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Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the President's Science and Technology Awards 2020

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the President's Science and Technology Awards 2020

President, 
Distinguished Guests, 
Award recipients,
Ladies and Gentlemen, 

1. Good afternoon. 

2. It is a pleasure for us to be able to gather together, both in person and virtually, with the help of technology to honour the brightest talent in science, technology and innovation in Singapore, and to recognise their contributions to health, society and the Singapore economy.  

3. Science, technology and innovation are critical enablers for Singapore and our companies to stay ahead of the competition. At such a time as this, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of Science and Technology (S&T) is more evident than ever. It allows us to compete globally on the basis of quality ideas and innovation, as opposed to size or cost.

4. This is also why we have invested so much to nurture a strong base of technological capabilities and talent over time. 

5. Today, we are internationally competitive in various areas of research, and our universities and research institutes are highly regarded globally. We continue to harness S&T in an integrated manner, supporting and facilitating cross-sectoral and cross-agency collaborations to address national and global challenges such as climate change, food and sustainability, and health pandemics. 

6. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen how our local scientific community rose to the occasion alongside our healthcare officers and other front-liners officers. Our scientists and engineers working at full speed, together with our public health institutions and public agencies on areas as wide as diagnostics, therapeutics, pandemic modelling, droplets dispersion modelling, and even the local production of reusable masks, swabs, and many other innovations that are critical in keeping Singapore and Singaporeans safe. 

7. This has been possible because of the S&T talent and capabilities we have built up over many years. Our ability to harness these talents and capabilities has served us well through the COVID-19 crisis. 

8. Beyond COVID-19, we are confident that S&T will be a key source of competitive advantage for Singapore in the decades to come, enabling Singapore to seize emerging opportunities in a post-COVID world. Even amidst a tumultuous landscape, in a world that threatens to fracture and fragment, where global companies are rethinking their global production and supply chains to prioritise for resilience, and others are reviewing the need for regional hubs, we continue to draw high-value investments from MNCs, including tech-heavy ones, to set up their regional headquarters and research centers here.

9. This is a testament to the S&T capabilities and ecosystem we have built up painstakingly over the years, and we are encouraged by their recent vote of confidence in us – that they continue to invest in us, to help us build up capabilities even during the pandemic. We will continue to build on this foundation to strengthen our S&T ecosystem.

10. The Government is committed to supporting our businesses and workers to thrive, despite the pandemic. As long as we work together, we can turn the crisis of the generation into an opportunity of a generation. And that is why we are pressing ahead with our industry transformation and workforce development to emerge stronger, notwithstanding the crisis. 

11. Last week, Prime Minister Lee announced Singapore’s next five-year Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) Plan, or RIE2025. Our RIE capabilities play an important role in supporting a wide spectrum of national needs, both economic and social. 

12. For example, RIE efforts strengthen the competitiveness of our businesses through the creation of new technologies, shared platforms and products, to enhance the quality of healthcare in Singapore and drive innovations in areas such as sustainability. 

13. These are key to Singapore’s continued relevance and resilience in a fast changing world during and post-COVID. RIE2025 reflects our continued commitment to research and development, and building up scientific excellence as the foundation for a knowledge-based, innovation driven society. To do this, we will continue to grow our research and innovation ecosystem and capabilities, and nurture our pipeline of S&T talent. 

14. At the same time, we will strengthen Singapore’s connections with the international community to address challenges of common interests such as climate change and bolster our nation’s position as a Global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise.

15. This is our long-term commitment to R&D. Even as we face various challenges in our current operating environment, we believe that our RIE and connectivity efforts will allow us to transcend our geography, our constraints and allow us to connect with the world as our hinterland and market. 

16. And this is why I am heartened to see Singapore’s businesses increasingly leveraging S&T to take advantage of the new COVID realities. In the past, it was a Government effort. Today, we have the private sector joining us in this effort, and that has allowed us to move even faster together. 

17. Nearly three in four of Singapore’s organisations are accelerating their pace of digitalisation in response to the pandemic. For instance, local engineering company Tru-Marine had already gotten a head start on its digital transformation prior to COVID-19, working with A*STAR’s Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC) through the T-Up scheme to automate one of its shop floor workflows as a pilot. COVID-19 compelled the company to speed up and Tru-Marine is now collaborating through a second T-Up with ARTC this year to digitalise the company’s entire factory operations for a smart and connected factory.    

18. These are but some examples of encouraging developments. Because of the acceleration of digital transformation due to the pandemic, it is also changing the nature of work. More businesses are taking advantage of digital technologies like cloud computing and data analytics to develop new products and services. 

19. So we must ensure that we keep pace with the scale and speed of this digital transformation, and ensure that we are not left behind. Instead, we are able to provide cutting edge business solutions, business models and products for them.

20. So, we will continue to support and guide the digital transformation of our businesses. We have implemented several initiatives and grants, including the Productivity Solutions Grant and Digital Resilience Bonus. We have also rolled out initiatives under the SGUnited Skills programme that will expand traineeship programmes and provide training support to help workers pivot into emerging areas. 

21. For the public sector too, we will also be strengthening our S&T capabilities to serve Singaporeans better from healthcare to climate change to transport, among other areas. The Multi-purpose All Terrain Autonomous Robot (MATAR) is a smart security patrol robot that employs A*STAR’s technologies in artificial intelligence and robotics. A collaboration between A*STAR’s I2R, Ministry of Home Affairs’ Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) and the Singapore Police Force, MATAR is equipped with sound and visual sensors with 360 video capabilities. These allow the autonomous patrol robot to detect suspicious activity on the ground

22. All these are possible when we have the talent, which is the catalyst to sustaining Singapore’s growth, and we must continue to nurture it and attract others to join us and for us to connect with the talent networks around the world.

23. To execute our strategies to compete in regional and global markets, we will need the right talent. It all starts there. This is why we continue to invest in the local S&T talent and build upon what we have done. We will not pull back on our talent development program. We have done so through schemes like the A*STAR and other public agency scholarships which circulate talent across Singapore’s research, innovation and enterprise ecosystem. 

24. We will continue to invest in our people for Singapore’s future, strengthen their ability to come up with new and innovative solutions for the future, and to support them in forming the teams that will come together to resolve challenges, especially those that require interdisciplinary approach. We are committed to supporting them to excel to the best of their potential, as evidenced by today’s Young Scientist Award (YSA) winners.

25. This year’s YSA recognises three up and coming researchers for their research in fields that have far-reaching and long-term implications on human health: DNA-editing therapeutic development; micro bioelectronics devices and systems for scientific and clinical studies; as well as intervention opportunities for gastric cancer. Congratulations to Dr Chew Wei Leong from A*STAR; Dr John Ho from NUS; and Dr Tan Si Hui, previously from A*STAR and now with a start-up. 

26. We also augment our local talent pool with the best and brightest from around the world, in a calibrated manner as we have always done. This year’s PSTA winners include both local and international researchers and engineers, a testament to how Singapore harnesses both local and international talent to build long-term capabilities for Singapore, and thereby keep our economy and companies competitive. The PSTA winners are not only leaders in their respective scientific fields, they are also valuable mentors who groom the next generation of scientific talent. 

27. One of the President’s Science Award winners, Professor Liu Jianjun from A*STAR, is being recognised for greatly advancing the understanding of diseases and treatment outcomes. Among his research in genetic studies of Asian populations, he has laid a foundation for the development of precision medicine for Asian populations. He has also contributed to building technical capabilities for high-throughput genomic analyses in Singapore. 

28. Professor Nikolay Zheludev from NTU who leads the President’s Science team award, and the President’s Technology Award winner, Professor Dario Campana from NUS, have also seeded capabilities within Singapore’s ecosystem through their ground breaking discoveries. Professor Nikolay and his team have contributed to topological nanophotonics research. It underpins the development of a new generation of light-based technologies, with a broad range of applications from telecommunications to defence and manufacturing to medicine. Professor Campana has transformed leukaemia treatment by developing methods to convert immune cells into safe and effective anti-cancer living drugs.

29. This year’s President’s Science and Technology Medallist – Professor Ranga Krishnan, Chairman of the National Medical Research Council – has been instrumental in building the healthcare infrastructure to develop healthcare talent, among his many accomplishments for Singapore. He has contributed significantly to improving health outcomes in Singapore through his work in catalysing research-based medical schools, academic medical centres, as well as research infrastructure and programmes that promote technology transfer, industry joint ventures, partnerships and entrepreneurship.

Conclusion

30. My congratulations to this year's winners. This annual award is a celebration of your achievement. It is also a statement of our commitment to continue in science and technology, to develop our people, for them to work in it international teams to collaborate with international partners, and also to connect with the world across the different talent network. 

31. For Singapore to continue to defy the odds of history and to do well for the next generation, we must have the best and brightest, and the most committed people in our system. And within that system, the S&T community is a key critical enabler. You are the ones who make the impossible happen, that allow us to compete on the basis of innovation, the quality of our ideas and products and not compete on the basis of our size. 

32. Because of your contribution to our country, we can not only manage the current Covid pandemic that we are in now, but more importantly, you have allowed us to established the foundations for the success of our future economy and for us to enjoy a higher quality of life. Your willingness to break new ground, your gumption to connect and collaborate with the best and brightest across the world will set us on the foundation of future successes. 

33. This is why, notwithstanding Covid, we are all gathered here today to celebrate your achievements and to reaffirm our commitment to invest and building up our S&T talent pool. Thank you very much for all your efforts, and for inspiring another generation of people to come forth and join the S&T community in Singapore. 

34. Thank you very much.

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