Institute of High Performance Computing


People: Vibrant & Dynamic Culture


Dr. Adrian Matthew MAK Weng Kin
Material Science & Engineering (MSE)

Dr Adrian Matthew Mak hails from the Interfaces team at IHPC’s Materials Science and Engineering Department. He shares on what goes on in the mind of a computational chemist.


Q: What led to you pursuing a career in scientific research?

It’s another one-thing-leads-to-another tale. I dreamt of being so many things as a child -- fighter pilot, doctor, teacher, even being an astronaut too! As I grew up I realized that I liked numbers, computers and chemistry kits. Truth be told, I didn’t know computational chemistry was a scientific field, until I went to university. I guess it’s a natural union of my interests that led me to one research project in university after another, and then graduate school, and now my career in scientific research.

Q: How do you usually describe your work or research projects to friends and relatives?

I tell them I do modelling and simulation of chemicals on the computer, sometimes using very powerful computers. They are usually intrigued by the ‘powerful computers’ bit!

Q: What does computational chemistry involve?

Computational materials science spans many length scales. Matter can be studied at the very small scale (~10-11 to 10-10 m) where the behaviour of atoms and electrons has great influence over the properties of materials. The information from such studies can be used in a number of ways -- to improve on the computational methods themselves, or as parameters for large-scale methods, for instance. The art of computational chemistry and materials science, coupled with powerful computers and software to model and simulate systems that have hitherto unknown properties helps us gain insight into understanding materials before they are even synthesized.

This helps to save time and resources as well. Part of my research interests lie in the development of novel electronic structure methods, using principles from numerical methods, physical chemistry and quantum mechanics, and the efficient implementation of such methods in software packages for computational chemistry, for use in the calculation and prediction of molecular properties. Personally,  I find computational chemistry to be very useful to my colleagues in the wet lab (ICES and IMRE). Modelling and simulation results help them explain their experimental observations, and guide them in the design and synthesis of new chemicals and materials for various applications.

Q: What is it like to work at A*STAR and IHPC?

You’re surrounded by smart people who come from all over the world. You share your knowledge with some, you learn from some. You cooperate and create stuff together. You work hard and push each other, and get pushed yourself.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

Sharing the knowledge that I gain and the science that I do with students, teachers, colleagues and friends. I really enjoyed watching Bill Nye the science guy when I was growing up, and it is fun to do what he does once in a while.

Unlike many jobs that highly prioritize material and monetary reward, a career in science provides the intellectual challenge that is intrinsically rewarding to me.

 Q: What are your hobbies and personal interests?

Tinkering with computers, playing music, running, cooking, travel, crossword puzzles and video games, in no particular order. But if I had to pick one favourite hobby, it would be crossword puzzles. Remember what I said about intellectual challenges?

 It’s a habit that I picked up while living in the States. I try to do one a day. It’s addictive, and enriching.

 (True story: We have spotted Adrian solving crossword puzzles while riding escalators! – Editor)

 Q: What serves as your motivation in your job?

Curiosity. There’s just too much of the world to discover in one lifetime. It is very humbling to discover that even as we learn more about our domain, you discover that there is so much, much more that we still don’t know. And that drives me on. My personal philosophy, in my job and in my life, is ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’.

(Note: This quote has been popularly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but it has not been officially verified. – Editor)


This page is last updated at: 07-MAY-2014