Speech by Mr Lim Chuan Poh, Chairman A*STAR at the 7th Annual A*STAR Scientific Conference Published on: 25 September 2014

Friends and Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very good morning to all of you.


Welcome to the 7th annual A*STAR Scientific Conference.
To our speakers and overseas guests, let me extend a very warm welcome to you and thank you for accepting our invitation to share your thoughts and insights with us at this conference.
The programme committee chaired by Prof Alfred Huan has worked hard to organise this conference and I would like to thank Alfred and his committee for putting this event and bringing all of us together.

The A*STAR Scientific Conference was first started in 2008, and for those of you present then;

You might feel a sense of deja vu as the inaugural conference was also held at this very same venue.
The A*STAR Scientific Conference has since grown to be an annual flagship event to bring our research community together to facilitate interactions and promote opportunities for networking.
In addition, this conference provides a platform for our scientists to share new and innovative research ideas to catalyse stimulating discussions with other conference participants.
Through these interactions, we hope that you would be able to connect with new collaborators or re-connect with existing ones to spark off fresh collaborations.
In this regard, I am pleased to learn that this year, we have representations from every one of the A*STAR research entities – all 18 RIs and 2 Labs (MEL, p53 Lab). These representatives will be speaking in either the thematic sessions or showcasing their research in the posters and exhibition booths.
This is very encouraging and I would like to thank all the RI EDs for their support.


This brings me to the theme of this year’s conference.
Today, it is hard to imagine a world without modern medicine, the internet, smart phones, tablets and social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But, these have not always been ubiquitous in our everyday lives.
Nonetheless, all of them were created and developed through the hard work and ingenuity of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.
They clearly believed that they could help create a better future for mankind and society through continually pushing the boundaries in science and translating that knowledge gained into meaningful and impactful innovations. I believe that all of us here today share those same convictions – that science and technology are fundamental to creating a better future.
Bringing those convictions into reality is the rich mix of world class scientific and engineering talent that we have in A*STAR.
It is through your hard work and dedication that A*STAR has developed deep and relevant scientific and engineering capabilities and these have positioned us well to continue to impact the economy and improve lives for Singapore and beyond.
I would like to highlight some examples of how A*STAR is contributing to creating a smarter, healthier and innovation-driven future and I should add that we do this in partnerships with the wider research community as well as our sister public sector agencies.

A Smarter Future

Let me first touch on how A*STAR is working towards A Smarter Future.
Computational power has now developed to a stage where real time sensing and data analytics is both capable and affordable to enable the development of smart technologies for scalable adoption.
The advent of these technologies has a huge impact on the instant availability, accessibility and reliability of data to significantly enhance our lives in many different ways from knowing exactly where we are to where we can shop, eat or share our experiences real time and simply appear to be knowledgeable at the right time and space.
Last month, A*STAR signed an MOU with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to collaborate on the Singapore Autonomous Vehicle Initiative (or SAVI).
The vision is to “transform our land transport system, enhance mobility for all of us, and improve our overall ride experience and safety”.
The Institute for Infocom Research or I2R, as the lead collaborator in this initiative, have brought together a team of researchers in Visual Intelligence Analytics, Sensors, Wireless Comms and Networking, Cyber Security and many others, to develop an Autonomous Vehicle that was successfully demonstrated at the Clean Tech Park.

The Autonomous Vehicle was able to “see” traffic lights and number plates, map the environment and make sense of them, as well as detect crossing pedestrian and follow road markings.
Given the increasing traffic and time spent commuting on the roads, I am sure most of you would agree with me that a “self-driving car” would be a welcomed development.
Of course, that could mean that you could check your emails during your daily commute to work.
You could therefore start work even before you reach your work place – leading to increased productivity!
I should, however, add that not everyone welcomes this prospect but it is a choice that you can make.
What I personally really like about having an autonomous vehicle is to be able to command it to go park itself and without being fined.
This initiative is but one of the applications of smart technologies and there are many other potential applications that we can look forward to in the future.
Another area where A*STAR is building significant capabilities is in improved data analytics.
This has huge potential impact across all domains be they in public agencies, businesses or society to help them make more informed decisions.
In today’s world, the challenge is no longer with the ability to collect information.

On the contrary, the challenge is on knowing how to handle and process the deluge of information and data generated in order to derive meaning and significance to help us make more accurate and responsive decisions.
To this end, A*STAR and the Singapore Management University (SMU) have established a partnership to tap on high performance computing technology, big data analytics and behavioural sciences to study people-centric issues and human behaviour including how people think, feel and act in different settings.
This collaboration is expected to help develop smarter systems and one potential application could be in companies’ customer service helplines.
Hopefully, we can all look forward to a not too distant future where service helplines become more responsive and intelligent without us being told the infuriating “please hold as all our customer lines are busy at the moment and we will return to you shortly”.

A Healthier Future

Next is on how we are working to create A Healthier Future.
According to the Singapore Heart Foundation, “Every day, 15 people die from cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) in Singapore.
Cardiovascular disease accounted for 30% of all deaths in last year” and is the number 2 killer after cancer in Singapore (information from the Health Promotion

There is therefore a need to improve cardiovascular disease treatment and prevention.
However, there is currently little mechanistic understanding of disease progression and effective therapies are limited.
Recently, A*STAR funded the Asian Network for Translational Research and Cardiovascular Trials (or ATTRaCT) platform to deepen our understanding of cardiovascular disease progression in heart failure.
Through the integration of clinical and biomedical sciences capabilities across Singapore and tapping on the Singapore-led Asian Heart Failure network, novel biomarkers could be identified that may assist with early detection, treatment or prevention of cardiovascular disease.

This would help reduce the economic and social burden of chronic care for individuals and communities.
Another very important area of focus is in looking at the health, well-being and proper development of our young.
To create a healthier future, there is no better way than to start from when they are young.
After all, children are our future and their health and well-being would be of paramount importance for any family, society and country.
The Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes (or GUSTO) initiative is
Singapore’s largest and most comprehensive birth cohort study.

The results from the study so far have been interesting and have provided information for current and potential parents on how the nutritional status and emotional health of mothers during pregnancy would affect the growth and development of their babies.
For instance, the GUSTO study has found that “babies exposed to two languages display better learning and memory skills than those who were exposed to one language”.
But, please don’t send them for tuition.
An important and common aspect in these two examples is that researchers in these areas have to possess both the capability and capacity to synthesise huge amount of data that is generated from experimental and clinical studies to derive meaningful results and insights.
For example, up to 8000 patients will participate in the ATTRaCT platform while over 1200 mother-child pairs were recruited into the GUSTO Birth Cohort study.
A*STAR, with our strong capabilities in data analytics, is well poised to play a leading role in these national level initiatives.

An Innovation-Driven Future

The last example I would like to touch on is how A*STAR is driving innovation for a better future.

A*STAR, with our wide spectrum of scientific and engineering capabilities, provides an excellent foundation to understand and advance scientific pursuits, create new technological platforms and innovations to tackle societal challenges.
This is a key differentiator of A*STAR and a compelling value proposition for our industry partners.
An illustrative example of this is the strategic partnership that A*STAR has with

The marriage of P&G’s deep understanding of the consumers with A*STAR’s spectrum of capabilities under the Open Innovation Framework would offer the best chance to create many innovations that will potentially improve our lives.
A novel discovery translated into an innovative product borne out of this partnership between A*STAR and P&G researchers could potentially touch billions of consumers.
A joint grant call between A*STAR and P&G was launched recently to solicit proposals from the local public research performers in the area of consumer diagnostics.
This call was made with the aim of improving consumer product benefits through integrating sensors and connectivity.
I hope that this will result in smart consumer products that will complement P&G's current line-up of technologies and devices.


To conclude, I have spoken of how A*STAR contribute to a smarter, healthier and innovative future of Singapore in partnership with the wider research community, both from the public and private sector as well as with other public sector agencies. This Open Innovation approach through partnerships is a defining characteristic of A*STAR and also set the stage for my announcement.
As we celebrate fifty years of nation-building and “Science@50” in Singapore next year, it is timely that this Scientific Conference be elevated also to the national level.
The 2015 conference will therefore be branded the “Singapore Scientific Conference (SSC)” and it will be part of the “Science@50” set of celebratory activities.
Science@50 is a nation-wide celebration of half-century of excellent science and its contribution to economic growth and positive societal outcomes for Singapore. Together with our research and innovation partners, A*STAR will organize a series of events and activities throughout 2015 to engage the business and scientific community as well as the general public with an interest in science.
For example, our Research Institutes will host an open house over one weekend in September next year for the public to get a glimpse of the innovation that A*STAR brings through science and technology.
Likewise, we will cohost the Singapore Scientific Conference to showcase the work
of some of the best scientific minds in Singapore and internationally.

We are excited about the programme for Science@50 and will share more in due course.
I hope all of you will make time in your schedule next year to attend these events.
On this note, let me wish all of you a meaningful and fruitful conference.
Thank you very much.