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Building a sustainable future

If you have the power to create something that can help save the planet, what would you do?

Dr Jonathan SC Low was asked this question when he was working on his bachelor’s thesis at University of New South Wales. He was pursuing his Bachelor of Engineering in Mechatronics Engineering. “Before knowing my thesis supervisor, Professor Sami Kara, my interest was in robotics,” he recalls.

“But when I was choosing a project to work on for my thesis, he asked me, ‘What if you can build robots that can recycle waste electronics?’ And I thought, ‘Building robots while saving the planet. Why not?’”

That moment served as a catalyst for Dr Low to go into life cycle engineering, which looks into how products and systems can be engineered, produced and used in a more sustainable manner. He pursued his Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering at the same university and he started to put his focus on sustainability projects.

“For my master’s thesis, I continued to work under Prof Kara. We built a prototype device that could be embedded into consumer electronics to capture data of how they were used. The information gathered would then be used to identify how to properly recycle them when they were discarded.”

Taking the lead

Dr Low’s career at A*STAR Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) took off after he returned in 2008 from his studies in Australia. He started off as a research engineer. “After about a year into the job, I felt that I didn’t want to only support projects. I wanted to lead them and I know that one of the best ways to equip myself to do this was to pursue a PhD,” he says.

In 2010, Dr Low took a four-year leave to further his education at National University of Singapore. He worked on his PhD in Life Cycle Engineering and Sustainable Manufacturing with the A*STAR Graduate Scholarship.

“Before I joined SIMTech, I didn’t think I would pursue a PhD,” says the 38-year-old. He sees his scholarship as a leg up for his career because not only did it fund his studies, it also gave him the chance to build his network by meeting world-class researchers in his field – exposure and valuable skills instrumental to his career growth.

Today, Dr Low is a scientist at A*STAR SIMTech and also the Sustainability and Life Cycle Management group manager. His group oversees the development of tech solutions for companies to reduce their energy and water consumption, as well as their waste and impact on the environment.

Dr Low sees a great amount of work to be done in saving the planet but he is happy to do his part. “I love what I’m doing, knowing that my work is contributing to solve one of the most important challenges of our time. I can see myself doing this for a long time.”