Curtin Malaysia students shine in national-level research project competition

Miri – 30 November 2023 – Two final-year students from the Faculty of Engineering and Science at Curtin University Malaysia (Curtin Malaysia) brought pride to the university by excelling in the 7th Tan Sri Hj. Ir. Yusoff Ibrahim Engineering Undergraduate Final Year Project Competition, a national-level research project competition for university students held in Kuala Lumpur recently.

Led by Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical and Energy Engineering and the Faculty of Engineering and Science’s Associate Dean of Research and Development, Associate Professor John Lau Sie Yon, the students Tang Yien Yu and Ho KenYi won the competition’s Grand Prize and Third Prize respectively.

The prestigious competition, organised annually by The Institution of Engineers, Malaysia (IEM) and The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), showcases and recognises outstanding engineering projects created by undergraduates nationwide, fostering a culture of excellence and innovation in the engineering community.

Tang won the top prize for her project titled ‘The Occurrence of Microplastics in Water, Sediment and Fish of Rajang River, Sibu, Sarawak’, which was supervised by Associate Professor of Civil and Construction Engineering and Programme Coordinator for Sustainable Aquaculture, Associate Professor Tony Hadibarata.

“Microplastics are one of the ubiquitous pollutants in the environment, exerting ecological pressure on various ecosystems and greatly threatening human health. Our project aimed to discover the abundance, distribution, physical and chemical characteristics of microplastics found in the Rajang River, Malaysia’s longest river and an important water source for local people,” said Tang.

She said the results of the study provides useful information regarding the current pollution status, hotspots, potential sources, fate and transport of microplastics in the river. It can act as baseline information for the government sector for better policy decisions when it comes to proper waste management and wastewater treatment to minimise plastic pollution.

Meanwhile, Ho won the Third Prize for his project titled ‘Evaluation and Optimisation of Coagulation-Flocculation Process using Biomass Wastes as Natural Coagulants’. It is a Sarawak government-funded project under the Sarawak Research Development Council (SRDC), and supervised by Associate Professor Lau.

According to Ho, the project used biomass wastes such as jackfruit and durian seeds to extract starch and modify them with cationic reagents. The project’s findings indicated that natural coagulants resulted in a significant reduction in kaolin suspension and river water turbidity of 97 per cent and 95 per cent, surpassing the performance of aluminium sulphate, a chemical coagulant.

“In a nutshell, the project uncovered the viability of natural coagulants for incorporation into the future sustainable wastewater treatment industry, simultaneously addressing the intensified fruit waste disposal problem and reducing the environmental footprint of industries globally,” he said.

In commending the duo on their achievement, Associate Professor Lau said they outshined students from the other participating universities, demonstrating the quality of education and prowess of undergraduate students at Curtin Malaysia. Furthermore, the competition’s selection process was highly competitive as it was open to all universities in Malaysia and every university submitted only their best projects in each engineering category. A total of 36 final-year projects (FYP) were submitted for the competition.

All the submitted project posters and theses were evaluated by professional engineers in the first round of the competition, and only six shortlisted finalists were invited to participate in the second round oral presentation. Six awards were presented in the finals, including the Grand Prize of RM1000, Second Prize of RM500, and Third Prize of RM400, as well as three consolation prizes, each valued at RM300.

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Associate Professor Lau (middle) posing with Tang and Ho with their prizes

Tang receiving her prize from organising chairman Ir Associate Professor David Chuah

Ho receiving his prize from organising chairman Ir Associate Professor David Chuah

Group photo of finalists with their accompanying lecturers and competition judges