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NTU EEE student recognised as one of Asia's Innovators Under 35


​​​​​​​​​​Stephanie Yap is in the final year of her PhD studies, but has already been named one of Asia’s Innovators Under 35 by the MIT Technology Review. She is recognised for her efforts in developing a portable device to measure water quality, which helps in addressing one of humanities biggest challenges - supply of clean water.

Tell us about your portable water testing device?

Water quality monitoring used to be is laborious, time-consuming, and costly. Furthermore, these facilities may not be easily accessible in some rural areas. Our developed optical microfiber-based hand-held sensor is capable of detecting various heavy metals such as cadmium and lead in five minutes, at a fraction of the cost of conventional measurement. This will be more affordable for public/private use and thus, water quality monitoring can be conducted more thorough and frequent.

How did this idea come about?

Maintaining drinking water quality is crucial for the protection of public health. Even though heavy metal contamination in potable water can be deleterious even at trace levels, their presence often goes unnoticed since they are colorless and odorless. Inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy (ICPMS) is often regarded as the gold standard which complies with WHO regulations, however, some underdeveloped nations may not have the access to it owing to its sophisticated use and costly maintenance. 

This issue has raised global concern, prompting us to develop a hand-held sensor that aims to be economical, facile, and allowed instant quantitative detection of heavy metals down to ppb level, sufficient to address the maximum contaminant limit as regulated by WHO. The project first started as a benchtop sensing setup and after three years of research and development works, the sensor is now translated into a compact hand-held device. This invention is particularly useful for rural areas that are far from test facilities. Moreover, it also allows the authorities to perform water quality checks more often without the hassle of sending test samples to laboratories and prevent unnecessary exposure to the public.

Tell us about your decision to pursue Ph.D in NTU?

I received my B.Eng (1st Class) from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. My final year project during my undergraduate years played a very important role to evoke my interest in pursuing graduate study. My final year project which centered on developing a non-invasive glucose monitoring sensor has made me developed a strong interest in sensor research. I am fortunate to be awarded the NTU Research Scholarship and be accepted as a Ph.D. candidate in EEE, NTU, under Prof Tjin and Prof Yong's research group to embark on this water sensor project.

How did your entrance into the MIT Tech Review Innovator Under 35 (2020) come about?

Prof Yong has always been encouraging towards my work and constantly offering professional advice. He supported and nominated me for MIT Technology Review Innovator Under 35. To be considered, I was requested to provide my CV, referees and a description of my invention. The result was announced in an event organized by EmTech Asia at BASH, Singapore, and I am grateful to be one of the 20 honourees in the Asia Pacific region.

​​​Published on 23 December 2019​

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