Science Centre Singapore



The Singapore Science Centre opened its doors to the public on 10 December 1977, more than two decades after such a science centre was first envisaged. Built at the cost of S$20 million, the Science Centre was set up to promote interest and learning in science and technology to students and the general public. This objective came at a time when Singapore was industrialising rapidly and going up the technology ladder was all-important.1 The centre was appropriately sited in Jurong, near Jurong industrial estate, Singapore’s first industrial hub.2

Proposing a science centre
The idea of a science centre in Singapore was first envisaged in 1955 by a group of men comprising Rex Anthony Shelley (Hume Industries Ltd), Ronald Sng Ewe Min (Science Council of Singapore), Bernard Tan (University of Singapore) and Sng Yew Chong (Ministry of Education).3 They had visited a number of science centres overseas and felt that such a centre in Singapore would be a useful avenue for promoting science and technology in Singapore. The group was planning a small centre in a rented shop house because of their limited budget. However, their plans became a much larger public project after the idea was picked up by Dr Lee Kum Tatt, then Chairman of the Science Council of Singapore.4

The Science Council had been set up in 1967 with the specific goal of promoting knowledge and use of science and technology in Singapore and one of its functions was to act as an adviser to the government in this field.5 In 1968, the Science Council set up a special committee to take charge of the preparatory work for a science centre.6 The committee was made up of members who had first conceived of a science centre in 1955. In 1969, the committee approached UNESCO for an adviser to assist in drawing up the proposal for a science centre. UNESCO assigned M. K. Weston, a curator from the Science Museum in London, to Singapore from 27 September to 30 November 1969. The detailed proposal was submitted to then Minister for Science and Technology Toh Chin Chye on 20 November 1969.7

The proposal was accepted and to make the centre an autonomous body under the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Science Centre Bill was introduced.8 Among other things, the bill stated that the Science Centre would take over the natural history component of the National Museum.9

Toh introduced the Science Centre Bill on 26 June 1970; the Science Centre Act, 1970, was passed on 22 July 1970, and it came into effect on 25 September 1970.10 The first meeting of the Science Centre Board was held on 21 November 1970 at the National Museum. Its members consisted of Chan Kai Lok, Lawrence Chia Hock Leong, J. F. Conceicao, Koh Boon Piang, Lam Toong Jin, Loo Ming, Sng Yew Chong, and Tan Soo Yang. Wee Cho Yaw was the chairman and Ronald Sng Ewe Min the deputy chairman.11 One of the first items on the board’s agenda was how to improve its fundraising capability, particularly for the construction of the Science Centre building.12

Rising costs
The Science Centre project was initially costed at S$5 million.13 By 1972, the projected costs had risen to S$12 million.14 By the time the centre was officially opened in 1977, the final cost was about S$20 million. Of this amount, S$15 million was allocated for the building, exhibits and ancillary equipment. An additional S$4.5 million was raised by the Science Centre Fund Appeals Committee, with a further estimated S$1.5 million still to be raised at the time of its opening.15

Construction of the Science Centre began with a design competition for the building in February 1971.16 It was won by Raymond Woo.17 Toh laid the foundation stone and construction began on 30 January 1973.18 Later that year, on 18 August, Toh buried a time capsule at the entrance of the Science Centre building.19 Measuring 1.5 m by 0.5 m, the time capsule contained 100 items taken from a range of industries ranging from shipbuilding to fabricated electrical and precision products. The time capsule was a visual representation of Singapore’s production skills in 1973. To be opened in 1983, the items were to be compared to those produced a decade later to measure the progress of Singapore’s industrial skills.20

While the construction was going on, the offices of the Science Centre was temporarily housed in the National Museum at Stamford Road.21 On 1 June 1972, the administrative staff moved to the Port of Singapore Authority building at Friendly Hill off Depot Road and then to the actual Science Centre building when it was completed in October 1976.22

The Singapore Science Centre
In his speech at the official opening, Toh, who was by then Minister for Health, said that it had “taken nine years of studies, consultation, visits to other science centres and construction from the point of conception to the point of opening of the Science Centre”.23 Having been conceived in 1955, the project had actually taken more than two decades to be realised.

The centre opened with four exhibition galleries – physical sciences, life sciences, special exhibits and lobby galleries. There were a total of 328 exhibits featuring 19 themes such as nuclear power, wave fundamentals, solar radiation, the universe, and the origins of life. Besides exhibitions, the Science Centre ran programmes with school teachers, did guided tours, gave lectures and screened films on science. It also produced publications on science such as the Science Centre bulletins and series of life sciences broadsheets.24

The Science Centre proved a hit. At the end of its first year, in 1978, it had  attracted about 233,000 visitors.25 By 1982, visitor numbers rose about 50 percent to 348,000 visitors.26 Even more gratifying was that two years after it opened its doors, the International Council of Museums ranked the Singapore Science Centre as among the world’s top 10 best science centres.27

Building on its success
Over the next decades, the Singapore Science Centre underwent several expansions. One major expansion was the opening of Omni-Theatre in 1987.28 Built at the cost of S$15 million, the Omni-Theatre is adjacent to the Science Centre building and has a 284-seat Omniplanetarium and three exhibition galleries at the time of its opening. In its first 21 days, the theatre attracted nearly 51,000 visitors.29

In 1997, the Science Centre went through another major expansion after it received S$34.7million from the Ministry of Education to improve its facilities for school programmes.30 Other attractions were introduced. These included the opening of an observatory in 1989 and Snowcity in 2000.31 Located next to the Science Centre, the S$6-million indoor Snowcity with its slopes for tobogganing, skiing and snowboarding, and exhibition areas was a joint venture between the Science Centre and NTUC Income Insurance Co-operative Limited.32

On its 30th anniversary in 2007, the Singapore Science Centre was renamed the Science Centre Singapore.33 This continues to be its name.



Author
Lim Tin Seng



References
1. Importance of technology to S’pore. (1977, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 41. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Lee, K. C. (1977, December 7). Toh to open $12m Science Centre in Jurong. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Thangaraju, G. (Interviewer). (2002, January 31). Oral history interview with Rex Anthony Shelley [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002602/12/04]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; When and how it all began. (1977, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 41. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Chew, D. (Interviewer). (1993, August 19). Oral history interview with Dr Lee Kum Tatt [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000821/13/07]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
5. Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. Acts supplement. (1967, July 21). The Science Council of Singapore Act 1967 (Act 13 of 1967). Singapore: [s.n.], pp. 243–247. (Call no.: RSING 348.5957 SGGAS); A science council to be set up in Singapore. (1967, May 28). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Project took 9 years to realise. (1977, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 41. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Science Council of Singapore. (1968). Annual report 1967/68. Singapore: Science Council of Singapore, p. 6. (Call no.: RCLOS 506.15957 SSCAR); Project took 9 years to realise. (1977, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 41. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1970, June 26). First Reading of the Science Centre Bill (Vol. 30). Singapore: [s.n.], col. 75. (Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN)
9. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1970, July 22). Second Reading of the Science Centre Bill (Vol. 30). Singapore: [s.n.], col. 137. (Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN)
10. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1970, July 22). Second Reading of the Science Centre Bill (Vol. 30). Singapore: [s.n.], col. 142. (Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN); Singapore. Government gazette. Subsidiary legislation Sspplement. (1970, September 25). The Science Centre Act (Commencement) Notification 1970 (S 270/1970). Singapore: [s.n.], p. 568. (Call no.: RSING 348.5957 SGGSLS)
11. Singapore Science Centre. (1971). Annual report 1970/71. Singapore: The Centre, p. 3. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.5957093 SSCAR)
12. Chew, D. (Interviewer). (1993, August 19). Oral history interview with Dr Lee Kum Tatt [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000821/13/07]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
13. $5m science centre to go up soon. (1970, March 12). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Singapore Science Centre. (1972). Annual report 1971/72. Singapore: The Centre, p. 3. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.5957093 SSCAR)
15. Importance of technology to S’pore. (1977, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 41. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Science Centre design contest. (1971, February 23). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Architectural design prize winners. (1971, November 28). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Singapore Science Centre. (1973). Annual report 1972/73. Singapore: The Centre, p. 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.5957093 SSCAR)
19. Byramji, N. (1973, August 19). Burying a bit of Singapore: Time capsule will be opened in 1983. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Byramji, N. (1973, August 19). Burying a bit of Singapore: Time capsule will be opened in 1983. The Straits Times, p. 6; Wai, R. (1983, August 20). See what life in Singapore was like in 1973. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Singapore Science Centre. (1972). Annual report 1971/72. Singapore: The Centre, p. 3. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.5957093 SSCAR)
22. Singapore Science Centre. (1973). Annual report 1972/73. Singapore: The Centre, p. 5. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.5957093 SSCAR); Singapore Science Centre. (1977). Annual report 1976/77. Singapore: The Centre, p. 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.5957093 SSCAR)
23. Project took 9 years to realise. (1977, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 41; Science Centre must keep pace with progress – Dr Toh. (1977, December 11). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Singapore Science Centre. (1977). Annual report 1976/77. Singapore: The Centre, p. 15. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.5957093 SSCAR)
25. Singapore Science Centre. (1978). Annual report 1977/78. Singapore: The Centre, p. 6. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.5957093 SSCAR)
26. Record 348,000 visitors at Science Centre last year. (1983, November 15). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Jansen, P. (1979, November 6). Science Centre is ranked among the world’s top ten. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. President Wee opens Omniplanetarium. (1987, December 11). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Singapore Science Centre. (1989). Annual report 1988/89. Singapore: The Centre, p. 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.5957093 SSCAR)
30. Singapore Science Centre. (1997). Annual report 1996/97. Singapore: The Centre, p. 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.5957093 SSCAR)
31. Singapore Science Centre. (1989). Annual report 1988/89. Singapore: The Centre, p. 11. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.5957093 SSCAR)
32. Ma, G. (1999, July 14). Indoor snow centre to be built in Jurong. The Straits Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Singapore Science Centre. (2008). Annual report 2007/08. Singapore: The Centre, p. 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.5957093 SSCAR)



The information in this article is valid as at 26 June 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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