Dr Phang Siew Moi
Honorary Professor, Institute of Ocean & Earth Sciences (IOES)
Director, Algae Technologies Business Pod, UM Innovations Sdn Bhd
University of Malaya
How has the British Council and the UK influenced you?
My first experience with the British Council was when I was brought by my father to visit the British Council library. I was in primary school and I was in awe of this important library where I could borrow books to read at home. This was followed by attendance at many educational activities conducted by the British Council throughout my school years.
In 1999, as a lecturer in the University of Malaya, I was awarded the CICHE Grant with Dr Murray Brown of the University of Plymouth for three years. This allowed us to have exchange visits once a year, to jointly develop our research on pollution biomonitoring. Dr Brown and I have served as Associate Editors for the high impact Journal of Applied Phycology for many years since then.
In 2008, our research group led by Prof Radzi Abbas successfully obtained the PMI 2 Grant jointly with Prof John Pyle of Cambridge University. The project which lasted for three years contributed to the award of the status of High Institution Centre of Excellence (HICoE) to the Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences (IOES), University of Malaya. We benefitted greatly from our Cambridge counterparts in terms of fundamental halocarbon chemistry and expertise in analytical techniques.
In 2015, our research group was again rewarded with the Newton-Ungku Omar Linkage Grant for joint research with Dr Adrian Fisher from Cambridge University. The successful collaboration generated high impact publications, patents and produced several postgraduates. This success led us to win the Newton Prize 2017 for Malaysia, which is supporting continued collaboration to develop an operational algal biophotovoltaic device that integrates bioelectricity generation with carbon reduction and bioremediation of an agro-industrial wastewater.
Tell us how the British Council positively impacted your work
Generous support from the British Council has contributed to the development of our research in Algae Biotechnology, especially research on the Algal Biophotovoltaic Device for bioelectricity generation, and the marine algal halocarbon research. My postgraduate students and I have had opportunities to work in well-established laboratories to learn new techniques in very important areas such as renewable energy and climate change, which has now become my research focus. Collaborations with our UK partners have brought national and international recognition, in the form of awards, high impact publications and patents, all of which serve to inspire new generations of algal scientists in Malaysia.
Were there any interesting anecdotes throughout your UK-Malaysia journey so far?
While the intellectual and academic aspects of the UK-Malaysia collaborations that we’ve had through the years were highly successful through serious and dedicated joint efforts, we also had many “fun activities” together. Many of these activities were related to food. Our Cambridge and UEA collaborators and their wives were subjected to the durian torture! In return, when I was in Cambridge, I was served the Stinking Bishop cheese; however, as a true-blue Malaysian already acclimatised to belacan and cencaluk, I ate the cheese without protest, much to their disappointment. Our postgraduate students had opportunities for attachment in the Plymouth, Cambridge, and UEA laboratories, and received excellent scientific training in addition to making good friends with UK postgraduates, which have led to good research collaborations.