Young Water Champions

1 Jul 2011                   

Nothing makes me more excited than talking to students and finding out their hopes and dreams, and I was glad to have been given the opportunity to do just that.

I was at the Singapore Junior Water Prize and Sembcorp Water Technology Prize presentation ceremony yesterday, which was officiated by Ms Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts and the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

The Singapore Junior Water Prize is organised by the Lien Foundation and Ngee Ann Polytechnic with support from PUB, Singapore’s national water agency that aims to promote interest in water and environmental issues among youths.  Winners get to represent the country at the International Stockholm Junior Water Prize in Sweden. The inaugural Sembcorp Water Technology Prize aspires to groom future water scientists and is organised by Sembcorp, Nanyang Technological University’s Membrane Technology Centre, Singapore Polytechnic’s School of Chemical and Life Sciences and the PUB.

The former Prize was won by the team from Temasek Polytechnic, while the latter by the team fromHwa Chong Institution.

The party started as soon as we moved to the reception room decorated with banners and posters.  Proud winners of each prize gave their best presentation as guests proceeded to learn more about their projects. There were smiles, camera flashes and the clink of cutlery.

I didn’t get a chance to nibble on some of the munchies, though, as I was having too much fun talking to the students and finding out about their projects and ambitions.

The team from Temasek Polytechnic studied the use of a natural oil absorber that can effectively clean up oil spills. As they brought me through the process of their project, I was struck by how enthusiastic and, well, funny they were.

“We destroyed and stunk up the lab with our experiment!” said Leonard Tan, 17, a second-year Chemical Engineering student at the polytechnic.

The story behind the Hwa Chong Institution team’s project was especially amusing.  Their project, a hollow fibre filtration system, optimises the energy needed to treat used water.

“We got our idea from looking at a cleaner mopping the floor. If they kept doing this it’s going to be so tiring, so we thought of some automation”, said team member Sia Han Yung, 16, a secondary four student..

I went around the room and most of them were excited to consider studying engineering at university. “The water industry is a great area to venture into. Engineering is gaining so much recognition these days, such as chemical and bio-molecular engineering…there’s just so much potential”, said Nickie Seoh, 18, a second-year student at Anderson Junior College.

And then I thought to myself, “Were Singaporean youths really this interested in Water technology, or were the students to whom I spoke an exception?” I decided to ask Mr Anders Berntell, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute, if this was true. He said, “Comparatively, across the world, the percentage of youth involvement and engagement in Singapore is very high. Not just that, the quality is very high too. We really look forward to receiving them at Sweden (at the Stockholm Junior Water Prize).”

But after talking with the youths at the networking session yesterday, I’m confident that as long as we still have youths as passionate as they are, as long as we have youths just like the ones at the event, the industry will survive and perhaps, one day, see a reversal in the declining take-up rate.

As Mr Tang Kin Fei, President of the Singapore Water Association and CEO of Sembcorp Industries, said in his opening address, perhaps “one or two of them will even go on to win the Lee Kwan Yew Water Prize in future”.

By Sujith Kumar

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