Transforming the world with micro- and nanotechnology

Asim Noor USN BioMems
Asim Noor's Master's project at USN Masters in Micro and Nano Systems Technology has the potential to solve global environmental problems.

Asim Noor was writing his master’s thesis when NOAH, a Norwegian company that specializes in treating environmental waste, hired him.

Five years ago, Asim Noor was in Pakistan working in the petrochemical industry when he decided to move to Norway to be with his family. Noor had been interested in nanotechnology for a while, and his research led him to University of South-Eastern Norway’s (USN) Micro and Nano Systems Technology programme.

“The interdisciplinary programme is a study of how miniaturized components are designed, manufactured, and characterized, and how they play together in a complete system,” says Noor, “I truly believe that the technology has the potential to transform the world in the future just like electricity and the internet did.”

This graduate-level course offers several specializations, and Noor chose the Biomedical (or Biological) Microelectromechanical Systems (Bio-MEMS) route. “The course of my study focuses on microbiology and microfluidics along with drug delivery and diagnostics,” explains Noor. Additionally, Noor says that Bio-MEMS is a unique and advance course only offered in Norway at USN.

Rewarding semesters

Noor’s four semesters here at USN have been busy. “It is rewarding to be with faculty who are experts in their fields—where we are pushed to question and find new solutions,” says Noor. One of the biggest advantages of being at this programme at USN has been the number of laboratory sessions he has been able to get. “This field is extremely demanding of practical knowledge, so the course mandates laboratory work—I have had many lab sessions, which has been crucial to my learning.”

After four semesters, this autumn Noor submitted his master’s project. For his final assignment, Noor fabricated a prototype, which will physically separate the micro-organisms and micro-particles from complex fluids like water, oil and blood. According to Noor, this device he developed will make the continuous separation, concentration and refining of the fluids possible, regardless of the microparticles or impurities present in the solvent and the volume of the fluid, which may change from milligrams to thousands of litres. “By commercialising this technology, we can make a huge impact in medical as well as in industrial sectors and overcome challenges related to refining, sorting, concentrating of the fluids,” explains Noor.

Can solve global problems

Noor’s supervisor and professor see a broader potential of his project—in the oil industry, deep-ocean mining technology, treating wastewater as well as drinking water.

“The oil industry has a problem with waste, which is also a huge cost to the industry,” says Professor Frank Karlsen, Noor’s study supervisor at USN’s Department of Microsystems adding,

“There is a potential to continuously treat the waste to avoid environmental problems.”

Similarly, in deep ocean mining, the technology that Noor developed is a sustainable way of mass collection and treatment of sediments at the bottom of the ocean to catch minerals such as gold.

And then there is the problem of wastewater around the world. Karlsen argues Noor’s technology will give water plants around the world control over what is really going on with water in particle at the molecular level.

“This has huge potential to turn wastewater into a sustainable resource for the industry,” explains Karlsen.

Additionally, the technology that Noor devised has the prospective for solving the global drinking water problem.

“We don’t want to drink chemically treated water,” says Karlsen, adding, “This technology has the potential of checking millions of litres of water as they pass through to be sure the drinking water has no risk of bacteria or virus or parasite that is harmful to humans.”

Noor recommends

It has only been few weeks since Noor handed in his master’s project and he is already starting a full-time job at NOAH, Norway, a company that specializes in the treatment of hazardous waste and contaminated soil.

“I work as a test engineer at NOAH and my project there focuses on separating and purifying salts from heterogeneous mixtures,” says Noor. He is excited to use his skills and knowledge that he gained at USN to good use at the new company.

One of the advantages of selecting this programme at USN was that he could work and hold a part-time job and says he and his cohorts have benefitted from being able to get work experience. 

“Micro- and nanotechnology is a rapidly growing field with many job opportunities during and after completing the degree,” says Noor. He recommends this programme to students with a background in biology, physics, chemistry or electronics.

With the dissertation handed in and full-time job sorted, Noor says he is looking forward to some quiet time with his family. “The last two years have been intense—as I settle down in my new job, I want to spend time with my family and explore Norwegian nature, forests and beaches in the days to come.”