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Pushing scientific boundaries

An interest in neurobiology fuels Mr Mohammad Zaki Ibrahim’s hopes to open his own laboratory and take Singapore’s scientific research to the next level one day.

The 23-year-old, who is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree in Biological Sciences at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), is looking forward to graduating next year.

Says Mr Zaki: “I hope to contribute to our understanding of how memory works within the brain — how molecular events give rise to neural networks that encode and consolidate our memory, and how it is retrieved.

“Furthermore, we can see how a diseased state in the brain perturbs this network, and how we can circumvent and alleviate the manifestation of such diseased states.”

Choosing the CN Yang Scholars Programme (CNYSP), offered in conjunction with the Nanyang Scholarship, was a natural choice for him.

It offers full immersion into the sciences while introducing budding scientists like him to the field of academic research.

The CNYSP is one of NTU’s Premier Scholars Programme, and scholars under this programme are awarded the Nanyang Scholarship or other full-term scholarships.

“I decided to apply for a scholarship that is associated with programmes relevant to my passion,” he says, adding that the financial help was welcome too. Mr Zaki, who comes from a single-parent household, lives with his mother and older brother.

Multidisciplinary Focus

The Nanyang Scholarship is bond-free, covers tuition fees and provides the scholar with an accommodation allowance, as well as priority for overseas programmes, with a travel grant of $5,000.

The CNYSP, which is designed with a multidisciplinary focus, also offers scholars the opportunity to meet Nobel Laureates and global leaders through various Eminent Speakers Series, seminars and workshops.

One benefit of the programme is that scholars are housed in on-campus accommodation, which proved to be an enjoyable experience for Mr Zaki.

He recalls that part of the residential experience included an introductory course in research methodology conducted within hall grounds.

As a member of the CN Yang Scholars’ Club, he was involved in initiatives such as the annual dinner and dance event, and freshmen orientation programme.

While staying at Crescent Hall, he also joined activities such as hall productions.

“Through these various ventures, I have met many friends where we study and bond together,” he says.

Experiential Learning

Currently in his third year of study, Mr Zaki has had several interesting academic experiences, one of which was the Overseas Learning Trip to European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, in May 2016.

“Although I am not a physics student, it was pretty mesmerising to be in CERN.

“I felt overwhelmed as speakers discussed unknown possibilities and new discoveries,” he says.

So far, Mr Zaki has had the chance to join several labs where he gained exposure to various methodology and experimental approaches in neurobiology.

One particularly memorable experience was his attachment from June to November last year at National Neuroscience Institute.

He worked with Associate Professor Lim Kah Leong on the genetic manipulation of fruit f ly models for Parkinson’s disease.

The experience exposed him to the powerful and versatile tool of animal models in science.

This month, Mr Zaki will be heading to Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet (KI) — one of the largest and most prestigious medical universities in the world — for a semester-long exchange endorsed by NTU’s Global Exchange and Mobility Office.

He says: “I will be joining a neuroinflammatory lab that explores how immunity and neurobiology intersect, which is particularly relevant for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Neuroinflammation has been implicated in the disease progression, thus mediating and alleviating the inflammation may in turn ameliorate disease manifestation.

“I am excited to be heading over to KI soon to begin this lab attachment.”

Eventually, Mr Zaki plans to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy either in the United States or the United Kingdom.