UMass Amherst and Thai Universities Launch Research Program in Environmental Sciences

AMHERST, Mass. - As part of its expanded effort to offer students and faculty unique international opportunities, the University of Massachusetts has established a collaborative program with several universities in Thailand to promote the exchange of ideas and technologies related to environmental remediation. The first Thai graduate student enrolled in the program is completing her research project at UMass using plants to clean up polluted sites - a process known as phytoremediation - and will return to her home country at the end of February. The first participating UMass scientist has returned from a two-week trip to Southeast Asia where he met with distinguished Thai researchers in a series of special seminars on environmental issues.

Both students and faculty will gain from the experience as they learn from one another in this country and abroad, says microbiologist Guy Lanza, director of the UMass environmental sciences program. "This unusual exchange brings Thai scholars to the Amherst campus for highly specialized training not available in their country. At the same time, it gives the UMass community a chance to study the effect of rapid development on a biologically diverse, tropical environment, through intensive study in Thailand, and through formal and informal interaction with Thai researchers working at UMass."

Lanza cites a real need for such collaboration. At the height of the Vietnam War, he spent two years in Thailand, conducting what became benchmark studies on microbial communities within the Mekong River ecosystem for the Smithsonian Institution. Today, Lanza says, "Thailand is exploding with economic development, and consequently, with serious pollution caused by the development of energy resources, and by the region''s recent and rapid expansion of industrial activity.

"The global economy has made all of us part of a new, global community. It''s important for both Americans and Thais to learn how other cultures handle common problems, such as the pollution of our water, soil, and air. We''re going to have to work together if we are to solve one of the biggest problems people in all countries face today, and that is how to balance the benefits of economic development with a clean living space in which future generations can thrive."

The exchange program is funded by grants from the Thai government, with assistance from and coordination by the UMass Office of International Programs. The first Thai researcher, Niramol Rangsayatorn, a doctoral student in environmental science at Mahidol University in Bangkok, began her studies at the Amherst campus in September and will return to Thailand at the end of February. The Thailand Research Fund (TRF) funded her work to offer her special skills she could bring back to Thailand in order to train fellow scientists in phytoremediation techniques and technologies. The training she received at UMass also will make her a better scientist, Lanza says. The next Thai researcher is expected to arrive in the fall, he adds.

As part of the exchange, Lanza lectured on phytoremediation technologies at Mahidol University in Bangkok, and Burapha University in Bangsaen, in January. His presentations were part of the Royal Golden Jubilee (RGJ) Seminar Series in Environmental Biology, a special program initiated by the Thai government in 1997 in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadejto''s 50th anniversary as monarch and chief of state. According to the TRF, the Thai government hopes to produce 5,000 Thai scientists with doctoral degrees by 2011, through RGJ collaborative programs with selected universities around the world that offer programs not currently available in Thailand.