From left to right: Prof Dr ChM Ishak Bin Ahmad, Chia Min Rui, Siti Zarina Binti Zakuwan, Wan Hafizi Bin Wan Ishak and Prof Dr ChM Phang Sook Wai.
Have you ever been unsure if frozen food that you have defrosted and refrozen is still safe to eat? Fortunately, there are ways to determine if the food has spoiled and is no longer suitable for consumption. A winning PhD project by Chia Min Rui, a TAR UMT graduate of the Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Analytical Chemistry and now a PhD student at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) does just that. Guided by Prof Dr Phang Sook Wai (co-researcher) from the Faculty of Applied Sciences (FOAS) of TAR UMT and Prof Ishak Ahmad (main researcher), Dean of Faculty of Science & Technology, UKM, Chia Min Rui and two other students from UKM won the Champion prize for the KPS #Ekovative Challenge 2022 on 12 January 2023 at the grand finale. The objective of Chia Min Rui’s project titled “Innovative Biopolymer” is to create a sensor film made of polyaniline and nanocrystalline cellulose that can be utilised in smart food packaging.
The KPS #Ekovative Challenge 2022 is organised by Kumpulan Perangsang Selangor as an environmental initiative to encourage the research of eco-friendly food packaging materials. This competition is in collaboration with Jabatan Pendidikan Tinggi and SIRIM Tech Venture. It is an inter-varsity competition open to both public and private universities in Malaysia. Twenty teams were shortlisted for the finals and the best 5 teams competed in the grand finale (pitch competition).
The winning project itself was on a smart sticker that is designed to monitor the freshness of frozen seafood, specifically fish. It makes use of polyaniline, a type of conductive polymer, which undergoes a colour change from green to blue upon reacting with ammonia. As frozen fish spoils, it releases a high amount of ammonia that causes the green film on the sticker to turn blue, indicating the fish is no longer fresh. However, polyaniline can be delicate, and to address this issue, nanocrystalline cellulose is added to enhance the physical properties of the film. This addition leads to stronger and more flexible film. Through this competition, the collaboration between TAR UMT and UKM on smart food packaging has yielded promising results.
Prof Dr Phang Sook Wai’s role was in offering her expertise in the field of conducting polymers in utilising polyaniline for smart food packaging.
When asked what were the challenges they faced, she said: “The primary challenge of the competition is finding collaboration partners within the industry. Demonstrating the business aspect of sustainability is a key criterion for scoring in the competition. However, since our product is still in its early stages, industry players are hesitant to collaborate with us on this project.”
She had this piece of advice for those who wish to participate in competitions like these. “I would advise students to be bold and creative in brainstorming new research ideas.”