Speech by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, at the launch of the “Future Makers” exhibition on engineering at the Science Centre Singapore, on 18 June 2019.
“Engineering Singapore’s Future”
Mr Soh Gim Teik, Deputy Chairman of the Science Centre Board,
Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng, Chief Executive, Science Centre,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am glad to see that there are some young people in the audience. It is always a delight to be back at the Science Centre. It will be an even greater delight to come to the new Science Centre when it is open. I have been waiting for a long time, and I hope to see it soon.
I am pleased to join you today for the launch of the “Future Makers” Exhibition on Engineering. I have spent some time – once, twice a month - to visit various places in Singapore related to research, technology, science and engineering to see what our people are doing. Many of the places that I visit are places which have really changed the face of Singapore. Things that help to keep us safe and secure – the Home Team, the defence ministry and the SAF; industries which make the latest equipment in electronics and biotechnology; and places that make living much more comfortable for us.
We can see feats of engineering all around us – NEWater, flood alleviation, transportation networks and the new mega port at Tuas. These are places which I have been to and have excited me in the last few months. Each of these tells a story of our engineers pushing the boundaries, to solve a problem, to improve the lives of our citizens, and to create a more vibrant and successful Singapore. I thought I will share with you three examples of the people I have met and the places I have been to, which have most excited me in the last half a year or so.
Grace Chia, Co-Founder of BeeX
My first story is about Grace Chia, co-founder of a start-up that develops autonomous underwater vehicles (or AUVs). I first met Grace 7 years ago in Beijing, when she was on an internship programme under the NUS Overseas College. She was a very energetic engineering student who was excited about working and studying in China. Grace and her co-founder Goh Eng Wei believed that it was possible to improve the design of existing Remotely Operated Vehicles, which are used by the offshore oil and gas industry to inspect and work on offshore systems. These were typically bulky and heavy and had to be tethered. Grace and Eng Wei gathered other like-minded engineering students and formed a team called Bumblebee. They worked together to design a highly manoeuvrable AUV that can operate wirelessly and is preloaded with specific mission paths, using Artificial Intelligence techniques.
Team Bumblebee was crowned champion in the Maritime RobotX Challenge held in Hawaii last December. Grace and Eng Wei have also received S$50,000 in seed funding from the NUS Graduate Research Innovation Programme to form a spin-off company BeeX to develop commercial applications for their AUV. I met Grace again four months ago. She is now an accomplished young engineering-entrepreneur running her own start-up – I hope she succeeds. She was making use of our new Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine Singapore (TCOMS). This new R&D Centre houses a next-generation ocean basin that is one of the largest and deepest in the world with wave and current simulation capabilities – it is very impressive. It measures 60 metres by 48 metres, is up to 50 metres deep, and can hold as much water as 15 swimming pools. The facility is integrated with petascale supercomputing capabilities, allowing our researchers to better understand complex marine environments. When fully operational next year, TCOMS will help more companies like BeeX enhance the design and performance of their solutions.
Grace’s story shows us that the possibilities for engineering in Singapore are limitless. Singapore has some of the best facilities and the ecosystem to support not only major companies like Keppel to design offshore structures and ice-breakers for the Arctic, but also for marine robotics start-ups like BeeX to develop cutting-edge technology and make their mark in the world. The key lies in whether you dare to dream, like Grace did.
E6NanoFab: Singapore’s Nano Makerspace
My second story is on a different scale – it is about a research facility in NUS known as E6NanoFab. Engineering spans the whole range –massive, complex structures and projects, but equally important is the micro or even nano world, which we can see only with the finest electron microscopes. This world can be found in E6NanoFab, which is Singapore’s very own nano-makerspace, or playground for nanotechnology. Building on Singapore’s years of experience in microelectronics, this centre consolidates under one roof many state-of-the-art facilities to conduct advanced multidisciplinary research in nanotechnology, flexible electronics, spintronics, quantum and semiconductor technologies. Our researchers here are mixing and matching different materials to create new nano-to-micro technologies that can be used in areas like healthcare, robotics, and electronics to improve people’s lives. For example, they are developing soft wearable insole sensors that can help diabetic patients to monitor foot ulcers, and technology that can transmit data and power connectivity through the human body to wearables.
So, next time you admire a shiny new product, do not forget that there is an exciting world invisible to the human eye that many engineers and scientists have worked hard on to turn into reality. And once again in Singapore, we have some of the best facilities, like E6NanoFab and the Centre for Advanced 2D Materials, to make all this happen. In fact, this is such an exciting world that Professor Aaron Thean decided to come back as a Returning Singapore Scientist to head E6NanoFab as its Director, after many years of working in the US and the EU and holding more than 50 US patents for inventions in advanced electronics. I hope the story of E6NanoFab and Aaron inspires more Singapore engineers and scientists to take a closer look at the nano world of technology in Singapore.
Jewel Changi Airport
My third story is about something much more well-known: Jewel Changi Airport. It is hard not to get excited by Jewel. By now, just two months after its opening, the dramatic Rain Vortex must have become one of the most “instagrammed” places in Singapore. But apart from being a sight to behold, it is also an engineering marvel. The 40-metre Rain Vortex is the tallest indoor waterfall in the world, channelling 10,000 gallons of water per minute from the oculus of the facade all the way down to Basement 2. Jewel has a unique glass and steel facade that allows natural light to come through. The glass panels that make up the facade have a 16 millimetre vacuum to insulate against heat transmission and noise emitted from aircraft. Extensive tests were also done to ensure that it would not cause any distracting reflections for air traffic controllers.
To allow visitors to enjoy the Rain Vortex and the lush greenery without visual obstruction, Jewel was designed with minimal columns, making it look like it defies gravity. So how does Jewel support its spectacular glass roof, which weighs 3,500 tonnes, equivalent to six A380 planes? Actually it was Liew Mun Leong, Chairman of Changi Airport Group and an engineer himself, who pointed out to me the engineering that went into this. Our engineers designed a support system comprising a ring beam and 14 tree-like columns circling the edge of the roof, with each column up to 12 metres in height. Once again, the most impressive thing about Jewel is what by design you do not really see – the roof’s support system – thanks to the ingenuity of the engineers who designed it.
Jewel Changi Airport is engineering at its best, as much art as it is engineering. It involves not just good planning and design but also flawless execution. It is a reminder that we, in our “little red dot”, can have big ambitions and put ourselves on the world map, time and again.
I hope that these three stories about engineering, have fascinated you as much as they have excited me. Today, we will see more marvels of engineering in our “Future Makers” exhibition. There is no doubt that engineering will become more important to Singapore as we enter our next phase of development. There are many exciting challenges waiting for our young Singaporean engineers and scientists, to push the boundaries and contribute to a more exciting Singapore. I hope that many more will come forward to write their own exciting stories of challenge and change.
I am also delighted that work is underway for our new science centre at Jurong Lake Gardens which will be ready around 2025. The new science centre will not only house more exhibitions and laboratories that offer hands-on learning and experimentation, but also have more outdoor programmes for our students and visitors to explore nature and science. I look forward to the completion of the new science centre that will make the sciences more fun and accessible, and unleash our students’ passion for innovation and inquiry.
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