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From molecules to food products

As a research fellow in Food and Nutrition at A*STAR, Dr Shaun Sim gets to work on the two things he loves: science and food.

It all began when he was pursuing his Bachelor of Arts in Natural Sciences (Chemistry) at the University of Cambridge.

“I developed a strong interest in the science of cooking,” says the 29-year-old. “I wanted to apply my chemistry and materials science perspectives on food in an effort to improve food-making processes and
maybe even create new culinary concepts.”

At Cambridge, the A*STAR National Science scholar discovered his love for experimenting with food.

A self-professed chocolate lover, he experimented with making lower-calorie chocolate truffles – by using water instead of cream as the base. Although it defied the conventional baking method, the experiment worked, he says.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Dr Sim seized the chance to join the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre at A*STAR.

“I was introduced to food science and technology during my time there,” he says. “It has allowed me to see food through the lenses of physics, chemistry and materials science.”

His lucky stars
Dr Sim completed a PhD in Food Science and Technology (Food Engineering) at Cornell University under the same scholarship.

“I was lucky to have learnt about the A*STAR scholarship from my high school alumni and the A*STAR scholarship roadshows when I was in junior college,” he says. “I had secured a place at Cambridge before
applying for the scholarship. A*STAR also offers graduate and post- doctoral scholarships to support the applicants’ careers.”

Dr Sim’s research covers developing oil gels or oleogels, which could potentially reduce or replace saturated
fats. Major sources of saturated fat, which is typically considered unhealthy, include animal fats, high-fat dairy products and food prepared with palm-based vegetable oil.

Together with his team of researchers, he works closely with different stakeholders — from nutritionists to
food companies and other research institutes.

“It’s an exciting job,” says Dr Sim. “My workday could vary from creating and analysing oleogels in the lab to formulating new foods in our product development kitchen and visiting food-processing facilities.”

Keen on studying other subject matters like rethinking ways to grow plants for food to mitigate the effects of climate change, Dr Sim says: “There is still plenty to do in the area of food and nutrition to keep me busy for a while but I am open to trying new things.”