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The University of Southampton
University of Southampton Malaysia

Southampton lecturer coached first all-female world robotics champions

Published: 19 January 2017
Dr Ng with his team
Dr. Jo-Han Ng with the team consisting of Tengeo Chee Ying, Ong Su Hui and Eunice Chia Yin Yee

Whenever Dr Jo-Han Ng, Assistant Professor at the University of Southampton Malaysia Campus, is neither in the lecture hall teaching students nor tinkering on his lab table with glass beakers, he is likely doing something that is dear to his heart – keeping students’ eyes peeled to the wonders of engineering.


At the University of Southampton Malaysia Campus, most faculty members are involved with outreach in their areas of expertise, such as computer programming to the community.

For years, Dr Ng has been actively involved in motivation programmes to secondary school students in Johor. He admits that he loves working with young people, and that it is a very humbling experience. His outreach initiatives include offering support to secondary students by getting them interested about math with everything from robot-making contests to biodiesel research.

Talent vs hard work

A trained mechanical engineer, a lecturer and researcher, Dr Ng is not the kind who shies away from a good game of chess. In fact, it was during one of his many chess matches that inspiration took off.

‘‘I have always found the Polgar sisters (Zsuzsa, Zsofia and Judit) fascinating as there is an obvious male predominance in chess. Their father, Laszlo Polgar raised and trained them to be chess prodigies, with two of them becoming the best and second best women chess players in the world,’’ he said. ‘’And with that in mind, I have always subscribed to the idea that talent is made, not born.’’

After a few years of losses in the robotic competitions, Dr Ng decided to change things up a bit by creating an all-female team who had no prior knowledge in robot making.

‘’I wanted to show that anybody can learn robotics and become good at it as long as one is interested, and selecting an all-female team with zero experience was the best way to prove it.’’

Moment of truth

One of the contest’s rare all-female groups were ready to present their robot, a machine that specialises in waste management and recycling .The girls of Dato’ Jaafar Secondary School (SDJ) were made-up and dressed in sleek black suits, an elegant contrast to the boys and young men hunched over their designs during the World Robot Olympiad 2016 in India last year, November.

‘’We knew nothing about Robotics five months ago, because girls are not encouraged to do ‘boys’ robotics. But now we have learnt a lot about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and we love it. We want to prove that girls can do STEM, too,’’ said the girls.

The students designed a robot that was able to separate solid waste into individual containers as well as a liquid waste treatment facility that is able to neutralise dirty water with chemicals. Another feature of the robot was a full hand gesture control robotic arm that aids moving of rubbish within the system. The team also made a breakthrough with a self-made Lego-hone communication system that sends automated SMS once the rubbish has been treated.

Coached by Dr Ng, the team composed of three form six students, Eunice Chia Yin Yee, Tengeo Chee Ying, Ong Su Hui and their mentor Isabelle Wong. The all-female team won the World Robot Olympiad 2016 – a huge break from a long dry spell of losses. This is the first time Dr Ng formed an all-female team for a robotics competition.

Asked how he feels about this recent win, Dr Ng expressed how he would like other academicians to get involved. ‘’It is wonderful to make a difference in someone’s life, the feeling is really great,’’ he said.



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