We kick off the month of Merdeka by taking time to honour 30 Malaysians who have carved their own path forward in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to pioneer research and development into helping not just their fellow countrymen but countless others across the globe.
As the list is much too long to fit within one article, we have decided to split it into three parts that will be spread across the month of August. Now without further ado, here is the second batch of Malaysian trailblazers.
An icon of the ’90s, Robest Yong was given the title of the “Malaysian National Inventor of the Year” in 1994, alongside being awarded for his invention at the International Invention Exhibition in Geneva, Switzerland that same year. Born out of a curiosity and yearning to understand how things work, Robest Yong invented the Polyclone machine. When he first opened his printing company in 1989, Yong found out it took a week to create rubber stamps which he needed to use in running his business. Puzzled by the lengthy process of creating a simple tool, Yong set to work and created a working prototype that could create the same stamp in 10 minutes, after which he filed a patent for his invention in 1991. Since then Yong has gone on to create a variety of inventions such as his own brand of fertiliser, a grating system, and most recently a perforated screen protector that allows the blind to use smartphones as well. An ever curious and constantly evolving creator, Robest Yong is constantly seen pushing the barrier of innovation no matter how small or large the task may be.
DR. MAZLAN MADON
In the global field of geology, Dr. Mazlan Madon is not a strange name. With more than 30 years of experience in the field, Dr. Mazlan is one of the nation’s top oil & gas geologist, and worked with the national gas company, Petronas, as custodian for various departments under the organisation. Dr. Mazlan is also a member of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), a body of experts in geology, geophysics or hydrography established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS), based in New York. The CLCS is a body of 21 members, representatives elected from the countries that ratify UNCLOS, who serve five-year terms to vet and analyse applications from member states who invoke Article 76 of UNCLOS relating to a coastal state’s continental shelf. First nominated and elected as the Malaysian representative in 2012, he has since been re-elected to the commission in 2017 for second term. Dr. Mazlan is still active in the field as he serves as advisor to the Malaysian Continental Shelf Project under the National Security Council and remains as advisor to Petronas after retiring in 2017. In that same year he was honoured by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists as one of the world’s distinguished geologists alongside the publication of the Heritage of the Petroleum Geologists books in celebrating their centennial year.
Created at the request of an Australian customer in the early 2000s, Pua Khein-Seng, also known as the ‘Father of the Pendrive’ in Malaysia, played the part as a major game changer within the field of Information Technology in creating a tool so useful that it would soon see to the demise of the floppy disc. As the creator of the world’s first single-chip USB, also known as Universal Serial Bus, Pua Khein-Seng’s journey to creating his own company from which the USB would have been produced was not a smooth road. The creation of Phison Electronics Corp, one of the biggest listed technology companies in Taiwan, came about through Pua Khein-Seng losing out on his first job provided to him by his University professor where he held rank as a key engineer, before struggling to gain capital to grow his own company when the shareholders that had promised him capital had pulled out. Adjusting and overcoming the adversities in his life, gave Pua Khein-Seng the chance to go down in history despite the obstacles.
Long before Aaron Patel created his own company, iHandal Energy Solutions, he helped run his father’s solar panel trading business directly from high school, however as his father suffered from a massive stroke that disabled him, Aaron Patel took over the business and began researching into the field of thermal energy. Learning to balance the intricacies of his father’s business alongside schooling and home life from such a young age, Aaron Patel learnt the ropes quickly and through his intense research and study found potential in recovering and repurposing wasted energy and heat that would also reduce energy consumption.
Immediately after, iHandal Energy Solutions took off with Aaron Patel purchasing heat waste recovery units to use on his first few potential clients which were both the Tune Hotel properties in Penang. Once companies started seeing an immediate improvement in their energy and heat recycling movement, did iHandal Energy Solutions move towards their present-day target of reducing the carbon footprints of an entire country, if not making the nation carbon neutral. Aaron Patel was also recently awarded Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year under the category of ‘Emerging Entrepreneur’ in 2018.
IR.DR. NEHEMIAH LEE CHEE HAI
As the motto of the Nehemiah Group goes ‘We Build Integrity’, so too does the history that brought Dr Nehemiah Lee to create a company that refused to ally themselves with the backhanded dealings within the industry and instead chose to pave his own path. The Founder and Chairman of the Nehemiah Group, Dr Lee first began his company, Nehemiah Reinforced Soil Sdn Bhd in 1993 in Penang, alongside his business partner. Having worked in civil service under the Irrigation and Drainage Department as well as in the private sector for a few years, Dr Lee grew weary of the shady industry dealings before breaking off and creating his company. Nehemiah Reinforced Soil began designing, constructing and supplying their own patented reinforced soil retaining wall system known as Nehemiah Wall. Famously found all across Kuala Lumpur, the company since then has grown and expanded their business to countries such as Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bangladesh, Indonesia and India as well as controlling about 60% of the local market share. As of 2019, the company has built 2.2 million sqm of Nehemiah Walls of varying configurations and heights, which just goes to show that with a solid foundation anything can be achieved.
A camera that captures information about the light emitted from a scene in the ways of the intensity and direction of the light known as a light field camera or plenoptic camera, was one such invention that was brought to light by the brilliance of Ng Yi-Ren, a Malaysian whose studies at Stanford produced a doctoral dissertation titled ‘Digital Light Field Photography’ not only received a Doctoral Dissertation Award by the Association of Computing Machinery in 2006. The same year saw Ng start up his own company in Mountain View, California known as Lytro Inc which develop and ship light-field cameras as well as first generation pocket-sized cameras in 8 and 16 GB that could refocus any image after the shot was taken. The company also released Lytro Illum, a second generation camera that features a 40 megaray sensory, a 1,152,000 pixel articulated 4’’LCD touchscreen and a display overlay that showcases the relative focus of all objects within the frame. Ng was also awarded the Royal Photographic Society’s Selwyn Award in 2013 for his science-based researched linked with imaging, and in 2015 he left Lytro as the CEO and became an assistant professor in University of California, Berkeley’s College of Engineering within the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences, inspiring the minds of the next generation.
Awarded the Ernst & Young Technology Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2018, Johary Mustapha founded and operates his company, Forest Interactive which is a mobilefocused tech company that offers a variety of value-added services such as messaging gateways, direct operator billing, content provider access as well as several mobile solution brands. The company first began operations in 2006 and since then has only expanded, with Forest Interactive now working as a trusted partner of 93 mobile operators with their ten offices across the world, connected to 2.9 Billion subscribers with a growing market that currently reaches across 36 countries. Without tying the company down to a particular brand or format of service, Johary Mustapha ensures that Forest Interactive gather a competitive portfolio with the mobile industry working with key players in the local and international industry such as industry regulators, government agencies, consumer groups and other mobile network operators. A key figure in moulding the future of the already fast-paced industry of mobile technology, Forest Interactive keeps true to their vision of enhancing telecommunication solutions.
DR LIM LI SZE
Saving lives with her inventions, Dr Lim Li Sze alongside her business partner, Ariff Ismail, set up a diagnostics company, Medical Innovation Ventures, also known as Mediven, in 2012 when they both came across a thermostabilising technology known as PCR, or polymerase chain reaction that would aid them in building diagnostic kits for patients. With the invention from Mediven, not only would a larger number of patients receive a quicker diagnosis, however, the solution would be available at an inexpensive cost whilst also reaching a larger share of the target market. Currently, every hospital both government and privatised have at least one PCR machine, however, Dr Lim hopes to change that to a larger statistic.
With a doctorate in genetics and prior work experience in commercialised research, Dr Lim Li Sze hopes to expand her company in the scope of research and development by slowly building a thriving ecosystem from her company by expanding from a policy to commercialising the technology to developing a science park, to eventually growing into a technology cluster. Currently, both Dr Lim and her partner, Ariff Ismail have produced test kits to detect illnesses such as dengue, chikungunya, zika, leptospirosis and tuberculosis, the latter which can take up to almost 2 months to diagnose. With Dr Lim technology, prevention is certainly better than cure.
TEXT NEDA AL-ASEDI & SWAROOPINI UDHAYA NAIR