Asia’s Rising Scientists: Felycia Edi Soetaredjo

Dr. Felycia Edi Soetaredjo is on a mission to reduce water pollution in Indonesia with her simple and inexpensive method of wastewater treatment.

Felycia Edi Soetaredjo
Faculty member
Department of Chemical Engineering
Widya Mandala Catholic University Surabaya

AsianScientist (Sep. 27, 2017) – When we turn on a tap, we expect clean water to flow freely from it. Yet, clean water is something that most people take for granted. Having grown up beside a river, Dr. Felycia Edi Soetaredjo observed how wastewater discharged from factories not only impacted the lives of fish, but also took a toll on the health of people who ate the fish from the polluted water source. She discovered that the removal of reactive and toxic compounds from wastewater was costly and that was why factories generally ignored treating their harmful discharge.

Hence, Soetaredjo was inspired to make a difference in her country by developing inexpensive methods to treat wastewater. For her efforts, she was recently awarded the 2017 Organization for Women In Science for the Developing World-Elsevier Foundation Award which honors early women career scientists in the developing world.

  1. How would you summarize your research in a tweet (140 characters)?
  2. The subcritical Fenton method is an efficient treatment for reactive and toxic organic compounds in wastewater.

  3. Describe a completed research project that you are proudest of.
  4. Water pollution is a serious problem in many countries due to the lack of awareness surrounding environmental and health effects of untreated wastewater. There are many types of pollutants discharged into water bodies every day. Nature has the ability to degrade various pollutants but it takes a long time; the amount discharged by humans exceeds the rate of natural degradation.

    Our research group has developed a process to treat organic and reactive pollutants in wastewater in a short time using Fenton reagents and subcritical processes. Our method has been demonstrated to be successfully in treating UV reactive compounds in wastewater. The results showed that it is powerful enough to degrade 98 percent of pollutant compounds. Additional processes such as neutralization and adsorption are then used to adjust pH and remove trace elements before the wastewater can be used as sanitation water. We are in the process of patenting our method in Indonesia.

    We have also been using biomass and clay material to produce biosorbent, adsorbent and composite, which are effective in removing hazardous compounds such as antibiotics, heavy metals and dyes from wastewater.

  5. What do you hope to accomplish with your research in the next decade?
  6. Wastewater treatment is expensive especially for the removal of reactive and toxic organic compounds. Many factories that produce this type of pollutants try to avoid treating wastewater to suppress operation costs, particularly in areas where law enforcement is slack. I hope to invent a simple and low cost process in the future so that the factories willingly treat their wastewater and improve the quality of water they release back into the environment.

    Dr. Soetaredjo receiving her 2017 Organization for Women In Science for the Developing World-Elsevier Foundation Award. Credit: Felycia Edi Soetaredjo

  7. Who (or what) motivated you to go into your field of study?
  8. When I was a kid, there was a river behind my home and I frequently played nearby it. I remember seeing fishes floating in the river. Being young and innocent, I thought this was a blessing since people could catch the fish more easily. As I grew up, I realized that the fish were floating due to factory discharge which was polluting the river with toxins. I cannot imagine the effect on people who ate the poisoned fish.

    Moreover, I noticed the rivers in my city are almost similar to sewage. As water quality worsened, I felt the burden in my heart to do something. Even though what I have been doing is only a small part, I believe if more scientists get together to collectively solve local problems one by one, then one day we will have better environment.

  9. What is the biggest adversity that you experienced in your research?
  10. I currently work as a lecturer and researcher in a private University, the Widya Mandala Catholic University Surabaya in Indonesia. I am grateful for the freedom in pursuing my research. However, I have limited resources and we do not have sufficient funding for advance instrumentation, expensive chemicals and travel support to international meetings, which are important to build networks and enrich our research quality. Our research group has been collaborating with a number of overseas universities such as the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology. Such collaborations support our research activities and have resulted in international publications.

  11. What are the biggest challenges facing the academic research community today, and how can we fix it?
  12. Research funding and mentorship are particularly important for scientists in developing countries. There are a number of sources of international research funding that support independent research groups worldwide. However, many young scientists do not know how to successfully apply for such funding.

    I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to attend a few international workshops and meetings which gave me an idea about international research grant applications. I applied for and received such funding, which allowed me to perform work that has been published in an international journal. Therefore, I feel that workshops or schemes that connect labs from developed and developing countries to collaboratively apply for international grants will greatly boost research quality and capability.

  13. If you had not become a scientist, what would you have become instead?
  14. I was thinking of going to medical school, but as it was too expensive, I decided to study chemical engineering instead. So, if I had not become a scientist, I would probably have been a physician. I also like to write, so I might have become a writer as well.

  15. Outside of work, what do you do to relax?
  16. Shopping! But I also like nature, so hiking is another way for me to relax.

  17. If you had the power and resources to eradicate any world problem using your research, which one would you solve?
  18. I want to solve the problem of water management and I am looking forward to collaborating with anyone who works in this area. I believe the water cycle has been going on in nature for thousands of years, so we can gain insights from nature to establish a process that maintains the good quality water sources. Also, our climate is changing, and the weather is sometimes unpredictable, hence there is a need for comprehensive collaborations among various scientific disciplines to solve global water issues and mitigate future effects.

  19. What advice would you give to aspiring researchers in Asia?
  20. The balance in nature must be maintained. Therefore, any innovation should take into consideration the impact on the environment so that the Earth is kept safe.

This article is from a monthly series called Asia’s Rising Scientists. Click here to read other articles in the series.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photos: Felycia Edi Soetaredjo.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Jeremy received his PhD from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, where he studied the role of the tumor microenvironment in cancer progression.

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