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Speech by 2M Tan See Leng at the A*STAR Scholarship Award Ceremony 2022

Speech by 2M Tan See Leng at the A*STAR Scholarship Award Ceremony 2022

His Excellency Jean-Dominique Ieraci, High Commissioner of Canada to Singapore

 

Ms Chan Lai Fung, Chairman, A*STAR

 

Mr Frederick Chew, Chief Executive, A*STAR

 

Scholars, parents, and family members

 

Distinguished guests

 

Ladies and gentlemen

 

1. A very good afternoon to all of you. Let me first extend my warmest congratulations to the 80 A*STAR scholarship recipients today. It is my great pleasure and honor to join you for this year’s award ceremony.

 

Technological innovation will be a key enabler for countries to tackle challenges of the future

 

2. The world has made remarkable progress over the past century. However, the challenges that confront us have not become easier.  Many problems remained unresolved and have become increasingly complex and multi-faceted. As a stark case in point, the COVID-19 pandemic is a sobering reminder that plagues and pestilence have yet to become a thing of the past despite rapid medical advancements. The recent energy crisis and disruptions to global food supply chain have brought to the fore the inherent risks in a globalised world. Recent extreme weather events – from deadly wildfires to record-breaking rainfall – continue to underscore the urgency of the climate crisis.

 

3. As a small, open economy, Singapore is impacted by these global developments, be it technological disruptions or emerging environmental issues. To stay ahead of these challenges and seize the opportunities that come with it, we must harness the powers of research, innovation, and enterprise.

 

4. One of our local start-ups, Crunch Cutlery, exemplifies this spirit very well. To address the problem of plastic waste generated from single-use cutlery, the company worked with A*STAR SIMTech Innovation Factory last year to develop spoons and forks that are completely edible. Made of flaxseed, chia seeds and whole wheat, the spoons are used in dessert shops such as Acai Affair and are available for purchase at online and physical stores.

 

5. A*STAR’s recent collaboration with NTU and NUS is also another good example. To reduce carbon emissions, the researchers from these institutions have been working collaboratively on a way to capture carbon dioxide from industrial flue gas and incinerated bottom ash to produce alternative sand for construction. Not only does this technology reduce our carbon emissions, it also reduces the volume of waste which we would need to dispose in Pulau Semakau.

 

6. As you embark on your studies as A*STAR scholars, I encourage you to think of how your research could help Singapore and even resolve real world problems.

 

Research, innovation, and enterprise is a cornerstone of Singapore’s competitiveness and success

 

7. Research, innovation and enterprise is a cornerstone of Singapore’s competitiveness and success. It is a key enabler for us to create new avenues of growth. It is for this reason that we have been giving out A*STAR scholarships for the past 21 years. To date, A*STAR has developed a pipeline of over 1,700 Singaporean PhD and postdoctoral talent, many of them whom are changemakers in their respective fields.

 

8. Our goal is to nurture homegrown graduate talents across different industries and harness the power of innovation and R&D to realise the opportunities in the global economy.  I would like to share the stories of three scholars who have grown to become trailblazers and entrepreneurs in their respective fields.

 

9. One of them is Dr Natasha Ng from the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB). Natasha's work seeks to understand the mechanisms underlying the development of diabetes and metabolic conditions so that new therapeutic pathways can be developed to tackle this disease. To date, she has co-founded two companies to address unmet medical needs. Her first company, BioMe Oxford, is aimed at developing a minimally invasive capsule that samples the human gut microbiome. Her second company, BetaLife, was founded just last year. It is an early-stage stem cell therapy start-up aimed at developing regenerative medicine solutions for diabetes.

 

10. Dr Wan Yue from the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) is another example. A recipient of the prestigious Young Scientist Award, Wan Yue is currently working on next generation mRNA vaccines. In particular, her lab is developing circular RNA versions of the vaccine, which involves increasing and stabilising the amount of proteins produced. This could potentially lower the cost of mRNA vaccines by reducing the amount of dosage required for the same effect.

 

11. Last but not least, we have Dr Anjan Soumyanarayanan from the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE). Anjan is currently developing materials and devices for next-generation computing hardware. His research moves us closer towards neuromorphic computing, where elements of a computer are modelled after networks in the human brain and nervous system. Achieving these brain-like capabilities will allow for energy-efficient AI applications across domains such as manufacturing and healthcare.

 

12. Singapore’s talent is our country’s greatest asset. I hope that these stories would inspire you to strive towards breaking new grounds in your chosen discipline and pave the way for future generations.

 

A*STAR scholars should forge strategic partnerships with larger ecosystem players to find solutions.

 

13. As you proceed on your studies and eventual research careers, I encourage you to forge strong partnerships with other ecosystem players to jointly develop solutions for the world. This includes not just other scientists, but also businesses and government agencies who could provide you with the expertise or resources to bring your research to the next level.

 

14. Global challenges cannot be solved by a single researcher or organisation. It takes multiple parties with different areas of expertise, across multiple disciplines, for us to make progress. We need to tap on each other strengths to make a difference.

 

15. Let me share one final example of how A*STAR worked with a local start-up to solve a problem which could have potential applications in other sectors – the tracking of hospital wheelchairs. Each hospital typically has hundreds of wheelchairs. It is extremely difficult for hospital staff to constantly keep track of the location of these wheelchairs and nurses often have to spend time to look for “lost” wheelchairs. To address this problem, A*STAR collaborated with a local company I.O.T. Workz which specialises in smart solutions to jointly develop an asset tracking system for wheelchairs. The final product is a wirelessly powered system which can harvest energy from radio frequencies to extend battery lifetime. The system has since been deployed at Khoo Teck Puat hospital on over 150 wheelchairs. This technology has potential applications not just in hospitals, but also other areas such as machine health monitoring in heavy industries or microclimate sensing in agriculture.

 

Conclusion

 

16. Let me conclude by urging all of you to be open to the possibilities that lay ahead of you. When I was still studying to be a doctor, I had originally planned to become a clinician. But what followed was a career trajectory that I could never have foreseen. It was also driven by circumstances, fluid and volatile external environments and uncertainties. I became a medical entrepreneur, as I identified certain gaps and grew a business that provided holistic primary healthcare across the country. I then went back to school in my fourth decade and became a corporate executive in the tertiary hospital space to meet the growing demand for high quality healthcare in the region. Most recently, I was called to serve in the government.

 

17. My pathway has been most atypical of my peers in medical school. It is something I did not expect, but also something for which I have no regrets. Likewise, I urge all of you to be open to the boundless opportunities that lie ahead of you, and not let the crises ever hold you back, for in every crisis, there is rebound and you have to seize it when the momentum comes. Your work has the potential to not just impact Singapore, but also to change the world or even alter the course of history.

 

18. Once again, my heartiest congratulations to all our A*STAR scholarship recipients. May your passion for science and discovery bring you to new frontiers and better the lives of many. Thank you.

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