Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the President's Science and Technology Awards (PSTA) on 10 December 2021.
President Halimah Yacob
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my pleasure to be here today to honour our brightest talent in science, technology and innovation at the President’s Science and Technology Awards.
These Awards were first presented in 2009. Over the years, the Awards have recognised many outstanding scientists and engineers who have made a significant impact on the economy and society, in Singapore and beyond – from healthcare and biomedical sectors, to quantum sciences and AI, and other areas.
I thank Madam President for gracing this ceremony every year, showing her strong support for excellence in science and technology.
S&T as a beacon
Over the past two years, science and technology has been a beacon in the global fight against COVID-19.
Early on in the crisis, scientists from around the world came together to sequence the genome of the virus.
This paved the way for the development of diagnostics early in the crisis and vaccines to be created at unprecedented speed, saving countless lives.
Most recently, scientists in South Africa have also alerted the world to the discovery of the Omicron variant by uploading the data onto the GISAID global science database.
While there will be more twists and turns in this pandemic, I am confident that scientists from around the world will continue to find solutions to each new challenge.
The scientific community in Singapore has contributed to the global fight.
Our scientists were amongst the first in the world to culture the COVID-19 virus.
Scientists from A*STAR also played a useful role in setting up and maintaining the GISAID database, together with partners from around the world.
Diagnostic kits were also developed quickly by our scientists. The Fortitude PCR test kit, developed by A*STAR and other partners, is used in more than 40 countries.
These achievements are built on our patient and continuous investment in science and technology over the years.
Our R&D journey started in 1991, with the launch of our first 5-year National Technology Plan, as part of our effort to move up the economic value chain.
Over the years, we have trained many talented scientists through our A*STAR scholarships, attracted global talents to our shores, and built up a vibrant R&D ecosystem.
In more recent years, we have also forged stronger linkages between our companies and our research ecosystem, which has helped to translate our research outcomes into real world impact.
Beyond the pandemic, Singapore will need to be prepared for new challenges.
Climate change is a global emergency, and an existential challenge for Singapore.
Disease X is not a matter of if, but when.
The ageing demographics in many parts of the world, including Singapore, will have economic, social, and psychological implications for many societies.
We are doubling down on science and technology to better address our future challenges and build a brighter future.
Our $25 billion Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 plan is a major commitment to deepen our capabilities to address major strategic challenges for Singapore.
We aim to build the foundation for advances in areas such as human health and potential, advanced manufacturing, urban solutions and sustainability, and the digital economy.
These are challenges that many countries face. We must learn from others, and our success in these areas can also be useful to the global community.
But our R&D efforts is more than just research grants. Ultimately, at the heart of our R&D efforts are the research scientists and engineers whose curiosity and ingenuity drive new discoveries and breakthroughs.
Today we honour eight of these scientists and leaders who have made important contributions to our R&D drive.
They have all shown strong commitment to both scientific excellence, as well as making a real world impact.
Young Scientist Award
First, the Young Scientist Awards recognise promising scientists who though young, have achieved significant results and shown great potential.
I congratulate our three Young Scientist Award winners this year.
Dr Yvonne Gao from NUS, is recognised for her focus on building hardware that is both scalable and robust to realise a practical quantum computer. The elements Dr Gao have developed are critical for scaling up quantum devices and they form the technical cornerstone for commercialising quantum computers.
Dr Sarah Luo from A*STAR is recognised for her breakthrough discovery of a novel region in the brain that regulates feeding behaviour and the conditions that lead to increased food intake. Her research can help to address excessive food consumption behaviours and tackle obesity and diabetes, two health threats that are increasingly prevalent in both Singapore and around the world.
Dr Zhang Hanwang from NTU is recognised for his pioneering contributions to applied causality in AI. His research supports the development of next-generation AI that reduces reliance on big data sampling and improves energy efficiency. This has a wide range of applications, including the enhancement of the infrastructure of industries such as online education, FinTech, and healthcare.
Our Young Scientists Award winners are good role models for our young. For Singapore to embrace science and technology fully, we must nurture a sense of wonder and love of science in our youths.
We are stimulating our children’s interest in STEM, through more interactive ways of teaching these subjects, and through the applied learning programmes in school.
For those who are interested in taking up STEM careers, they can learn more through internships at our research institutes.
We are also encouraging more women to take up STEM disciplines and careers. Earlier this year, President Halimah launched the Promotion of Women in Engineering, Research and Science programme to encourage more women to pursue a career in STEM.
President’s Science & Technology Award
Second, the President’s Science and Technology Award recognises those who have dedicated their lives to science and research. The award recipients this year have made ground-breaking contributions to advance human health and potential.
There are two recipients of the President’s Science Award this year - Professor Wang Linfa from Duke-NUS Medical School and Professor Chen Xiaodong from NTU and A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering.
Professor Wang’s research in bat biology and emerging viral diseases has helped us combat several viral outbreaks.
More recently, Prof Wang made significant contributions to Singapore’s COVID-19 response, including the invention of the cPass kit, that rapidly detects if someone has neutralising antibodies for COVID-19.
The cPass kit was the first of its kind to receive authorisation from the United States' Food and Drug Administration for emergency use.
Professor Chen‘s research in digitising the human sense pushes the boundaries in human performance augmentation.
His interdisciplinary research has advanced the frontiers of materials science and flexible electronics, and their application to advanced manufacturing, and healthcare wearables in Singapore.
This year’s President's Technology Award recipient is Associate Professor Too Heng-Phon from NUS, a leader in cancer research.
Associate Professor Too developed a microRNA-based platform to discover novel biomarkers for liquid biopsy of cancers and other diseases.
Notably, the technology has enabled the development of the world’s first molecular blood test for the early detection of gastric cancer, which allows patients the best chance of survival.
President’s Science and Tech Medals
Third, the President’s Science and Technology Medals, the nation’s top scientific honour, will be awarded this year to two outstanding individuals who have translated science into social impact. I congratulate Professor Ivy Ng and Professor Sir Peter Gluckman.
Professor Ivy Ng, Group CEO of SingHealth is honoured for her leadership role.
She has demonstrated outstanding leadership in the development of academic medicine in Singapore and establishing strategic partnerships to transform medicine, improve healthcare and healthcare delivery.
She is an accomplished clinician-leader with a strong vision and deep passion for academic medicine.
Since 2012, she has led SingHealth in its restructuring and transformation. She has been instrumental in driving the advancement of the SingHealth Duke-NUS academic medicine partnership, integrating research and education with clinical care.
Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Distinguished Professor, Chief Scientific Officer at A*STAR’s Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, is honoured for his research insights. He has made outstanding contributions to the advancement of health, clinical and biomedical research.
He was the scientific architect behind the development of the GUSTO cohort studies that had a strong focus on understanding the links between maternal health and child development in early childhood.
These studies are carried out in close partnership between the National University Health System, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, NUS, and A*STAR.
The findings have yielded deeper insights on metabolic disease and other prevalent diseases in Singapore, and had an impact on our healthcare policy and practice.
Once again, my heartiest congratulations to all winners for your exemplary achievements.
These awards are a recognition of your achievements so far, but I am confident that you will continue to make even more significant contributions in the years ahead.
In fact, some of our scientists who started out by winning the Young Scientist Awards in past years, have gone on to achieve the President’s Science and Technology Awards!
Just as important, I hope that you will mentor and inspire the next generation of scientists and researchers.
In this way, we continue to build on the achievements of each generation of scientists and leaders, to build a better future for Singapore and the world.
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