Membrane filtration is an established technology in the field of drinking water treatment. While membranes can treat water to much higher standards than most other available technologies, their operation and maintenance often tends to be a complex and costly process. This hinders their widespread use in remote and small communities. Over the past few years, attempts have been made, mostly in Canada and Switzerland, to develop passive membrane filtration systems which eliminate the complexity of the conventional systems. In these passive systems, gravity, as against conventional pumping, is used to push water through the membranes. Also, simple techniques like passive air sparging, draining, gravitational backwash, etc., are employed as fouling control measures as against the use of pressurized air or chemicals. With favorable results from bench-scale research, we are now testing the technology at pilot scale. A pilot-scale passive membrane filtration plant has been developed and is currently operational in West Vancouver. The system is fed with actual lake water taken from the Eagle Lake near Cypress Mountain. After almost five months of operation, flux values have remained relatively stable in the membrane reactors as they continue to treat water to very high standards. These first results are encouraging. More pilot-scale plants are now being planned for deployment in indigenous communities across BC. It is hoped that long-term results from these pilot-scale plants will conclusively demonstrate the suitability of passive membrane filtration systems to provide high quality potable water to remote and small communities.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
I love the fact that I get to conduct research in the field, and that I am not just stuck in a lab. Even more important is the fact that my work will make a real impact on the lives of indigenous peoples in Canada, and that it is not just a data-crunching, paper-publishing endeavor.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
I was amazed, astonished, astounded - just plain, simple awed - when I first landed in Vancouver - a city with the best of both the worlds - mountains as well as the ocean. Vancouver's and UBC's other-worldly beauty was definitely the best and the biggest surprise. The sights here still amaze me to this day. I don't think I want to ever leave this city.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
Having decided I wanted to pursue graduate studies, I started seeking advice from my colleagues and seniors about school selection. I was advised by most to only consider graduate studies in North America as that’s where the best opportunities exist. I listened to them, and decided to only consider North America for graduate studies. I was initially considering applying to both Canadian and American universities. Then, I realized how expensive it was to go to graduate school. I knew that in Canada, I would have Mitacs Globalink Graduate Fellowship to partially offset the costs of graduate studies. Also, I knew that in Canada, research supervisors usually pay their students a decent stipend from the beginning of the program. None of these funding sources would be available in the US, definitely not from the beginning of the program. I had realized that to go to US, I would have to take a huge bank loan. Besides, it would be very difficult to settle in the US in long term due to their immigration policies (and this was pre-Trump era). Canada topped on both the parameters - better funding and ease of immigration. Accordingly, I only applied to three Canadian universities, namely UBC, UoT, and McGill. I got offers, the best of which was from UBC. So, I came here and have been so happy ever since.
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
I definitely see a career for myself in Canada, and my program is definitely providing me with all the skills I will need to kick-start and excel at that career option. My dream job is to work for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and help provide high quality potable water to remote and small communities, many of which have had boil water advisories for decades.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
In Vancouver, I have found my one true love in hiking, and I plan to complete 100 odd hikes before graduating next year.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Just believe in UBC and come. You won't ever regret your decision. Period.