Projects by Curtin final-year geology students promote sustainability, address UN Sustainable Development Goals
By Professor M.V. Prasanna
In a display of innovation and commitment to sustainability, final-year applied geology students at Curtin University Malaysia (Curtin Malaysia) have undertaken a series of projects that aim to support the local community and address various United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These projects have showcased the positive impact that young minds can have on creating a more sustainable future.
Recognising the role of geology in addressing environmental challenges, these driven students have leveraged their knowledge and skills to develop initiatives that align with the UN SDGs, while simultaneously benefiting the community. By collaborating with local organisations and institutions, the students’ projects have gained substantial momentum and are poised to make a significant difference.
The Department of Applied Sciences at Curtin Malaysia delivers Curtin University’s three-year Bachelor of Applied Geology as well as postgraduate studies (MPhil and PhD) in geology. Curtin Malaysia is a key provider of skilled graduates to the petroleum, minerals, groundwater, geotechnical, geospatial, and environmental industries in Malaysia and overseas.
The Department also undertakes high-impact, fundamental and applied research across a range of disciplines, and ensures its students acquire critical research skills that will benefit them both as students and future geologists, scientists or engineers. The students’ final-year projects are designed to help them develop core research skills including experimental/theoretical/field-based studies, data collection and analysis, critical scientific analysis, and reporting.
Completion of such projects demonstrate to potential employers the students’ ability to work on their own, and plan and carry out complex bodies of work within defined deadlines. Through their projects, students also get opportunities to publish their research work in peer-reviewed journals and books, and undertake international research collaborations.
Of late, applied geology students at Curtin Malaysia have been focusing on the sustainable development of Miri and its community by incorporating various UN SDGs in their final-year projects. The students are encouraged to identify the environment-related problems faced by the community, such as water quality issues and microplastic pollution.
Here are some selected projects that demonstrate the students’ dedication to sustainability and their contributions to the local community:
Miri Estuary Project
The Miri River provides irrigation and a source of domestic water supply in Miri City. Increased urbanisation and industrial and agricultural activities in Miri has led to a disproportionally high concentration of pollutants which are discharged directly into the Miri estuary. This problem was the focus of the final-year project of student Parvin Raj, supervised by researcher and Head of the Department of Applied Sciences, Professor M.V. Prasanna.
The main aim of the project is to ascertain the geochemical characteristics of the river water and develop sustainable management plans. This project has involved various research activities such as field surveys, sample collection, lab analyses, data interpretation, and report writing. The project was successfully completed and the outcome of this research now helps city policymakers practice sustainable management of this valuable water resource.
Graphical summary (Source: Parvin Raj and Prasanna, 2023)
The research team has published the outcome of the project in Q1-rated research journal Chemosphere (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2023.137838), adding to the quality of the work.
Miri Coastal Aquifers Vulnerability Project
Miri City is in the coastal region of Northern Sarawak and is vulnerable to seawater intrusion, which affects groundwater quality. Groundwater investigation is important to this region as groundwater is likely to become an alternate water source for the Miri community in the future. Hence, a final-year research project was conducted by student Ming Xian Gan, supervised by Prof. M.V. Prasanna, to address the issue.
In Gan’s research, the Vertical Electrical Soundings (VES) method was applied to determine the spatial and temporal variation of aquifer vulnerability through Geographic Information System (GIS). From this research, vulnerable hotspots of seawater intrusion were identified with reference to two different seasons. The outcome of this project would help with the utilisation of groundwater as a future alternate supply of freshwater to the Miri community.
Graphical summary (Source: Ming Xian and Prasanna, 2022)
The research team has published the outcome of this research in a peer-reviewed journal, Regional Studies in Marine Science (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rsma.2022.102651).
Miri Lake Water Quality Project
Since Miri is a fast developing city, its growing population will inevitably require more water supply. Lakes in Miri could act as substitute water sources for minor uses, such as for domestic uses, small-scale agricultural activity, and light industries. These lake waters could be treated to obtain a clean water supply whenever the main water supplies face any emergencies or interruptions. Hence, an attempt was made to assess the urban lake water quality in the Miri area through a final-year project by student Inez Neysa anak Nyambar, supervised by Prof. M.V. Prasanna.
In this research, lake water samples were collected and tested for hydrochemical characteristics to check the suitability of the lakes for domestic water, irrigation and industrial purposes. It was found that the quality of the water is controlled by both natural and anthropogenic activities in this region. This outcome will help the water authorities in the sustainable management of lake waters in this region.
Graphical summary (Source: Inez Neysa and Prasanna, 2023)
The research team has published the results of this project in peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Science and Pollution Research (https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-023-25172-9).
Microplastics pollution has gained a lot of global interest due to its toxicity to surrounding ecosystems, but in Miri, very little is known about the occurrence of microplastics. Since Miri’s beaches are considered important tourist attractions and recreational places for the local community, there is a need to determine the effects of microplastics in beach sediments in Miri. Hence, a study was conducted by final-year student Aliza Marai anak Alexander Tampang, supervised by Prof. Prasanna, to identify the abundance, physical characteristics, polymer type and elemental composition of microplastics in beach sediments in the area.
Samples were collected at popular beaches in Miri and the existence and characteristics of microplastics were determined using Stereoscopic, ATR-FTIR and SEM-EDS techniques. It was observed that there is an abundance of microplastics in the coastal areas of Miri, and a few sustainable management plans were suggested, such as reducing and recycling plastic products and packaging, and the proper disposal of plastic wastes.
Graphical summary (Source: Aliza Marai and Prasanna, 2022)
The outcome of the project has been published in Q1-rated journal, Chemosphere (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2022.135368).
All these projects showcase the versatility and potential for geology to contribute to the UN SDGs and support the sustainability of local communities. They are a testament to the dedication and creativity of Curtin Malaysia’s final-year applied geology students in addressing pressing environmental challenges.
The Miri Estuary Project, Miri Coastal Aquifers Vulnerability Project, and Miri Lake Water Quality Project are aligned with SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) with respect to increased water use efficiency, integrated water resource management, and restoration of water-related ecosystems, while the Microplastics Project supports SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being) and SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities).
The students’ efforts have not gone unnoticed. Local community leaders, environmental organisations, and industry representatives have praised the projects for their potential impact and innovative approaches. The university’s ongoing support and collaboration with local stakeholders have set a positive example for other academic institutions and communities.
“These projects demonstrate the power of education and interdisciplinary collaboration in creating sustainable solutions,” said Prof. Prasanna. “We are immensely proud of our students’ commitment to make a difference and contribute to a more sustainable future.”
Prof. M.V. Prasanna is Head of the Department of Applied Sciences at Curtin Malaysia’s Faculty of Engineering and Science. He completed his PhD in 2008 at Annamalai University, India. He is a Fellow of the Advance HE Academy (FHEA), UK, and has had more than 15 years of teaching and research experience. He has published over 100 journal papers (indexed in Web of Science and Scopus) and 13 book chapters. In addition, he has co-edited books and journal special issues published by Elsevier and Springer. Currently, he has the h-index of 31 in Scopus database. His research interests include hydrogeochemistry, geochemical modelling, isotope geochemistry, environmental geochemistry for soils and sediments, geoelectrical method for water resources, cave water geochemistry, climate change, radiation measurements, microplastics, submarine groundwater discharge, and sustainable water resource management. Currently, he is focusing on geochemical controls on water and sediment characteristics and their impact on human health and the environment. Prof. Prasanna can be contacted by email at email@example.com.