Interview with Previous Winners of the Hong Wai Onn Individual Project Award

2021: Chia Si Min

Chia Si Min from UCSI University was the first recipient of the award, in recognition of her significant contributions to research in optimizing the recovery of both lignin and cellulose from oil palm empty fruit bunch through deep eutectic solvents pretreatment.

You won the award with your research project entitled “Co-production of Lignin and Cellulose from Pretreatment on Oil Palm Empty Fruit Bunch”. What has been your biggest challenge in your work?

My biggest challenge in this work would be trying to optimize both production of lignin and cellulose. The pretreatment condition needed to recover both components are disparate, hence few trial runs were carried out to determine the maximum production of both lignin and cellulose to ensure the experimental variables were in the range. Because of the lengthy experiment cycle, literature review on various research papers was carried out to justify the range of variables, hence reducing the trial-and-error downtime and improving the efficiency. Multitasking of recovering the lignin and retrieving the cellulose were needed most of the time. The collected data from experimental work will be analyzed by Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). A re-run of experimental work would be needed if both recoveries of lignin and cellulose were not maximized within the range, indicating the optimized condition has a discrepancy. Hence, a lot of critical thinking and problem solving in this stage.

What is one thing that surprises most people about pretreatment on empty fruit bunch?

One thing that surprises most people would be deep eutectic solvents (DESs) pretreatment could achieve in co-production of both lignin and cellulose. From the majority of the research, DESs were used to recover lignin from empty fruit bunch (EFB) due to its high delignification rate and recovery rate under certain pretreatment condition. Meanwhile, dissolution of cellulose is negligible. This study had merged both mechanisms, hence co-production was achieved as lignin was dissolved along with DESs, then left pretreated EFB to be retrieved as cellulose. In order to fully utilize EFB, recoveries of both lignin and cellulose were optimized through Analysis of Variance (ANOVA).

Which skill do you think is most important for undergraduate students to learn before doing a research project?

The skill which I think is most important for undergraduate students to learn before doing their research project would be time management. A good time management is crucial to complete the research progress, including literature study, experimental work, data analysis, and report writing in the given time frame. Students must know how to break down their tasks into more manageable parts and organize them based on their priority. Time management is more than just scheduling a timetable, do keep in mind that decision-making and multitasking are always needed. Effective time management will increase the productivity and reduce the stress of students.

What tips would you give other undergraduate students thinking of entering the award?

Do not hesitate or afraid that you are not good enough. Always try to expose your research work to every platform, such as Hong Wai Onn Individual Project Award. Who knows, your work might get recognized like mine!