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  Channel NewsAsia 5 May 07
NUS students riding on new wave in water technology

SINGAPORE : The answer to a potentially big problem lies in something very small.

This is what Pang Chee Meng, PhD student in NUS, has found through his research. His study looks at how micro-organisms slow down the rate of water filtration. This project is just one idea that could boost Singapore's research and development efforts in water technology.

Micro-organisms that form on a person's teeth are the same that collect on membranes used in water filtration processes. The organisms form bio-films, which over time, can affect the efficiency of the filtration process and this is where the research project of Chee Meng comes in.

He said: "We try to understand what these biofilms is about. So we look at...the micro-organisms present, how they form the biofilm, how they react to certain nutrients." His research is still at the preliminary stage, but he believes it can go far.

Chee Meng said: "The knowledge accumulated will add to the body of knowledge such that it can be picked up by other researchers who specialise in the area of biofilm removal. They can probably apply this to areas outside of the industry, including ship hulls in the maritime industry, and other industrial applications."

Another idea that could change the water tech industry - using ultra-violet rays to purify drinking water. UV purification is currently used in industry here but PhD student Elaine Quek believes, it is only a matter of time before Singapore joins the United States and Europe in applying the technology to drinking water.

The water tech industry is expected to account for 0.6 percent of gross domestic output by 2015. It is also expected to create over 11,000 jobs.

And young researchers like Chee Meng and Elaine are confident of riding the new wave. Elaine said: "About 5, 6 years ago, the water industry wasn't as vibrant as it is right now. It all started with Newater. We started looking at new technologies to treat our water, to increase our water supply. So with GE, and Keppel and Siemens coming up, it's ensuring that the water industry will continue to be vibrant, to have lots of research activities going on. And this is very good for me, because it ensures that whatever I do right now will become relevant in the future as well".

And in a sign of bigger things to come, the National Research Council recently announced, it's setting aside S$30 million for post-graduate scholarships in water technology. - CNA/ch

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