Speech by Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing at the "UNTAME: Rebooting Our World" Festival, at Science Centre Singapore

Published Date: 29 November 2021 11:30 AM

News Speeches

Ms Tan Yen Yen, Chairman, Science Centre Board

Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng, Chief Executive, Science Centre Board

Ladies and gentlemen

1. Good afternoon.

2. Thank you for the invitation to join you for the second edition of UNTAME.

  1. I would like to start by extending my appreciation to the Science Centre team for inculcating in our young the spirit to – "Love Science, Learn Science and Live Science".

3. Last weekend, I spoke to the young winners of this year's Engineering Innovation Challenge at the annual National Engineers Day.

  1. I encouraged them to turn today's dreams into tomorrow's realities.
  2. I shared with them some "Big Hairy Audacious Goals", or "BHAGs" for the next lap of Singapore's development.

4. What are some examples of BHAGs?

  1. In 1961, the Americans said that they would put a man on the moon within the decade. And they did, in 1969.
  2. In the early years of our independence, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew asked what if we could "capture every drop of rain in Singapore" to illustrate the need for bold thinking in meeting our water challenge.
    1. Today, every drop of water that falls on Singapore is recycled.
    2. 2/3 of our land area is water catchment area.
    3. Every possible river is dammed up to become reservoir.
  3. At the time, these challenges must have seemed overwhelming and near insurmountable.
    1. But with grit, determination and ingenuity, scientists and engineers have achieved the impossible.

5. For Singapore to once again transcend our resource limitations in the next 50 years, we will once again need to leverage our science and engineering capabilities.

  1. We will similarly need to inspire and excite a new generation of scientists and engineers to dream big and turn these dreams into reality.

Three Audacious Goals

6. Back to my three BHAGs. When I shared them last week, some asked if they are achievable. Today, let me share some inspiring stories of how we are working towards them.

7. First: Expand Singapore's usable and liveable space by another 50% in the next 50 years.

  1. With rising sea levels, maintaining our current land area will already be a challenge. That alone will require detailed scientific studies and work over many years to progressively defend ourselves against the rising sea levels. Where and when to defend which part of our island will require science and ingenuity.
  2. Beyond defence, how else can we create more usable and living spaces? We need to think of space from a three-dimensional perspective.
    1. Can we build higher? Dig deeper?
    2. How about having storage under the sea, industries in the sea and even living spaces above the sea?
    3. How about a new generation of air traffic management system and flying vehicles that allow us to improve our land and air connectivity without sterilising as much land as we do currently?
  3. All these are possible.
    1. More than 10 years ago, our former Chief Defence Scientist Professor Lui Pao Chuen and his team dug deep to use underground space for ammunition storage. We even had to develop the safety standards ourselves because no one else in the world had done it before on the scale that we were doing. This facility replaced conventional above-ground depots, and it freed up about 300ha of land, the equivalent of 400 football fields.
    2. Over five years ago, we opened the Jurong Rock Caverns for underground storage of liquid oil products. The caverns are nine storeys tall and can store enough liquid oil products to fill 600 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
    3. Less than five years from now, the second phase of PUB's Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS) will be ready. This 100-km underground sewage superhighway will transport all our used water via deep underground tunnels to water reclamation plants, further allowing us to free up valuable land space for other needs.
    4. Today, we are digging about 20-storey deep to build the North-South, East-West, and Jurong Island-Pioneer Tunnels to replace existing electrical infrastructure running across the country. About 500km of high-voltage cables will run through the tunnels to form the spine of Singapore's electrical grid for the next few decades.

8. Second goal: Do more with less energy.

  1. I mentioned last week that if we solve the energy puzzle, this will go a long way in solving our water and food challenges. It will also allow us to have a greater variety of industries to create good jobs for our people.
  2. If our challenge for the last 50 years was water, our biggest challenge for the next 50 years will be energy. How can we produce cleaner energy, be more efficient in energy usage in our homes and industries? How do we store energies to overcome the intermittency of renewals, and how do we diversify our energy sources? These are our interesting challenges for this generation.
  3. There are inspiring local examples on this front as well.
    1. Currently, solar energy is the most viable renewable energy source for Singapore. But due to our small land area, we face limitations in large-scale deployment. The efficiency of solar panels also poses limitations in the amount of solar energy we are able to harness.
    2. However, with local energy solutions provider Sunseap Group's SolarNova project, we can aggregate demand for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to achieve economies of scale.
      1. SolarNova is the largest clean energy project in Singapore. By the third quarter of next year, Sunseap aims to install solar PV systems in more than 1,200 HDB blocks and almost 50 Government sites, including schools and the National Library Building.
      2. Beyond installing solar panels on two-dimensional surfaces, our researchers have successfully designed perovskite solar cell modules with high power conversion efficiencies. This technology could be used to develop perovskite-coated glass solar panels that could possibly turn every window in Singapore into a generator.
    3. We could do more in the design of buildings to minimise energy wastage.
      1. On the demand side, one of the biggest energy consumption in the next 50 years will be data storage and centres. A typical data centre today has Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.8, where most of the energy is used for cooling purposes.
        1. The new Facebook data centre will achieve PUE of 1.2, and efforts are being made to bring it down even further to save more energy.
      2. The Singapore Sports Hub is another good example of how a new generation cooling system can reduce energy usage, while the centralised cooling system used at Tengah Town is a more energy-efficient cooling solution than conventional air-conditioning systems.
      3. Even the materials that we use for our buildings can help us to reduce our energy consumption and use our finite energy supply more efficiently.
  4. These are exciting developments that can help us reimagine how solar energy is deployed in Singapore. I hope the young people among us today will be inspired to come up with more creative solutions to increase the efficiency of our energy usage and energy supply.

9. Third: Entrench Singapore's place in the global value chains.

  1. To earn our keep and make a living, we have never competed on the basis of our abundance of natural resources. Instead, we have to always compete on the superiority of our ideas, the speed of our evolution and execution, and the efficiency of our systems.
  2. The new forms of data, financial, talent and technological connectivity will allow us to access new dimensions to transcend our physical constraints. But this will require us to have the scientific and engineering talent to turn these dreams into reality.
  3. How has science helped us to punch above our weight?
    1. For one, Singapore has a strong ecosystem to support innovation.
      1. Local firm Nanofilm Technologies produces advanced materials and nanoproducts which are widely used in our day-to-day products such as computers, smartphones and tablets.
      2. The homegrown deep technology company started out as a tech spin-off from NTU where its proprietary coating technology was developed. It has since grown to become a multinational technology and manufacturing group for the consumer electronics, communications and automotive industries.
      3. As sustainable renewable energy takes centre stage in the world today, Nanofilm is ready to seize the opportunity. In July, the company announced plans to develop hydrogen technology as a more efficient energy source for fuel cell vehicles.
    2. Or consider how Singapore is a leading manufacturer of drugs.
      1. Eight of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies have facilities in Singapore, and they manufacture four out of the world's top 10 drugs.
      2. And we are not stopping there. While we do not currently manufacture finished COVID-19 vaccines, we produce active components such as bacteria antigens that go into making the final product. This is part of our contribution towards the global fight against COVID-19.
      3. Furthermore, there are local efforts to develop COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. Our Duke-NUS researchers and US firm Arcturus Therapeutics have co-developed a vaccine that targets the original strain of the coronavirus. SingHealth is currently administering local clinical trials for the vaccine.

10. All these BHAGs are not impossible if we apply our minds and hearts to them.

  1. Science Centre colleagues have their work cut out to inspire a new generation to achieve big, audacious goals.

11. There are many more innovative stories to be discovered, and I believe every Singaporean child whose interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (or STEM) is ignited today, can become that bright spark for Singapore's future.

12. I am confident that Science Centre will continue to work with valuable partners to make STEM come to life, and that our work here will nurture and groom many promising young scientists and engineers to take Singapore forward.

13. I wish our young scientists and their families a fruitful time today. Thank you.

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