Why I enjoy working with CoSeC: Busting the myth of all work and no play
13 Jul 2022



Dr. Chin Yong, Senior Computational Scientist in the Computational Science and Engineering Division shares how his keen interest in video games led to a career in computational science.

Malaysian man Dr Chin Yong



​Since I was a child I have always been fascinated with science, a curiosity that has constantly driven me to pursue an understanding of how nature behaves to achieve its intended functions and purposes. The job of a scientist is to carry out a series of         ​procedures to investigate these ideas, that is what we call 'conducting an experiment'. Traditionally, many experiments were carried out by making use of some real materials that often involved the use of toxic chemicals with some sort of equipment and, quite often, waste products were generated which were detrimental to the environment. Additionally, there are some questions that simply can't be answered by experiments because the experiments themselves are currently impossible, e.g. measuring the temperature at the Earth's core. Other experiments can't provide all of the information required to answer a problem because, for example, it's impossible to probe a material at the level of detail required.

A​n alternative way to do an experiment is to carry it out virtually by making use of computers to simulate models of interests. Indeed, from a young age I have been fascinated with 'all things simulations'. During my high school and graduate studies, I liked to play computer video games such as: SimCity, SimFarm, SimTower and even SimLife (image below). As these game titles suggest, each game sets a virtual platform of different scenarios – a city, a farm, a tower and an imaginary ecological world respectively, where the player can create, build, grow and modify, to see how these model platforms react to these changes.


SimLife: A video game to simulate an ecosystem. Image copyright Maxis Game and Electronics Arts under Fair Use terms.

As my interests in simulations grew, I began to take an interest in learning computer coding. This is because coding enabled me to better control the model I created and maximise my ability to play with it. Perhaps the first simulation that I managed to create was Conway's Game of Life [1] written in Java program code. Basically, the Game of Life simulates the life of a 'computer organism' or a cell based on some predefined rules, which dictate whether it will disappear (dies), remain (lives) or, a new cell appears (births) from one cycle to the next. By starting from a number of cells and depending on their arrangements, the cell colony may thrive or perish during each and subsequent cycles. I modified the classic version to include different rules, colour-coded the cells to indicate their age of survival and even included the second cell colony that behaved with a different set of rules. At that point, I realised I could control the predator-prey behaviour and with it held life and its preservation at the tips of my fingers, all without the use of actual animals!

                                                                       ​     Gospers_glider_gun.gif

An image snapshot of cell colony configuration in Game of Life.

Fast forward to today, I am fortunate that I could translate my passion into a real job. I specialised in the use of computers to model and investigate properties of molecules. Just like in the Game of Life, I can 'create' and 'engineer' any molecules that I deem interesting and then carry out a series of simulation experiments to investigate their properties in different conditions. The idea is to provide insights to make real materials that are made up those real molecules to achieve an intended purpose for real use.

I also write software codes that enable other fellow scientists to carry out such experiments. I also train and meet young researchers from different universities to provide scientific software support and advice in areas related to molecular modelling. I also sometimes collaborate with them and discuss real science problems on a range of topics. For instance, how do water molecules make a natural silk so strong [2]? Can the growth of cystic fibrosis in lungs be stopped [3]? How can cheap cellulose materials be used as a means to store clean fuels like hydrogen [4]?

​I can only achieve these activities via CoSeC. It not only enables me to continue to express my passions and ambitions but it also provides a friendly and collaborative platform to enrich PhD students' and postdocs' research skills and learning experiences. Little could I ever imagine that the virtual Game of Life that I developed and played with could be transformed into a real life with a meaningful mission, which is, together with my fellow Community (cell) members, to investigate science in order to achieve a thriving and prosperous Society (Colony)!


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway%27s_Game_of_Life

[2] M. J. Haskew et. al. 'Atomistic Simulation of Water Incorporation and Mobility in Bombyx mori Silk Fibroin, ACS Omega 6, 35494-35504 (2021)

[3] O. J. Hills, el. al. 'Atomic‑scale interactions between quorum sensing autoinducer molecules and the mucoid P. aeruginosa exopolysaccharide matrix', Scientific Reports 12:7724 (2022)

[4] M. R. Stalker et. al. 'Molecular simulation of hydrogen storage and transport in cellulose', Mol. Sim. 47 170-179 (2021)

Contact: Geatches, Dawn (STFC,DL,SC)