DPM Heng Swee Keat at the Global Young Scientists Summit 2023

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 17 January 2023

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Chairman for National Research Foundation Heng Swee Keat at the Global Young Scientists Summit 2023 on 17 January 2023.

A very good morning. Welcome to the Global Young Scientists Summit 2023.

I am very delighted to see so many of you in-person. This is the first time since COVID-19 that we are convening in a physical format. There are also hundreds more participants joining us online, making this our largest turnout for the Summit yet. Some of you may be here for the first time. We also have amongst us, good friends and mentors who have been supporting this Summit since the start, including Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindhorn. A very warm welcome to all of you!

Role of science in today’s world

As we exit the shadows of COVID-19, we are reminded of the critical role that science and the scientific community play in tackling global challenges. Without the prompt and significant developments in diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics, we might still be holding this Summit virtually! While COVID-19 has not fully blown over, we must now turn our attention to the numerous other challenges that our world faces, like climate change and ageing populations. Each global challenge presents many constraints and requires difficult trade-offs. Yet, these challenges also present the opportunity to advance our understanding and make a difference. What can we do? Let me share three observations.
First, scientific discovery is the single most important key to breaking out of these constraints and unlocking new possibilities for humanity. Take climate change for example. Based on our current scientific knowledge, it is unlikely that we will achieve a net zero world by 2050. To continue to uplift the lives of billions of people, we must find new and better ways. New waves of scientific innovation and breakthroughs will be needed to get us to net zero – from making existing low-carbon technologies like hydrogen and batteries more economically viable, to exploring new possibilities like nuclear fusion and deep geothermal energy. Science will be the driving force for tackling global challenges. In this sense, the global scientific community carries hope for humanity.  

Second, scientific discovery does not occur within a vacuum. Instead, the work is iterative, with successive generations of scientists building upon one another’s work, often over a long period. Take the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics, which was won by Alain Aspect, John Clauser, and Anton Zeilinger for their work in quantum mechanics. Nearly 90 years ago, Einstein described quantum entanglement – the phenomenon in which states of particles depend on each other regardless of the distance between them – as “spooky action at a distance”. In the subsequent decades, physicists all over the world contributed to the body of work around this “spooky” phenomenon. They proposed theories, conducted experiments, and deepened our understanding. Together, they pushed the boundaries and built the foundation for quantum computing and cryptography. 

This brings me to my final observation. The three laureates I highlighted are of different nationalities – Aspect is French, Clauser is American, and Zeilinger is Austrian. This is the true beauty of science – its ability to bring together people from different cultures, nationalities, and religions, in pursuit of the common mission of growing scientific knowledge. This global, collaborative aspect of science is reflected in our audience here today. Collectively you come from 106 institutions across 32 countries. You each bring expertise and passion in different scientific fields. Over the next few days, you will have the opportunity to connect with and learn from one another, spark new insights, and inspire new collaborations. 

This spirit of collaboration is especially salient in today’s world, which is fraught with geopolitical tensions and economic uncertainty. Strategic competition between major powers has intensified, and countries are preoccupied with high inflation and other domestic challenges. At times, political rhetoric has been fracturing. As a result, global cooperation has slowed, or even stalled, in some areas. 

In this environment, science and the scientific community can serve as a ballast. By providing objectivity and rigour in a world where discourse may be tempered by politics and disagreement. By sustaining collaboration and cooperation to advance scientific knowledge, notwithstanding the ups and downs of international relations. And by bringing together the best minds to study and develop solutions for challenges that affect us all regardless of nationality and political beliefs. 

It  gives me great pleasure to welcome you to Singapore and to this Summit, where we will have the opportunity to renew old connections and build fresh ones, in the coming days. We are here at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, where you might have noticed some beautiful heritage houses harmoniously blending into a sleek, modern campus. This is very much the Singapore character – bringing together different perspectives, through a commitment to nurture, grow, and create value. This is how we systematically built up our scientific base from scratch.  

Our Research, Innovation, and Enterprise (RIE) ecosystem reflects the systematic investments we have made over the past 30 years. From growing basic research capabilities and driving technology translation, to strengthening our enterprises’ innovation capabilities and nurturing a strong talent base. And in our latest RIE2025 Plan, we have committed US$19b to strengthen and diversify our eco-system. We warmly welcome you to collaborate and grow with us, be it through a fellowship here, or new research partnerships. 

This morning, we are honoured to have Professor Didier Queloz lead the opening plenary session. Professor Queloz and his colleagues’ discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star led to their 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics. His reflections on planetary systems will be a fitting start to the summit, to inspire us to look beyond the edge of our observable universe and to push the limits of science research. We also welcome 20 other plenary speakers and panellists who are distinguished leaders in their respective fields. I am sure they will spark your sense of wonder, curiosity and purpose. So I encourage you to participate actively in the young scientists’ presentations, explore collaborations through networking sessions and connect with your fellow researchers at social programmes. 

We hope that the Global Young Scientists Summit will continue to forge stronger global partnerships and collaborations in science and technology. I wish all of you a fruitful summit, and an enjoyable stay in Singapore. Thank you.