NJIT and Thai Conglomerate SCG Agree to Jointly Pursue Research and Technology Innovation

NJIT signed an agreement last week with Siam Cement Group (SCG), one of Thailand’s leading industrial conglomerates, that will bring both Thai graduate students and research funds to the university to further technology innovation in areas of shared interest such as materials science, wastewater treatment and intelligent transportation.

The collaboration caps substantial commitments by both institutions to expand research aimed at meeting pressing societal needs, while forming global partnerships to advance these goals. Last year, for example, both NJIT and SCG surpassed $100 million in research expenditures.

“We want to be more innovative,” said Kan Trakulhoon, SCG’s CEO and president, at the signing ceremony on campus. Of the partnership with NJIT, he added, “This will be a very, very good collaboration into the future.”

SCG, a century-old company with more than $14 billion in assets, is composed of four divisions, including building and construction materials, pulps and papers, ceramics and chemicals. In order to build capacity, Trakulhoon said the company has sharply increased its investment in worker training, including graduate education, calling “the engagement of our people” one of the company’s top priorities.

The agreement, formed with NJIT’s John A. Reif, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), is designed to expand the company’s R&D capacity by funding Ph.D. students at NJIT and other U.S. universities. SCG’s financial support would also include up to $50,000 per year in research dollars for each student’s doctoral advisor.

To facilitate the initiative, SCG is establishing a Center of Excellence at NJIT, which will assist the company in picking academic and research programs and placing students. Prior to the signing this week, professors and coordinators from several other universities, including Rutgers University and Case Western Reserve University, met on the NJIT campus for discussions with CEE Chair Taha Marhaba, Methi Wecharatana, a CEE professor, and executives and staff from SCG.

“We look forward to working together to support interdisciplinary research and innovation in strategic focal areas for growth and development,” Marhaba said, pointing to construction materials, wastewater treatment, chemicals and transportation as key sectors. “We will work on areas of strength for us and of importance for Thailand, while furthering the education of both graduate students and professionals.”

NJIT President Joel Bloom called the agreement “a tremendous opportunity to partner with a globally oriented corporation that understands the vital role that applied research, focused on real-world challenges, plays in driving innovation and progress.”

“This collaboration is very much in keeping with NJIT’s mission to expand our external research enterprise,” he added. “This is the reason we created the New Jersey Innovation Institute, an NJIT corporation that leverages the university’s intellectual and technological resources to solve problems identified by our industry partners.”

In addition to scholarships and research funds, the partnership may also include joint ventures designed to advance promising technologies.

“We will also introduce our Thai partners to technology developed at NJIT and elsewhere that they may find has good business and investment potential and may want to license,” said Wecharatana, who is widely known among Thailand’s science and technology and business communities.  He was the first recipient of Thailand’s Technologist of the Year Award, and has been awarded an honorary doctorate from Khon Kaen University of Thailand in the area of hazardous waste and environmental engineering.

Anna Owasit, who worked for five years in the R&D unit of SCG’s ceramics division, is the first SCG employee to seek a graduate degree at NJIT. She arrived on campus this fall, ahead of the agreement, to pursue a master’s degree in materials science. She hopes to work with Rajesh Dave, distinguished professor of chemical, biological and pharmaceutical engineering, who is an expert in nanoparticles and nanocomposites.

“I looked closely at the list of professors with expertise in powder technology and chose NJIT based on my search,” she said. “This area is very interesting to us. Applications range from ceramic tiles and sanitary ware in houses to industrial uses of cement and concrete.”

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