A Decade in Singapore


I have spent my entire postdoctoral career to date in Singapore and have found it an exciting and inspiring experience. Back in 1992, I had recently received my Ph.D. in physics from the University of Göttingen. My research focus was in the field of ion beam analysis (IBA), which is essentially an offshoot of nuclear physics in which accelerator-based techniques are applied to a large variety of analytical problems, and an opportunity arose for me to continue my work at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

At the time, the NUS physics department was in the process of setting up the Research Centre for Nuclear Microscopy. This was to be headed by Frank Watt, who had been recruited from Oxford University. In the years since then, the group has certainly received excellent support from the university. We have been able to acquire a new accelerator (an investment of about DM 3 million) and to upgrade our research facilities quite extensively. At the moment, 17 people are working in this group (including postdocs, graduate students, and technicians), with 11 nationalities among us.

Singapore is a major hub for high technology, and many advanced industries can be found here. A large number of locally and internationally owned microelectronics and life-science companies are active, and we do collaborative and consultative work with many of them, using our analytical capabilities to solve "real world" problems. We also enter international collaborations, including one with the University of Wuppertal in Germany, looking into the possibility of using million electron volt (MeV) proton beams to detect and diagnose deeply buried active regions in semiconductor devices. Furthermore, we are pushing the development of these analytical techniques, collectively termed nuclear microscopy.

The actual problems we are working on range from biomedical questions (such as "Does aluminum play an important part in Alzheimer's disease?") to problems encountered in the growth processes of epitaxial thin film systems. A cutting-edge development of our centre is the use of a focused proton beam to create three-dimensional microstructures with high aspect ratios and structural accuracy. We expect the technology to be of great commercial interest, because it can potentially meet the demand for small, precise microstructures needed in many areas like microfluidics or microoptics.

As for living conditions here in Singapore--well, it is rather hot year-round, and the humidity is sometimes overbearing. But air-conditioning is nearly universal, and the long European winters are something I do not miss very often. Housing and transport infrastructure are certainly on par with what is available in Germany, and the quality of medical and dental services is very good. I do not have kids, but my colleagues who do tell me that the schools are as good as, or better than, those in Europe.

Maybe I should mention that car ownership is rather costly in Singapore. The government limits the number of cars on the roads by means of an elaborate system that has the effect of making cars expensive (a very reasonable goal, as those who have been in a Bangkok traffic jam can attest). A real advantage is the Asian food that can be enjoyed, and because of the multiracial character of Singapore, this includes the cuisines of China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. And for those who really miss home, it is even possible to find some German restaurants here.

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