced researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS). They taught me a great deal about chemistry that would have otherwise been arduous to learn.

Non-academically, immersing myself in Singaporean culture and exploring the city was a great experience. Singapore is also an incredible hub for travelling South-East Asia, making excursions outside of the country easy to undertake. During my research, I spent a weekend on Bintan Island in Indonesia. Once I finished my research, I travelled to Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia.

Would you recommend the experience to other students?

I would highly recommend Summer Research Abroad to other students. The program allowed me to immerse myself in a different way of life, which lent perspective and broadened my view of the world.

The opportunity to conduct research in another country allowed me to find a balance between travelling and working. Singapore is also an incredibly dynamic country, which makes for an exciting place to work and have fun.

Find out more about the variety of exchange opportunities that are available to U of T Engineering undergrads. Grant support is available.