Professor Dr Abdul Latif Ahmad was born in Beranang, Selangor on 4 January 1967. He received his early education at Sekolah Kebangsaan Beranang, Selangor and his secondary education at Sekolah Menengah Khir Johari Beranang, Selangor. In 1990 he obtained his B.Eng in Chemical Engineering from the University of Wales, Swansea, United Kingdom. This was followed by an MSc in Chemical Engineering and, subsequently, a PhD in Chemical Engineering (with a focus on Membrane Technology) from the University of Wales in 1991 and 1995 respectively. Upon his return to Malaysia, he joined Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) as a lecturer in the School of Chemical Engineering. He served as the Dean of the School of Chemical Engineering from 2005 to 2010 and as the Dean of Research in the Research and Innovation Division of USM from 2010 to 2012. Prof Latif is currently a Professor at USM’s School of Chemical Engineering.
Widely regarded as an authority in the study of environmental research with special emphasis on wastewater treatment and membrane technology, Prof Latif’s expertise is evident through a body of work that spans two decades and which includes extensive and in-depth research on and application of membrane technology for the treatment of waste water from industrial sources such as palm oil mills, pesticides, dyes, and the textile industry. Among his most prominent research inventions is the development of a novel-innovative hybrid treatment process for palm oil mill effluent (POME) using membrane separation technology coupled with chemical/physical pre-treatment. With this invention one of the world’s most polluting wastewater is treated and recovered as crystal clear drinking water that complies with the United States Environment Protection Act (USEPA) Standard, enabling the concept of zero discharge to be implemented in the industry. A very high recovery of 85% crystal clear water can be achieved with the application of the technology and the water can be recycled for internal mill usage. According to Prof Latif “85% of water in POME can be recycled as clean water.” The success of this invention would enable 47.9 million tonnes of pure water with high commercial value to be recovered from POME generated in Malaysia. This is particularly important he says as we “have to protect our environment by making it more sustainable.”
Prof Latif’s work on synthesis and fabrication of membranes has made it possible to produce membranes at a fraction of the prevalent market price with the added advantage of the ability to be tailored to suit specific applications thus enabling membranes to be explored and employed even further. In translating theoretical knowledge to practical application, a custom membrane auto-casting machine was invented to successfully control the membrane morphologies, pore sizes, porosity and performance characteristics. The machine integrates all the advantageous features of casting technology to reduce the errors of normal manual casting, thereby enhancing the synthesis of even, smooth, ultra-thin and defect-free membrane. The machine is the first of its kind in the world that has successfully synthesised different types of membranes such as polymeric, ceramic, thin film composite as well as mixed matrices membranes to meet the wider and more diversified applications in water recovery and reused for various industries.
Prof Latif has also continued efforts to expand the application of membrane technology to include the production of cardiovascular drug precursors using an integrated membrane bioreactor. In addition he has also successfully developed a lateral flow nitrocellulose membrane which is widely used in biomedical applications particularly for diagnostic kits. He also extended the application of membrane technology for gas separation.
His aptitude for high quality research of international standing has been further supported by his more than 280 international journal publications with a total citation of 4,361 times and an h-index of 35. In his capacity as the Dean of the School of Chemical Engineering (2005-2010) at Universiti Sains Malaysia, the school rose in both quantum and quality of research and development output and was ranked among the top 20 faculties in Asia and top 100 faculties worldwide. Prof Latif has also successfully supervised 26 PhD and 60 MSc students and is currently supervising 17 PhD and 7 MSc students.
Prof Latif is a scholar, educator, consultant and distinguished scientist. A role model and scientist, his inventions and ideas make him one of the leading scientists in the country. Internationally recognised as an expert in wastewater treatment, he has dedicated over 20 years of his life to research endeavors with a strong focus on preserving the environment, and in particular water. His advice to young people today is to “always work hard and not be complacent.” He says: “In science, solutions do not happen overnight – one must be willing to work with perseverance.” Prof Latif has been honored with a total of 44 local and international awards for his achievements. The first and sole Asia Pacific recipient of the 2006 Saudi Arabia Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz International Prize for Water, he has also been honoured with the 20th Khwarizmi International Award 2007 from the Iranian Research Organization for Science and Technology (IROST) for outstanding research achievement. The Institution of Chemical Engineers, United Kingdom has also bestowed Prof Latif with the Novel Engineering Solutions Award 2008 for his accomplishments and tangible real applications designed to address vital economic, environmental and social issues. The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) based in Italy has selected Prof Latif to be the recipient of TWAS 2012 Prize in Engineering Sciences for his contribution to Sustainable Environmental Protection and Healthcare in Developing Countries via membrane based technology. In June 2014, Thomson Reuters named Prof Latif among the World’s Highly Cited Researchers by awarding him “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds: 2014”. He has made the nation proud to be one of the three top scientists in Malaysia to receive this award.
Prof Latif’s groundbreaking research has contributed immensely to affordable and reliable membrane technology to filter impurities from effluents, especially from palm oil mills. The scope of his research is wide and emphasises the recovery of water from palm oil mill, pesticides, dyes, and the textile industry via innovative membrane application and membrane synthesis. This ultimately contributes to water savings and extensive reduction in wastewater discharge which is crucial in maintaining a balanced environment for future generations. In this regard, his pursuit of excellence in the areas of polymer science, wastewater treatment and membrane separation technology is a reflection of the innovative and pioneering Spirit of Merdeka.