Food Science and Technology Ph.D. student’s winning thesis in international competition

 

VONG Weng Chan, a Ph.D. student from NUS’ Food Science and Technology (FST) Programme, was one of the finalists of the Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competitionheld in conjunction with the 6th McDonnell Academy International Symposiumin Brisbane, Australia, from 22 to 25 September 2016. 

 

Developed in 2008, the University of Queensland’s 3MT® is now an internationally recognised research communication competition which celebrates the exciting research conducted by Ph.D. students from partner universities around the world. The competition aims to cultivate students' academic presentation and research communication skills by encouraging them to explain their research in three minutes, in a language appropriate to non-specialist audiences.

 

The symposium featured discussions about ongoing research and how institutions of higher learning can foster the collaborative efforts required to address the complex global challengesof ageing; food, water and climate change; energy and environment; and public health.

 

Weng Chan’s thesis, “Rethinking soybean waste”, was one of the finalists in the Food, Water & Sustainability category of the competition. This category addresses the growing importance of providing safe, nutritious and abundant food in the face of challenges such as climate change and sustainable agriculture.

 

To overcome the problem of food processing waste generated from okara - the soybean pulp that remains after soymilk manufacture - Prof LIU Shao-Quan from the FST Programme and Weng Chan worked to transform okara into a tastier and healthier product by yeast fermentation. Okara, which is abundantly produced at 2.8 million tonnes a year in China, and at about 10,000 tonnes in Singapore, does not taste good and is difficult to digest. As it has limited uses in food, most food producers simply dispose of okara. This results in significant amounts of food processing waste.

 

Weng Chan’s team investigated the changes in okara after fermentation by 10 different individual yeasts that are typically used to make wine and cheese. Their findings show that yeast fermentation greatly improved the sensorial and health qualities of okara. The yeast-fermented okara smelled better, tasted more savoury and has enhanced antioxidant capacity and improved digestibility.

 

These changes can expand the potential uses of yeast-fermented okara. It can be used as an inexpensive material to obtain flavours or bioactive compounds. The fermented okara can be used as a healthier food ingredient, giving the food industry an incentive to utilise this food waste.

 

Weng Chan was selected to present her thesis to the Symposium dinner attendees on 23 September.

 

She said, “This event highlighted the importance of good communication. I learnt much from listening to the many wonderful keynote speakers, participating in the competition and interacting with others from a variety of research fields. It was an eye-opening and invaluable experience.”

 

VWC 1 

Weng Chan at work in the laboratory

 

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Prof Philip LIU (Vice President, Research & Technology) and Weng Chan, winner in the “Food, Water & Sustainability” category 

 

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Pictured (from left to right): Debbie LOO (SDE);  Jayashree Chadalawada (FoE); Eve Wang Chao (YLLSoM) – “People’s Choice”;
Prof Philip Liu (Vice President, Research & Technology); Vong Weng Chan (FoS) – Winner in “Food, Water & Sustainability” category;
Alisha Ramos (YLLSoM); Rashmi Rajasabhai (YLLSoM); Derrick Chong Zheng Rong (FoE)