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Wholly water -- students and scientists gather at NTU to discuss water problem

International university students and water experts have converged at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to form the backbone of an intellectual and research community on a scarce natural resource -- water.

NTU hosted 24 international students from 10 countries in the last fortnight as they attended the inaugural GlobalTech Summer Camp to learn about Singapore's water story. Last week, the university also hosted the 4th GlobalTech Workshop gathering the top water experts to share and discuss this global problem. In addition, NTU's Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI) hosted the Young Water Talents Symposium at Marina Bay Sands last week where 110 participants were engaged with topics ranging from innovations in drinking water technology and water resources management.

Keeping the world's resources sustainable is a major focus of NTU 2015, NTU's five-year strategic plan to become a great global university by 2015. The plan lists the five interdisciplinary Peaks of Excellence the university is scaling. These are: Sustainable Earth, New Media, Future Healthcare, New Silk Road and Innovation Asia. NTU today has S$849 million dedicated to Sustainability Research.

Don't miss the boat

From setting up a booth in the shape of Noah's Ark at the Singapore International Water Week (SIWW) to Global Alliance of Technological Universities' (GlobalTech) two-pronged approach of a Summer Camp and a Workshop to tackle the water question, this effort is indicative of NTU's commitment to sustain the simple molecule known as H2O.

Leveraging on the university's expertise in sustainability research in water, the Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute (or NEWRI) will be generating water buzz at the SIWW from 2-4 July 2012.

Inspired by Noah's Ark, this "ship" symbolises NTU's dedication to be part of the global solution for sustainability and it invites partners to "board the Ark", sail forward as an armada and develop solutions for the world's most precious resource.

on 1 July 2012 when it hosts the Young Water Talents Symposium at Marina Bay Sands where it is expected to attract 110 participants.

Droplets of talent

In addition, NEWRI made another engagement with younger colleagues on 1 July 2012 when it hosted the Young Water Talents Symposium at Marina Bay Sands. The event attracted 120 participants and engaged them with topics ranging from innovations in drinking water technology and water resources management.

Amongst the notable names who spoke at the symposium were Professor David C. Stuckey, Imperial College London's Professor of Biochemical Engineering, and Gilbert Galjaard, the R&D Director of PWN Technologies, who have collaborated with the Public Utilities Board (PUB) to build Singapore's first ceramic membrane demonstration plant at its Choa Chu Kang Waterworks.

Happy campers

Besides that, NTU also hosted the inaugural GlobalTech Summer Camp, with 24 graduate and undergraduate students from 10 countries gathered at in NTU. They hail from countries such as China, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Luxembourg, Slovenia, South Africa, Uganda, and Singapore. This is followed with the 4th edition of the two-day GlobalTech workshop, which facilitated the exchange of ideas on ways to mitigate the impact of what has been an unsustainable way of life.

The Global Alliance of Technological Universities, or GlobalTech, was founded in 2009 with seven universities spanning three continents as a close-knit network of highly-motivated, excellent universities with strong foundations in science and technology.

The GlobalTech Summer Camp 2012 was a platform for students enrolled in GlobalTech member universities to interact and exchange ideas on possible solutions to water-related problems facing humankind in the 21st century. The camp's theme "Water. Life. Sustainability" is tied in with the Singapore International Water Week.

During the camp, the students attended lectures by NTU professors and worked on hands on projects and exchanged ideas on possible solutions to water problems. They also visited the Marina Barrage, the Hyflux Desalination Plant and the Changi NEWater factory to learn about the Singapore water story.

To a Singaporean like Eddie Tan, a third year student from NTU, the Summer Camp had given him new perspectives to his chosen field in Biological Sciences.

The 25-year-old said: "One of the new technologies developed for water treatment is membrane filtration. Although I specialise in Biological Sciences, this technology integrates biology and engineering and allows me to work with environmental engineers.

"I certainly gained new perspectives during the Sumer Camp. Water is the essence of life and it has often been taken for granted."

For Teddy Nakato, from the Ugandan capital Kampala, the summer camp had given her valuable insight into how waste can be treated and recycled.

She said: "Uganda is running short of resources. Our fuel mainly comes from burning the husks of rice, groundnuts and coffee beans as well as firewood and plant residues. This Summer Camp has shown me how technology in waste management can be applied to produce renewable energy."

Nakato, a Masters student from her country's Makerere University, wants to use her newly-acquired knowledge to help her country. The 30-year-old explained: "I will be doing a project on converting fecal sludge to be used as fuel for my thesis and I hope it can be used by Uganda's Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development."

Although Tanja Brandt does not experience water shortage back in her hometown of Rostock, Germany, she still viewed the camp in NTU as an eye-opener.

The Masters student in Environment Sciences at Eidgenssische Technische Hochschule Zrich (ETH Zurich) said: "In Europe, we don't experience any problem with water and we are spoilt in that sense. However, this problem of water allocation and waste treatment is one that affects the entire world with some countries facing severe shortages. Water is a problem that the world must solve together."

GlobalTech was formally established in April 2009 by Professor Su Guaning, then NTU President, and founded with seven universities spanning three continents The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in the United States, ETH Zurich and Imperial College in Europe, and the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay), Shanghai Jiao Tong and NTU in Asia.

All seven universities share a common desire. That desire is to develop a global intellectual community and to create a platform from which members can collectively address issues of major societal concern.

4th GlobalTech Workshop

Apart from the Summer Camp, NTU also hosted the 4th GlobalTech Workshop beginning on 29th June 2012.

The workshop brought together stakeholders, including scientists and researchers from the GlobalTech partners, industry experts, policy makers and professionals to identify current challenges, highlight new developments and chart future R&D directions for sustainable water management, particularly in urban centres.

Organised with the support of NTU's NEWRI, a distinguished group of scientists covered topics such as surface water, drainage and water quality, water and wastewater treatment, disposal of treated water in recipient water bodies, as well as their cutting-edge work in innovative solutions.

Amongst them are two Lee Kuan Yee Water Prize winners: Professor Mark van Loosedrecht from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and Dr Andrew Benedek, Executive Chairman and Chief Technology Officer of Anaergia Inc.

NTU President, Professor Bertil Andersson, said: "Providing clean water access remains an important goal in many parts of the world. The GlobalTech's workshop which focusses on the challenges and solutions for sustainable water management in urban centres is thus very timely. This is where science and technology universities can come together to play a vital role and contribute to international efforts by providing fresh approaches to develop new technologies and markets, and conduct leading-edge research to address the world's long-term water needs. With our combined strengths in science and technology, and our academic and research resources, the Alliance is well-placed to help the world meet these challenges."


In recent months, NTU has announced a few scientific breakthroughs in its pursuit of keeping the planet's resources renewable.

These include a 'Parasitometer' that can detect contaminants in treated water in just one hour instead of the current two days, and an anti-bacterial coating that could spell the end for 'superbug' infections which have become resistant to antibiotics.

In May 2012, NTU partnered University of Peradeniya (UOP), Sri Lanka's premier university, to spearhead the effort to clean up Sri Lanka's Lake Kandy, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Leveraging on NTU's strength in sustainability research, wet-lands were engineered as a green and cost-effective solution to remove pollutants from the lake.

This month, NTU has also unveiled the world's first three-in-one water monitoring system that is built and commercialised by NTU's spin-off company, Membrane Instruments and Technology (MINT). The new system is able to monitor water quality in the water treatment process and identify if there are any bacteria or contaminants; detect any broken membrane filters in the treatment plant; and pinpoint which filter is broken accurate to 1 in 100,000 filters. The device can help water treatment plants potentially save up to $200,000 each year.


Contact: Wang Meng Meng
Nanyang Technological University

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