DPM Heng Swee Keat at the Global Young Scientists Summit 2021

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 12 January 2021

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the Global Young Scientists Summit 2021 on 12 January 2021.


Welcome to the Global Young Scientists Summit 2021!

The 9th edition of this Summit takes place in the shadows of COVID-19. The pandemic has infected more than 80 million people and taken nearly 2 million lives. But we start the year with a ray of hope. Several vaccines have been authorised for use, and vaccination is underway in many parts of the world. However, the work is far from over. The vaccination of a significant proportion of the global population will take time and resources, and the emergence of a new, more infectious strain of the virus is a reminder that we must be prepared for surprises ahead.

What is certain is the critical role of the global scientific community in the fight against COVID-19. Early in the crisis, the sharing of the virus genome with the global community enabled the rapid development of diagnostic test kits. Your collective efforts in the past year has led to the development of safe and effective vaccines in record time. Your many other innovations have helped businesses, workers and households adapt to the crisis. Your continued research and innovations will be crucial in helping us overcome the pandemic and build back better from this crisis.

While each of us can pursue research excellence individually, our efforts are greatly multiplied if we work together. As French biologist Louis Pasteur once said, “Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world.” We must build on the positive momentum of collaboration in the fight against COVID-19 and redouble our efforts to work in stronger partnership – across disciplines, across borders, and across industries, academia and governments. This will allow us to not only overcome this pandemic, but also other global challenges such as poverty, ageing and climate change.

Where I stand now – the Singapore–ETH Centre – is a collaboration between ETH Zurich in Switzerland and our National Research Foundation. This Centre is part of CREATE. CREATE stands for the “Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise”. The Campus is home to other research collaborations set up with leading global universities and research institutes – including CNRS from France, TUM from Germany, MIT from the US, and Shanghai JiaoTong from China. Together, we work on cutting edge research to tackle global challenges. An example of such a programme is Cooling Singapore, a project to reduce urban heat in Singapore. This is an interdisciplinary and multi-institutional initiative between Singapore-based scientists and several of our international partners based at CREATE. The solutions developed will certainly be useful for Singapore, but can also contribute to reducing urban heat in other cities in the world.

As we strengthen global partnerships, we are also deepening Singapore’s R&D capabilities. Over the decades, we have built up deep research capabilities in areas such as quantum technologies, immunology and photonics. In quantum technologies, we established the Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore. This is one of the international reference research centres in quantum information science. We developed the world’s first quantum nanosatellite that can generate entangled photon-pairs in space, which is a step towards the quantum secure communications. In immunology, we have developed cutting-edge capabilities in CAR-T cell therapy where we have developed and administered pioneering treatment for patients with
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at the National University Hospital. In photonics, we have a strong R&D base spanning basic and applied research at A*STAR and our universities including the Nanyang Technological University, allowing us to be the world’s first to demonstrate the control of light rays through switchable nanoantennas. This paved the way for smart devices to deliver hi-resolution 3D moving images. I encourage you to visit the Expo area of this Summit to learn more about the many possibilities for collaboration from the exhibitors.

In the next five years, Singapore will also be investing S$25 billion in research, innovation and enterprise. Our commitment to research over the decades remains steadfast despite the economic cycles and headwinds. By working in collaboration with partners from around the world, we will tackle a wider range of strategic priorities and emerging opportunities. This will enable us to contribute to societal and global advancements, in areas such as human potential, trade & connectivity, environmental sustainability, and digital innovation. We will continue to stay true to our vision to be a knowledge-based, innovation-driven nation, fuelled by scientific excellence.

With the Summit being held online this year, we are expecting more than 500 aspiring researchers and scientists – from across 85 institutions in 30 countries. We also welcome 21 plenary speakers and panelists, who are distinguished leaders in their respective fields. Among them are Nobel laureates, Fields medallists, Turing Award and Millenium Technology Prize winners. They all share a passion for science and discovery, a dedication to the frontiers of innovation, and a desire to share their knowledge with others. Professor Robert Langer will be leading the opening plenary. Moderna, a company he co-founded, successfully developed a COVID-19 vaccine. His reflections on the development of drug delivery systems will be a fitting start to the Summit. I thank our speakers and panelists for taking part in the Summit, and I hope that you will be inspired by them.

When air travel resumes, I welcome you to visit Singapore. We look forward to working with you, and hope that you will spend time with us to further your research endeavours. We also have various competitive fellowships and investigatorship programmes to support you in the pursuit of ground-breaking research in Singapore.

By working together, we can build back better from this crisis, and create a better and brighter future for the world. I wish you all a fruitful Summit.

Thank you.