Though Neo Mei Lin was first interested in plants as a child, toting a plant book to identify roadside flora on family car trips, a nine-month undergraduate research project on giant clams started her on the journey of understanding the bivalve mollusk. “Curiosity-driven research is the most fun,” she says. “There are a lot of interesting behaviour and ecology we find out from our basic research...a lot of questions keep coming up over time — even after my PhD, I still have more questions.”

A research fellow at the St John Island Marine Lab and the Tropical Marine Science Institute at NUS, Neo was awarded the L’Oréal-Unesco for Women in Science National Fellowship last year for her study of conservation strategies for giant clams. Countering the ingrained misconception that the waters around Singapore are all silt and devoid of marine life, Neo says in the last two to three years, the combination of outreach efforts and social media has made locals more receptive to new information. “I think that’s the beauty of marine research here,” she says. “There’s so much to be done though we’re such a small country — people [think] we probably surveyed everything already, but we haven’t.”