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David Ikumi: wastewater research

30 June 2016

David Ikumi: wastewater research

Ikumi’s research focuses on the mathematical modelling of wastewater treatment systems. His work, which he carried through from his postgraduate research, seeks to contribute solutions to averting the current water crisis in Africa. Ikumi spoke to Chido Mbambe.

CM: Where were you born and raised?

DI: I was born and raised in Kenya – most of my childhood was spent in Nairobi.

CM: What drew you to UCT?

DI: I initially came to UCT in pursuit of my undergraduate studies in civil engineering. I developed a keen interest in wastewater treatment – for which UCT is known. Remaining at UCT for my postgraduate studies offered a chance to work with and learn from successful individuals, such as my PhD supervisor, Professor George Ekama.

CM: Please tell us about how you came to be a lecturer at UCT’s Department of Civil Engineering.

DI: During my PhD studies, I became quite curious about the academic world – hence my taking up the opportunity to help with the teaching of the wastewater treatment course while writing my thesis. Later in that period, I was granted an opportunity to work collaboratively in research with another research group in Laval University of Canada. After graduation, I was very happy to be offered the prestigious Carnegie Scholarship, which allowed me to re-join UCT as a postdoctoral research fellow. Following my postdoctoral fellowship, I was fortunate to get offered a position at UCT’s civil engineering department as a senior lecturer in water quality engineering.

CM: Which research of yours does the Claude Leon Merit Award recognise?

DI: My current research interests are within mathematical modelling of wastewater treatment systems. The Claude Leon Merit Award recognises the use of mathematical modelling in conjunction with experimental methods towards development of augmented bio methane potential (ABMP) and augmented bio sulphide potential (ABSP) tests.

CM: What floats your boat in research?

DI: Bioprocess modelling is the main topic of discussion in our water research group. With this in mind, we are continuously asking ourselves exactly what the waste water treatment systems of the future should look like. The past researchers at UCT have been renowned for developing mathematical models that are used internationally. These models are based on the recurrent behaviour of microorganisms that mediate wastewater treatment under various environments. The attempt to virtually replicate their behavioural patterns in the development of mathematical models is indeed an exciting process, similar to assembling pieces of a puzzle. The models can then be used towards the design of ideal treatment systems together with their optimised operation.

CM: How does this area of research fit in with your personal interests?

DI: I am delighted that my research area involves the protection of our natural environment. Moreover, it requires the application of sciences, such as mathematics and biology – I have always appreciated the application of scientific principles to make reasonable conclusions and predictions.

CM: What do you wish other people knew about your field or research?

DI: The reality of the water crisis – the struggle for a clean, ample supply of water for sustaining life – continuously intensifies and there is a necessity for effective conservation, management and distribution of our water resources.

CM: What do you like doing off duty?

DI: I enjoy visiting new restaurants with friends and sampling craft beer. I am not much of an artist myself, but I appreciate going to open-mic sessions to see people express themselves with good poetry, hip-hop or comedy. When I can, I also enjoy taking road trips to visit new towns.

Story Chido Mbambe. Photo Michael Hammond.