Your Excellency Kara Justine Owen, British High Commissioner to Singapore,
Ms Chan Lai Fung, Chairman of A*STAR,
Mr Frederick Chew, Chief Executive Officer at A*STAR,
Scholars and parents
Ladies and gentlemen
1. A very good afternoon to all. Let me begin by extending my warmest congratulations to the A*STAR scholarship recipients here today. We also have with us the A*STAR Scholars Alumni who have come back to watch the next generation of scientific talent begin their journey. Last year, everyone’s smiles were hidden behind masks. Today, I’m glad to see everyone’s smiling faces.
2. In this post-COVID world, Singapore must be ready to handle the challenges that lie ahead. There are three issues that demand our attention: preserving our planet’s health, propelling our economic health, and protecting our population’s health.
Preserving Planet Health
3. A strong, vibrant economy is the foundation for Singapore’s competitiveness and success. But that is of no use if events such as global warming continue to persist. I am sure most of you have observed the last few weeks of warm weather. The intensifying climate crisis is a reality we live in today, and there is a need for radical shifts in the world’s sustainability practices.
4. Responding to this call, Singapore is strategically focusing on innovation and leveraging R&D to create future-proof solutions, aiming to preserve our planet's health.
5. A good exemplar of this approach is A*STAR scholar Dr Jason Lim. Dr Lim’s passion for sustainable chemistry has driven him to pioneer new strategies for repurposing waste plastic into useful and valuable commodities. He and his team at A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Science & Engineering (IMRE) are trailblazing in this area, having demonstrated the potential of transforming waste plastics into polymers suitable for energy storage in lithium-ion batteries and even antimicrobial products effective against certain pathogenic fungi. Currently, they are channelling their efforts towards the synthesis of valuable chemicals from waste plastics for diverse industries. For his outstanding research in plastic upcycling, Dr Lim has been awarded the NRF Fellowship, together with five other A*STAR recipients this year.
6. Another NRF Fellowship awardee, Dr Yang Le from IMRE, is contributing to a new era of energy-efficient devices by harnessing optoelectronics for a wide variety of daily applications, from sensors, light energy conversion, to light emitting devices. She is currently leading a team of researchers to study functional materials and to build flexible and printed devices for sensing, optoelectronics and energy-efficient applications.
7. Following the ethos of turning 'waste into treasure', A*STAR scholars Dr Ady Suwardi and Dr Tan Xian Yi are part of a team of scientists from A*STAR and NTU making impressive strides in sustainable material sciences. They have upcycled silicon from discarded solar panels, converting it into a high-performance thermoelectric material that harvests heat to produce electricity. This solution not only enhances energy efficiency but also tackles the mounting issue of solar waste head-on, presenting new opportunities for electricity generation.
Propelling Economic Health
8.I will now move on to economic health. To ensure the continued economic strength of Singapore, we need to create new areas of growth and discover untapped opportunities for Singapore, and even potentially create entirely new industries.
9. A*STAR scholars Dr Su Xinyi, Acting Executive Director at A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), and Prof Loh Xian Jun, Executive Director at A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering and Institute of Sustainability for Chemicals, Energy and Environment, are sterling examples of this innovative spirit. They recognised that older people have an increased risk of retinal detachment which requires surgery. Together with their teams, Dr Su and Prof Loh collaborated with scientists from NUS and the Singapore Eye Research Institute to develop a novel bio-functional thermogel to prevent retinal scarring caused by a failed retinal detachment repair surgery. They then formed a spin-off company, Vitreogel, and are exploring clinical trials which is the next stage of commercialisation.
10. Cultivating a more palatable alternative for the future of food are A*STAR scholars Dr Elwin Tan and Dr Benjamin Chua. Dr Tan and Dr Chua are part of the founding team at Meatiply, an innovative company that produces cultivated meats and food products such as kampong chicken yakitori, chicken katsu bites, and smoked duck breast meat. The strong scientific training they received and the relationships they built during their PhD studies gave them the confidence to establish the company. In striving to bolster Singapore’s food resiliency, they are a testament to the good that our scholars are capable of achieving.
Protecting Population Health
11. Singapore is faced with a rapidly aging population. In 2010, about 1 in 10 Singaporeans were aged 65 and above. A decade later, in 2020, it rose to about 1 in 6. By 2030, it is expected to further rise to almost 1 in 4. An ageing population brings with it challenges such as an ageing workforce and chronic diseases. With the launch of the Healthier SG initiative, we are transitioning towards an era of more patient-centric and community-based care, and personalised approaches to health.
12. We must also harness science and technology to effectively protect and transform population health. As humans age, we become increasingly prone to diseases, and mitigating and reducing its impact on our health is just as important. Several A*STAR scholars have made inroads in this field. I will list a few of them and their achievements, and hope that they will inspire our newly minted scholarship recipients.
13. Contributing to advancements in the treatment of complex diseases is Dr Tam Wai Leong. He was a recipient of the A*STAR scholarship and the NRF Fellowship. For those of you who are unaware, this Fellowship is very prestigious and provides opportunities for early career researchers to lead impactful research in Singapore. Dr Tam and his team at A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) are helping to improve treatments against aggressive and therapy-resistant cancer. Rather than to adopt the conventional brute force elimination of cancer cells with harsh chemotherapy, Dr Tam’s research seeks to control cancer cell states and prevent them from acquiring, or to reverse, aggressive behaviours. Dr Tam was subsequently awarded the NRF Investigatorship, an accolade only granted to Principal Investigators who have strong track records of research achievements.
14. Another awardee of the NRF Investigatorship is Dr Wan Yue, who is driving research in RNA structures and genetics to develop more targeted therapeutics. Aside from the research work, Wan Yue has also developed her managerial skills and is currently the Deputy Executive Director of GIS.
15. Pioneering advancements in complex diseases and serving as Deputy CEO at the Experimental Drug Development Centre is A*STAR scholar Dr Ang Hwee Ching. She plays a vital role in driving drug development programmes to bolster Singapore’s healthcare capabilities. Her contributions span across a wide range of therapies, including contributing to the discovery and development of potential COVID-19 antiviral treatments and a series of novel antibodies aimed at cancer treatment.
16. For the young people here today, ageing may seem like a distant affair. But I urge you to consider today’s ageing society and how it would benefit from young scientists like yourselves challenging the status quo and thinking of radical solutions.
17. The A*STAR scholarships are an integral part of our national talent strategy to cultivate the next generation of local scientists and engineers. Since the establishment of the A*STAR scholarship more than two decades ago, the programme has nurtured over 1,700 scholars. Today, these homegrown scientists are contributing in various ways across the RIE ecosystem, from research, to entrepreneurship, and public policy.
18. As you embark on your journey as A*STAR scholars, I hope that you will find inspiration in the stories of your seniors that I’ve shared today. You should strive to maintain an inquisitive mindset, and do not be afraid to think bold, seek far, be creative and innovative in how you make a difference. I also encourage you to make good friends and establish a strong network during your studies. Lastly, do remember to have fun and enjoy your studies: it should not be all work and no play.
19. Once again, I would like to extend my heartiest congratulations to all the A*STAR scholarship recipients. I look forward to your future contributions to protecting our population’s health, propelling our economic health, and preserving our planet’s health.
20. Thank you.