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Undergraduates come up with innovative creations from sago and shells

on 28 April 2010.

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A TRULY sustainable design takes into account poor levels of environmental awareness. For example, modern computers automatically reduces its electricity usage when performing menial task like word processing.

It requires neither knowledge nor effort from the user.

Of course, with the growing number of electronic devices produced every day, electricity consumption will continue to rise. But at the very least, energy is being used efficiently.

My invention: Anizah explaining the advantages of her version of reef balls, which attracts more fishes via its natural texture, and slight improvement to water pH levels. (Inset): Ground cockle shells and its original form.

Design, then, is the most effective element towards saving the environment.

Take another example, a well designed piece of furniture. It should be durable enough to withstand long years of repeated use, since there must be thousands of badly made chairs discarded everyday.

At the same time, a good chair should be affordable enough for the masses.

Wan Khamsiah Wan Ali, 23, believes she has a solution to meet both. “Twelve tonnes of sago waste is discarded daily in Sarawak,” Khamsiah told StarMetro recently.

“Most of the waste ends up buried or thrown into rivers. But waste is only waste if can’t find another use for it.”

Innovative: Khamsiah sitting on her sago waste modular chair in its “folded” position.

Her solution is ingenious.

While preparing for her final year project during her Industrial Design Bachelor’s Degree at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas), she figured why not compact sago waste, forming plywood like building materials.

This process is not new, but Khamsiah’s usage of sago waste is.

Since the 1980s, medium-density fibreboards (MDF) has been one of the major manufacturing materials, used from making speaker cabinets to ceiling boards.

The engineering is pretty simple. Breakdown any soft or medium density wood, combine it with wax, to form panels by applying high pressure.

The modular chair “unfolded” and turned upside down, a position designed to sit two elderly people.

MDF, although not aesthetically pleasing, can be laminated with a layer of high quality wood.

For Khamsiah’s sago MDF, she has found a ratio of one part sago waste to three parts polystyrene works best. It allows the composite material to be light but tough.

With the material in hand, the Unimas undergraduate fashioned a chair. “It’s a modular design,” she said, sitting on one.

“My design allows the chair to be used for one person, or it can unfold to sit two. In the unfolded position, the top is concave for better ergonomics, but for older people, who may find it harder to sit down and stand up, the chair can be turned upside down. This increases the sitting height.”

Khamsiah’s creativity is an advantage of youth, the period where new ideas come easily, when experimentation is not bounded by cynicism or by notions of being overly “practical” or “realistic”.

What Khamsiah’s ingenuity also proves is the importance of knowledge. Her awareness of environmental issues, coupled with her keen eye for a good statistic – the amount of sago waste produced everyday – allowed her to integrate ideas, producing something new and original.

In another example, fellow Unimas Industrial Design undergraduate, Nurul Aniza Mijan, used cockle shells in her redesign of reef balls. These man-made concrete shells are placed at the bottom of oceans to encourage the growth of marine life.

Reef balls also function as a deterrent to illegal fishing. These one-to-two-tonne objects tear apart trawler nets.

In Anizah’s project, she covered the entire surface of her reef balls with cockle shells. “This gives the reef balls a more natural texture. It attracts more marine life like fishes through sight and smell. It also speeds up the growth of corals,” she said.

More than that, Anizah also changed the cement mix. She added ground cockle shells, which in effect, adds calcium and slightly improves pH levels in the water.

To test her theory, Anizah placed two reef balls in an aquarium – one embedded with the shells, and one without. Into the aquarium, she added a half dozen fishes and sea water.

The experiment was suppose to take two months to show its effectiveness, but what happened next surprised even the young undergraduate.

“Straight away the fishes swam towards my reef ball. I was so delighted. You need to create the right environment to promote life, and I feel my reef balls are a genuine improvement, which utilises recycled material,” she said.

Anizah hopes to refine her design through a research grant. Anizah wants to find the optimum shape of her reef balls.

“Right now, I’ve sunk two reef balls at Telaga Air. Both have been in the sea for a couple of months now, but I worry they may break down slowly from undercurrents. There’s some refinement needed, and I’m quite excited to continue this project, if I get a chance to do my Masters.”

Khamsiah and Aniza were speaking to StarMetro during a student’s expo at Unimas earlier this month. The annual fair features the best designs from the university’s Applied and Creative Arts Faculty.


Extracted from The Star Online.

Arkib Berita

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, 94300 Kota Samarahan, Sarawak, Malaysia Telephone: +60 82581000/+60 82581388, Fax: +60 82 665 088, Email: corporate@unimas.my
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