Dr. Tan Tin Wee was one of the earliest pioneers of the Internet for the life science community, having been introduced to the Internet while he was trained as a biochemist and molecular biologist in Cambridge, London and Edinburgh in the 80s. Over the past two decades, he has contributed to the advancement of the computational biology and bioinformatics through the application of Internet technologies; popularized numerous Internet technologies in Asia from WAIS, Gopher, WWW to Java applets, VRML and CUSeeMe. In addition, he introduced Internet access for research and education and in communities with disabilities and is a leader of advanced high performance Internet in Asia. Most significantly for the global community, he promoted and championed the internationalization of the Domain Name System through IDNs, a working system of which he and his team invented and implemented since 1998 despite numerous challenges.
In 1990 to 1992, when Dr. Tan returned home from UK to join the National University of Singapore, he built WAIS and Gopher sites for biological and bioinformatics databases, winning the 1992 Gold Medal from the MEDINFO Congress of the International Medical Informatics Association for his live Internet demonstration in Geneva’s Palexpo. By 1993, he became the first person to build bioinformatics websites in Singapore with graphical content. Subsequently, as the Head of Technet Unit, Singapore’s Internet service provider for the research community, he introduced SLIP and later PPP access to support the Mosaic browser at a time when the only commercial provider in Singapore supported Kermit. He was able to build Technet up to be commercialized as Singapore’s second commercial ISP called Pacific Internet, which later went public on Nasdaq.
In 1994, Dr. Tan introduced the Internet for government information services, launching the National Infomap fully on the World Wide Web, http://www.sg. This was later (1995) delivered in the four official languages of Singapore, as he played a key role in introducing Chinese and later Tamil language display via the Web prior to its support on the browser. In 1994, he was the first to deliver the television broadcast of Singapore’s National Independence Day parade via the Internet to Singaporean students in Tasmania, Cambridge and Chicago using multicasting (vic and vat) and CUSeeMe reflector nets worldwide, as well as coordinated a televised interview of Tasmanian students via this link. This changed the way the IT community in Singapore was to implement e-Government services.
By 1995, Dr. Tan also took up an additional cause in supporting people with various disabilities to get onto the Internet. In facilitating internet access for people with disabilities, he made the following initiatives: introduced IRC chat for children in the Singapore School for Hearing Impaired; developed a website for the Disabled People’s Association; enabled access for members of the Singapore Association for the Deaf; and experimented with Internet access for the visually handicapped at the Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped and for children of the Singapore School for the Visually Handicapped.
In the summer of 1995, through a $2 million grant for the Internet Research and Development Unit (IRDU) which was hosted at the Computer Centre, National University of Singapore, Dr. Tan introduced Java applets and VRML to the Singapore community, building virtual landscapes via the Web. In 1996, he became the founder of the Bioinformatics Centre through a $6 million grant to pioneer research in bioinformatics and computational biology for Singapore. By 1997, he joined the APAN (the Asia Pacific Advanced Network) initiative and won a $28 million dollar grant from the National Science and Technology Board and the Telecommunications Authority of Singapore to build the first high performance Internet connection outside of North America from Singapore’s research education network SINGAREN to the NSF-funded STARTAP persistent transit access point in Chicago, linking Singapore to Internet2. This SINGAREN-Internet2 link was given a high profile launch in Washington DC. This link was subsequently extended to the Canadian CANET*II of CANARIE, and to Japan’s network in early 1998, thus foreshadowing the advanced networking Transpac project of APAN which was to come in late 1998. In 2000, in collaboration with Stanford University, Dr. Tan’s team in the Bioinformatics Centre solved the 3D crystal structure of a Malayan snake toxin protein via this SINGAREN link to the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lab (SSRL).
In providing leadership to the Internet community, Dr. Tan initially served as the organizing chair of the APNG Workshop in 1995, and subsequently became the second Chairperson of the Asia Pacific Networking Group from 1997 to 1999, where he launched a commission to champion Internet for communities with disabilities in Asia, as well as to promote the Internationalization of the Internet. In 1998, Dr. Tan and his team at IRDU invented a patented International Domain Name system, and started to promote IDNs to the fledgling ICANN that held its IFWP meeting in Singapore. An Asia-Pacific test bed for fully functional IDNs was launched in that year to provide operational proof of concept using the precursor of the ASCII compatible encoding (ACE) system of today. By 2000, he launched the formation of the Multilingual Internet Names Consortium (MINC) in Seoul to drive the commercialization of IDNs before IETF was able to reach the first IDN standards in 2003, and long before ICANN was to formally approve IDNs. To promote stability of the regional Internet registries and national NICs, Dr. Tan served as the special advisor to the Director General of the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) in the late 90s. He was the Southeast Asian representative to the Coordinating Committee for the Interconnectivity of Research Networks (CCIRN). By 2001, he was introducing Grid Computing to the scientific community in Singapore, and pioneered the use of cloud computing for teaching bioinformatics to undergraduates using the BioSlax LiveOS image of precompiled bioinformatics software on the Slax distro. He has served as .sg TLD authority, initiated the formation of Singapore’s Computer Emergency Response Team SingCERT, pioneered Asia Pacific Security Internet Response Committee (APSIRC), and served as Director of the International Centre for Disability Resources on the Internet (ICDRI). He has founded several companies and served on the Board of Directors of the Singapore Exchange-listed Company, Keppel Telecommunications and Transportation since 2000.
In recognition of his pioneering work in many areas, Dr. Tan has won numerous awards which include the 1994 Singapore Youth Award for Internet biological databases; Life Insurance Association award (1997) for community work in providing Internet access to disabled; the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s award for contribution to Internet education (1997); ASEAN Business Forum’s Achievement Award (1997); Indian Cultural Festival Innovation award (1998); Tamil Internet Frontier Award (2010) for his contribution to promoting Tamil Internet; 2005 Recognition award for early work with the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Conference on Operational Technologies (APRICOT); and 2003 HPC Challenge Award for the Most Geographically distributed application at Supercomputing SC’03 as part of an international team.
Throughout these two decades, Dr. Tan has been concurrently on the staff of National University of Singapore, as Associate Professor of the Department of Biochemistry, recently serving as its Acting Head of Department, and as part of the Hall of Residences, serving currently as Master of Eusoff Hall. He is a three times elected Board Director of the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) and continues to serve in coordinating the International Conference on Bioinformatics (InCoB) for the Asia Pacific Bioinformatics Network(APBioNet), which he founded as convener in 1998. From 2011, he was invited to be Chairman of the A*STAR Computational Resource Centre, and tasked to build a national supercomputing center. He is happily married with a very supportive and understanding wife and two school-aged children.