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Singapore Science at 2008 Euroscience Open Forum

Science, with an Asian flavour will be present in Barcelona, with Singapore making its foray into the 3rd Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF). The Singapore contingent, with faculty, researchers and staff from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will showcase excellent opportunities for scientific education and research in the island city state and engage their European scientific counterparts in discussion over science, policy and business.

Strategically located in Asia, one of the world’s most dynamic growth regions, Singapore is a key node in global scientific research. Since the turn of the century, Singapore has been ramping up its R&D efforts and R&D expenditure has increased 66.5% to exceed S$5 billion in 2006. In its transformation into a knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy, the Singapore government has committed to achieving a Gross Domestic Expenditure on R&D of 3% of the GDP by 2010. In the last couple of years, Singapore’s GDP growth has been at nearly 8% and well on its way to becoming the next powerhouse for R&D in Asia.

Research & Development
Singapore provides an ideal environment for research and development. There is a huge commitment at the national level to develop and advance R&D in Singapore, with over $13.5b to be invested over a five year period from 2006 to 2010. One of the fastest growing economies in the Asian Pacific region, Singapore is home to over 7,000 multi-national companies (MNCs). Many of them have established research centres, manufacturing facilities or regional headquarters in Singapore e.g. GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Rolls Royce.

Singapore has also built up a broad and diverse international community of research scientists and engineers over the years. It has currently more than 22,000 researchers from more than 50 countries including Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

European scientific luminaries who have been, and are still, involved in developing R&D in Singapore include Sir David Lane, Sir George Radda, Sir Richard Sykes , Dr Sydney Brenner, Dr Keith Carpenter, Dr Alan Colman, Professor Barry Halliwell and Professor Artur Ekert from the UK, Dr Paola Castagnoli from Italy, Professor Joachim Luther from Germany, Nobel trustee Bertil Andersson and Professor Lorenz Poellinger from Sweden, Associate Professor Thomas Walczyk from Switzerland, Professors Philippe Kourilsky, Jean-Marie Lehn and Paul Tapponnier from France.

Research in Singapore has been making an impact. A miniaturized Avian Flu test kit developed by A*STAR in 2007 and published in Nature Medicine, enables the detection of the H5N1 avian flu virus 10 times faster and up to 100 times cheaper, making it particularly useful for field workers carrying out surveillance or possible outbreak investigations. A*STAR researchers have also developed the Advanced Audio Zip (AAZ) compression technology, which has been published by ISO as an international compression standard, data storage slider technology for one terabyte per inch-square recording density that is referenced by the Information Storage Industry Consortium and Identification Tags based on unique nanostructure patterns and successfully commercialized as Singular ID, which has been acquired by Bilcare Limited.

NUS researchers’ achievements in nanotechnology and medical research have also put the spotlight on Singapore. Researchers from the Department of Chemistry at NUS recently discovered in June 2008, a novel membrane which can repel water and absorb oils selectively - up to 20 times the material’s weight in preference to water. This innovative material has practical applications, particularly in the field of oil spill cleanup. Their findings were published in Nature Nanotechnology. Researchers from the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at NUS have also found that black tea intake reduces the risk for developing Parkinson’s Disease. This study, which was conducted in collaboration with the National Neuroscience Institute in Singapore, is the first community-based study of the disease’s risk factors in a non-white Asian population. NUS researchers are looking further into the neuroprotective effects of black tea on the disease.

NTU researchers also invented the world’s first drug releasing fully biodegradable stent, which allows multiple drugs to be released from its multi layered structure, in different direction and at varying release rates. The research team has received substantial funding for their start-up company, which is in the process of commercializing their invention. In another area, NTU’s Coding and Cryptography Research Group has constructed best-known or provably best possible codes of different types, such as constant-weight codes, quantum codes and space-time codes that could be used for error-correction in data storage and transmission. With its overseas collaborators, it has also devised innovative ways to ensure secure communication involving many parties and to share secrets among many users. Recently, it also successfully attacked the well-known LASH cryptographic primitive.

Education in Singapore is widely regarded to be of excellent quality. Singapore’s universities, namely the NUS and NTU have been ranked favourably among universities in the world. In the Times Higher Education Supplement’s (THES) World Universities Ranking 2007, NUS was ranked 33rd in the world and 4th in Asia and NTU was 69th in the world. NUS was also ranked among the 10 top universities in the world and 2nd in Asia for technology and NTU was 25th in the world for technology. In addition, THES also ranked NUS the top 12th university in the world for life sciences and biomedicine, and it was ranked among the world’s top 25 universities for natural sciences.

Said Prof. Barry Halliwell, NUS Deputy President (Research and Technology), “Education in Singapore offers students a unique experience. From their labs and universities in Singapore, students can see in close proximity the growth of Asia as well as the evolving research landscape in the region. This is not something that they are likely to see, or be a part of, anywhere else in the world. It is also an opportunity for students to begin building linkages and bridges, and deepen their understanding of the people of Asia and the region from the comfort of a cosmopolitan environment right here in Singapore”.

Dr Lim Khiang Wee, who also oversees R&D opportunities in A*STAR added, “Universities and RIs in Singapore are of high standing in the world and we would like to invite international students to pursue world class scientific research and PhD studies in our universities and RIs. To that end, we have introduced the Singapore International Graduate Award (SINGA) which offers international students fully supported PhD training at choice labs at A*STAR Research Institutes, National University of Singapore or Nanyang Technological University”.

The SINGA programme is a tripartite collaboration between A*STAR, NTU and NUS. Upon successful completion, students will be conferred a PhD by either NUS or NTU.

International Collaborations
Singapore is also well-plugged into the international scientific landscape. Singapore has recognised the value of creating strategic partnerships and collaborations with top scientific organisations in the world with the aim of advancing science to benefit mankind. Singapore’s many linkages with Europe include the UK-Singapore Partners in Science initiative, the establishment of the Singapore-Delft Water Alliance between NUS, Dutch water specialist Delft Hydraulics (now part of Deltares) and the Singapore Public Utilities Board in 2007. In the same year, the Clinical Imaging Research Centre (CIRC), which is a joint collaboration between A*STAR, NUS, and Siemens Medical Solutions, was also set up. NTU also has research partnerships with Rolls-Royce, Thales, and the Bosch Group.

In February 2008, A*STAR, NUS and NTU signed collaborative agreements with the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) to promote joint research and internship. A*STAR has also signed a Master Collaboration Agreement with Hungary’s National Office for Research and Technology (NKTH) in 2007, to promote scientific R&D and enhance human capital development and recently announced last month, a joint collaborative research fund to focus on infectious disease research with UK’s Medical Research Council.

Said Professor Bertil Andersson, NTU Provost, “Behind the scenes of Singapore’s remarkable growth, are the world class R&D infrastructure, top scientific minds, quality education, fully supportive government policies and connectivity to the international community. This ongoing transformation of Singapore will give it an edge as it moves into the knowledge-based, innovation driven economy. This concerted effort in conducting meaningful and purposeful research will help create the future industries of tomorrow”.

Joshua Woo | alfa
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