DPM Heng Swee Keat at the Global Young Scientists Summit Opening Ceremony 2024

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 9 January 2024

Remarks by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the Global Young Scientists Summit Opening Ceremony on 9 January 2024.


Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn

Professors Low Teck Seng and Bertil Andersson,

Co-Chairs, Global Young Scientists Summit,

Professor Tan Eng Chye, President, National University of Singapore,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning and a very warm welcome to the 12th edition of the Global Young Scientists Summit.

I am delighted to welcome over 350 young scientists, from 35 countries and 150 institutions, to this year’s Summit. As you have just seen in the video, the Global Young Scientists Summit provides a unique platform for young scientists and researchers to interact with, learn from, and be inspired by distinguished leaders in science.

This year, the National Research Foundation is honoured to have 16 eminent scientists joining us for an enriching week at the Summit.

All of them have scaled peaks of excellence in their research – we have winners of the Nobel Prize, Fields Medal, Millenium Technology Prize, Turing Award and more, all within this room!

Many of them are long-standing friends of the Summit, and we warmly welcome those who are joining us for the first time. To the young scientific minds gathered here, I hope you make the most of the week to engage and learn from our speakers. I hope your interactions will ignite fresh ideas that push new scientific frontiers and create impact, today and into the future.

Over centuries, we have harnessed the power of science to tackle challenges, advance humanity, and create a better world. This is often a long journey that requires tenacity, faith, and resilience.

As we kickstart this year’s Summit, I would like to share the story of Professor Katalin Karikó, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2023.

Professor Karikó immigrated to the US from Hungary in the mid-1980s and began her work on mRNA a few years later.

In the three decades that followed, she faced multiple hurdles and setbacks. Her research on mRNA was dismissed and funding eventually dried up. She even suffered the indignity of demotion.

But Prof Karikó persisted. She remained deeply committed to her research, found like-minded collaborators, and doubled down. Today, the world is a better place because of Prof Karikó’s unwavering commitment and enduring passion for her research.

Her work laid the foundation for the mRNA vaccines that saved millions of lives and livelihoods across the world during the COVID pandemic. I mentioned earlier that we have 16 eminent scientists here with us this week. Each of them has fascinating stories of their own scientific journeys – how their interest was sparked; how they pursued their passions; and how they overcame the setbacks and difficulties they faced.

Like Prof Karikó, their journeys are marked by wonderful stories of collaboration, tenacity and purpose. So what lessons can we draw to better support and empower young scientists, as they begin their journeys towards becoming the flagbearers of tomorrow’s breakthroughs?

Let me make three suggestions.

First, we must be patient in nurturing and grooming scientific talent, because good science takes time and perseverance. Nurturing scientific talent must begin early – by first stimulating curiosity about the world, encouraging one to question, and providing opportunities to play with ideas and tools from a young age.

For those who are contemplating a career in science and research, there must be pathways and scaffoldings to support them in their journeys, which will take multiple years.

Here in Singapore, many primary and secondary schools offer a STEM Applied Learning Programme to help young students develop an appreciation for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

We also have scholarships at the pre-university level for aspiring scientists, as well as scholarships from the undergraduate through to PhD levels.

The latter are coupled with opportunities to work in our research institutes and universities, to support our students’ growth and development. Nurturing scientific talent also requires long-sighted and patient funding, as the experiences of our speakers show.

Often, the scientific base could take a while to be built before the research and technology applications become clearer and viable. This is why Singapore takes a holistic approach to funding, including a sustained commitment to basic research.

We have set aside S$25 billion for research, innovation and enterprise between 2021 and 2025. This includes more than S$6 billion for basic research in areas like human potential and health, urban solutions and sustainability, digitalisation and the services economy, and manufacturing. Second, beyond nurturing talent, we must build the support structure and ecosystem for scientists and researchers to do their best work.

As Professor Karikó’s story and those of our speakers illustrate, it is a marathon of sustained hard work in the lab, collaborating with like-minded researchers, and working with industry to translate scientific insights into tangible, real-world innovations.

We need to bring the best people together to cross-share, cross-pollinate, and spark new ideas and collaborations, including across different disciplines. Community building is critical. Singapore places great emphasis on this. Today’s Summit is one such platform for energetic young talent to mingle with eminent leaders and meet with peers, so as to sharpen their ideas and grow new ones.

We also have other schemes like the National Research Foundation Fellowship and Investigatorship, where we invite top scientists to tap on our ecosystem, further their research, inspire our students and strengthen our peaks of excellence.

Our Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise, or CREATE, which is just next door, brings together the best minds from around the world to address specific global challenges.

As I mentioned earlier, Singapore thinks of the full value-chain of Research, Innovation and Enterprise. We therefore support a full spectrum of activities, from basic research, to partnering with industry to translate these insights into innovation, and scaling these solutions through the formation of start-ups and enterprises. We seek to position Singapore as a Global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise – serving the region and the world, with strong linkages to other innovation nodes.

This brings me to my third and final point – while governments can invest in nurturing scientific talent and building the right environment for them to do their best work, what ultimately matters is our young scientists having a collaborative and open-minded outlook, and a spirit of perseverance. By taking the time to participate in this Summit, you already embody the positive spirit of exploring new frontiers and learning from one another!

You come from 35 countries and 150 institutions around the world, united by a common passion for science and research. I hope that during your week together, there will be new connections made, and enduring friendships built. This way, you can support one another as you grow and develop your research, and journey together towards new peaks and breakthroughs.

I also encourage the young scientists here to consider venturing beyond academia and spending time in industry. This can be fruitful especially in understanding real-world problems and challenges, so that your research can be even more impactful.

We offer such opportunities in Singapore through Corporate Labs as well as our Industry PhD programmes. In summary, nurturing successful and impactful scientists is about bringing different elements together – providing supportive infrastructure and shaping a robust ecosystem, coupled with young scientists taking a collaborative outlook to explore new opportunities, and persevering in pursuit of good science that can make a difference.

COVID has shown vividly the importance of investing in research and innovation. Pandemics are just one of the many challenges that we face today. We must continue to invest in addressing climate change, finding efficient sources of renewable energy, and harnessing digitalisation, artificial intelligence, precision medicine and new healthcare solutions. Breakthroughs in these areas will allow us to live healthier and more meaningful lives, taking better care both of ourselves and our planet.

With this, I am delighted to introduce Professor Martin Green from the University of New South Wales, who will lead the opening plenary for this Summit. Professor Green’s pioneering contributions to solar photovoltaic (or PV) technology is anchored by his abiding commitment to achieve social impact. In advancing the efficiency and affordability of PV technology over the past 40 years, his work is a critical prong in today’s work to address climate change.

I look forward to hearing his insights on how science can take the green transition further forward. I encourage all of you to participate actively and take full advantage of the rich offerings at this year’s Summit – from plenary lectures and panel discussions, to foster discussions and networking sessions.

Keep up your links with the friends and connections that you make here. I hope that Singapore can be part of your growth and journey, if not today, then sometime in the future!

I wish you all a fruitful and memorable Summit.

Thank you.