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Paying tribute to our Chemistry Dept experts

(Source : Daily Express online)

By Datuk Seri Panglima Wilfred Madius Tangau

In recent weeks the killing of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at KLIA 2 jolted the country and the world. The authorities acted immediately, roping in various agencies to investigate the case, including the Department of Chemistry Malaysia, or KIMIA Malaysia. With their scientific analytical expertise, they examined and analysed exhibits related to the case and found VX, a banned nerve agent as listed in the Chemical Weapons Convention. This is just one of the numerous cases that KIMIA Malaysia handles each year, since its formation over a hundred years ago.

KIMIA Malaysia, an agency under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), was established in 1909 and has developed over the past 108 years to achieve recognition as a leader in analytical chemistry and forensic science. As of 2017, it has 13 branches across Malaysia with two in Sabah and its headquarters in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. KIMIA Malaysia plays a very vital role in the enforcement and monitoring of legislation and procedures to keep the public safe, to look after the people’s welfare and to protect the environment. Over the years, thanks to advancement in science and technology, our forensic department has been more equipped to solving crimes.

DNA techniques and state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation for example had enabled more precise and accurate reporting. We also could form expertise in highly specialised field such as to analyse agents of chemical weapons. We have used DNA analysis to examine exhibits and subsequently used as evidence in the courts of law. Some of the more recent and high profile cases involving DNA analysis was used to:

– Identify victims in the 2015 Sabah earthquake, where 18 casualties were registered on Mount Kinabalu.

– Identify victims of flight MH 17, which was shot down in a war zone over the Russian-Ukraine border in 2014.

An expert from KIMIA Malaysia joined the international team for several weeks in The Hague, Netherlands.

– Identify victims in the “Ops Daulat” operation in the 2013 Lahad Datu conflict between our military and militants from Sulu. 10 security personnel and 65 terrorists were reportedly killed.

Our Malaysian experts in forensics are also available in the field of narcotics, toxicology, criminalistics and document examination. The work at the Chemistry Department is far from mundane. Emerging clandestine drug processing facilities in the country for example, has posed new challenges to them in the narcotics laboratory as it involves unknown and sometimes very hazardous chemicals. They work closely with the Royal Malaysian Police in cracking down illegal narcotics distributers. In 2015, an illegal ketamine processing facility was found in Semenyih, Selangor, where the authorities seized narcotics such as heroin, ketamine syabu and psychotropic pills. These substances were then handed to KIMIA Malaysia for analysis.

In the event of a road accident such as the 2013 Genting Highland crash, where a public bus veered off into a ravine killing 37 people, KIMIA Malaysia would deploy a physical examination team to do on-site investigation. Besides forensics, KIMIA Malaysia provides a number of other scientific services. One is to safeguard public health by ensuring the safety of food, drinking water and the environment. They have to meet the Food Act and Regulations, World Health Organisation and environmental regulations respectively.

In trade and industry, KIMIA Malaysia provides advisory services to the Royal Malaysian Customs Department. They would issue analytical reports that help the Customs to determine tariff codes for each product, such as petroleum and palm oil. In legal proceedings against suspected smugglers of cigarettes and liquor, a chemist report by KIMIA Malaysia would be required for prosecution. As these analytical reports bring about grave consequences, staffs at KIMIA Malaysia uphold the highest integrity to ensure the validity and reliability of the reports. The procedures are quality assured and are accredited to comply with international standards.

Career opportunities for chemists in the country are aplenty. KIMIA Malaysia is the largest single employer of chemistry and chemistry-related graduates. They are affiliated with the Malaysian Institute of Chemistry, or Institut Kimia Malaysia (IKM), a statutory professional body set up under the Chemists Act 1975 to regulate the profession of chemists in Malaysia. An estimated 6 000 chemistry professionals are working in the country, of which about 1 000 are in the public sector (excluding education) in various capacities.

In the private sector, chemists are employed in analysis and testing, quality control and product development, sales and marketing, production and manufacturing, and research and development, and finally, some in managerial positions. As our economy migrates towards automation and energy efficiency, more chemists in various subfields under the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programmes would be in demand. KIMIA Malaysia actively collaborates with IKM and other agencies in the promotion of STEM programmes for students and youths, building the awareness for “chemist as a profession”.

We want to motivate our young ones to be innovative and creative in their thinking to prepare them for the future of jobs. I would like to extend our gratitude to our Chemistry Department for their faithful and professional service to the country for the past century, for applying science and technology for the betterment of the people.


Updated: March 23, 2017 at 3:39 pm