President Tony Tan Keng Yam,
Ladies and Gentlemen
A very good evening to you.
1. It gives me great pleasure to join you at the President’s Science and Technology Awards (PSTA) 2013.
Singapore is committed to research excellence and developing an innovation-driven economy
2. Research and development is a key constituent of a knowledge-driven economy. R&D drives innovation, which generates opportunities for our companies, leads to good jobs, and enhances the quality of lives of our people. Over the past two decades, Singapore’s commitment to R&D has grown steadily. Public R&D funding has increased eight-fold from our first five-year national R&D plan in 1991 to S$16.1 billion in 2011 under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2015 (RIE2015) plan.
3. This investment has resulted in a broad spectrum of research capabilities and established R&D epicentres such as Biopolis, our biomedical sciences hub, which turns 10 this year. Over the last decade, industry R&D spending by our sectors ranging from electronics to biomedical sciences has increased more than two-fold, from S$2 billion in 2001 to S$4.6 billion in 2011. This has helped to strengthen the competitive advantage of our industry sectors, contributing to the value-added growth of our manufacturing sector, from S$35 billion in 2001 to S$65 billion in 2011.
4. While we continue to enhance existing sectors, we are also growing new sectors such as medical technology, nutrition, and business analytics by building on our strengths. For instance, A*STAR is working with public-sector lead demand agencies to integrate A*STAR’s core capabilities in data visualisation and processing to develop innovative business analytics solutions. Such solutions could subsequently be applied to areas as diverse as supply chain optimisation, fast moving consumer goods and sustainable urban solutions, thus positioning our companies to capture opportunities associated with the vast global data analytics market, which is estimated to reach US$50 billion by 2015.
Excellent science is dependent on the diverse ecosystem of research talent
5. The success of our R&D efforts is underpinned by our world-class research talent pool. Over the past decade, the number of research scientists and engineers (RSEs) in Singapore has doubled to 30,000 – three-quarters of whom are Singaporeans or permanent residents. This is testimony to the growing degree of knowledge-intensiveness of our economy, which has resulted in the creation of good, exciting research jobs across both the public and private sectors.
6. Even as we build a core of local scientific talent, we welcome top international talent to Singapore, so that the ensuing rich mix of ideas and backgrounds will spark fresh approaches and insights that propel our research towards greater heights. Indeed, A*STAR’s talent pool comprises both home-grown and international talent, with half of its 4,000 scientists and engineers hailing from more than 60 countries.
PSTA recognises outstanding locally-based scientists
7. Tonight, we gather to honour the exceptional research scientists and engineers amongst us with the PSTAs, our nation’s top scientific awards.
8. The pinnacle of the PSTA is the President’s Science & Technology Medal (PSTM). This year, we are happy to announce two exceptional winners – Professor Freddy Boey, Provost and Deputy President of Nanyang Technological University, and Professor Barry Halliwell, Deputy President (Research & Technology) of National University of Singapore. Both of them have played strategic roles in the development of Singapore’s R&D landscape through their sustained and exceptional contributions.
Professor Freddy Boey
9. Freddy is the quintessential academic entrepreneur. He has been prolific in translating scientific research into commercialised products, and has raised Singapore’s profile as a location for medical device innovation.
10. Let me share a few examples of his work. Freddy has invented a customizable hernia mesh, which lowers the risk of inflammation and infection. This “made-in-Singapore” invention was the first of its kind to be approved for sale by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2012. Another invention, a fully biodegradable drug eluting stent that reduces the formation of excessive fibrous tissues that could block the stented artery, has been implanted in 13 patients in Colombia over the past eight months. These two devices have global market values in excess of US$5 billion and US$1 billion respectively. To-date, Freddy has won more than S$42 million in competitive research grants and has developed 30 primary patents, the majority of which have been licensed or commercialised. Freddy has co-founded six start-ups to commercialise his inventions, all of which are active and thriving, a testament to the value of his research.
Professor Barry Halliwell
11. Our second PSTM winner, Barry, is a world-renowned scientist in the field of free radical and antioxidants research, which enhances our understanding of areas such as human diseases, ageing and food deterioration. Thomson Reuters has identified Barry as one of the world’s most highly cited scientists in Biology and Biochemistry, Neuroscience and Behaviour, and Pharmacology & Toxicology. I am told that Professor Bertil Andersson, President of NTU, used to get his students in Stockholm to study Barry’s textbooks!
12. Beyond Barry’s stellar contributions to the excellence of Singapore’s research, he is also responsible for promoting a broad base of globally competitive research in NUS. He has contributed to NUS’ and Singapore’s remarkable international standing and has been instrumental in cementing research links between NUS and other world-renowned universities. For example, Barry worked closely withMIT and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to forge joint research programmes with NUS on infectious diseases that are relevant to Asia.
13. The two recipients of this year’s President’s Science Award, Associate Professor Yu Hao from the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore and Professor Boris Lukiyanchuk from A*STAR’s Data Storage Institute, have carried out exceptional basic research that pushed the boundaries of our knowledge.
Prof Yu Hao
14. Yu Hao’s research on the molecular mechanisms underlying plant reproduction has far-reaching impact on increasing crop yield, particularly in food production. His discoveries have been applied to improve the flowering time and seed yield of crops such as rice, oil palm and orchid.
Prof Boris Lukiyanchuk
15. Our other PSA winner, Boris, has been acknowledged internationally for his exceptional work in the various sub-fields of optics and photonics. He is recognized for single-handedly placing Singapore on the map for modern plasmonics and metamaterial research. Boris’ research on metamaterials, especially on custom-made magnets for industrial use, has potentially strong impact towards the development of on-chip integrated solutions. His other work has helped to contribute to new knowledge in the theory of laser-matter interactions and also to novel discoveries in areas such as laser cleaning, laser thermochemistry, optics and photonics.
16. If basic science is about discovery and invention, then applied research is about discovery and improvement. The team that has been awarded this year’s President’s Technology Award (PTA), exemplifies how research could lead to innovative solutions that impact our daily lives. Dr Li Haizhou, Dr Ma Bin, Ms Aw Ai Ti and Dr Su Jian from A*STAR’s Institute for Infocomm Research has developed a suite of speech and language technologies, known as the “Abacus engine”, that is able to identify the accent, dialect, language and identity of a speaker, as well as perform automatic language translations. The Abacus engine has been accredited by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology and is being deployed by various companies, potentially empowering multilingual real-time communications and internet search for millions of people.
Developing promising young talent
17. Our PSTA winners tonight are giants in their respective fields. While we celebrate their achievements, we must also recognise promising young scientists and engineers who have shown the potential to reach similar peaks of research excellence. It gives me great pleasure to announce our three Young Scientist Awards winners. They are Assistant Professor Chi Yonggui Robin from NTU. Assistant Professor Qiu Cheng Wei from NUS, and Dr Khor Chiea Chuen from A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore. I look forward to them leading their fields and mentoring others in the years to come.
18. Let me offer my heartiest congratulations once again to all the recipients of this year’s Awards. You are the pride of the scientific community gathered here tonight. Your leadership and achievements are inspirations to our scientists in Singapore.
19. I wish you continued success in charting new knowledge and pioneering new solutions that will benefit our society and transform our economy. Thank you.