BORN
1948

INDUCTED
2018

CATEGORY
Science / Technology

THE HONOURED INDUCTEES TO THE SINGAPORE WOMEN’S HALL OF FAME

Miranda Yap

Pioneer of biomedical sciences in Singapore
Miranda Yap played a pivotal role in the development of biomedical sciences in Singapore. As the founding executive director of the Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI) and the executive director of the A*STAR Graduate Academy, she guided the development of specialised scientific institutions, some of which have been very successfully commercialised, and laid the foundations for Singapore’s thriving biologics industry.

A strong believer in the importance of nurturing young research talent, she cultivated a vibrant research environment and concentrated on building a highly skilled research and development (R&D) talent pool. This led to important collaborations and partnerships with industry and helped Singapore to attract major biologics manufacturers from around the world to set up plants here. Biologics manufacturing is now a key sector of the Singapore economy.

Miranda’s leadership qualities were apparent at a young age. At the Methodist Girls’ School, she was head prefect, netball captain and a star athlete who was looked up to by the younger girls. A schoolmate recalls how, when she was struggling at the first Outward Bound programme for students in the mid-1960s, Miranda was “supportive, encouraging and helpful to all of us in a totally comradely and unobtrusive way that did not make us feel more inadequate. She was naturally a leader without a shred of superiority or condescension and treated us all like equals.”

Miranda got her basic degree in applied chemistry from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1972, after which she got a master’s degree, with distinction, in biochemical engineering from University College London. She then went to the University of Toronto, where she earned her PhD in chemical engineering in 1979. She returned to Singapore in 1982 to join NUS as a lecturer.

In 1990, Miranda helped to set up the Bioprocessing Technology Unit (BTU) with a grant from the Economic Development Board. In 1995 it was renamed the Bioprocessing Technology Centre (BTC). Eight years later, in 2003, its name was again changed, to Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI), and it moved to the new Biopolis research complex in Singapore.

BTI, under Miranda’s leadership, steadily developed research capabilities in bioprocessing and provided core services for the biotechnology industry. She founded two organisations, the Centre for Natural Product Research, which is now called Merlion Pharmaceuticals, and the Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Technology Center, which in 2004 became A-Bio Pharma, Singapore’s first biologics contracts manufacturing company.

Also a professor in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Faculty at NUS, Miranda was passionate about nurturing scientific talent. In 2006, she set up the Bioprocess Internship Programme to prepare science and engineering students for entry to the biopharmaceutical industry. Under the Youth Science programme, she started various initiatives to cultivate students’ interest in science and to get young Singaporeans to pursue careers in science and technology.

She was popular with her students. When she died in 2015, a former student wrote in his blog: “She was the teacher who never allowed you to feel stupid because she wasn’t afraid to make mistakes or try to look good in front of us. She was the only lecturer in our four years at NUS that invited the whole class to her house.” Another of her former students said in an interview in 2015: “She took a personal interest in how people developed, personally and professionally.’

In February 2006, Miranda was named a Foreign Associate of the United States National Academy of Engineering. Her election citation noted ‘her outstanding achievements in education, research and management in the field of mammalian cell culture’. She was the first foreign female associate and the only engineer in Singapore to be elected to the Academy.

In 2009, Miranda was the first person to be awarded the President’s Science and Technology Medal, Singapore’s highest science and technology honour. The award was for ‘her sustained, distinguished and strategic contributions to Singapore’s biomedical sciences industry, particularly in the areas of developing the biologics industry sector, building the research culture and nurturing young talent’.

Tragically, Miranda suffered an aneurysm in 2011 while playing golf. For four years she was in a coma. Her husband, Yap Kian Tiong, cared for her until she died in October 2015. He started a blog to document her condition and the challenges of caring for her. In an interview after her death, he said: “Engineers are not very good with people. But I learnt to be different because of her, thanks to her loving and kind ways. Of course, she was very bright, brilliant and fast. She was always 20 steps ahead of me. But her success is based on her people-centredness.”

Miranda Yap

Pioneer of biomedical sciences in Singapore
BORN 1948  INDUCTED 2018
CATEGORY Science / Technology
Miranda Yap played a pivotal role in the development of biomedical sciences in Singapore. As the founding executive director of the Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI) and the executive director of the A*STAR Graduate Academy, she guided the development of specialised scientific institutions, some of which have been very successfully commercialised, and laid the foundations for Singapore’s thriving biologics industry.

A strong believer in the importance of nurturing young research talent, she cultivated a vibrant research environment and concentrated on building a highly skilled research and development (R&D) talent pool. This led to important collaborations and partnerships with industry and helped Singapore to attract major biologics manufacturers from around the world to set up plants here. Biologics manufacturing is now a key sector of the Singapore economy.

Miranda’s leadership qualities were apparent at a young age. At the Methodist Girls’ School, she was head prefect, netball captain and a star athlete who was looked up to by the younger girls. A schoolmate recalls how, when she was struggling at the first Outward Bound programme for students in the mid-1960s, Miranda was “supportive, encouraging and helpful to all of us in a totally comradely and unobtrusive way that did not make us feel more inadequate. She was naturally a leader without a shred of superiority or condescension and treated us all like equals.”

Miranda got her basic degree in applied chemistry from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1972, after which she got a master’s degree, with distinction, in biochemical engineering from University College London. She then went to the University of Toronto, where she earned her PhD in chemical engineering in 1979. She returned to Singapore in 1982 to join NUS as a lecturer.

In 1990, Miranda helped to set up the Bioprocessing Technology Unit (BTU) with a grant from the Economic Development Board. In 1995 it was renamed the Bioprocessing Technology Centre (BTC). Eight years later, in 2003, its name was again changed, to Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI), and it moved to the new Biopolis research complex in Singapore.

BTI, under Miranda’s leadership, steadily developed research capabilities in bioprocessing and provided core services for the biotechnology industry. She founded two organisations, the Centre for Natural Product Research, which is now called Merlion Pharmaceuticals, and the Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Technology Center, which in 2004 became A-Bio Pharma, Singapore’s first biologics contracts manufacturing company.

Also a professor in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Faculty at NUS, Miranda was passionate about nurturing scientific talent. In 2006, she set up the Bioprocess Internship Programme to prepare science and engineering students for entry to the biopharmaceutical industry. Under the Youth Science programme, she started various initiatives to cultivate students’ interest in science and to get young Singaporeans to pursue careers in science and technology.

She was popular with her students. When she died in 2015, a former student wrote in his blog: “She was the teacher who never allowed you to feel stupid because she wasn’t afraid to make mistakes or try to look good in front of us. She was the only lecturer in our four years at NUS that invited the whole class to her house.” Another of her former students said in an interview in 2015: “She took a personal interest in how people developed, personally and professionally.’

In February 2006, Miranda was named a Foreign Associate of the United States National Academy of Engineering. Her election citation noted ‘her outstanding achievements in education, research and management in the field of mammalian cell culture’. She was the first foreign female associate and the only engineer in Singapore to be elected to the Academy.

In 2009, Miranda was the first person to be awarded the President’s Science and Technology Medal, Singapore’s highest science and technology honour. The award was for ‘her sustained, distinguished and strategic contributions to Singapore’s biomedical sciences industry, particularly in the areas of developing the biologics industry sector, building the research culture and nurturing young talent’.

Tragically, Miranda suffered an aneurysm in 2011 while playing golf. For four years she was in a coma. Her husband, Yap Kian Tiong, cared for her until she died in October 2015. He started a blog to document her condition and the challenges of caring for her. In an interview after her death, he said: “Engineers are not very good with people. But I learnt to be different because of her, thanks to her loving and kind ways. Of course, she was very bright, brilliant and fast. She was always 20 steps ahead of me. But her success is based on her people-centredness.”

“Somehow, industry never quite interested me. You were just making a lot of money for companies.

I was drawn more towards lecturing, doing research and working with young people.”

THE STRAITS TIMES, AUGUST 2010

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