Singapore has built up a strong base of local expertise housed in several world-class research universities, leading-edge research centers, institutes, and corporate labs.”
Convene accepted the Singapore Tourism Board's invitation to join approximately 280 scientists in Singapore's onenorth vicinity — a research hub that includes private- and public-sector research labs and institutions, hospitals, and universities — for GYSS on Jan. 20-25. The event took place primarily at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) University Town, an educational complex with student residences and teaching and research facilities, including the Centre for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE), which houses Singapore's National Research Foundation (NRF) — the division of the prime minister's office that created GYSS.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) and one-north don't usually function as meeting venues — conferences in Singapore most often take place at meeting-specific facilities like Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre (reopening next month after an extensive renovation), Singapore Expo, or the convention centers located in the Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands properties.
“Singapore's hope is that GYSS@one-north will excite and inspire the next generation of bright young scientists,” Teo Chee Hean, the country's deputy prime minister and chairman of the NRF, said at GYSS's opening ceremony, “to embark on research that addresses global challenges and the future needs of mankind.”
When I first heard “young scientists,” I assumed that GYSS would cater to middle- or high-school students. But in this case, “young” meant post-doctoral researchers and Ph.D. students from myriad fields, all under the age of 35. The NRF, which funded the entire summit (estimated to have cost approximately $1 million U.S. — part of the $13.1 billion in public spending that Singapore has devoted to R&D between 2011-2015), put out a call for delegates to universities and other educational institutions with a significant presence in Singapore or a strong relationship with local research institutions, such as Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR); Nanyang Technological University (NTU); and Singapore University of Technology and Design. Institutions then nominated their young scientists to attend GYSS; participants hailed from all over the globe, with about 60 percent coming from various countries in Asia.
But GYSS — which was themed “Advancing Science, Creating Technologies for a Better World” — attracted more than just young researchers. Speakers and presenters included 11 Nobel laureates, along with Millennium Technology Prize, Turing Award, and Fields Medal winners in physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, computer science, and other fields.
Photograph by Technische Universitat Munchen (TUM)
GYSS programming featured plenary and breakout sessions led by the guest speakers, along with site visits and tours of local labs such as the Institute of Medical Biology, the Earth Observatory of Singapore, and the Institute for Media Innovation. Evenings were reserved for social visits to some of Singapore's main attractions — the Singapore Flyer, Night Safari, and the Singapore Night City Tour. The majority of educational programs were held at NUS's Edu-Sports complex, a sports and fitness facility that also houses an auditorium where plenary sessions and the closing ceremony took place. While breakout sessions and panels were closed to the public, media and other guests were able to attend plenary talks, including South African biologist Sydney Brenner on “Humans in a Dish” and American physicist Eric Cornell on “Extreme Meteorology: Towards Measuring the Out-of-Roundness of the Electron at 10-15 Femtometers.”
I mingled with some of the attendees at registration prior to the opening ceremony, which featured a speech by Hean. This portion of the event was held at NUS's University Cultural Centre, a large building with a lobby brightened by floor-to-ceiling windows, set in a lush landscape of palm trees and other foliage. Along with registration, an appetizer-andcoffee reception took place in the lobby, one of many signs that Singaporeans are not inclined to let guests go hungry.
Much of the chatter was of the getting-to-know-you variety — scientific specialties, country and institution of origin, whether there'd be cocktails after the ceremony. But I did get a chance to speak with a few of the attendees about what made them attend GYSS. “Most of the programming and the list of Nobel laureates was set by the time they sent out invitations” in September 2012, said Benjamin Toh Pang Kiat, a post-doctoral researcher in immunology at A*STAR. “Usually a few [Nobel Prize winners] will come in [to Singapore] each year, but it is unprecedented to have so many here at once.”
Unprecedented GYSS was, for a variety of reasons. Although Singapore is well known for hosting high-level science, technical, and medical meetings, this was the first event of its kind drawing young and accomplished scientists together in Singapore — conceptualized when President Tan, who is the former chairman of the NRF, attended the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau, Germany, in 2010. The annual Lindau meeting describes itself as a “globally recognized forum for the transfer of knowledge between generations of scientists”; the idea was for the NRF to create a similar event, with a focus on Asian participation, that would expose young scientists to the development of a knowledge economy — one of the Singapore government's foremost missions. In Tan's vision, GYSS not only would inspire the next generation of scientists to build and foster a global research network, but also would create something of a talent pipeline for local institutions in Singapore.
“Singapore makes an intentional effort in developing R&D talent and fostering research that will go out into the common space,” said George Loh, the NRF's director. “We wanted to attract foreign researchers and eminent scientists who would give talks to students and at meetings here, helping to create a vibrant R&D hub.”
Part of this development centers on use-inspired research to address major global challenges. To that end, a portion of the GYSS program was dedicated to the Singapore Challenge, wherein attendees were invited to submit white papers describing their research on a proposed solution to solve an identified challenge for future cities. An initial panel of judges selected 10 finalists to present their ideas to a second panel of judges and GYSS participants during the closing ceremony. Lynette Cheah, a research scientist at A*STAR's Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences, was awarded the Singapore Challenge Medallion as well as a cash prize of $100,000 U.S. to continue her research on building a transportation system that would inform commuters in real-time of the best routes to take during times of heavy traffic and provide feedback for other methods of transportation — like buses and taxis — to respond to the needs of travelers.
GYSS closed with a speech from Tan. Reiterating the NRF's desire for Singapore to be known as a place for research, innovation, and enterprise, the president urged the scientists in attendance “to maintain the links that you have established over the last five days and keep up the dialogue and exchanges beyond the GYSS. It is good for science and good for society when researchers build networks and collaborate openly to translate research outcomes to build a better world.”