Kampung science

The association of science with urban progress, and of nature with rural nostalgia, is a false dichotomy. The truth is that, even in highly urbanised Singapore, there are rural spaces such as Pulau Ubin which lie outside the concrete agency of high-rise city life. Simultaneously, however, these offshore siblings of mainland Singapore enjoy the same claims on science and modernity that residents of the mainland take for granted.

Those claims have been fortified by the decision to provide a new integrated lab facility, replete with scientific equipment, to help researchers and students deepen their knowledge of Pulau Ubin. To be ready by the end of the year, the Ubin Living Lab will facilitate the work of those who now have to return to the mainland to store samples that they collect. The new lab will make it possible for them to carry out proper research and identification on-site, on an island rich in flora and fauna. By bringing science to nature, the lab will advance the causes of both.

The ultimate objective of such endeavours is to enhance the iconic biodiversity that Ubin represents in the larger Singapore scheme of things. The country has passed the stage where ecology competed with economics in the race for national survival and success. Instead, it is now possible to channel back some of the fruits of economic success into preserving habitats that are rich in both nature and emotional resonance. Mangroves, herons, bats and spiders were not top priorities when Singapore became independent. Fifty years later, however, they have stayed the course with humans in ensuring that Singapore is not only a house but also a home. The need for development exacts a cost. However, success in one field - science. technology and economic growth - can provide the means to create a holistic living environment for this and future generations of Singaporeans. Ubin shows the way.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'Kampung science'. Print Edition | Subscribe