Special Programme in Science celebrates 20th Anniversary



A toast and cake cutting ceremony to mark the joyous occasion


SPS mentors, alumni and current SPS-ians excited over the celebrations

The Special Programme in Science (SPS) marked its 20th anniversary with a series of events throughout the year.

SPS has a long and distinguished history. In 1996, NUS set up the Talent Development Programme (TDP) to better cater to the diverse interests of students and groom future leaders. TDP Science was the first TDP in NUS. It was known as the Special Programme in Science (or SPS), and the name has stuck ever since.

SPS grooms a select group of students with the passion and aptitude for science. Students are introduced to broad areas of contemporary science through multidisciplinary research, peer learning and mentorship. Students also have many opportunities to participate in scientific investigations and in-depth studies of advanced topics that are at the forefront of modern scientific endeavours. In short, SPS equips students with the skills and perspectives to be interdisciplinary scientists.

Students have benefitted from the courses they took, proving their mettle by winning multiple awards in research and science competitions. For instance, the SPS team emerged champions at the International Natural Sciences Tournament held in Russia in October 2016, while another group of students clinched the Gold award at the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition in November 2016 in the United States.

The 20th anniversary celebrations included monthly alumni talks, which were well-received by SPS undergraduates and staff, and the SPS20 Symposium on 22 September 2016, titled “Inculcating Multidisciplinary Thinking in 21st Century Learners”. The celebrations culminated with a gala dinner on 28 October 2016 graced by NUS President Prof TAN Chorh Chuan.

The dinner was attended by some 250 guests. These included NUS Deputy President (Academic Affairs) and Provost Prof TAN Eng Chye, Dean of Science Prof SHEN Zuowei, members of the Faculty’s deanery, past SPS directors, donors John and Lydia EWING-CHOW and SPS alumni representing diverse sectors. These alumni included Dr Bernard LEONG, a senior executive with SingPost Ltd; academic Adjunct Prof Mahesh UTTAMCHANDANI; GOH Hock Leong, Vice Principal at NUS High School of Mathematics and Science; and entrepreneurs Darwin GOSAL and Julian LOW.

The evening of celebration and reminiscence kicked off with cocktails and a sumptuous dinner, where guests rekindled friendships made through the years. In his welcome address, SPS Director Prof LIOU Yih-Cherng cited an old Chinese saying “前人栽树,后人乘凉” as an illustration of how SPS was established and strengthened over the years. He said, “It is this spirit that will continue to build up and enhance SPS in the future.”

Extending his thanks to those who contributed to SPS in various ways, Dean of Science Prof Shen Zuowei said, “The success of SPS today is the result of many people’s hard work.” Prof Shen acknowledged Professors LEE Soo Ying, Bernard TAN and Tan Eng Chye as key people who sowed the seeds and brought the SPS vision to reality, and the programme directors and professors who inculcated a deep passion for science in students in the past 20 years.

In his speech, Guest-of-Honour Prof Tan Chorh Chuan highlighted how the SPS programme provides students a firm foundation to lead in interdisciplinary research. He also commended the alumni who have distinguished themselves in industry and academia. He said, “Moving forward, SPS must continue to create value for our students and to help students to develop their potential.”

Prof Tan also announced the launch of the SPS Fund to help financially disadvantaged students. The Fund will enable them to attend supplementary academic programmes and overseas trips, and to participate in competitions and conferences. In support of a special fund-raising drive, $20,000 was raised through the generous support of guests, who offered donations and purchased SPS20 anniversary tee-shirts designed by students.

The evening’s festivities continued with a cake-cutting ceremony by Prof Tan, Prof Shen and Prof Liou, a toast led by Prof Liou accompanied by 21 SPS-ians representing each cohort year from 1996 to 2016 and performances by the NUS Angklung Ensemble and SPS bands. Thereafter, 28 SPS 2013 students were presented certificates by Prof Shen. The programme concluded with a speech by SPS 2013 valedictorian Nevin THAM Zihao and a short video featuring SPS’ history and congratulatory messages from alumni around the world.

An estimated 500 students have graduated from the programme, with many going on to pursue postgraduate degrees and careers in prestigious institutions around the globe.

Sharing on their SPS experiences, various alumni attested on how the programme had shaped their careers and lives. Dr Bernard Leong, SPS 1996, said, “The SPS programme played a very instrumental part in my career development from my Ph.D. days and subsequently to other areas, be it a startup or in the corporate world. I strongly believe the mindset taught and promoted in SPS prepares students for this brave new world.”

Prof Uttamchandani, SPS 2000, said, “SPS presents NUS Science undergraduates an opportunity to venture beyond what science can explain about the world, and dwell on what science today cannot. The programme conditions undergraduates for an intellectually demanding workplace.”

Click here to view the photo gallery of the celebrations

Click here to view the SPS' 20th anniversary video


SPS20 anniversary tee-shirts designed by students were put up for sale, where the proceeds will go towards helping financially disadvantaged students in the programme


At the celebrations: (from left), FoS Alumni Relations Director Prof Chan Woon Khiong, Dr Bernard Leong, Mr Goh Hock Leong, Prof Shen Zuowei and Prof Liou Yih-Cherng


At the celebrations: Prof Bernard Tan and Prof Tan Eng Chye


At the celebrations: Guest-of-Honour NUS President Prof Tan Chorh Chuan mingling with NUS staff, alumni and guests