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Speech By Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister Of State, Ministry Of Finance And Ministry Of Transport, At A*Star Talent Search (ATS) And Singapore Science & Engineering Fair (SSEF) Awards Presentation Ceremony

27 Apr 2012

Prof Bertil Andersson, Chairman of the A*STAR Talent Search 2011/2012 Steering Committee and President, Nanyang Technological University

Nobel Laureate Professor Erwin Neher, Chief Judge for A*STAR Talent Search 2012, 1991 Nobel Prize Winner for Physiology or Medicine, Director Emeritus for Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry

Dr Lim Khiang Wee, Executive Director, A*STAR Graduate Academy

A/P Lim Tit Meng, Chief Executive, Science Centre Singapore

Principals, Teachers, Students and Young Researchers

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good afternoon,

It gives me great pleasure to be here at this year’s Singapore Science & Engineering Fair (SSEF) and A*STAR Talent Search (ATS) Award Ceremony. Today, we celebrate the achievements of aspiring young scientists amongst us. Let me first congratulate all participants on your successful journeys through this competition. Among you today are the eight ATS finalists, who have been selected from a talented pool of 530 students who participated in the prestigious SSEF. From what I’m told, these eight finalists have displayed ingenuity and have demonstrated their mastery of concepts in applied research well beyond what is taught in the classroom.

2.   Three outstanding SSEF projects have been selected to represent Singapore in the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) next month in the USA, which is regarded as the "Olympics" of pre-college science competitions. To the chosen few, I encourage you to go with an open mind, learn as much as you can from this international arena, network with the like-minded people you will meet, and share your privileged experience with your friends when you return. I am confident you will make Singapore very proud.

Winning Experience
3.   Over the years, the SSEF and ATS have nurtured our students’ zeal for Science, offered them a taste of real-world scientific research and propelled many young talents into careers in science and research.

4.   Amelia Chang is one such talent. After winning a silver award in the 2006 SSEF, Amelia went on to clinch two Gold awards in the following year and represented Singapore in the international ISEF. Amelia shared that the competitions not only provided her with first-hand experience in research, they also gave her good grounding in presentation and communication to a wider audience. She is presently pursuing a PhD in Harvard University.

5.   Another fine example is Navin Ramakrishna, an ATS finalist who represented Singapore in the ISEF in 2007. He has been awarded an A*STAR scholarship to study Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry at Oxford University, where he continues to meet kindred spirits who have participated in the same ISEF. He too felt that the competitions helped develop his skills as a researcher as well as gave him the confidence to talk about science to the layperson.

Qualities of a Good Researcher
6.   This year, a new "Special Award" recognises and rewards students who demonstrate an outstanding level of initiative, resourcefulness, independent thinking and resilience over the course of their project. As you can see, there’s a lot of work involved, and you really need good stamina to see the research through. Good researchers think out of the box, see things differently and develop creative solutions to problems.

7.   The winners of the inaugural SSEF special award are Shaun Lim Choon Hoh and Lloyd Yeo Wei De from River Valley High School. Their project on Wearable Devices for Stroke Patients also won the Merit Award in SSEF. Under the mentorship of a researcher from the NUS Faculty of Engineering, they challenged themselves by embarking on a project involving a high level of computer programming, even though neither of them had any programming background. They believed that they could make a difference in Science, and certainly embodied open-mindedness, tenacity and perseverance.

Nurturing Young Research Talent
8.   The SSEF and ATS are just two of the many programmes under the umbrella of the A*STAR Graduate Academy’s Youth Science Outreach, which started in 2001.

9.   Well, some of us may ask why A*STAR is interested in youth outreach. Why go through all this effort. After all, doesn’t Singapore already have a vibrant financial services sector? Isn’t our economy doing quite well already? Why invest all this effort in science and engineering, and in particular, invest so much effort in youth outreach? The answer lies in the fact that our economy has to go through continuous transformation. And the journey ahead of us as an economy, must be to reach higher in the value chain. Our aim must be to evolve towards a knowledge-based economy, where everyone who is involved in the economy, in economic activities, is a skilled person. And the things that they are involved in is useful at providing the service role, embodies innovation as well as a high degree of productivity. To do that, it is not enough to produce talent for business and industry only. It is equally important to grow a core of scientists and engineers who are able to contribute to the R&D sector.

10.   R&D is a key driver of Singapore’s economy and an integral part of our long term strategy to drive productivity and innovation. R&D capabilities, and also advanced manufacturing and technological capabilities, are critical in attracting and anchoring high-value industry activities and creating jobs – therefore sustaining interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). It is an important part of the strategy to nurture local R&D talent to drive research, innovation and enterprise for Singapore’s sustainable growth.

11.   Programmes like the SSEF and ATS serve to continually interest and engage the young in science and technology, and in the long run, sustains our effort in ensuring that there are enough of you who have the passion and enthusiasm for science and will pursue research as a career.

12.   It gives me great pleasure to also announce the launch of a national initiative, CRADLE (the Centre for Research and ApplieD Learning in Science), established by Science Centre Singapore with the support of A*STAR, DSO National Laboratories, and the Ministry of Education.

13.   CRADLE was formed to enhance the learning of science for upper secondary and junior college students, through inquiry-based experimentation and research. Its unique programme design serves to both enhance and extend the learning of science, both within the classroom and outside. For example, participants embark on a self-discovery journey on the fundamentals of optics through a seemingly simple experiment to measure the width of a human hair.

14.   The programmes, aligned to science education and research industry requirements, provide diversified inter-disciplinary research focus and opportunities for students to engage in advanced research and innovation, and to foster independence and self-learning in these areas.

15.   Teachers will also be encouraged to take an active role, through talks and workshop sessions to give them more insights into how to mentor students, how to develop project ideas, how student R&D projects can be managed at the school level and how to make professional connections to help students get access to special lab resources and support.

16.   We are inspired by what CRADLE stands for, and by the possibilities it presents to thousands of st udents and to the science community.

17.   I commend A*STAR, together with the Science Centre, MOE and schools, tertiary institutes and other public sector organisations like DSO, for spearheading this initiative to inspire and nurture young scientific talent.

18.   A solid base of scientific talent is needed for Singapore’s knowledge-intensive and innovation-driven economy now and more so in the years to come. Large companies such as Applied Materials, Roche, Procter & Gamble and Rolls Royce are establishing major R&D programmes in Singapore. Companies are undertaking sophisticated advanced and complex manufacturing and innovation activities. Laboratories at A*STAR Research Institutes, DSO, hospitals, universities and other public sector research centres are working on a broad spectrum of R&D. All these endeavours spell very exciting opportunities for our young talent to pursue science and engineering research. A robust pipeline of local R&D talent remains critical for Singapore to realise our long term goal for sustainable and inclusive growth based on productivity and innovation.

19.   Let me conclude by thanking all the judges, especially Chief Judge Prof Erwin Neher, who rigorously evaluated the numerous research projects, Prof Bertil Andersson, Chairman of the ATS Steering Committee, and all its members. I would also like to thank the many research mentors, principals, teachers, and parents present who have created the environment and provided the encouragement for all these participants as they embarked on this very meaningful and rewarding journey.

20.   Congratulations to all participants and I am sure that your experience in this research journey will encourage you to pursue your passion to the furthest extent possible. Thank you.