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NTU sets up centre on micro-organism research for environmental engineering and sustainability

  • The Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering established to be a world leading centre in biofilm research
  • This is the 5th Research Centre of Excellence (RCE) supported by NRF and MOE, bringing the total funding to S$750 million for 5 RCEs since 2007

1. The National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced today the funding support for a Research Centre of Excellence (RCE) called the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (SCELSE) to be set up at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). The RCE, with strong research collaboration with the National University of Singapore (NUS), is expected to be in operation by January 2011, and aims to become one of the world's top research centres in the emerging area of microbial biofilms within five years, conducting cutting edge research on microbial biofilm communities with the purpose of harnessing their powers for water and environmental sustainability.

2. A budget of S$750 million (S$500 million from NRF and S$250 million from MOE) had been set aside in 2007 to fund such RCEs. The SCELSE will receive S$120 million from this budget over 10 years. In addition, the NTU and NUS would provide contributions of S$62 million and S$24 million respectively to the Centre.

3. Dr Tony Tan, Chairman of NRF said: "Since its inception in 2006, the NRF has put in place major initiatives such as the RCE programme, to advance research, innovation and enterprise in Singapore. Research Centres of Excellence are long-term investments aimed at developing a virtuous cycle of research excellence in our universities that would attract research talent contributing to significant economic and societal impact. Led by world renowned experts in their fields, these RCEs are helping to catalyse the development of our local universities into research-intensive institutions with international standing. This will help establish Singapore as a leading centre for world class R&D attracting research talent from Singapore and other parts of the world. We expect such RCEs to come out with research breakthroughs as well as innovative technologies that will make Singapore a hotbed for innovation."

4. Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Education, said: "Besides scientific excellence, the work of SCELSE will also contribute to Singapore's national priorities in water, energy and urban sustainability. SCELSE is also the first RCE to feature a strong collaboration between NUS and NTU. We believe that harnessing the synergy of the two universities would greatly advance research and lead to the development of solutions to pressing problems of a rapidly urbanizing Asia. "

5. SCELSE will be led by Professor Staffan Kjelleberg, founder of the Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia, and a research leader at NTU since late 2008. Prof Kjelleberg plans to develop the SCELSE into a world leader on biofilm science research and to transfer this knowledge to the industry for the betterment of the environment.

6. SCELSE will build upon NTU's strengths in engineering, environment and water technologies as well as NUS' leading position in life science research. In addition to recruiting several world experts in environmental research, the RCE will draw on interdisciplinary talent from NTU's Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI), School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and collaborate with the Earth Observatory of Singapore and the Mechanobiology RCE at the NUS.

7. NTU President Dr Su Guaning said, "NTU is proud to lead the development of the Research Centre of Excellence on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering. NTU has been building upon the theme of 'Sustainable Earth' as one of its peaks of excellence. We have in place multidisciplinary research platforms to address key challenges in water, the environment, and energy. SCELSE is an outcome of our efforts to build a world leading team to exploit a unique window of opportunity in applying life sciences advances to Sustainable Earth. With SCELSE providing the leading science, the university is poised to scale greater heights in Sustainable Earth. We are pleased to partner NUS in this effort as each university contributes its own unique strengths to make SCELSE a world leader in Biofilm research. I am confident SCELSE will bolster Singapore's drive to be a global scientific and technological hub in the domain of environmental life sciences engineering, and contribute to our nation's environmental sustainability efforts and economic growth into the next decade."

8. NUS President Prof Tan Chorh Chuan said, "NUS is delighted to work with NTU in this strategic partnership. SCELSE is special because it sits at the interface between engineering and life sciences, and draws on complementary strengths from NUS and NTU in these disciplines. It has the potential to develop novel technologies that can be applied to many different industry sectors. For NUS, the unique skills that will be delivered by SCELSE will also be of value to our researchers working in the NUS integrative sustainability research cluster which aims to help enhance Singapore as a global city."

9. On the importance of the SCELSE's research, Professor Kjelleberg, director-designate of SCELSE noted, "We now know that microorganisms live as biofilm communities as the dominant mode of life. Their communal action is central to environmental sustainability. With SCELSE, we will harness the research synergies across NTU and NUS, and work closely with NEWRI and the Life Sciences Institute, to deliver the first comprehensive understanding of the biofilm mode of life. In this way, we will translate fundamental knowledge on biofilms into life science based environmental engineering to effectively address the ever increasing water and environmental challenges."

10. Outfitting of SCELSE's laboratories and offices at NTU and NUS has started. At full strength, envisaged in 5 years, the Centre will have 25 faculty members, supported by a strong team of technical and administrative staff. It expects to train some 100 graduate students and 40 post-doctoral fellows over the first 10 years of operation. Each of its principal areas of study will be led by an accomplished scientist. These scientists have already committed to serving at the Centre.

11. SCELSE is the fifth RCE funded by NRF and MOE. Four other RCEs had been set up since 2007. They are the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore (CSIS), both at NUS, the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS) at the NTU and the Mechanobiology RCE at NUS. These RCEs are established to build peaks of excellence in research in specific fields in the local universities.

12. Besides attracting world-class scientists and researchers, the RCEs have provided a platform from which our universities could pursue cross-disciplinary research and achieve intra- and inter- university synergies. The research output of the RCE programme has the potential of seeding new economic activities centred on the creation of intellectual property.


Contact: Hisham Hambari
Nanyang Technological University

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