Taking Cambridge

Celebrating 10 years of
Cambridge’s pioneering research
centre in Singapore

In 2013, Cambridge launched its first ever overseas research centre, the Cambridge Centre for Advanced Research and Education Singapore (CARES).

Since then it has grown into a thriving community of 150 staff and researchers, working with partners to achieve scientific breakthroughs with a global impact.

In the heart of the vibrant city-state of Singapore, the University of Cambridge’s first overseas research platform, CARES is celebrating 10 years since its foundation. The occasion underscores a decade of scientific success, industrial application and international research collaboration between Singapore and the UK.

So, how did University of Cambridge decide Singapore should be the home for its first centre outside the UK? Back in 2010, Professor Dame Lynn Gladden was newly appointed as Cambridge’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research.

Gladden recalls: “When I started in the PVC role, I was interested in how Cambridge could show its strength across the University in areas of global importance. Were we making the most of our existing international collaborations and networks?”

At around the same time, Gladden was approached by Singapore’s National Research Foundation to gauge Cambridge’s interest in joining the recently formed Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise or CREATE, a “co-laboratory” of top research institutions from around the world co-located in Singapore.

She remembers: “Singapore was particularly interested in decarbonising its large chemical industry. Cambridge had recently launched the Energy Strategic Research Initiative (which later became the Energy Interdisciplinary Research Centre). So, to come together to work on this important problem was immediately attractive.”

However, there was some work to do before embarking on this adventurous new phase in the University’s 800 year development.

The case needed to be made for one of South East Asia’s most modern cities to become the first overseas footprint of one of the world’s most ancient universities. For Gladden, the arguments were compelling: “Firstly and very importantly, Singapore’s reputation for excellent research and the strong pre-existing relationships between Cambridge and Singapore researchers was a firm platform we could build on."

"Secondly, Singapore is a fascinating nexus between the Asian world and the West, making it a perfect place to look at science and technology challenges from our different national and regional perspectives.”

The case was made and CARES was launched in 2013.

New perspectives

Locating CARES in Singapore has given Cambridge researchers the opportunity to explore their fields in a new context, giving rise to a number of fresh insights.

Singapore’s unique infrastructure and cultural context as the only Asian city-state also offer research possibilities found nowhere else in the world.

Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, University of Cambridge Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and International Partnerships, explains: “There is a very important co-benefit to international collaborations in that they naturally cause you as a researcher to consider how the design and use of any technology derived from a scientific advance might vary in different regions of the world.

“It could be all too easy for us in Cambridge to see some of our grand challenges in net zero and healthcare through a UK or Western lens. The partnerships formed through CARES encourage us to continually consider new angles.”

While CARES has naturally established strong ties with local partners such as Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS), the globally unique construction of CREATE has also catalysed fresh connections with other top universities represented on the campus.

For example, in the field of decarbonisation, Cambridge and CARES have worked with Berkeley Education Alliance for Research in Singapore (BEARS) to investigate carbon capture and utilisation and with a group including ETH, MIT and Technical University of Munich to better understand and characterise the urban heat island effect.

CARES within the CREATE ecosystem

The Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise (CREATE) is an initiative of the National Research Foundation Singapore.

CREATE supports co-located research centres from University of California - Berkeley, University of Cambridge, CNRS, ETH-Zurich, MIT, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Technical University of Munich, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Top Singapore universities including National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, are also partners in CREATE.

“One of the key aspects of CARES within the CREATE community is that we are one of many excellent institutions that provide an opportunity for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.”

Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith

Scientific success

Singapore’s hub for energy and chemical industries, Jurong Island, has provided inspiration for CARES’ Carbon Reduction in Chemical Technologies (C4T) programme. An early CARES project targeted the creation of a computerised replica of Jurong Island’s end-to-end processes.

This research eventually expanded into use-cases for intelligent systems in areas such as decarbonisation, chemical modelling, lab automation, and smart cities. The decade-long programme of work has culminated in the development of the World Avatar dynamic knowledge graph – a universal digital twin capable of describing the behaviour of any complex system.

World Avatar

The World Avatar system now acts as a foundation stone for a range of projects, including a recent collaboration with Singapore ETH Centre (SEC) to explore ways to digitise Singapore’s city planning process.

It has also acted as a backbone enabling technology for a UK National Digital Twin project on climate change resilience – the Climate Resilience Demonstrator or CreDO.

Projects like these have helped the team continually increase the robustness of the system which can be applied to use cases stretching from the skyscrapers of Singapore to the marshes of eastern England and well beyond.

CARES researchers (from left to right) Hansong Xue, Mehal Agarwal and Markus Hofmeister using the World Avatar.

CARES researchers (from left to right) Hansong Xue, Mehal Agarwal and Markus Hofmeister using the World Avatar.

Decarbonising shipping

As two island nations with important ports, the CARES collaboration has also nurtured UK-Singapore interest in maritime decarbonisation research.

For Professor Epaminondas Mastorakos from Cambridge's Department of Engineering the chance to expand his work into the South-East Asia environment has been an exciting one:

“I am a combustion scientist and in Cambridge my work has focused on how flames behave in gas turbines and diesel engines and on the pollutants emitted.

"In CARES, it has been fascinating to apply this knowledge to the challenges faced by Singapore as one of the busiest container ports in the world. Large numbers of commercial ships anchor in such close proximity to the city that we need only look out of our lab window to see the subjects of our research!” 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when it was impossible to travel between the UK and Singapore, Professor Mastorakos, Professor Adam Boies and Dr Molly Haugen (all from the Department of Engineering) worked in Cambridge to develop a drone fitted with a range of particle measurement instruments that can be used to test theoretical conclusions on emissions in the real-world marine environment.

Once borders opened, the drone was moved to Singapore. There it impressed the Maritime & Port Authority of Singapore, who invited the team to deploy it as a mobile monitoring station during its world-first - and potentially hazardous - operation to refuel a ship with methanol, as part of efforts to explore more sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.

The CARES drone was used to monitor the safe fuelling of a container ship with methanol

Maersk’s container vessel is the world’s first to sail on green methanol

The CARES drone monitoring the process

Lifelong learning

Although there continues to be a strong research base in decarbonisation, CARES has more recently expanded to become a platform for collaborations between Cambridge and Singapore in other synergetic areas.

The prospect of working with participants in a multilingual society such as Singapore sparked a new programme, the Centre for Lifelong Learning and Individualised Cognition (CLIC).

A joint programme between University of Cambridge and Nanyang Technological University, CLIC investigates the concept of cognitive flexibility across different age groups and leverages research results gained from both UK and Singapore cohorts to arrive at more nuanced conclusions.

The CLIC team is working with Singapore’s Ministry of Education and Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board to explore ways that the results of the programme can be translated to enhance pedagogy and increase awareness of creativity in standardised assessments.

CLIC researchers at the 2023 Brainiverse science festival in Singapore where members of the public had an opportunity to discover some the secrets of the brain and learning that the researchers had uncovered.

CLIC researchers at the 2023 Brainiverse science festival in Singapore where members of the public had an opportunity to discover some the secrets of the brain and learning that the researchers had uncovered.

Commercialising our research

More than 25,000 high-tech companies are headquartered within 20 miles of Cambridge, many of them catalysed by inventions originating in the University.

The phenomenon has famously become known as the Cambridge Cluster. Meanwhile, across the globe, Singapore is also becoming a hotspot for technology entrepreneurs.

With investments to Singapore start-ups doubling since 2017, it has become clear during CARES first decade that University of Cambridge and Singapore were natural research translation partners.

As the first inventions started to emerge from the CARES labs, technology transfer offices Cambridge Enterprise in the UK and NTUitive in Singapore teamed up to support researchers with commercialisation and protection options for high potential innovations.

Coming with extensive knowledge of the markets and investors' relations in their respective regions of the world, NTUitive and Cambridge Enterprise were able to exchange expertise and support Cambridge and CARES researchers to bring their ideas to market in both Asia and Europe.

Spinning out from CARES:
Accelerated Materials

In 2014, Nicholas Jose joined the Cambridge-CARES PhD Studentship Scheme. After a period in Cambridge, Jose came to the CARES Singapore labs to work on ideas to improve sustainability in the production of nanoparticles used in various parts of the chemical industries.

With the help of technology transfer partners NTUitive, in Singapore, and Cambridge Enterprise, Jose and his supervisor Professor Alexei Lapkin (from Cambridge's Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology) soon filed several patent applications.

Jose was awarded a translation seed fund by MIT-supported SMART Innovation Centre in CREATE and worked away through the pandemic years slowly refining the ideas.

In 2021, he won the University's first Chris Abell Postdoc Business Plan Competition in Cambridge in 2021 and the following year he and CARES were awarded a National Research Foundation Central Gap Fund to fully commercialise the technology.

Since then, not only has Accelerated Materials launched sister companies in Singapore and the UK, but Jose and the now 11-strong team have successfully scaled the novel reactor process and signed several industrial co-development deals.

Accelerated Materials is currently raising a Series A funding round; prospects are exciting for the company.

Professor Markus Kraft, CARES Director, comments: “This is a story that had its beginnings in the first days of CARES when Nick joined us as a PhD student and is very much an ongoing journey today as the team continues to grow the business and expand their technical product range. We cannot always predict exactly what may emerge when a student first embarks on a PhD, but with the right environment, collaborations and a bit of time very great things can happen!”

Nicholas Jose in the lab

Dr Nicholas Jose (right) at work in the CARES lab during his PhD

Dr Nicholas Jose (right) at work in the CARES lab during his PhD

Research outputs from CARES are also having an impact on more established industry partners through a series of structured knowledge exchange projects. The Pharmaceutical Innovation Programme Singapore (PIPS) is one such programme. Co-ordinated by Singapore’s A*STAR agency, PIPS is a public-private partnership that facilitates co-development of problem statements and solutions by academia and the pharmaceutical industry.

PIPS has provided a forum for CARES spinout Chemical Data Intelligence (CDI) to demonstrate the power of its automated reaction network tools to global multinationals including Glaxo Wellcome, MSD International, Pfizer and Syngenta.

Lapkin, CDI co-founder, reflects: “The opportunity to launch CDI in Singapore and work with the PIPS consortium has been hugely valuable. It has given us the chance to bring together ideas developed in CARES and in Cambridge in a highly applied context."

"Via PIPS we have been able to have in-depth, long-running exchanges with the pharmaceutical industry which have helped us orient our research questions and translation focus towards real-world industry needs.”

Spinning out from CARES:
Harnessing the power of chemical data

CDI is developing software tools for deep exploration of chemical data which have a wider range of applications, including helping companies switch to bio-based feedstocks or carbon dioxide as a starting material.

As well as CDI-CASP software, the company is undertaking contract R&D to develop data-driven models for chemical products design and for identifying specific new chemical transformations.

Mr Adarsh Arun (left) and Dr Zhen Guo, co-founder of CDI using data derived from chemical reaction networks to investigate new and sustainable pathways in the chemical supply chain. 

Mr Adarsh Arun (left) and Dr Zhen Guo, co-founder of CDI using data derived from chemical reaction networks to investigate new and sustainable pathways in the chemical supply chain. 

Nurturing talent

So, how has CARES been able to form the strong pipeline of creative young scientists, engineers and technologists who have helped to generate all the great academic results and translation outcomes of the past decade?

The innovative Cambridge-CARES Studentship Scheme is a large part of the answer. It was launched in 2014 to offer Cambridge graduate students the opportunity to spend up to two years in Singapore as part of their study programme.

The Scheme is co-funded with a range of industry sponsors including Huntsman, Johnson Matthey, UCB Pharma, BASF, Syngenta and CMCL Innovations. By spending time in both countries, students are encouraged to build lasting international networks and consider long-term career prospects in both countries.


“I really enjoyed mentoring at CARES. I’ve been mentoring two students. The part when you can see their evolution and their increasing engagement in science, it’s something really exciting.

So I’m glad that CARES is continuously giving this opportunity to students to give them experience of what a career in science means. I hope that many of them will decide to pursue scientific careers in future.”

Dr Magda Barecka, CARES Research Fellow

A powerful connection

Today's Cambridge-CARES students find themselves following in some impressively large footsteps on the path between Cambridge and Singapore.

Previous students who have made the cross-continental journey to continue their education include Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew (Fitzwilliam College), and all of the current three top government leaders in Singapore – Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s recently elected President (Wolfson), Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister (Trinity) and Mr Heng Swee Keat, Deputy Prime Minister (Christ’s).

Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy inspired Fitzwilliam College to set up a memorial fund following his death in 2015. Dr Tan Yong Ren, then working as a CARES Research Assistant, was the first recipient of a collaborative scholarship co-funded by the Cambridge-CARES Studentship Scheme and the Lee Kuan Yew Fitzwilliam Fund, allowing him to realise his ambition of studying for a Cambridge PhD.

Tan comments: “Before I went, I was really fearful about the competition as well as the elite environment I had heard about in Cambridge. However, after arriving, I found it’s actually a very diverse and open environment. Having the study experience both in Cambridge and in Singapore has opened my perspective a lot.”

Dr Tan Yong Ren (right) is pictured together with his research group Dr Laura Pascazio (second from right) and Mr Simon Rihm (left) a fellow recipient of the Cambridge-CARES studentship. The group is led by Professor Markus Kraft (second from left).

Dr Tan Yong Ren (right) is pictured together with his research group Dr Laura Pascazio (second from right) and Mr Simon Rihm (left) a fellow recipient of the Cambridge-CARES studentship. The group is led by Professor Markus Kraft (second from left).

Looking to the future

When CARES was first established in 2013, there was an understandable nervousness about whether the Cambridge ‘magic’ would transplant to a new context.

Gladden remembers: “Some people still felt quite strongly at that time that Cambridge happens in Cambridge and by trying to export our essence to a new base, we might lose something important."

"Through CARES we have strongly proven that isn’t the case – Cambridge is carried by our researchers, our students, our alumnae with them wherever they go – and by supporting them to launch CARES in Singapore, we have gained new insights into what Cambridge means and what we as an institution have to offer to the world.” 

Through no small effort, CARES has gone from the spark of an idea in 2010 to an extensive international centre.

In 2023 CARES employs over 150 staff and researchers, who work in over 2000m2 of world-class laboratories. The ideas pipeline for new projects continues to be packed full, as more and more Cambridge researchers start to explore research questions that only become more compelling when considered from the two sides of the globe.

CARES laboratory before construction began in 2013

CARES laboratory before construction began in 2013

CARES laboratory before construction began in 2013

In the lab in 2023

In the lab in 2023

CARES Director, Kraft, looks ahead: “We are very excited about our second decade. We want to build on the partnerships and expertise of our first ten years to make real headway on the critical problems of the 21st century.

"And we want to do that inspired by the particular circumstances around us in Singapore so we can continue to have positive impact on the city that has given our little piece of Cambridge such a warm welcome.”

“As a Singaporean, I am delighted that Cambridge has come to Singapore to help us in our national project to create a centre of research, collaboration, innovation and creativity.

I believe CARES can contribute to Singapore’s long-term aim to be a scientific and global hub for research to help solve the problems of the world.”

Dr Melanie Chew, President of Oxford and Cambridge Society of Singapore 2023

Published: 1 December 2023

Words: Joy Haughton, Olivia Lee and Andrew Breeson, CARES
Design: Sarah Fell
Photographs: Cambridge Centre for Advanced Education and Research in Singapore
Film: Jonathan Settle

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.