Institute of High Performance Computing


Cultivating Future Scientists!

Young Scientists


The Twins Effect (RJC student attachment)

On his part, this writer has difficulty telling Cheryl and Nicole Quah apart, no less because he has never had the experience of speaking to twins before. A quick photo session with their respective student mentors turned out to be a rather amusing game of ‘spot-the-difference’; turn your back on them and it is near impossible to tell that they had swapped seating positions on the couch - just for the fun of fooling you. “…We do complete each other’s sentences at times or say something at the same time, not often though, haha! But in any case it happens to lots of people so it really isn’t anything spectacular, just that our voices being more similar enhances the effect. If you want to know whether or not we have telepathic abilities, the answer is no, haha…. (Working together in the same field) also makes it easier to share tips and discuss when we have difficulties as we have the same basic understanding… A two-for-one kind of experience!


Cheryl (who is the older twin by 4 minutes) and Nicole are both recipients of the A*Star JC Science Award and were on attachment at IHPC over the period of November and December 2006. Having had no previous experiences in programming, it was quite a challenge for them to pick up the basics of the skill and further apply it on the projects they had been assigned with. We hadn’t touched programming prior to this, so it’s very different from anything we’ve done before Occasionally debugging can get quite frustrating, but that’s probably part and parcel of the learning curve for programming. It’s very interesting to be able to jump in and have a look at and even be part of the actual work being done by our mentors, along with all the trials and tribulations that accompany research into real-world problems (e.g. imperfect data). In all it’s challenging but also satisfying and we definitely enjoyed our stay here… It’s also a timely reminder of the power and role of computing in research today (well, one of the reasons we wanted to pick up programming in the first place).”


Having heard of IHPC from their fellow schoolmates (the same team who won HPC Quest 2006 – see other student activities) at Raffles Junior College, the twins were initially sceptical about taking an attachment at IHPC due to the pre-requisite level of skill needed. However, with the help of their mentors (Dr Bud Fox and Dr Koh Wee Shing), internalising and applying their new found knowledge soon became second-nature. “…You know for certain, you’ve been doing intensive programming when ‘for’ loops start popping into your head during relevant parts of other discussions!...”


 Broaching on the subject of their respective research interests and both girls reveal that they also share similar tastes in their scientific pursuits. “…It’s too early to say yet! We’re looking at studying physics and/or math, and probably physics for research… As for pet interests, given the proliferation of popular science books on the subject, we’ve always been interested in theoretical physics (astro-particle physics, cosmology etc.) and the big questions. But then again, it has universal appeal. Neuroscience is fascinating too, though we don’t know too much about it at the moment….”


Academic pursuits aside, the twins are currently learning Wu Shu in school and used to play tennis in their secondary school. They also enjoy watching musicals and films, going out and also doing the occasional shopping. “I know it sounds almost nerdy, but our interests just generally converge in academic-related or general subject areas. We like learning new languages and about new cultures and the picking up of new skills (such as programming, haha!) just seems so appealing… as they say, ‘you learn something new everyday!”

Coming from a close knit family (their father is a businessman, their mother a homemaker (and a good cook!)) with no other siblings, the girls rarely get into fights or arguments and prefer to talk over their differences. Commenting on each other’s strengths and weaknesses, each sister does not mince her words. “(Nicole says) She speaks and writes well (our writing styles are quite different in case you’d like to know another difference), but used to tend towards being a perfectionist. (Cheryl says) She has a flair for languages – picks them up really quickly, and is good at conceptualization.”

So what does the future have in store for them? After all the vast and various experiences in the foray of science, does the idea of becoming full time researchers still hold any appeal?

Yes we are seriously considering research careers! The interest in science and math has always been there from pretty much a young age. Competitions, documentaries, books, lectures, camps, peers …have all served to broaden and strengthen that interest over the years. We’re also fairly sure we want to pursue higher studies, so research seems a natural option, and we’ve been very lucky to have had many opportunities and good experiences with it so far. And it does seem a kind of noble aspiration to be able to contribute to our body of scientific knowledge and help further mankind’s understanding of the world!”



This page is last updated at: 05-AUG-2014