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Postgraduate and Part IV students collaborate for Velocity Innovation Challenge success

11 June 2018
Ohinerau and Hukerenui Bonnet
Part IV Civil Engineering students Ohinerau and Hukerenui Bonnet.

Two Part IV students and a PhD candidate have had their ongoing research acknowledged in the recent Velocity Innovation Challenge awards. Under the guidance of Dr Wei-Qin Zhuang, sisters Ohinerau and Hukerenui Bonnet worked with Yashika De Costa on the Safeway Pacific Water project which was awarded the Pacific Islander Innovation and Entrepreneurship prize.

The enterprise is a combination of the Part IV Project the Bonnet sisters are working on and Yashika’s ongoing research.

“Basically we're trying to develop a new technology to treat water which would be applicable in the Pacific Islands. We're trying to treat groundwater then also surface water which are the main drinking sources of water there. We're going to use microbial electrochemical technology. This will help them by providing a low cost, low maintenance alternative to the current treatments that are in place, which is obviously beneficial,” Hukerenui said.

“Plus, this type of technology can be powered with solar panels, which are starting to be used a lot in the Islands. So it will be very useful,” Ohinerau added.

Ohinerau and Hukerenui’s enthusiasm for the research was helped by their personal connection to the project. They are from Tahiti where the main sources of drinking water are surface and groundwater.

“Seeing the situation going on around the world with contaminants in drinking water, we need to find better ways to treat that water that are sustainable. It was really relevant to us,” said Hukerenui.

The sisters credit Dr Zhuang for first bringing the Velocity Challenge to their attention as he has been proactive in promoting the programme to his students over the past year.

“If Wei hadn't come to us with this, it wouldn't have been something we would have considered at all. So that's why it was really shocking to win. We really did not expect that,” Ohinerau said.

“People from our background don't really think about applying for awards, so it felt really good to be able to showcase that we can win things too, and to inspire people hopefully to try and participate in similar challenges in the future. Or maybe it will encourage lecturers to push their students to participate in challenges,” said Hukerenui.

While the three members of the group were committed to the research regardless, Yashika described it as a “confidence boost” that will help them focus on the next stages of the project.

“It felt great winning the award. It gives us a greater drive to work on the project and keep developing it to a fully functioning product,” he said.

“Moving on, we would like to develop stronger relationships with people that could use this product to get an idea of what is actually needed. Then we can improve or design the item to better suit the needs of the people that would use it.”

The technology will continue to develop as the group work on their respective research projects. While it’s still in the early stages overall, there is a chance the project will be submitted to further stages of the Velocity Challenge in the future.