Agency for Science, Technology and Research chief scientist David Lane presenting the Lab Tech of the Year award to Ms Cheong Kum Foong, a principal medical technologist at the KK Women's and Children's Hospital, at the event last Tuesday. PHOTO: CYRIL NG

Behind every scientist is one or more laboratory technicians who help to collect samples, study and perform tests on body fluids and biological specimens, and more.

To celebrate these unsung heroes, local publication Asian Scientist Magazine has decided to crown Singapore's first Lab Tech of the Year.

Last Tuesday, Ms Cheong Kum Foong of KK Women's and Children's Hospital won the award.

She had started out as a trainee in 1972 and rose through the ranks to become a principal medical technologist and a part-time adjunct lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic.

"I joined the Ministry of Health as a trainee in 1972, and I was posted to Alexandra Hospital. In the early years of my career, I worked on the mass casualties in the Spyros ship incident," Ms Cheong said, referring to the 1978 tanker blast that killed 76 workers.

Working day and night to run all the tests needed for the casualties was an eye opening experience for Ms Cheong.

A major achievement in her career came in 1999, when she implemented a new cytogenetic testing technique for prenatal samples called the Coverslip Method.

Now an established method in Singapore, it significantly improved the turnaround time needed for cytogenetic testing of amniotic fluid.

Despite turning 67 this year, Ms Cheong hopes to keep working as a lab tech. "I'm still learning even today - and learning does not stop in the world of a lab technician," she said. "I will try my best to soldier on, until the day my body says 'stop'."

Nine other laboratory technicians were also honoured.

The 10 winners received cash and prizes worth over $10,000 at the inaugural Asian Scientist Lab Tech of the Year 2019 award ceremony last Tuesday.

They were selected from more than 100 nominees by a panel of five judges.

Dr Juliana Chan, editor-in-chief of Asian Scientist Magazine, said: "We were touched and impressed by the dedication of all the nominees. They made invaluable contributions to their respective labs, and some had to overcome personal challenges while doing so."