Immediately following the close of the tour I made a quick last visit to funan. After returning back to U Town I once again enjoyed some Japanese food at the food court along with a fruit milkshake before going back to my room where I worked on some of my blogs before retiring to watching some TV shows before going to sleep reasonably early. The next day was rather uneventful, procrastinated most of the day away on my computer, went to the food court for the last time before returning to my room, packing up, checking out and heading for the airport, thankfully it was almost a direct line along the train to get there. Checked in at the airport then got something to eat before heading over to the gate for my flight home, while waiting I contemplated how it would feel to be back home and ran the tour over in my mind.
This tour has really opened up my eyes and my mind, before this tour I knew very little about Singapore, I thought it to be little more than another 2nd world, overpopulated country like Indonesia but it turned out to be anything but, Singapore I learned is in fact the world’s wealthiest country per capita, with the greatest density of millionaires within the population. Their education, particularly in Science, Technology and Engineering is world class, as is their industry in the same fields. The political system works much smarter and more efficiently than any other country I know of, the president is a physicist, the prime minister is a mathematician and the majority of the politicians are engineers not lawyers, something completely unheard of in more westernised countries like Australia or the United States. Everywhere you go you can see that environmental awareness is incredibly more prominent than anywhere I have ever been to, a nice change is that here the truth of climate change isn’t up for debate, and the nation is taking an active approach to combating it, I wish the same could be said for Australia.
I think that the way Singapore operates itself is something that Australia and all countries should aspire to, multicultural acceptance, high quality education, well educated politicians focused on getting things done and improving the quality of life of their citizens and not on simply winning elections who have an awareness of the fact that being a world leader in innovations in science, technology and engineering are the foundations upon which whole new businesses and industries are built which will drive the wealth and economies of the future. Being in Singapore felt like being in the society of the future. Visiting the science labs and the research and development facilities gave me a great insight into both what science education looks like in the later years of study and what research looks like both during study as well as part of the career of a scientist as is what I aspire to be.
This trip I feel gives me a much better idea of what I can expect for myself in my coming years of study and education as well as hopefully what my career may be like, visiting the labs has made me more familiar with lab equipment and machinery that I will (hopefully) be using in the future as well as the visits to the research, development and manufacturing institutions has shown me how what we study can be put into practice, what real scientists do after they have completed their education, and how the future will be shaped tomorrow by what they are working on today.
Today was our last official day on the study tour. Our first visit was to the AStar Institute for Medical Biology (IMB) in Biopolis which is basically a small section where most of the biological focused AStar buildings are located. We were given a brief tour of the labs, focused mainly on seeing the different microscopes they had, including a super-resolution microscope, afterwards we met with an Australian professor Victor Nucombe who works there who gave us a presentation about Singapore, the history of how it became so wealthy, how business is done in Singapore and then he moved on to telling us about the research he is doing which is focused on stem-cells, and how they had managed to figure out how to produce on a large scale the natural sugars that the growth factors bind to that determine the fate of stem-cells, with it they were able to get much greater control over the growth of stem cells into specialised cells, so they surgically removed a piece of a main limb bone from a rabbit, inserted a “sponge” soaked in the sugar bound to the growth factor, and in a short period of time the bone had completely grown back!!! After leaving IMB we went back to NUS to visit their surface science laboratories where we saw a couple of scanning tunnelling microscopes, a secondary ion mass spectroscope, an X-ray and UV photoelectron spectroscope. Afterwards we visited the Singapore Synchrotron Light Source (SSLS) which was the first Synchrotron I have ever seen in person before, finally we returned to IMRE just to sit down and have abit of a chat with a couple of the scientists there before bringing the tour to an official close.
Definitely today gave me an insight into what the future of medicine may be, one where we can treat almost any injury with stem-cells to regrow tissue in a very short time, meaning that this will be truly revolutionary in every field of medicine, and particularly promising for helping amputees one day. As always it was cool to see the lab equipment that NUS had. Was very fascinated and excited to see the Synchrotron as I had never seen one before.
Today I felt was a very valuable experience, seeing what I believe may be the future of most medicines in the stem-cell research that is being carried out today. Seeing the surface science laboratory will prove valuable to me as surface science plays an important role in understanding nanotechnology and nanostructured materials.
The presentation we had at IMB perhaps wasn’t particularly related to nanotechnology as some of the other visits we had, but nanotechnology may become relevant to it in the future, perhaps in more precise control and delivery of stem cells to target locations in living tissue, or in improving the efficiency of the production of the binding sugars. The visit to the surface science laboratory is certainly relevant as many of the machines/equipment we saw in the labs there we will one day have to use ourselves to analyse nanomaterials and nanostructures, the same goes for the analytical uses of synchrotron light like that from the synchrotron we visited today.
Today was a day I have been particularly looking forward to as today we were to be visiting “Fusionworld” at Fusionopolis, even though we had not really been told much about it other than that Paul described it as being like a “Science city” that was more than enough to get me excited, just like pretty much anything would if it had the word “Fusion” in it. conveniently it was only a few train stops away too. what was disappointing was that we were not allowed to take photos of what we would be seeing inside, but at the same time that only increased my excitement as it had to mean that what we would be seeing would be really cool, technologically advanced stuff, which turned out to be exactly right, the first thing we saw was a presentation video about AStar and Fusionworld… in a Holographic video!!!! I had heard of real life holograms before but had never seen what they actually look like, definitely felt like I was looking at the future of television right there. next we saw electronic advertisement billboards with facial recognition cameras which could determine your approximate age group and gender, and so could display advertisements specifically targeted at your gender and age group. we also saw a TV with almost instant voice translation technology, the first phone that can be unlocked by voice recognition, the first prescription glasses with frames made from old recycled frames, then we got to some of the other really cool stuff, one was a video game controlled by a neural interface where there was a chicken running along a path, and the chicken would move faster or slower depending on the level of your brain activity, I got to have a turn myself and managed to hold it at about 70% speed when playing Star Wars and Transformers music in my head. then we saw a new type of hospital bed, one with sensors built into the bedding itself so that the breathing, heart rate and other organs could be monitored without physically hooking a patient up to several different machines. finally we entered a room filled with fans that had motion sensors and would activate whenever you walked near them, which we all had abit of childish fun with. that concluded our tour of Fusionworld, we then took a walk through the rooftop gardens of the building which was very impressive. we then had some spare time to get something to eat before we would be meeting at NUS for a trip to the Singapore Zoo with the international biodiversity students which was a nice experience and a great way to end the day.
i was truly blown away today with our visit to the Energy Research Institute (ERI) at NTU today which was our first tour visit for the day. I have never seen a building so dedicated to reducing its environmental impact, great plant gardens were found on every level, vines hanging from the balcony’s, as we were shown later, the tiles on the ceiling were all specially made to cool the building down more efficiently and effectively, dehumidification cooling technology which they developed themselves, there were sensors in every room in the building used to measure energy use and environmental changes to help collect data on how to better manage their energy use, I found myself again wishing we had this level of environmental awareness back home in Australia. we were given a rundown of the research area’s of focus of ERI, which of course were energy related, such as energy storage, energy production: fuel cells, solar and other sustainable energy sources, maritime energy, technologies for sustainable buildings etc. we were also once again given several presentations by students undertaking research projects under the institution focused on renewable energy and environmental sustainability. after lunch we went back over to the main university area of NTU to the school of physical and mathematical sciences where again we observed several presentations by post-grad students on their research projects before being given a tour of the labs. saw some really cool stuff, like the setup for laser cooling being used to trap suspended cold atoms, which looked really awesome and rather beautiful.
We started the day with a trip out to the Nanyang Technological University campus where we would be spending the entire day, to first visit the A-star facility, Singapore Institute for Materials Technology (SIMTech). After a long and very well detailed presentation of the work that SIMTech does and the products they manufacture we were given a fantastic tour of their labs and manufacturing facilities.
It was great to see some of the final products that they had manufactured that are the end result of so much research and experimentation, it gave me a real appreciation for the things that most people take for granted, even something as simple as switching on a light, few people stop to think about all the years of work that went into the discovering how to build such a seemingly simple device, the life’s work of Michael Faraday, Luigi Galvani, Alessandro Volta, André-Marie Ampère, Georg Ohm, James Clerk Maxwell, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and many more, including the scientists and engineers working today, their legacy lives on every time we turn on the lights, that is what was running through my mind particularly when we saw the flexible lighting film. Pick literally any device or piece of technology, The list of names you could accredit as having made a contribution to the body of scientific knowledge that was required to know how to build that device, the list would be hundreds if not thousands of names long. That is the practice of science, each new and brilliant scientific mind stands on the shoulders of those who have come before them so they may see and reach further than what was previously possible.
By far what I considered to be the coolest stuff produced there was the things that were 3D printed, especially the metal 3D printed ones, tools, equipment pieces, motor components etc.
I was not a particularly big fan of the required wakeup time this morning, had to wake up and get up at about 6:30 and down at the Starbucks ready to go at 7:15. This was because our first activity today was a visit to Republic Polytechnic, which was further away from our accommodation than any of the other places we have visited previously. My impression of RP is that it seems to serve a similar function as T.A.F.E does in Australia, however like every other institution for education we have visited in Singapore, there is a much larger portion of it devoted to Science, Technology and Engineering, and have an approach to education that I have not come across in Australia, they use problem based learning, where the students are given a problem and the whole day to solve it, and so must go and do research in order to find a solution. When we arrived at PR we went into a very swish looking lecture theatre, where each eat had its own microphone through which students could ask questions, which I think would be great to have in the La Trobe theatres. we were treated to a brief promotion video for the institution followed by a video montage of some of the PR students who had recently visited La Trobe. we then took a tour of the campus, seeing their library, physics labs and aerospace engineering facilities. afterwards we departed back to U Town to quickly get changed before we headed off to NUS to join some international biodiversity students on a trip to the South East Asia Aquarium, supposedly the largest aquarium in the world, but I am getting the feeling that they may have exaggerated, nonetheless it was very impressive, I do find marine life very fascinating and beautiful. whether their biggest tank and viewing window were the largest in the world or not as they were claimed to be, they were nonetheless stunning.
We had the real privilege today of visiting the National University of Singapore, the biggest University in Singapore. I must say I was truly impressed, it is such a large University with so many buildings, and such a larger portion of the university is dedicated to the study of science than at my own uni at La Trobe, or any other university I have visited in Australia. The first thing we did was meet up with a few of the local science students of the university who are in the special program for science and had a chance to get to know them and have a good chat about their studies and experience at NUS and an engaging conversation about some of the interesting ideas and concepts in the fields of science that we are studying. Together we got to tour through NUS’s Centre for Ion Beam Applications which was really cool, I was in awe looking at their very own particle accelerator.
After a few other stops looking at pieces of lab equipment, primarily electron microscopes, plasma chambers and other awesome things we went to the Graphene lab which is part of the university’s own cleanroom, something I was very looking forward to as my career aspirations are to one day be working in a research lab involving work with either carbon nanotubes or graphene.
The next lab area we visited was the Centre for Quantum Technologies, which I was also very interested in, although I wish to work in nanotechnology I find quantum mechanics to be very fascinating, and enjoy learning about it particularly because of that mind-blowing feeling I get every time I learn something new and amazing is something I experience more often when learning about it. the research and experiments they do at CQT is amazing, such as their work on suspending supercooled atoms within magnetic fields while they are in bose-einstein condensate/superfluidic conditions, I even got to hold one of the chips which they actually use to hold those atoms in.
After a cheap yet delicious lunch with the NUS students we were treated to a presentation about NUS given by the dean of the faculty of science, after which we concluded our day with a session in the physics demo lab, being shown awesome demonstrations of principles of physics, the type that elicit great feelings of wonder, curiosity and excitement in me, and that I think should be shown to more school children, more often and at younger ages in Australia, which I think would really capture their minds, encouraging more kids to enjoy and want to study science in the future.
Today we well and truly kicked off the official part of this study tour, beginning with an early morning rise dressed in fully formal suits and ties for our visit at the Royal Australian High Commission, I was very thankful that the weather was reasonably merciful today given our attire this morning. Unfortunately the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop who represents Australia here in Singapore had taken ill and was unable to meet with us as planned, so instead we were hosted by two other women, one who primarily deals with politics more directly, and the other who deals with more trade and educational issues. They were rather impressed with our attire, mentioning that they felt slightly underdressed. Our meeting with them was a rather mind opening experience for me, before today I had no idea how much of a strong, close relationship Australia has with Singapore, in Defence, trade, education and collaborative research and development, in fact I was completely unaware of any such relationship whatsoever, so I was happy to have myself removed from that perimeter of ignorance. Given Singapore’s intensive investment in science education and development I think that this New Colombo Plan will be very beneficial for any Australian students studying science to do an exchange program here in Singapore because of NUS and NTU’s high world ranking positions in science education as well as their well funded facilities, also the internship, work experience and career opportunities that are available due to the large presence of research and development facilities. One of which we had the great privilege of visiting after a quick return trip from the Australian High Commission, which was A-Star’s IMRE (Institute for Materials Research and Engineering), a visit a very thoroughly enjoyed, I had never been to any sort of science research centre before and I must say that when we were looking at all the different lab equipment such as X-Ray Photoelectron Spectroscopes, Scanning Tunneling Microscopes, Atomic Force Microscopes, Scanning Electron Microscopes, Focused Ion Beams, Transmission Electron Microscopes and more, I felt almost like a kid in a candy store. I definitely look forward to the day I finish my education and start working in a research lab even more so after this experience. Cannot wait to visit the other research lab we will be seeing in the coming days
Today we had our first official activity as a group for the study tour, although it was a more leisurely thing. Certainly couldn’t complain about the wake-up time, we were to meet at the Starbucks at 10am, which is 12pm Australian time which is the time zone my body was in and am trying to keep it in so as to avoid feeling sleepy in the mornings by the time I need to get out of bed. Received the very welcome surprise of the first tropical rain I have ever seen outside of Australia. It very quickly went from a light drizzle to a thick, heavy rain with thunderstorms in a matter of minutes. At the bus stop I was impressed to see not one but four bins, one for rubbish and three different types of recycling bins, clearly a country that takes pride in its cleanliness and environmental sustainability, as also indicated by the sign about how environmentally friendly the National University of Singapore is. Had my first experience of public transport in Singapore today, and I must say I am impressed, every bus and train runs flawlessly on time give or take 1 or 2 minutes at maximum, the public transport cards we use to touch on and touch off at the train stations are WAY better than the Myki cards back at home, here the cards touch on virtually instantaneously, unlike the several seconds you have to hold the card to sensor when using Myki, and perhaps the biggest and most impressive feature was the fact that the trains do not have a driver, they are completely computerized and automated, this is definitely the sort of public transport system I hope for Australia to have in the coming years. Was rather
disheartened when we came back out from the underground railway to find ourselves in direct sunlight and that all the storm clouds had all but disappeared in but a few minutes and we were back to sweating like pigs in the scorching heat and very high humidity. As we walked through the city to the Marina Bay we came across the Merlion, one of Singapore’s prized artistic features. The bridge we used to cross the bay was incredible, it was built in the shape of the double helix of DNA, complete with lettered tiles for the base pairs, once again showing off Singapore’s flair and passion for science. We spent the majority of the day at the Marina Bay Gardens, which were truly impressive and very beautiful, the two glasshouses were filled with exotic plants from all around the world, one of them featuring it’s own artificial waterfall, and had an exhibit of stalagmites and stalactites and geodes inside of its central structure, on the bottom floor of which was a room dedicated to actively providing information on climate change, another clear sign of this country’s awareness of its impact on the environment and interest in protecting it. All in all a very eye-opening experience, was a good day (besides the heat of course)
Paul and myself are currently in a taxi, having just left the airport a few minutes ago. First impressions of Singapore, gotta say that for an Asian country I am really pleased and surprised to see that most of the signage is in plain English, even the radio stations are in English, definitely did not see that one coming. Inside the airport looked just as modern as any other airport I’ve been to. The heat and humidity certainly doesn’t excite me. I feel I really must emphasize what others have been saying about the cleanliness of the streets and city, I have never seen such a clean major city, definitely impressed. Soon to arrive at Uni town where we will officially start the study tour with our first activity, excited! 🙂