School of Science and Technology, Singapore

Koh Chan Hong

Day 1 (2 Aug) 

6.05 am
Boarding the plane.

Changi airport, going to gate
On the plane
Car ride to Yokosuka Research Park

6.01 pm
After a tiring flight from the sunny island of Singapore to the Land of the Rising Sun, we finally checked in at the hostel at YRP. Dinner has been planned for us; we are having dinner with some other students who have already arrived.

Some information that I have gathered after inquiring with Keith include:
  • Students will be from Philippines, Indonesia, Japan and yours truly, Singapore.
  • There are 25 students.
  • Yokosuka has a fish industry

Other observations/experiences
  • SIM cards take a long time to make in Japan.
  • The hostel has a distinct lack of WiFi.
  • Food is cheaper than expected, with prices about the same as in Singapore.

10.30 pm
We had dinner with some of the other participants who have arrived. They were very warm and we had an enjoyable time laughing and talking. We introduced ourselves mildly. Dinner was surprisingly good. I ate Katsu Don, which is a local dish involving some chicken fried in egg. 

Day 2 (3 Aug) 

8.30 am
We just finished breakfast, now proceeding to the first class taught by Ms Charlotte Evans.

1.30 pm
Lunch time! The class by Ms Evans was extremely entertaining, with many ice breakers for us to get to know each other better. We played multiple games like Zip Zap Boing and Splat Bang. So far, we have made good friends with a student from Japan. His name is Yusuke. He lived in US for about 4 years, so he has an American accent. He is very friendly and enjoyable to speak to. He was the only student from his school to enter this programme.

So far, I have learnt some differences between Japan and Singapore. For example, instead of taking one major “leaving exam” and then choosing the school, they have to take an “entrance exam” based on the school of choice.
The classroom

4.45 pm
The end of our first lecture conducted by Dr Akijiko Yamagashi. He spoke about learning science, and then linked it to the title of his lecture, “When and how life emerged on the Earth”.

First, he said, we have to know what is known. He then proceeded to talk about life on Earth. He began with the classifications of animals, and soon began to explain in detail about the molecular structure of life, citing the example of the bacteria E. Coli. 
Taken from his slides:
Water - 70%
Protein - 15%
Nucleic Acid
DNA - 1%
RNA - 6%
Sugars - 6%
Lipids - 2%
Other organics - 1%
Inorganic ions - 1%
Personally, I learnt that proteins are actually chains of amino acids, which are various type of organic compounds consisting of Carbon, Oxygen, Hydrogen and Nitrogen. He explained how the hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties of these amino acids would cause the chains to form into the same shape all the time. But why water? Water is a good solvent. Its molecules can undergo hydrogen bonding, and its hydrophobic and hydrophilic effects would help maintain the structure of proteins and membranes.

Next, he mentioned about how the elemental composition of the human body is similar to the elemental composition of our universe. He cited an example of an experiment conducted by Stanley Miller in 1953. It was a discharge experiment in the mixture gas of methane, ammonia, hydrogen and water vapour. What he found were that by sending an electric current through the gas, organic compounds were produced. This is useful as this can help to explain how the first organic molecules were formed, as when Earth formed, its air was largely methane and ammonia.

Finally, he elaborated on what exactly is needed for life and where can we find them. I learnt that the factors required for life would be a good environment, Carbon Hydrogen Oxygen Nitrogen Phosphorus and Sulphur, Energy and Water. He showed us Mars as an example, where there might be liquid water, all the element stated before are present, energy is readily available as some microorganisms use chemosynthesis. Thus, survival and growth will be possible, meaning life might be possible.

10.00 pm
After the lecture we immediately left via public transport to Nobi beach, where we had some further introductory games and also a delicious barbecue. I enjoyed the barbecue a lot. We also got a chance to go down to the beach and play with some fireworks. The most interesting thing to me was the blood moon that we observed, where the moon was lower than usual relative to the horizon, thus appearing blood red. As it went higher into the night sky, it turned orange and soon a little yellowish.

Day 3 (4 Aug) 

12.35 pm
We had a class conducted by Ms Evans on Science Ethics. The first thing she asked was for our personal values, and how it would influence our work. To me when doing experimentation on humans, the most important thing to take note of would be the consent of the other party. Also, unnecessary pain should not be caused. Finally, the research must be for a good cause. Ms Evans then asked us the following questions.

1. What would justify killing 200 mice?

2. What about 2 monkeys or 200 mice? Which species would you choose?
3. How about human babies? Don't they have less cognition than monkeys?
4. How about a human adult with a terminal illness? Isn't he going to die anyway?
5. What about an adult human in a vegetative state?
6. What about people on death row?

These questions really affected me, in a sense that I learnt about the difficulties of deciding what to do. Ms Evans then went on to talk about cloning, and how it would affect the field of Science Ethics. Is it really necessary to clone? How would the clone feel?

After these questions, she conducted a debate session on whether we should legalise organ trade. It was an intense debate. I argued for the proposition side. Some points FOR the cause would be that it gives people living in poverty a way to escape it, at the cost of one of their organs. Some points AGAINST the cause would be that people would start to steal, rob and kill for organs to sell.

Our final task was to create a poster that highlights a certain science/science fiction topic. Here is a picture my group's poster. As you can see, there were 3 points FOR and AGAINST the topic.

"The things about ethics, is that we have to separate our gut feeling with our logical thinking." ~ Ms Charlotte Evans


5.31 pm

We attended a class conducted by Mr Pavel. He was 195 cm tall! His lecture was split into 3 parts. 

Mr Pavel talking about vacuum fluctuations
Firstly, he talked about the scientific method, namely, Observe -> Problem -> Hypothesis -> Experiment -> Conclusion. This is the general method used by scientists around the world when studying new fields or topics. He then broke down the question/problem of "Why is the sky blue?". First, we analysed the keywords "sky" and "blue". So what is the sky? Well, it is the visible portion of the atmosphere. Well, what is the atmosphere? It is a layer of air surrounding the Earth. Okay, what is blue? Blue is a certain range of wavelengths of light. From this, we successfully defined the problem very specifically.

Next, he asked the question. How do scientists measure such huge distances when they are looking at the stars? The answer: parallax. I was quite surprised when he first mentioned this. I usually link the word to the "parallax error", which is a bad thing. But as it turns out, when the star is a certain distance away from a static background, it will appear at different positions AGAINST the background as the Earth moves.

Diagram showing the parallax system
Using trigonometry, we can calculate the distance the star is away from the Earth and so on and so forth. We also learnt about how to calculate distance using redshift, cepheids and supernovas.

Finally, he spoke of dark matter and anti matter. The way I understand it now, dark matter is the invisible and undetectable matter of which is holding the universe together via its gravity. Anti matter is a completely separate thing, in which whenever it collides with regular matter, both are annihilated, releasing huge amounts of energy. (E = mc^2) However, the reason why matter somehow "prevailed" was that in the beginning, there was a minute difference between the amount of matter and anti matter, where the amount matter was greater. This small amount makes up all the matter in the universe today.

10.34 pm

The next class was conducted by Ms Evans. She was, as usual, extremely entertaining. I found her especially hilarious while she was showing us an example of bad presentation. She leaned against the table, looking at the floor with a depressed expression, scowling and muttering to herself. It was really realistic!

Soon, we gathered into 3s and made 1 minute presentations about any topic of our choice. Sean, Vanshiqa and I decided to take up this task together, and after 10 mins of preparation, we presented our presentation. Unfortunately, we did it a little too dramatically and lacked content, but I was satisfied as I had achieved my goal of confidence. I had finally confidently delivered my lines in front of an audience. 

For the final task, we had to read the poem "Jabberwocky" by Louis Carroll. 

Not only did this help us practice our tone and confidence, but it also improved my ability to work as a team (we presented in 4s).

Day 4 (5 Aug) 
1.20 pm
The first lecture was conducted by Dr Qi Zhang. Her lecture was mainly based upon the topic: "Who are you? Your body and your brain.".

To start of, she started from the very beginning, fertilisation. She taught us about the different stages that an embryo goes through after fertilisation, from Egg -> Zygote -> 2-cell -> 4-cell -> Morula -> Blastocyst. Next, she asked as the question, "So what puts our body parts in the right place?". To be honest, this question took me quite aback as I had never pondered about this before. As it turns out, all vertebrates have somites, which are a bunch of bones in your back, sort of like the spinal cord. Each one of them express different genes, and since they are in different positions, they grow different body parts.

Next, she began to explain to us how all cells in our bodies have the same set of genes, but that the cells express a specific set of them, thus have different properties. She talked about cells and how all genes are regulated. One interesting fact that she mentioned was that a dinosaur egg... is actually ONE CELL! This was new to me, as I did not realise that a cell could get so big. She then showed us examples and pictures of the various cells in a human body. Stem cells and iPS cells were also part of this section. How I understand it, stem cells are cells that have yet to differentiate while iPS cells are specialised cell that were reverted back to stem cells. This innovation would be very useful for the future of tissue generation/curing incurable diseases.

Finally, she talked about the brain and how it works. Basically, the brain works on the basis of neurons. Neurons are cells that connect to other neurons, receiving information from other neurons via input dendrites and then outputting the processed information via its axom. There are hundreds of type of neurons, all of which perform different functions but in the end still connecting to each other and forming the human brain. She ended off by showing us how the tongue, eye and ear works, linking them to the topic of neurons.

"Not only the growth of the cell important, sometimes the suicide, the suicide of the cells are important" ~ Dr Qi Zhang

5.43 pm
The next lecture was about the physics of light and color. The first important thing I noticed was that he had brought multiple vials of solutions that were to be used for a practical later on. I was pumped up as this was the first hands-on since arriving in Japan. The lecturer started off with light. Light is both a particle and a wave, as proven by Thomas Young's double slit experiment and the photoelectric effect. The different colors of visible light are actually electromagnetic waves of different wavelengths. Next, he talked about the human eye. The eye has a series of cells, namely, cone cells and rod cells. The rod cells are very sensitive, and can work in low light conditions. However, it does not recognise color. The rod cells on the other hand, only work in bright conditions but can recognise color. This explain why it is difficult to see color in the dark. There are 3 types of cone cells, red, green and blue cone cells. The blue cells receive the shorter wavelengths of light. The green cells receive longer wavelengths of light and the red cells receive the longest wavelengths of light.

He then moved on to the absorbance of the various cone cells. For each type of cone cell, the absorbance is highest when reaching the corresponding wavelengths of light that the cone cell recognises. The next thing he showed us was the excitation of an electron upon being hit by a high-energy wave of light. As the electron returns to a ground state (lower-energy), it releases energy. This is the mechanism used in photovoltaic cells. Upon being hit by light, the electron would release the energy, causing a current to flow.

He showed us some of his photovoltaic cells, which were made out of dye. They looked very cool and it was mind-opening to see how else solar panels could be created.

Day 5 (6 Aug) 
12.40 pm
The first lecture we had today was about nuclear energy. First off, the lecturer told us about the various forms of decay: Alpha decay, beta decay and gamma decay. Alpha decay takes place when the nucleus of an element ejects two neutrons and two protons. This is defined as an alpha particle. Beta decay happens when a neutron decays into a proton, releasing an electron and an electron neutrino. Gamma decay happens when the nucleus moves from an excited state to the ground state, releasing energy in the form of electromagnetic waves.

Next, the lecturer explained how nuclear energy works. Basically, he said that the nucleus of large atoms such as Uranium-235 are very unstable, and that shooting an additional neutron at the nucleus would cause it to fission, breaking it into the nucleus of smaller elements and also 2-3 neutrons. These neutrons would then hit other Uranium-235 atoms, causing a chain reaction. Due to the release of energy, the Uranium would heat up. This would boil water, producing steam, which would turn the generator.

Finally, he spoke about doses of radiation and how dangerous radiation is to the human body. It was very informative and kept me on my feet. I learnt a lot about nuclear energy from the lecture.

5.10 pm
The second lecture was about genetics. It was sort of an extension from the previous biology classes. The lecturer taught us the many technicalities of DNA to mRNA transcript, and mRNA to protein chain translation. Although it was very in-depth and complicating, I felt that the good use of graphics during the presentation really contributed to the fact that I understood the presentation better than the previous presentations on genetics. Firstly, he taught us how DNA is transcript-ed to mRNA, using RNA polymerase. The gene is transcript-ed with A -> U, T -> A, G -> C and C -> G. Following that, he taught us about mRNA being translated into protein chains. The current tRNA codon is found to match the mRNA in threes and its corresponding protein is added to the chain.

11.58 pm
The night session was focused on presentation skills. The friendly lecturer, who preferred to be called Ms Dragon, gave us much insight into the world of corporate presentation. She showed 3 important rules and 4 tips & tricks of us to improve our presentation skills. After that, we split up into groups of 5 to do a group presentation. The purpose of the presentation was to convince the CEO of your company to manufacture a Doraemon gadget of your choosing. This gadget must solve a world problem. My group's presentation went relatively well, as we spoke of The Door, which is a gateway to anywhere and anytime. This backstory of our gadget involved Nobito wanting to retrieve his old stuffed toy.

Day 6 (7 Aug)
1.30 pm
The first lesson was about Rheology. Rheology is the study of flow. The lecturer first talked about viscosity. He then plotted a graph of force against movement, where the more force is applied to a liquid, the more movement an object would have. This is a Newtonian liquid. A non-Newtonian liquid, would be a liquid in which a certain force must be applied before any movement is possible. This amount is defined as the threshold.

We then performed an experiment on Ketchup, to determine:
  1. What affects its viscosity?
  2. Is Ketchup a Newtonian fluid?
We were given the materials:
  1. A bowl
  2. An egg whisker
  3. Two ketchup bottles
  4. A mirror
  5. Some chilli flakes
  6. A stand
The results of our experiment were that stirring the ketchup reduced its viscosity. The chilli flakes did not affect the ketchup in any visible way. 

The lecturer explained this after the experiment. Basically, by stirring the ketchup, you are breaking the molecular structure, reducing its viscosity. However, when you stop stirring it, its molecular structure is repaired, increasing its viscosity again.

5.40 pm
The second lecture we had was on cognitive traits. The lecturer explained to us the various categories of cognitive traits of organisms. The most interesting thing that was covered was the fact that animals can count, however, they can only compare numbers that have a big difference with each other. For example, animals can tell the difference between 1 and 2, but they cannot tell the difference between 5 and 6. This is because the difference between 1 and 2 is 100% while the difference between 5 and 6 is 25%. Another interesting phenomenon that he told us about was the fact that elephants had better social communication skills/mind reading than primates.

9.00 pm
The finally lecture was on the diversity of humans. We discussed about the various forms of diversity that humans had, for example, ideology, religion, race, thinking style, etc. For our final task, we had to do a presentation within a group of 6 about the various diversities in our group, and also something we have in common.

Day 7 (8 Aug) 
1.23 pm
The first presentation today was by far the most entertaining lesson I have had in my entire life. As the lecturer, Gary Vierheller, and his wife, strode into class, we all thought that he was crazy. He was wearing a full suit, with sunglasses on. He exuded confidence. As he began the class, he talked in a very controlled and normal voice. All of a sudden, he shouted out, taking many of us by surprise. He then energetically engaged us in many activities, including repeating after him, learning about hand gestures, and most importantly, learning to present. Firstly, he told us: "Don't believe me." This was a very contradictory remark that made us all wonder why he said that. In actuality, his motive was to tell us not to be spoon-fed by his lesson content, and that we should try his lessons for ourselves.

Next, he told us: "Questions are good, guesses are good, mistakes are good." This is especially true for many aspects of our life. But what was the most memorable thing he said was that "good people learn from mistakes, great people learn from mistakes AND success". This really impacted me as I found those words especially true. When one meets with failure, one should definitely learn from it, that is common. But when one meets with success, most people would just sit down and enjoy, however, "great" people would sit down, and take notes about how he/she succeeded.

Finally, he taught us about the 3 rules of presentation. First, walk and talk. Walking makes you feel more relaxed while presenting, as your blood pressure is lower when you walk than if you stand still. Second, you should maintain eye contact with your audience. When trying to talk to a big crowd, slowly sweep your eyes from left to right, at every point in time only looking at one person straight in the eye. This is especially useful as it lowers your stress level due to the fact that it becomes a 1 on 1 talk instead of a 1 on 100 presentation. Lastly, use gestures. 80% of information collected during a presentation is from the eyes. Gestures will help to reinforce your main message and your speech. They also make you appear more friendly.

Overall, he was an amazing presenter, always adhering to the rules that he himself set for us. Also, he was very friendly and I could tell he really enjoyed his job and career in teaching. Even though he was 66 years old, he was extremely energetic and one can often see him moving and gesturing wildly, using catchy jingles and repeated gestures to catch our attention. Not once did I drift off while he spoke. His wife was also a great presenter, having learned the skills from the man himself. I am inspired to work harder on my presentation to become a great educator and presenter like him.

5.45 pm
The next lecture was about the future of the universe. It covered most of the topics that we have already learned, like the Doppler's effect, the Hubble's factor and the age of the universe. After which, we will be heading to dinner. Dinner is going to be followed with intense group work to finish our presentations for the following day.

Day 8 (9 Aug)
4.30 pm
Presentations are over! Personally, I felt that I have not done as well as I hoped, but I have still improved a lot. For one, I spoke in front of a "crowd", in a modest-sized hall. This is the first time I have done so, so I feel I have stepped out of my comfort zone to try something new. Mixed feelings ensue.

6.30 pm
Half of my classmates have gone home. I am feeling really dejected, to know I will not be seeing most of them again. Even though we will be connected through Facebook, I still feel that I have lost many of my "new" friends.

10.30 pm
This camp has really been a fruitful one. And even though I have learnt a lot from the lectures, the true takeaways from this ISS Summer Camp are the new friendships we have forged, and also the new bonds that I have made with the teachers and my classmates. May these last long.

Day 9 (10 Aug) 
Travelling back to Singapore 

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