Malaysian lass aims for the moon


Fabulous feat: Qiu (third from left, crouching) with her team posing with their rover.

SPACE may be far away but it is close to Qiu Jingyi’s heart.

And the 20-year-old has set her sights on contributing to Malaysia’s space endeavours.

Currently a computer science student at the University of Adelaide, Australia, she is working towards making her dream a reality by immersing herself in technology studies, networking with professionals in the field, and actively seeking opportunities to contribute to space exploration projects.

Recently, the Kuala Lumpur-born lass was part of a team that represented the university at its fourth annual Australian Rover Challenge (ARCh).

“I was a software developer who worked on the robotic arm of our rover, focused on programming its functionality for precise manipulation tasks and optimising the codebase for efficient performance,” she told StarEdu.

The challenge, held from March 21 to 24, saw 10 semi-autonomous lunar rovers – custom-built by student teams – undertake a hands-on simulated mission to the moon.

Each rover’s mission involved four tasks: rolling off a lunar lander and accessing nearby equipment; performing lunar excavation and construction work; prospecting for resources buried among the lunar regolith (moon dust); and mapping the lunar surface using only autonomous sensing and navigation.

Qiu’s “Adelaide Rover Team” took fifth place overall – the university’s best performance since the competition began in 2021.

“My team approached each task with determination and spirit, and that was a big reason behind our success,” she said.

She shared that taking part in the challenge became an “imperative pursuit” after she chanced upon the ARCh on campus last year.

“As I observed various rovers navigating the simulated lunar terrain and soaked in the competitive atmosphere, I felt my mind click – that this was something I wanted to do,” said Qiu, who has recently taken on the role of project lead for the team and is now planning for the ARCh 2025.

Reflecting on her passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), she said from the get-go, many factors laid the foundation for her to pursue a future in these fields.

The mysteries of the cosmos have fascinated her from a young age. Her interest in space exploration was sparked when she first watched Disney’s cosmic adventure movie Wall-E.

As she grew older, she developed a passion for astronomy.

“My family and I often travelled out of the city to reconnect with nature, and I remember spending hours underneath the starry nights,” she said.

Watching documentaries and sci-fi movies during her teenage years blossomed her passion further, leading to her pursuing her current field in the hopes of contributing to the space industry.

“I chose to study at this university because it has industry connections with the Australian Space Agency just down the road and a dedicated Andy Thomas Centre for Space Resources that addresses the challenges faced by long-term planetary exploration,” she shared.

Qiu, who completed her A-Levels at Taylor’s College in Subang Jaya, Selangor, after being homeschooled for most of her student life, also attributed her passion for STEM to her tutors.

“My tutors were my biggest source of inspiration. I vividly remember my science teachers sharing their lab stories and cool experiences when they travelled around for conferences,” she said.”

To cultivate interest in STEM among Malaysian youth, she emphasised incorporating engaging hands-on activities that promote active learning.

“Additionally, integrating STEM concepts into early education helps spark interest from a young age, laying a strong foundation for future STEM pursuits.

“Making STEM subjects relevant to students’ lives by using real-world examples and emphasising their practical applications can also increase their interest and understanding,” she offered.

Currently in her third year of studies, Qiu hopes to combine her academics with her passion for space by pursuing an Honours project in robotics vision for space endeavours.

“My major in artificial intelligence opens doors to a variety of research opportunities, such as machine learning and computer vision,” she said.

On her future plans, she envisions honing her skills and expertise in the space sector by pursuing postgraduate studies.

While she plans to work in the Australian industry for a five-year stint, she is committed to returning to Malaysia to contribute to the development of space technologies, cultivate talent through mentorship programmes, and propel Malaysia’s presence in the international space community.

“I recently came across an article which featured Malaysia as a potential player entering the global space sector, as well as our National Space Policy 2030. Seeing the advancements we are making back home is truly remarkable and motivates me to contribute to Malaysia’s space endeavours,” she said.

To students looking to broaden their horizons in STEM, Qiu had this to say: “Don’t limit yourself. Explore various fields like biology, chemistry, engineering and computer science to discover your interests.

“Don’t be afraid to tackle new challenges. Fear is just a feeling. Once you take that first step, things all of a sudden don’t seem that intimidating and that’s when you start to learn, grow and have fun.”

Sydney, 20, a student in Kuala Lumpur, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. For updates on the BRATs programme, go to facebook.com/niebrats.

With the theme of the article in mind, carry out the following English language activities.

1. In what ways is STEM relevant to our lives? Look in today’s newspaper for examples of practical applications of STEM in the real world. Then, have a show-and-tell session with your friends.

2. Imagine that you have been chosen to give a one-minute talk in your school assembly to spur students’ interest in STEM. How would you craft your speech? Prepare the script and deliver it in class. Then, have your friends rate how inspiring the speech is on a scale of one to five, with five being the most inspiring.

The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme promotes the use of English language in primary and secondary schools nationwide. For Star-NiE enquiries, email starnie@thestar.com.my.

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BRATs , STEM , space exploration , robotics , Star-NiE

   

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