Thursday, August 23, 2007

Why Study Science?

Anonymous said:

At times I wonder . .. without all those advances in science, will human life be less happy or will it be less satisfying. I truly doubt so.

So what have all these advancement contributed to? They simply give us more reasons to earn more, to be financially successful so that we can enjoy them. Do the poor get to enjoy them? No.

Science saves more lives but it also kill more lives.

Improvement in science without improvement in our spiritual level is basically a zero sum game.

My Reply.

You commented that:

(i) you have doubts that without the advances in science human life will not be less happy or less satisfying and

(ii) that the poor do not get to enjoy what the advancement in science contributed.

These are very general statements. The issue is not on the study of science to generate more knowledge, which is neutral. It has more to do with the our wisdom (the ability to use the knowledge and experience) individually, collectively or as a country,to make sensible decisions and judgment.

As a country Singapore has not done too badly in transforming itself from a third world country to a 2nd if not 1st world country within a span of 48 years since we gain self governing status in 1959. We should ask ourselves how did we do this and what more could have been done? This is a question which many in the developing countries asked us.

We never had much science education and its application during the colonial days. We just existed and had hardly enough to live on. Now science education has given us more to live on and something to live for. The rest is up to us.

We must never allow ourselves to kill the spirit of science, the spirit to ask questions to get knowledge which can help us move forward. During the colonial days many of us have been taught the virtue of ignorance as expressed by the poem by Thomas Gray “On a distant prospect of Edon College” It reads as follows:

“Yet ah : why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late.
Any happiness too swiftly flies,
Thoughts would destroy their paradise.
No more, where ignorance is bliss
‘Tis folly to be wise “

Gray emphasized that WHERE ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.

As I grew up I discovered that

Not all ignorance is bliss

Remaining ignorant is easy. It makes one lazy and selfish – two of human beings most pronounced and common trait. It only makes it easier for others to manipulate or control us.

After that I tried to learn how to be wise to search for wisdom with integrity and honesty for the good of others because “ When Wisdom reigns, Knowledge is Divine.”

Fewer people will be confused if we can do that.

A Science Pioneer and his dilemma.

Bakar Mansary (Canada) said :

Thank you so much for sharing your ideas with us. They are very inspiring especially for people in industrializing societies and those that are yet to industrialize, like Africa. Lee Kum Tatt has said it all. Keep up the good work.

My reply.

Thank you for your comments. I am delighted you found some of my views useful. If we in Singapore can do it, others too can also do the same, given the common political, social and individuals’ will to work together for a common good.

C.Goh said:

Thanks for sharing your views with us. I hope this philosophy and stance would be included in the science curriculum as the underlying universal principle of truth and ethics.

There is some concern that many students who specialized in science at A levels applied really with the intention to study medicine and other professional courses for better pay, and or prestige and not for the love of science itself.. This may create a talent crunch for our science and technology programmes to progress. To produce good scientists we need passionate and dedicated people. How do we encourage more people to study science for science sake?

My reply:

Thank you for your comments. Science is a difficult subject not many take to when they are young. Science should be taught more for the “spirit of science” than to turn everyone into a potential Nobel Prize winner. The spirit of science is to develop in us the longing to know, to understand and demand for objective verification. This will help us review many things which we normally take for granted without questions and then complain.

Science is a challenging and exciting profession for those who can find the beauty in it. How do we find that beauty in science? There is no difference in our finding the beauty in the spouse we marry. This will take a little time and effort but we can do it if we really want to.

The younger generation does not have to fight for their survival like some of us did. They put more emphasis on making money first so that they can have a good quality of life and a sense of security in their profession or career. When these are accomplished many will like to do what they love. We may not produce Nobel Prize winners but we can still produce scientists who can do good thing for our country and others if not for Science itself. Together they can make a difference to us all. We must create the opportunities which we lack in the past for everyone to do his best. That is important.

A science graduate has many openings for jobs which the established professionals i.e. medicine or dentistry, would not take. These include banking, business, industries and management besides many other professional specialties where people with a scientific, technological or technical background would be at an advantage. There are many of these jobs around. Our people themselves must be wise enough to know what they want and what to do.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Decisions Making By Young Professionals - Kum Tatt's views

Every one of us has to constantly make choices and decisions throughout our lives. The choices available, and the motivating factors in decision making, change with time. Sometimes we like to have freedom of choice. Sometimes we want freedom from choice. What is choice? Choices are opportunities and options open to us. Not many know of all the options available to them. We have to make decisions when we face uncertainties. What is the relationship between choice and decisions? To me choices are the options available. The more knowledgeable we are the more choices we will have. Decisions are the priorities we place on these options. The wiser we are the better decisions we will make. But wisdom takes time and experience to acquire.

Decisions come with responsibilities, something which many like to avoid. We make choices for the better or for the worse. There are no guarantees that we will always make the right choice. How do we ensure that the choice and decisions we make are the right ones? As for me I go by my conscience. Consciously or subconsciously we think about the problems. We make our mind and brains work overtime to show us the choices opened to us. Some people like to duck making the choices, especially when their decisions can result in great consequences affecting not only their lives but also others.

There are many types of choices we have to make in our lives. Some are more important than others. Choosing what to eat or where to go for a short holiday is of less importance to me. Choosing a spouse, a profession and career is very important. The choices we made or did not make affect us in many ways because of our decisions. What are the usual choices we have to make? How are decisions taken with these choices? What if we have only Hobson’s choice, what can be done to minimize the damage or help us to turn disadvantages into advantages? This article is not meant to be an exhaustive one. A better understanding of the choices and the decisions we have to make from time to time will give us a better understanding of what to expect and what to do.

Innovativeness , Creativity and Entrepreneurship

People who are not decisive often complain that they have no choice. This is not true. If only we use our mind and think hard enough we can always see many options. Whether we choose any of these options is another matter. Much depends on our own capability to handle the situations. Whenever I find myself in this situation of uncertainty and passionate enough to want something done I tell myself “I will find a way or I will make one”. This approach often works for me. Most people would not want to stand in my way when I am in that mood. I got myself out of many difficult situations and predicaments using this approach by creating new options or opportunities for myself and others. The question is how does one generate ideas or options? The process of finding new ways of doing things involves creativity and risk sometimes called entrepreneurship. Because of the risks of failure, which can be very costly, most people shy away from being creative or entrepreneurial. This is a pity. Few knew that they can be innovative by modifying and improving what are already in existence. The risks are smaller. I started my life and research career through innovation, making things better, be more productive or more safe for myself professionally. After that I progress from there.

Creativity and entrepreneurship are two different things. One can be creative without having to take much risk especially when you can find someone wealthy, powerful and famous to back you. Only a few lucky ones can do this. To be able to take personal risks involving reputation or image, career and finance which can affect not only your own life but that of your family and others requires more of us. Until the common question on whether entrepreneurship is born or made is settled there will always be controversy on how to be a successful entrepreneur. The best way is to ask those whom we consider as successful risk takers to tell their tales which may inspire us to take more risks. Our media is doing quite a bit on this now. In the meanwhile I am still trying to understand how successful entrepreneurs are made. I have to make many decisions in my life. Whether this qualifies me to be an entrepreneur is for others to decide. I have done some successful ventures and some not so successful ones. Perhaps if I am to narrate some of my personally feelings during these various stages of my life on these various projects I did, some lessons can be learned from them.

Never be impulsive in decision making.

Impulsive decision-making is not a strength especially when you do not have sufficient information or knowledge to handle what you have on hand. It is true one cannot expect to have all the knowledge one needs before he starts to decide. Most people will have the knowledge and skill to do the routine. When you have something out of the ordinary what would you do? When I was a young professional officer (a Chemist), I had to muster everything I had to trouble shoot and provide the solutions. We were judged by our ability to solve these problems. This differentiates the men from the boys. I have done much trouble shooting when I was young. I did not have much guidance in the colonial days. Examples of some of the cases I had to handle will follow. This included the Barley Poisoning Outbreak in Singapore in Sept 1959 where 8 children died and many were hospitalized and Singapore panicked for a few days. I have reported this incident in my blog on 9th July 2007. Having to make decisions of this nature can be quite nerve wrecking.

When I became head of department and chairmen of some statutory boards the decisions I had to make were very different form those I had to make as a young officer in the laboratories. I will say more about this subject on how to differentiate between policy and professionalism in my later articles. This issue, if not properly clarified, can cause a lot of confusion between a professional staff and his non professional manager. Where do we draw the line between professionalism and policies in decision making to avoid unnecessary frustration between all concerned and hinder the development of multi-disciplinary institutions which we are building.

Lee Kum Tatt

Decision making by young professionals- Mrs Lee's views

When Kum Tatt was a young chemist in the early 1950’s he, like many others, liked to give of his best. He was quite idealistic. He could not understand why he was not allowed to do many of the things he liked to do which he considered as good for his work and for Science itself. “Research” then was supposed to be an activity which was to be encouraged but for some reasons or other never had the official support it deserves when it comes to funding and doing the projects. Kum Tatt had to devise his own ways and means to overcome these difficulties. He had the stamina and passion to pursue what he thought was right. He managed to publish many papers in international scientific journals without having to apply for special research funds for his work. How did he do that? It was tough going in the beginning but Kum Tatt managed to establish his credentials and had his approach accepted. He received a few thousand requests for reprints of his work even in the 1950’s. With time this helped him established himself as an authority in certain areas.

Even today some young professionals still find difficulties to get funding and support for their research. It is not uncommon to blame others for this. Perhaps the initial approaches are not correct. The researchers’ credentials are not yet established to command the trust and support they deserve. Who’s fault can this be? How can this be corrected ?

Being the first hospital physicist in Singapore and the only local lady University don in physics for many years, I experienced the same difficulties in getting funding for the research or work I wanted to do. I had to find my own way in helping myself and others in doing what I wanted to do. I spent several years helping SISIR in building the Non Destruction Testing facilities and the industrial application of radio isotopes in Singapore to meet the needs of our important metal, aerospace, refineries, shipbuilding, construction industries and even our PSA (Port of Singapore Authority). Today Singapore has the strongest Non Destructive Testing facilities in the region and many of our graduates are employed in these activities.

Kum Tatt ensured that I was not paid a single cent for my work. I benefited by the practical experiences which improved my teaching and had a few publications on my work in this area. This was done through the cooperation between SISIR and the University. If only more university staff could step forward, more could be done.

Perhaps we should study one of Kum Tatt’s quotes which guided him throughout his life. His quote is:

The world does not care for what you lack
It is interested only in what you have to offer.

People will pay only for what we have to offer to meet what they need. Do not expect too much before you deliver. The element of trust has to be developed. Kum Tatt’s article which follows is useful in this respect.

For me the experience of having to work with SISIR and others stretched me intellectually, professionally, emotionally and even physically for a lady but it gave me a career which is well worth the effort it takes to succeed.

Engeline Lee Eng Nio
(Mrs. Lee Kum Tatt)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Common Sense and Your Blue Roses

NUS Commencement Address
9th July 2006
By Dr. Lee Kum Tatt

“Common Sense and Your Blue Roses”

I am honoured to be with you today on one of the red letter days of your life. I can feel the joy in your hearts, be you a graduate, a parent or loved one, or a University don. I have gone through these various positions myself - thrice as a graduate and a few times as a parent and grand father. I have taught science to medical, pharmacy and science undergraduates as well as supervising some M. Sc. and Ph. D. students for several years on an honorary basis. Seeing the students passing and doing well in life is a great reward by itself. Education is a noble profession and a good practice.

To the graduates I congratulate all of you for choosing Science as your specialty. Science is an area where Singapore’s competitiveness and future will depend. Many have contributed much towards making Singapore a science hub. You have been taught in one of the best Universities in the world, the NUS. You should be proud that you have joined the rank in being a man of Science in our new world.

Immediately after Singapore’s independence in 1965 it was decided that Singapore should go for a knowledge based economy with Science as one of the main pillars. Singapore’s only resource – the human resource, must be developed. The Singapore Science Council was formed. As the founder chairman of this Science Council I had to figure out how to tap, organize and expand the scientific human resources we had then and to build the infrastructure needed to help in the national development of Singapore. Our financial resources and network then were limited. It was quite a challenge for me and my colleagues to have to decide on what to do. I am sure you the graduates also have this very challenge in front of you now. What are you going to do now with what you have to give to get what you want?. Your future is in your own hands. You can start by taking a job that will require your science training and do the routine work that has to be done. If you want to progress faster and be able to do some of the things you like to do, you have to be different. You have to be innovative, creative and courageous. Like joining the university; if you did not attend the university courses you definitely will not get a University degree today. Even if you attend the University courses there was no guarantee that you will get the degree. Today you have shown that you have that X factor in you which drives you to take risk and you passed. Continue to have faith in yourself and dare to be an entrepreneur if you want to progress in the modern world. Your science training will stand you in good stead.

In the 1940’s science comprised of only Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics. They are called the Exact Sciences. Today everyone is a scientist except a few artists who still take pride in belonging to the Art fraternity. Today we have the medical, biological, engineering, economics, social , political and even domestic scientists. The Exact Sciences which you have been taught involve the study of the chemical and physical nature of matter. You learn to ask questions on why, what and how things happen. You studied and develop laws, hypothesis and concepts to explain what you observed. Your experiments must be verifiable and reproducible.

The other type of scientists concentrates more on the study of the nature of Man and his behavior, a more unpredictable subject than the Exact Sciences. They also have their own laws and theories to explain what they think is happening around them. You know the economists’ law of diminishing returns. Do not put money in certain investments if you want to make more money. These non – exact scientists concentrate more on with whom, where and when to make things happen. For example many businessmen discovered the importance of the law on “Kwan Si” or good human relations. It is not what you know alone that matters but whom you know that counts. How can you take advantage of this law and with whom? Unlike the exact sciences these other laws border more on common sense. They exist and they affect you.

The exact sciences develop your I.Q. which you have. You need to develop your E.Q. further to get on in life, to work with others as a team and to rise from there.

As an Exact Scientist pursue your interests by all means. Be a pure research worker and try to learn more and more about the nature of matter. However do not neglect to understand the laws that govern the nature of Man if you want to succeed as a citizen of the world. With your scientific knowledge coupled with some common sense you will have a great advantage over others in the modern world.

When you are an undergraduate you have to do what you are told. So long as you can reproduce the results on experiments established by others (cook up some results if you have too) and reproduce in the examinations what you have been taught you will pass. When you do your Masters or Ph. D. degrees you will have to produce something “new”. You learn to innovate, to produce a modified compound or formulation, a better process or a better product. This training in research will give you a good grounding on how to “innovate” in your coming profession or career. How to progress beyond that to the creativity and invention stages requires much more. You have to know your own strength, what you are you at, and find your own niche. You have to find your way or have to make a new one to get to where you want to go. This requires common sense and courage which has to come from you. Believe you me it is great to be able to reach there.

I like to tell you two stories on how I use my common sense backed up by my scientific training to achieve what have to be achieved.

Story No. 1 First Law of Common Sense

The world is interested only in what you have to offer.
It does not care for what you lack.
Lee Kum Tatt

When we started to build our science infrastructure and manpower Singapore needed a lot of outside assistance in expertise, training of our people and finance to buy equipment. Singapore was not one of the 26 poorest countries in the world. We had no priority in getting aid from the United Nations or foreign aid giving agencies from USA, U.K., Canada, New Zealand and others. We had not only to compete with outsiders but also among some of our own local colleagues in other Ministries for these aids. Yet we managed to receive millions of dollars in aid ( foreign and local) in the form of expertise, training of our personnel and purchase of equipment in building some of our institutions which I was personally involved. These include :

(i) SISIR and the Quality Movement;

(ii) establishment of the Science Centre and the Science Park,

(iii) building the professional engineering and architecture departments of the Singapore Polytechnic which have now become the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Architecture and Building of the NUS.

(iv) Building of the Singapore Polytechnic and its technician courses.

These organizations have paved the way for the implementation of many new institutions, projects and schemes. These activities have played a highly contributive role and formed the essential foundation towards the making Singapore what it is today through the application of science and technology and the net working among the important segments of the country. They have created many jobs.

As graduates you are part of this system and you are expected to play your role to ensure that this system continues to grow for our own good and the good of our fellow men. For manpower development Singapore now has 4 very good Universities compared to the two small ones we had in the 1960’s. We have five Polytechnics instead of two in 1965 for the training of technicians. The Institute of Technical Education (ITE) is producing the craftsmen we need.

How did we get the assistance we lacked? We applied the First Law of Common Sense. We did not expect to get something by doing nothing. This is against the First Law of Thermodynamic. You cannot get something out of nothing. We discovered and offered to the aid agencies some of the things they wanted. We created projects which produced results which could also benefit other countries in the region and which the aid agencies were looking for. We offer what we had and we delivered what we promised. We never begged or demanded that others give us what we lack. As you start your profession and career, do not start by demanding and complaining that you are not getting what you think you deserve. Offer what you have, deliver and the rest will take care of itself.

Today we are fortunate to have the National Science & Development Board (NSDB) and now the A-Star to succeed the original Singapore Science Council. They have a few billion dollars to develop what we still lack.

Story No. 2 The Blue Rose.

Man does not live on bread alone.
He needs something to live for.

Man requires inspiration to take risks.

As Chairman of Singapore Science Council I attended an international conference in 1968 on “Science and The New Nations”. I was asked how Singapore would mobilize its people and resources to do R & D. Being a newly independent nation with no money, no natural resources, no tradition on R & D and only 1.6 million people this was a difficult question for me to answer. Off the cuff I told this story to illustrate what I proposed to do.

“There was once a small child with only one coin in his pocket. He went to buy himself a slice of bread. He saw a blue rose and he wanted it. He asked the shopkeeper whether he could have the rose as well and was prepared to take a smaller slice of bread. The shopkeeper thought this was rather unusual for a small child to want a rose when what he needed most was to have something to eat. The shopkeeper asked the boy why he wanted the rose so badly. The boy replied:

Madam , The bread is something I need to live on now. As a human being the rose reminds me that I always have something to live for. The small child got his rose and he led a full and meaningful life thereafter. I got off the hook with this story.

The moral of the story is that we must have our own Blue Roses as our inspiration. I have retold this story many times since. So I thought I should share it with you. We must have something that we love for which we are prepared to fight, sacrifice and even die for. These include our family, our special dreams, and our ideals. As true scientists our work must benefit our fellow man and not harm or destroy others by the wrong use of our work. This we must never allow to happen. My Blue Roses remind me of all these. My scientific publications and patents reflect my passion and commitment to R & D. My family is my most important Blue Rose to me. Most of my life’s work has been dedicated to the service of my fellow men. I hope that you will develop your own Blue Roses and that they will give you just as much joy, satisfaction and strength as mine gave to me. Unlike the other coloured roses that people give to their loved ones and friends the Blue Rose does not physically exist. It exists only in our Minds. You have to create them yourselves in your own minds. What are your Blue Roses?

Let me conclude by congratulating once again the graduates, parents, guardians and the university staff for a job well done. To the graduates with your newly acquired capability to offer what the world wants and with your own Blue Roses you should be able to have a bright and rewarding future.

Thank you , Gook Luck and God Bless You all.

Lee Kum Tatt
4 August 2007

Friday, August 3, 2007

Application of Laws of Chemistry to Our Everyday Life

This Article is Meant for Amusement

This is part of a closing ceremony speech which I delivered at the first National Chemistry Week held on 23rd June 2007 at the NUS. The audience included members of the public, students and personnel of firms that had participated.

I am greatly honoured to be here to perform this closing ceremony for the First National Chemistry Week. The event is a great success. My grandchildren and friends told me how much they enjoyed themselves. My adult friends told me they enjoyed their visit to the Breweries, especially the free beers. Many Singaporeans know more about Chemistry now and what it can do for them.

I like to congratulate SNIC , the President Prof Andy Hor, the chairperson of the organizing committee Dr. Leong Lai Peng and all those involved for a job well done. I know how much work is involved. Let us give them all a big hand.

NUS has produced a brochure on Chemistry, The Central Science. I wish I had a copy of this brochure before I studied Chemistry in the University. I recommend those who are interested to study Chemistry or Science to get a copy of this brochure. It tells you everything you need to know about Chemistry. What you can learn, the courses and research activities now available, what the Department of Chemistry is like and even what you can expect your future to be with Chemistry. No one showed me this crystal ball during my time. I groped around finding my own niches.

Aim high with Chemistry. Hitch your wagon to a star. Chemistry and Singapore A-Star are good stars to hitch to. Your rewards are the “pies in the sky” that you can get. I am not here to sell you Chemistry, the magic pill that can cure all your ills. However I like to share with you the pleasures I had and enjoyed with Chemistry throughout my life. Chemistry has been my great teacher. Chemistry has taught me one great thing. Always make the Chemistry right and all will be well. Who are the best people to do that, making the Chemistry right, the Chemists of course. The theories and laws we study in chemistry are universally applicable if you know how to apply them. Let me give you some examples.

We have boys and girls everywhere; in our work places, in the universities and our communities. They are biologically compatible, they like to get married and yet many do not get married. Why? Even our government is worried and they have set up the SDU. The answer is quite simple. They have not got the chemistry right! Without getting the proper types of people (molecules) together, ensuring that the environments (the media, the pH, the temperature, the pressure, the catalysts required and the 5 C's etc) are right, no reactions will occur. I applied my knowledge of chemistry when I was courting my wife. It worked. I am sure you can make it work too with a little help from your knowledge of chemistry. This special reaction has to be done by you, yourself unless you can accept an arranged marriage with its attendant difficulties. Chemistry graduates can make good marriage counselors.

Making the chemistry right for people to cooperate with each other is very important and is good business. With proper networking we managed to get thousands of people to work together and raised millions of dollars for the various projects we did. If you can make the chemistry right, you can get what you want. Some people classified fund raising and marketing as an art. I believe it is more of a skill in chemistry where chemists can do very well. The Department of Chemistry should consider teaching this skill as a specialty and a topic for special research. Chemistry has discovered thousands of ways to make difficult reactions work. Why not apply this knowledge to solve real life problems. I am sure this will be a very popular course.

The chemists must not confine themselves to the laboratories alone. You cannot think outside the box when you are inside the box. Get out like what has been done during this National Chemistry Week. You are also needed outside the laboratories where you can catalyse and initiate actions that affect the lives of others. I know my grandchildren and their friends are very impressed by the activities you showed them.

Mathematics used to be the Queen of Science. Now, Chemistry is the King of Science. Its laws are universally applicable to so many things. As chemists we are proud of that. Chemistry has served us well. Let us support our King to deliver what is expected. Know more about chemistry, you can’t go wrong.

Lee Kum Tatt

Dr. Lee Kum Tatt blogs too

Dr. Lee Kum Tatt blogs too
By Elia Diodati

“The world does not care for what we lack, It’s interested only in what we can offer.” - Dr. Lee Kum Tatt

I read yesterday on takchek’s blog that one of Singapore’s most prominent scientists, Dr. Lee Kum Tatt, now has his very own blog. Who is he and why is he prominent? The citation for his 2005 NUS Distinguished Alumni Award explains why.1
As one of Singapore’s very first homegrown scientists, Dr. Lee has chosen to write some form of informal memoirs on his blog about why he chose research as a career. The forwards by his wife Engeline and his friend Tan Kin Lian are often quite touching too. I found all of it to be very absorbing reading, such his vision for the RISIS gold-plated orchid, for which he must have struggled mightily against what appears to have been a ubiquitous climate of FUD and pessimism.

In particular, I found his experiences as a professional chemist in the final days of British colonial rule, resenting insinuations that the locals couldn’t possibly be as smart as proper British scientists, and always having to sit down and shut up, particularly noteworthy. If anything, Dr. Lee’s narratives confirm the existence what I have long suspected to be the pervasive colonial legacy of a collective inferiority complex that I have found to exist in contemporary Singapore.
We need people like Dr. Lee who dare to challenge the status quo when it is necessary to do so. For this reason I recommend all my readers to browse his collection of little vignettes.

Prime Minister’s Office (Singapore), National Honours and Awards, 8 August 2006
National University of Singapore, NUS Science Alumni: Distinguished Alumni Award 2005 - Dr Lee Kum Tatt, BBM, PPA(E), PPA(P), 22 May 2007
Lee Kum Tatt, “Ask the great questions“, 14 April 2007
Lee Kum Tatt, “Making The Incredible Credible“, 1 May 2007
Lee Kum Tatt, “Challenging Selected Myths“, 20 May 2007
Lee Kum Tatt, “My passion for research“, 5 June 2007
Lee Kum Tatt, “Fighting Boredom and Insult“, 6 June 2007
Lee Kum Tatt, “Research During The Colonial Days.“, 11 June 2007

In his citation, Dr. Lee’s name carries the honorifics BBM, PPA(E) and PPA(P), which respectively stand for Bintang Bakti Masyarakat, or The Public Service Star, Pingat Pentadbiran Awam (Emas), or The Public Administration Medal (Gold) and Pingat Pentadbiran Awam (Perak), or The Public Administration Medal (Silver).↩

Why Blog And For Whom?

Some of my friends and my family feel that I have done something in my life which can still be of benefit to others. Twelve years ago my wife and I started writing our memoirs meant for our immediate family only. This decision still stands. Now I have been persuaded to share some of what I have written on my thoughts and experiences with others.

What Science can do for us.

When we were young we learned, promoted, taught and applied science for our own development and that of our fellow men and Singapore. In the process we touched the lives of many people and vice versa. We have plenty materials in the form of printed matters, scientific publications, reports, magazines, newspaper cuttings, published speeches, keynote addresses, photographs etc on some of the work we did. The interesting part is not the compilation of our publications or the collection of photographs but the discovery of what motivated us to do what we did. How did we overcome the many uncertainties and obstacles we met on the way? In this process we got to know ourselves better; our values, our philosophy, our culture and even our character. In short we learned what is important to us and to others too. These are abstracts which are difficult to define but important to know so that we can conduct ourselves better to achieve the peace we want with others and our surroundings. We learned the science of human nature (the nature of Man) which we were never taught when we were learning the hard sciences (the nature of Matter) like Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics and their applications. We tried to integrate the two sciences to lead our lives. It has been satisfying.

We have gone through the changes of a science student, teacher, research worker, manager/administrator and beneficiary of science. Every metamorphosis change creates uncertainties and can cause crisis of varying degree to different people. To many they like to know how to handle their middle age crisis where their families’ interests also come in. To some a change of research topic or job can cause them a lot of disruption and discomfort. To others even holding on to their job becomes a bore and a chore. How I wished that I could have someone with experience to tell me what to do, to expect or not to expect when I was going through these changes. At least I am comforted to know that I am not alone in my “sufferings”. Others too faced similar problems. They survived with their “never say die” attitude strengthened. We should be able to do no less. I found this often works for me too. It is for these reasons, and these reasons alone that I was persuaded to contribute to this blog.

The subject I will deal with in this blog will essentially be on S & T and how its learning and application can affect our lives as we and others have experienced it. It is not easy to write articles to cater for such a wide range of audience from students to practitioners and all those affected by the ever changing scientific environment we are in. I am now in my golden years (80 years) and I have no “koh yeok” ( Chinese medicinal plaster that is supposed to relief most pains) to sell. So please read my articles for what they are worth.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Our Philosophy - Science For Everybody

Our philosophy was that Science affects everybody, therefore science must be made to be everybody’s business for the betterment of our society. Many of us at one time or another have encouraged others to engage in positive activities with passion and commitment to make their contributions. How to make people accept this approach has always been our challenge.

It is part of human nature to want to do some good deeds for others, to be noticed, respected and accepted by our peers and members of our community. We have to give our people opportunities to do this in their own way. In return we must give credit where it is due and show our appreciation and recognition for the contributions our people made. What we could give in return was not much but it was enough to attract many to participate in our various programmes and projects.

Not every one celebrated when Singapore became an independent nation in 1965. Many were really worried about the future. The challenges we faced were formidable and daunting. Political freedom alone would not provide us with the type of life we want. Political freedom with all the slogans of the day could not give us freedom from poverty and diseases. We could not even get jobs during the Japanese occupation and immediately after the war. Political independence is great but how are we to continue to survive and pursue the ideals as represented by our National Flag? .

Independence was a real wake up call for many of us. We could not accept certain conditions. We were too proud to beg or to live on charity. Many of us have lived through World War II and its aftermath. We knew what things were like at its worst. We survived and were confident that we can do it again. We must not fail as this would be a let down to ourselves, our families, our ideals and our country. We could not live with ourselves if we fail. This was the spirit that kept many of us going.

We realized that unlike the newly developing countries the rich and powerful nations have highly developed science and technology (S&T) capabilities which they applied successfully for their economic and national development. S & T resides in human beings. We can build our S & T capabilities by building up our human resources. This was made one of our national priorities, the development of S & T manpower.

The next important thing is to make our people work together for some common missions. In tiny Singapore making people work together should be easier than in big countries. This made Singapore what it is today. How did we do it? This is best illustrated by the individual successful activities, projects and institutions we have built. In this many people are involved and they have their own tales to tell in every case.

If these people can tell of their experiences, their challenges and their feelings of success they will help encourage and inspire others to do the same without undue fear of failure which often is the cause many are held back from action.

Yes, it is true that when something becomes everybody’s business, it can become nobody’s business. Singapore is good in getting important parties to work together. We need more people who know how to do this. Having high IQ individuals alone is not enough. We must have people with good EQ besides being street wise so that we can be accepted and trusted by those we work with. We also need more people who are passionate and dare to do what they believe in. This is something worth striving for – more quality people and not just more people alone. Some of the projects we did and the challenges we faced will be discussed in the coming articles.

Lee Kum Tatt

Importance of Philosophy in Development

Dr Lee Kum Tatt believes that to start anything new and worthwhile one must have a good philosophy to start with especially when one has to work with many other people in the process. This philosophy is required in formulating macro policies from which the changing micro policies with goals and other indicators can be planned and set. How to promote Science and Quality to the people of Singapore is something that Dr. Lee has taken the lead to do in the early days of Singapore’s independence. How to stir up the emotions of the people he served and make them commit passionately to do what has to be done is an art in itself. The promotion and development of science & technology, manpower and quality of our manufacturing & service industries are good examples of what can be done when driven by good philosophy and good leadership.

I must admit that often we could not see where Kum Tatt was heading in the beginning of some of his projects. With time we begin to see the wisdom in what he does. This is one of the reasons why we encourage him to put some of his thoughts and experiences in writing so that others may get something out of it. Take them for whatever they are worth.

Engeline Lee Eng Nio
(Mrs. Lee Kum Tatt)

A science pioneer and his dilemmas

The NUS Faculty of Science will be celebrating its 80th anniversary next year. Many friends have asked me whether I will say something about the development of Science in Singapore for the benefit of those who aspire to be scientists of the future.

Science affected my entire life and I have a very intimate relationship with it. I hope I have also done something for Science in return especially for Singapore and its people if not for Science itself. My relation with science was not one of “Love at first sight” affair. When I was a boy I was interested in science more out of childish curiosity than personal interest. I studied science on a Raffles scholarship in the University because I needed something to earn a living. A science diploma would enable me to get a good job as a teacher then. During my undergraduate years I developed an interest in research and an urge to get a higher degree. To be addressed a doctor with a Ph. D. was something I found difficult to resist. I could do it, why not? I obtained a Shell Research Fellowship to do my Ph. D.

Although Science affects every aspects of our lives not many of us know :

(i) How Science was introduced and how it helped Singapore to develop.

(ii) What and when were the significant policies introduced?

(iii) How were these ideas and policies implemented; who were the people and sectors involved and who contributed to it?

(iv) What were the impacts these actions had on Singapore?

(iv) What is the present position of science like and what can we expect of the future?

(v) What can others learn from Singapore’s experience?

(vi) What were the risks and difficulties encountered and how were they overcome?

These are questions and information commonly asked for, that many would like to know. No one person can answer all these questions because each would have seen and done things differently depending on their own perspectives, capabilities, responsibilities and the environment at the time.

However most people will agree that Singapore has not done too badly given the environment and the limited resources it has. Indeed others can learn something from our experience. If more of our people can come out and tell their own stories and organize themselves we may have something to show and teach the world on how we industrialized our country in less than half a century something which Europe’s Industrial Revolution, with all its resources and political power, took more than two centuries to achieve.

Technologies and the environment may keep changing but there are some basic values which made us what we are as a people. These include our culture, our ideals, our philosophies, our traditions and the things that make us proud to be what we are. We must never lose or change some of these basic values we possess. We must identify what these are and strengthen ourselves wherever possible. This is what made certain societies strong and great.

Most of these basic factors are abstracts which build our faith, our confidence and our trust in ourselves and in our fellowmen so essential for any society’s stability and strength to grow. On the macro policy level we must avoid brushing aside everything in the name of pragmatism and the need for change. This can be dangerous to our society as a whole in the long run. The micro level like culture and values which affect many on the ground are just as important.

We are occupied with ephemeral interests like promoting science, training the necessary manpower for jobs, building the institutions and making money by helping our industries and our country grow.

Fifty years ago not much of these activities were done. Some people may laugh at the things we did just like some will smile at the attempts of the early alchemists who tried to change everything into gold. People will not smile at our endeavour to build the scientific spirit of enquiry and research because the benefits are lasting. By themselves our efforts may be insignificant because we did not produce a Nobel Prize winner or a famous inventor like Thomas Edison or Alexander Fleming.

However I believe our combined efforts, past, present and future, in this direction should stand out like a lighthouse in the misty and turbulent sea of conflicting interests around us. Our ability to network and work together should form the foundation for our future and should be strengthened. I and my colleagues hope that this spirit of enquiry and cooperation will endure for centuries to come, standing serene and bright and letting its lights shine before all Man. This is my hope and my dream.

These articles are attempts on my part to tell some of the things my colleagues and I did during our time and the philosophy adopted trying to make science help in the development of Singapore. We faced many dilemmas and challenges and we solved them the best we could. It is our hope that some will find our experience interesting and encouraging if not inspiring too.

Lee Kum Tatt