Captions: HTX CBRNE scientist Chin Zan Xin works to keep invisible threats such as Covid-19 from breaching Singapore’s borders. PHOTO:JASPER YU
By Kenneth SZ Goh
Threats to Singapore’s national security can come in many forms – from terror threats to virus outbreaks such as Covid-19. Ms Chin Zan Xin, 28, a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE) scientist with HTX (Home Team Science and Technology Agency) knows such dangers only too well.
She was thrown into the thick of the pandemic to help secure our borders when the first wave of imported Covid-19 cases were reported.
She recalled how the team sprang into action to grapple with this “invisible” threat, taking on gruelling 12-hour shifts to handle the surge in laboratory analyses of nasopharyngeal swab samples collected from travellers and returning Singaporeans at the Republic’s land, sea and air borders.
Ms Chin says: “As we had to extract genetic material from the swab samples to screen for the presence of Covid-19, we had to be extra cautious about being exposed to any positive samples. This situation made me realise the immense importance of our work in dealing with deadly invisible threats.”
Currently based at Woodlands Checkpoint, one of CBRNE team’s border laboratories, Ms Chin conducts daily CBRNE surveillance to screen out bioterrorism agents, viruses like influenza and pathogens or biological and chemical weapons such as anthrax and sarin.
She collects environmental samples at the borders and tests them using methods such as multiplex polymerase chain reaction. She also takes part in research projects on implementing technology into the daily operations of the Home Team. They include expanding the CBRNE team’s list of explosives analyses to consistently produce valid results for enhanced ISO 17025 accreditation, a key international accreditation set by experts in the field of explosives detection. This enables Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officers to detect explosives at checkpoints more accurately.
SPECIALISED TRAINING, CSI-STYLE
Ms Chin joined HTX as a Science & Technology (S&T) Associate in August 2019 after a two-year stint as a research and development chemist in the material science field at a multinational company.
The programme trains recent science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates with S&T capabilities to help bolster Singapore’s border security and fortify the operations of various Home Team departments.
Ms Chin says: “The programme provided specialised training that yielded invaluable experiences. This gave me a solid grounding in core forensic defence competencies and transferrable professional skills such as project management.”
It also gave her opportunities to attend various courses, including a five-day workshop by renowned American forensic scientist Henry Lee where she learnt about crime scene reconstruction and how to collect gunshot residue samples for analysis.
She says: “These workshops are useful as I could tap the knowledge and expertise of an international community of scientists, researchers and engineers, who are all working in the fight against acts of crime and terrorism.”
The former National University of Singapore chemistry major says the analytical and problem-solving skills she picked up in school have come in handy in her current job. Her final-year project was forensic defence-related, in which she developed and synthesised potential chemical sensors to detect chemical warfare agents.
She also did an internship at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, which honed her scientific research skills.
On what keeps her motivated as a CBRNE scientist, she says: “Life as a scientist is not mundane and routine. This profession allows me to share ideas with like-minded colleagues and learn new capabilities to contribute to Singapore’s homeland security landscape.”
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