Using tiny particles to realise big ideas: Prof Tjin Swee Chuan

Ever since he was a graduate student, Prof Tjin Swee Chuan has tried to translate his work in fibre optics into useful products.

“Whether it’s licensing a new technology or starting up a company, I always have in mind how I can use my knowledge and expertise to benefit others,” says Prof Tjin, who is Co-Director of NTU’s The Photonics Institute (TPI).

At TPI’s Centre for Optical Fibre Technology, Prof Tjin and a colleague from NTU’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering developed a highly sensitive microfibre sensor device that can detect heavy metals, such as lead, in environmental water samples at parts-per-billion levels. The sensor technology, which has applications in food monitoring and biomedical testing, was commercialised through the recently launched NTU spin-off company Waterply.

Prof Tjin has also developed fibre optic sensor technology that can be used to monitor the structural health of buildings. Instead of costly glass fibre cables, he used modular fibre optic sensors with wireless data transmission to measure tilt or strain on structures across large construction sites. Following test-bedding on construction sites in Singapore, the technology is set to be commercialised through another new start-up company.

With his expertise in commercialising photonics-related products, Prof Tjin was also the perfect candidate to spearhead the LUX Photonics Consortium, an initiative by Singapore’s National Research Foundation that aims to link photonics research in academia to industrial applications. As the Founding Chair, Prof Tjin connects photonics-interested industries with facilities and experts in both NTU and the National University of Singapore.

Splitting his time between his dual passions for photonics and education, Prof Tjin also became NTU’s Associate Provost (Graduate Education) in January 2018—a role that involved starting up NTU’s Graduate College to further strengthen graduate education across NTU. From January 2019, his portfolio as Associate Provost will also include overseeing NTU’s initiatives in lifelong learning.

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