Category Archives: w2gardner

So long, Singapore… for now!

This study tour has been a life changing experience. Not only have I gained an inestimable amount of knowledge on Singapore, but I have also had my first exposure to overseas travel. I feel that this experience has given me a much deeper insight into foreign culture than I could have ever gained in Australia.

Looking back on the last two weeks, it seems like it was all just a blur. I have experienced so much in such a little amount of time; everything from lab tours to presentations, from the Singapore food culture to Singaporean governmental politics. Looking back, I think it is safe to say that my expectations prior to coming to Singapore were not entirely accurate. Indeed, I could never have predicted exactly how it would feel to experience a foreign country, especially one as unique as Singapore.

But despite everything, I am still very glad to be home. As much as I have enjoyed both the social and educational aspects of this study tour, by the end I was beginning to miss the comforts of being at home. But with that being said, I am almost certain that I will return to Singapore at some point in my life, perhaps even for a semester exchange program.

So with that I bid you farewell, Singapore, until we meet again!


This is the End…

So, here we are on the last day of what has been an incredibly intense – yet equally educational – study tour. To finish things up, we spent the morning visiting the Institute for Medical Biology (IMB) located with the Biopolis district – a group of high-rise buildings devoted entirely to biologically focussed research and technologies. The visit began with a short tour of the microscopy laboratories, wherein we were educated on the workings of a number of different light microscopes and advanced techniques. Following this tour, we were given a remarkably insightful and interesting presentation by Dr. Victor Nurcombe, focussed specifically on Singapore’s history and politics, as well as Dr. Nurcombe’s own research into using sugars to activate the growth response in damaged tissue. Dr. Nurcombe was a very competent and eloquent speaker, and I found his talk to be quite inspiring and motivation.

                But as we returned to IMRE in the afternoon to finish up the tour, I found myself a little disappointed that everything was winding up. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Singapore; both the educational and social aspects were fantastic.

But I guess all good things come to an end. On the bright side, it is exciting to be returning home. After all, home means real milk!

Chillin’ with Lemurs

The activities today were reasonably laid back and relaxed, as they were both specifically for tourists. In the morning, we visited Fusionworld, a subsidiary of A*Star that is designed to showcase some of the more ‘exciting’ recent scientific developments. We were shown various new technologies, including a computer game that is powered by brain wave activity and an interactive screen that is controlled using a laser pointer. I was particularly interested in the applications of these technologies. For example, the brain-wave game was designed specifically to improve the focus of children with ADHD, and there have been studies which have shown its effectiveness.

In the afternoon, we joined once again with international students in the Biodiversity Group, and together we visited Singapore Zoo. We were given a ‘behind-the-scenes’ pass, and we were educated on how the zoo functions in order to keep the animals happy and healthy, including feeding procedures, veterinary services and general zoo maintenance. In addition, we also had some time to walk freely around the zoo and visit all of the animals. As with the aquarium, I will let the photos describe this portion of the trip!

I Am Not SMART Enough to CREATE a Decent Title

As a change of pace, we all spent this morning in our accommodation working on our group assignments. It was a very productive morning; we all managed to put quite a large dent into the workload with which we are faced over the next few weeks. Overall, I was very happy with how well our team – team Pico – worked together, and I am sure we will have no issues completing the work on time.

Our afternoon visit to the SMART-CREATE MIT Centre was also a productive and enjoyable one. We were given a short but insightful tour through the institute’s laboratories, and we were given detailed descriptions of some of the techniques that are implemented. One such example was the production of microfluidic devices, involving the use of a negative mould over which a substance (polydimethylsiloxane) is poured and set, giving rise to micron-sized channels. It was also interesting to learn about the medical applications of this technology.

Overall, it was a laid back yet interesting and productive day.

The Weekend

After a long, intense week of activities, I was very much awaiting the weekend for a chance to get some much needed rest. On Friday night, however, I stayed up much later than I anticipated in order to watch a World Cup final (France vs Germany), but I was able to sleep in on Saturday to compensate. The rest of Saturday went exactly as planned; I remained within the accommodation for 90% of the day and spent most of my time relaxing or absentmindedly researching assignment topics. It was an excellent change of pace from the fast-paced nature of the week before.

After a lazy Saturday, it was time to make use of our spare time to do something a little more exciting, namely the Wild Wild Wet water park! In total, five of us decided to head up to Pasir Ris train station to enjoy the various rides and activities of this affordable (only $19 each!) water-based amusement park.

I think it is safe to say that we all had a fantastic time! There was a reasonable variety of different water slides, from thrilling free fall drops to 5-man tube slides. The weather was also perfect, with the maximum temperature hitting approximately 30 degrees and the clouds providing convenient shelter from the hot sun. Overall, it was definitely a worthwhile trip, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone planning on coming to Singapore.

Singapore: A Reflection

Unfortunately, due to a severe headache on Friday, I was not able to attend many of the activities that were planned for us, and I was forced instead to spend the afternoon sleeping in my room. As I am therefore unable to provide any insightful comments on the day’s tours and presentations, I will use this opportunity to reflect on some more general aspects of Singapore.

For all intents and purposes, many of the features of Singapore are not too different from home; the city has a very ‘Westernised’ feel, and it is often easy to forget that I am in a different country.

One strikingly obvious difference is the food. If there is one thing that I will miss when I return home to Australia, it will be the mouth watering, exotic dishes that can be found all over Singapore city. From tasty curry laksas to steamed pork buns, and from delicious kaya toast and egg in the mornings to generous servings of Indian curries in the evening, Singapore has given me a culinary experience that I will surely never forget.

With that being said, I am certainly looking forward to a nice cold glass of real milk when I get home; I have had enough condensed-milk milos, thank you!

Nanyang Technological University

A common theme that has been appearing regularly throughout the study tour – and which was highlighted today during our tour of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) – is that of Singapore’s economic focus. That is, the country is generally devoid of any tradeable natural resources (such as coal, minerals etc.) or land for agriculture, and as such their main economic focus is in areas such as downstream raw materials processing, intellectual innovation, pharmaceutical development etc. As this is almost opposite to Australia’s economic focus (and, indeed, that of many other western countries as well), it is an approach which is quite foreign to me. Nevertheless, it appears to have been extremely successful, as evidenced by the rapid economic growth that the country has seen over the past five decades.
But I digress. With regards to my experiences today at NTU, I have found them to be, for the most part, quite insightful. Specifically, we were fortunate enough to be given short presentations highlighting the current research projects of six NTU graduate students. As I am in the biochemistry stream of the nanotechnology course, I particularly enjoyed the presentation on nano-medicine for the eye. In this presentation, the student (I don’t remember her name, but I will edit it in later) discussed a clever way of introducing drugs into the eye, with the specific focus being the treatment of macular degeneration in the elderly. The method involved the use of different nanoparticles as drug delivery capsules, designed to give a sustained, controlled release of the drug through the scleral region of the eye. Personally, I was captivated throughout the entire presentation, and it has given me renewed inspiration to pursue my biochemistry focus.

Seeing Sea-Things at the S.E.A Aquarium

Our first visit scheduled for today was the Republic Polytechnic, a higher education institution located in the northern Singapore suburb, Woodlands. Unfortunately, due the reasonably long travel time to the campus, we were required to leave no later then 7:15am. Admittedly, I did not get as much sleep as I should have, and so I was forced to drink a quick iced coffee before we left to keep me awake.

Upon arrival at the campus, we were given a short presentation as an introduction to the Republic Polytechnic institution. I was intrigued by the method of teaching that the teaching staff employ; to me, it seems that it is a kind of combination of Australian university and TAFE teaching strategies. That is, students are given the level of theory seen in university degrees, however they are also given daily problems that they must solve with a hands-on approach. I can definitely see the benefits of such a teaching method, and indeed it appears that the Singaporean government also strongly supports it, as there is certainly not a shortage of funding for the institution.

As somewhat of a change of pace for the study tour, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the South East Asia (SEA) Aquarium. We were able to meet with several groups of international students as part of the NUS Biodiversity Summer Program, and we were all split into mixed groups and given guided tours of the aquarium. This gave us all a chance to interact with students from all over the world, and I personally found this to be a very productive networking activity. I was also able to learn a lot about the cultures and higher education systems of several different countries.

With regards to the aquarium tour itself, I will let the photos below do the talking; as they say, a picture says a thousand words!


The Importance of Scientific Literacy

Rather than just post another boring, chronological description of today’s activities, I have been inspired to discuss something about which I am exceedingly passionate: the importance of scientific literacy in society. There were two occasions throughout the day today when this thought crossed my mind.

The first was during an interesting and informative presentation by the NUS Vice President (University and Global Relations), Professor Andrew Wee. During the presentation, Professor Wee mentioned that many of the high-ranking politicians in Singapore were trained at NUS. This was mentioned somewhat in passing, however it started me thinking about politicians and scientific literacy. I found it fascinating to hear that many Singaporean politicians are so well educated in fields such as physics, mathematics, engineering etc., when I have had so much experience with general scientific illiteracy in politics. Indeed, it seems that this area of intelligence is very much overlooked in many cases.

I once again began to ponder this topic later on in the day during a short lab demonstration (aimed at high school students). The demonstration included experiments which were designed to highlight various physical phenomena, in the aim of educating youth on the basic physical concepts that govern our universe (although, some of these concepts were actually quite in depth and challenging). Personally, I have always considered a career involving some form of scientific education, and as I enthusiastically watched a liquid nitrogen-cooled superconductor travel around a magnetic track, I felt a surge of inspiration to pursue a career in science education. There is far too much scientific ignorance in society, and I would love to work at reducing that fact in the future.

After all, what could be more rewarding than opening someone’s eyes to the wonderful world of science?

Science, Politics and Pork Buns


Today was the first early start of the study tour, with the leaving time set at precisely 8am. Our first scheduled visit was to the Australian High Commission, wherein we were to hear from Deputy High Commissioner Julie Heckscher, as well as Third Secretary Jennifer Burdick and Austrade Commisioner Tracy Harris. Unfortunately, Julie Heckscher had been sick for several days, so she was not able to speak. Instead, we had an interesting talk with Jennifer and Tracy, covering topics such as the similarities/differences between Singaporean and Australian politics and the bi-lateral relationship between the two countries.

It was interesting to hear how exactly Australian and Singaporean politics differed; the same general parliamentary democracy structure is employed in both countries, however there are some key differences. For example, the winning party in the Singaporean system has the majority of the seats, and so there is little voice given to any members of the opposing party. This is not the case in Australia, where the opposing party will always retain a reasonably high number of seats in parliament, and has power to vote on what legislation is passed.

With regards to the bi-lateral relationship, it is obvious that both countries are fairly heavily invested in the other, specifically in areas such as defense, trade, tourism and education. However, it certainly seems that there is a potential for research collaboration that is not yet fully utilised.

After a quick lunch back at the University Town (pork buns and dumplings for myself), we then proceeded to the Institute for Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE). We listened to two speakers, Drs Sean O’Shea and Evan Williams, about the activities of A*STAR and IMRE, and we discussed the Materials Center of Innovation (MCOI). We then toured some of the many laboratories in the building, and we were given a brief overview of some of the equipment.

I very much enjoyed learning about the MCOI, which is setup to aid in small and medium enterprise (SME) research, through scientific collaborative research. It was also fascinating to tour the laboratories and to hear exactly how some of the equipment was designed and implemented in modern research.

Overall, it was great to finally start learning about the science of Singapore, and I am more than ever looking forward to the activities planned for the rest of the week.