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25 Years of MIT in Singapore: A Journey of Innovation and Collaboration

2024 marks MIT's 25th anniversary in Singapore. Beginning with the Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA), founded in 1998 – SMART’s predecessor in Singapore – the past quarter-century has seen MIT’s involvement in Singapore, fostering groundbreaking research, nurturing future generations of leaders, and contributing significantly to local and global societies and economies. SMART’s dedication to innovation and entrepreneurship has also been a driving force behind the burgeoning startup ecosystem in Singapore, leveraging MIT's rich history in entrepreneurial endeavours to cultivate a culture of innovation. 

MIT’s 25 years of collaborative initiatives 

SMA's primary goal was to foster global engineering research and education, uniting the resources of MIT and esteemed institutions in Singapore, such as the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Singapore. In 1999, SMA launched the Advanced Materials for Micro- and Nano-Systems (AMM&NS) and High-Performance Computation for Engineered Systems (HPCES) programmes, focusing on new materials, nanostructures, and high-performance computation, which were then at the forefront of engineering and science. 

Today, SMART proudly continues MIT's legacy of fostering research innovation and excellence in Singapore. As the only MIT research centre outside the United States and MIT's largest international research programme, SMART focuses on interdisciplinary research to address real-world challenges through four interdisciplinary research groups (IRGs) – Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) IRG, Critical Analytics for Manufacturing Personalized-medicine (CAMP) IRG, Disruptive & Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision (DiSTAP) IRG and Mens, Manus and Machina (M3S) IRG. SMART has also successfully completed research in areas such as disease management, environmental sensing, urban mobility solutions, and integrated circuit technologies.

As an entity within the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE), established by the National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF), SMART stands as a beacon of successful collaboration and interdisciplinary research. These efforts have led to groundbreaking advancements and significantly impacted lives and industries, inspiring us to continue pushing the boundaries of innovation.

“CREATE's vision thrives on international collaboration, and SMART is a cornerstone of that success. By bringing together top researchers from MIT and Singapore, CREATE fosters interdisciplinary research in critical areas like biomedical sciences, engineering, and sustainability. SMART's focus on commercialisation helps accelerate technology transfer, propelling Singapore's rise as a global research and technology hub. Looking ahead, SMART's promise lies in its ability to continuously push boundaries, tackle even more complex challenges, and generate groundbreaking discoveries that benefit the world,” said Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, Executive Director for Academic Research at NRF. 

“For 25 years, MIT's partnership with Singapore, through SMART, has exemplified our commitment to global engagement. SMART serves as a brilliant model for our global vision, fostering groundbreaking advancements across academia and industry in Singapore and throughout Asia. This collaboration directly supports MIT's mission to advance knowledge and education with real-world impact, with SMART  as MIT’s major anchor point for innovation in Asia,” said Professor Richard Lester, Associate Provost at MIT – who oversees the international activities of the Institute.

Fostering innovation and entrepreneurship

Through its collaborative model, SMART fosters innovation by being a space for MIT researchers and their local counterparts to collaborate and take research to market impact. SMART has been instrumental in bringing together talents from local institutions and MIT to delve into deep technology research projects spanning 5 to 10 years. These endeavours are meticulously crafted with the overarching aim of fostering both market and societal impact.

In Singapore, innovation and translational research are key drivers of entrepreneurship, and a prime example is the success of SMART's Innovation Centre (SMART IC). SMART IC bridges the gap between scientific breakthroughs and real-world applications; to date, it has equipped over 300 postdoctoral researchers with the necessary tools and facilitated the growth of 56 companies that have created more than 3,000 jobs. Some of these companies were born out of SMART’s IRGs, including biotech companies Theonys and Thrixen, autonomous vehicle software company nuTonomy (now known as Motional), and integrated circuit design company, New Silicon Corporation (nsc). This focus on innovation and its translation into practical solutions has contributed towards Singapore's entrepreneurial landscape, economy, and society.

Beyond training the next generation of industry experts through its research programmes, MIT has also actively contributed to Singapore's talent pipeline through programmes that have produced over 240 Master’s students who went on to work for Fortune 500 companies. Currently, SMART runs the SMURF undergraduate research programme and a graduate fellowship programme that provides opportunities to be involved in the strategic research programmes conducted within SMART. 

Notably, MIT's influence extends beyond research initiatives. The institution played a crucial role in shaping and helping to establish the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). Through a seven-year partnership, MIT collaborated on developing SUTD's unique curriculum, emphasising a fusion of engineering and design thinking. This enduring legacy continues to influence SUTD's educational approach and mission to cultivate future generations of innovative problem-solvers. SMART continues to leave an indelible mark on Singapore's educational, scientific & research, technological and entrepreneurial ecosystem through these concerted efforts.

“This 25-year milestone is a testament to the incredible power of collaboration. Through SMART, our researchers and partners have pushed the boundaries of science and technology, and addressed real-world challenges to make a positive difference in the lives of countless people. We look forward to another 25 years and more of groundbreaking innovation that will positively impact society,” said Professor Eugene Fitzgerald, CEO and Director of SMART. 

From its beginnings as SMA to its growth into SMART, the boundless potential of SMART and MIT’s initiatives, coupled with the innovative spirit of its teams, ensures an expansive horizon of possibilities and transformative impact. Through ongoing commitment and collaboration within Singapore, and the dedication of our researchers, the possibilities are limitless.


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