Singapore – Four individuals have been awarded this year’s President’s Science and Technology Awards (PSTA), the highest honours conferred upon research scientists and engineers in Singapore whose work have resulted in significant scientific, technological or economic benefits for the country.
The PSTA comprises the President’s Science and Technology Medal (PSTM), President’s Science Award (PSA), and President’s Technology Award (PTA). The winners received their awards from President Halimah Yacob during a ceremony at the Istana on 13 November 2017.
Two eminent individuals were chosen as this year’s PSTM winners by a distinguished panel of representatives from industry, academia and research. The winners are Professor Edward Warren Holmes, Department of Medicine, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS); Senior Fellow, A*STAR; and Advisor, National Research Foundation (NRF), and Professor Sir David Philip Lane, Chief Scientist of A*STAR.
This year’s PSA was awarded to Professor Gan Wee Teck, Distinguished Professor at the Department of Mathematics under NUS Faculty of Science, and the PTA was awarded to Professor Ng Wun Jern from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore).
Three outstanding young individuals were also recognised with the Young Scientist Award (YSA) for their achievements in research and innovation. They are: Dr Li Jingmei, Senior Research Scientist at the Genome Institute of Singapore, A*STAR; Dr Gao Weibo, Assistant Professor, from the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, NTU Singapore; and Dr Justin C.W. Song, Scientist at the Institute of High Performance Computing, A*STAR. They received their awards from Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance, at the Istana.
Enhancing human health through translational and clinical research
The PSTM was presented to Professor Holmes for his pioneering work in developing the human capital, programmes and infrastructure that galvanised translational and clinical research (TCR) in Singapore’s health and biomedical sciences (HBMS) ecosystem.
Professor Holmes is a firm believer in being able to translate research findings from basic science to enhance human health and well-being. His leadership roles in A*STAR, the National Medical Research Council (NMRC) and NUS, were instrumental in enabling Singapore's healthcare institutions to participate fully in the national biomedical sciences initiative and build up their translational and research capabilities to internationally competitive levels.
Through his leadership as Co-Chair of the Strategic Steering Committee which developed the funding schemes for the HBMS domain of the Research Innovation Enterprise 2020 (RIE2020) funding cycle, and other steering committees, Professor Holmes helped to lay the blueprint for the creation of a research ecosystem which supported translational scientific research, and advised and helped formulate Singapore’s health and economic strategies.
He encouraged the development of a pipeline of clinician scientists in Singapore and helped to develop award schemes, such as the Singapore Translational Research (STaR) Investigator Award, the Clinician Scientist Award (CSA), and the Transition Award (TA), that have underpinned the training, recruitment and support of clinician scientists across Singapore’s public research institutions.
Besides playing a major role in designing and implementing the NMRC TCR Flagship Programmes which bring together basic and clinical investigators across the biomedical ecosystem to address important health problems facing Singaporeans, he also helped develop the two academic medical centres in Singapore and has served on the Board of Directors of both the National University Health System (NUHS) and the SingHealth System.
For his service to Singapore, Professor Holmes was conferred the award of Honorary Citizenship in 2011, the highest form of national recognition for foreigners, to acknowledge their contributions of extensive and valuable services to Singapore and its people.
Developing biomedical sciences to take on diseases like cancer
The PSTM was also presented to Professor Lane for his important role in the strategic development of Singapore’s biomedical sciences and distinguished contributions to cancer therapeutics and research.
Over the last 15 years, Professor Lane has played a leadership role in the development of Singapore’s R&D culture and infrastructure through various roles he held in A*STAR. He helped attract some of the world’s top scientific and research talent to Singapore and anchored many prominent industry partners in the country.
Currently serving as Chief Scientist of A*STAR, Professor Lane advises and engages in scientific development across the agency’s Biomedical Research Council (BMRC) and the Scientific Engineering Research Council (SERC) at the strategic level. He helped establish A*STAR’s cross-disciplinary R&D initiatives to further strengthen collaborations and explore new areas of multidisciplinary research. Since 2015, A*STAR has been ranked one of the top 10 World’s Most Innovative Research Institutions by Thomson Reuters.
Professor Lane previously held leadership roles at A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), Experimental Therapeutics Centre (ETC), and BMRC. In 2012, Professor Lane helped establish Chugai Pharmabody Research (CPR) in Singapore and served as founding Chairman of the CPR Board. A wholly owned subsidiary of Chugai Pharmaceuticals, CPR puts Singapore at the centre of the fight against diseases such as cancer and severe autoimmune diseases.
Professor Lane’s accomplishments in cancer therapeutics and research have had far-reaching impact locally and internationally. He played a significant role in the landmark discovery of the p53 cancer gene in 1979, and nearly three decades of subsequent research that has brought p53 all the way from basic discovery through to the clinic. The p53 gene, also called the “Guardian of the genome”, is considered to be the most significant of all genes altered in cancer cells because mutations in p53 are known to cause more than half of all human cancers. Professor Lane’s discovery has led to the identification of several promising targets for developing new cancer drugs using p53 as a model system, one of which is the utilisation of antibodies and peptides to interrogate cancer targets.
Putting Singapore on the world map of mathematics
The PSA was conferred upon Professor Gan for his illustrious contributions to the field of mathematics, and his outstanding work on the Langlands programme and the Gan-Gross-Prasad conjecture.
Mathematics forms the foundation for numerous branches of science, and many technologies today would not have taken form if not for advances in mathematics. For example, technological advances like computing, automation, artificial intelligence and precision engineering would not be possible without mathematics guiding the understanding, design and logic of these technologies.
Professor Gan’s work on the Langlands programme and the Gan-Gross-Prasad conjecture deeply impacts two foundational fields of mathematics, helping to link the two mathematical fields of number theory and representation theory. Number theory is a field of mathematics that deals with the properties of numbers, their patterns and their relationship with each other, while representation theory deals with the study of symmetries in algebraic structures. Professor Gan’s contributions towards linking the two fields mean that mathematicians could potentially use elements from number theory to solve problems related to representation theory, and vice versa. His achievement has been lauded as ground-breaking and a step forward in the field of mathematics.
Another favourable outcome of Professor Gan’s work is how it has put Singapore on the world map in the mathematics community. NUS has seen an increase in the number and diversity of their graduate students, especially in number theory and representation theory.
Sustainability through environmental engineering
The PTA was presented to Professor Ng for his outstanding research and development of a space-efficient, transient-state cyclic bio-system, and realisation of the contiguous value chain from research to industry full-scale deployment for wastewater management and resource recovery.
Professor Ng’s work in the development of transient-state cyclic sequencing batch reactor (SBR) technology facilitated the design and construction of compact, efficient wastewater treatment plants, significantly reducing the size of reactor systems by more than half. His research provided the scientific understanding of the transient-state condition, while his translational engineering resulted in three generations of technologies which have been deployed at full-scale internationally and domestically.
The research, engineering, and subsequent industry applications have helped to establish Singapore as a key player in the world of cyclic bioreactors and environmental engineering. His technologies have since been tailored for sustainable energy generation through biogas production and resource reclamation of chemicals beneficial to crop yields in agriculture.
Lux Research ranked Professor Ng among the top 25 environmental engineering thought leaders in 2013, and the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI) which he founded and led till July 2017 was recently ranked among the top 10 notable water research organisations globally. NEWRI is a platform where research, education, engineering, and deployment can be performed as an integrated value chain.
A bright future for research and innovation in Singapore
The Young Scientist Awards (YSA) were conferred upon Dr Li for her research on mammographic density and its impact on women’s health; Dr Gao for his distinguished research on quantum information and quantum photonics; and Dr Song for his research unveiling novel electronic properties of quantum materials.
More information on the PSTA and YSA winners can be found in Annex A and Annex B respectively.
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About the President’s Science and Technology Awards (PSTA)
The President’s Science and Technology Awards (PSTA) are the highest honours bestowed on exceptional research scientists and engineers in Singapore for their excellent achievements in science and technology, and outstanding contributions to the development of the research and development landscape in Singapore.
The PSTA were formerly known as the National Science and Technology Awards (NSTA), which was started in 1987. The elevation of the award to Presidential status in 2009 underpins Singapore’s efforts to raise the level of excellence in R&D and strengthen the growing community of scientific talent in Singapore.
The PSTA consists of the following awards:
- President’s Science and Technology Medal (PSTM)
- President’s Science Award (PSA)
- President’s Technology Award (PTA)
President's Science and Technology Medal (PSTM)
The President’s Science and Technology Medal is awarded to outstanding individuals who have made distinguished, sustained and exceptional contributions and played a strategic role in the development of Singapore through the promotion and management of R&D. Recipients receive a specially designed gold medal and a citation.
President’s Science Award (PSA)
The President’s Science Award is presented to research scientists and engineers in Singapore who have made outstanding contributions in basic research leading to the discovery of new knowledge or the pioneering development of scientific or engineering techniques and methods. Recipients will receive a trophy, a citation and a prize of $50,000.
President’s Technology Award (PTA)
The President’s Technology Award gives recognition to research scientists and engineers in Singapore who have made outstanding contributions to research and development resulting in the invention or discovery of significant technology with industrial applications. Recipients will receive a trophy, a citation and a prize of $50,000.
About the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore's lead public sector agency that spearheads economic oriented research to advance scientific discovery and develop innovative technology. Through open innovation, we collaborate with our partners in both the public and private sectors to benefit society.
As a Science and Technology Organisation, A*STAR bridges the gap between academia and industry. Our research creates economic growth and jobs for Singapore, and enhances lives by contributing to societal benefits such as improving outcomes in healthcare, urban living, and sustainability.
We play a key role in nurturing and developing a diversity of talent and leaders in our Agency and Research Institutes, the wider research community and industry. A*STAR oversees 18 biomedical sciences and physical sciences and engineering research entities primarily located in Biopolis and Fusionopolis.
A*STAR is the secretariat for the annual President’s Science and Technology Awards.
Annex A - LIST AND CITATIONS OF PSTA WINNERS
President's Science and Technology Medal 2017
Professor Edward Warren Holmes
Department of Medicine, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore
Senior Fellow, A*STAR
Advisor, National Research Foundation
Professor Sir David Philip Lane
Chief Scientist, A*STAR
Director, p53 Laboratory, A*STAR
Chairman, Chugai Pharmabody Research Pte Ltd
Professor Gan Wee Teck
Distinguished Professor, Department of Mathematics, Faculty of Science, National University of Singapore
Professor Ng Wun Jern
Professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Nanyang Technological University Singapore
Group Lead, Environmental Bio-innovations Group (EBiG), Nanyang Technological University Singapore
Annex B - LIST AND CITATIONS OF YSA WINNERS WITH INFORMATION SHEET ON YSA
|Young Scientist Award 2017 - Biological & Biomedical Sciences Category
Dr Jingmei Li
Senior Research Scientist, Genome Institute of Singapore, A*STAR
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine,
National University of Singapore
|Young Scientist Award 2017 - Physical, Information & Engineering Sciences Category
Dr Weibo Gao
Nanyang Assistant Professor, Division of Physics and Applied Physics,
School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Nanyang Technological University Singapore
Dr Justin C.W. Song
Scientist, Institute of High Performance Computing, A*STAR
Nanyang Assistant Professor, Division of Physics and Applied Physics, School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences,
Nanyang Technological University Singapore
About the Young Scientist Awards
The Young Scientist Awards recognise young researchers, aged 35 years and below, who are actively engaged in R&D in Singapore, and who have shown great potential to be world-class researchers in their fields of expertise. This award is organised by the Singapore National Academy of Science and supported by A*STAR. Recipients will receive a trophy, a certificate of commendation and a prize of $10,000.
Young Scientist Award Selection Committee
The judging committee for the Young Scientist Awards is chaired by Professor Andrew Wee, President, Singapore National Academy of Science.
Annex C - FACT SHEET ON PSTA SELECTION COMMITTEES
Nominations for the awards start from January every year, and end with judging and endorsement of the awards in August. The nominations undergo a rigorous process of selection before being shortlisted for judging.
Award Selection Committees
The award selection panels comprised key representatives from the industry, academia, defence and research institutes. The main selection committee was chaired by Mr Peter Ho, Senior Advisor (Centre for Strategic Futures), Strategy Group, Prime Minister’s Office.
Professor Lee Eng Hin, Professor and Emeritus Consultant, National University Health System, chaired the selection committee for the President’s Science Award.
Ms Shirley Wong, Managing Partner, TNF Ventures Pte Ltd, chaired the selection committee for the President’s Technology Award.