Story from Falling Walls Lab Jakarta 2019


On Thursday, 12th September 2019, Falling Walls Lab Jakarta was held for the fourth time. The competition took place at the Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB) of Universitas Indonesia this year. Overall it was a successful event.

20 finalists were chosen from a total of 69 applicants this year. Their innovative ideas covered various topics from the internet of things, civil engineering, stem cell research, and even social problems such as hate speech. During the event, the finalists had to present their ideas in only 3 minutes and convince 8 judges who have different expertise.

Based on the score given by the judges, Mr. James Zulfan from the Research Centre for Water Resources under the Ministry of Public Works and Housing (MPWH) was chosen as the winner of Falling Walls Lab Jakarta 2019. His presentation titled Breaking the Wall of Dam Construction proposed a modular dam construction as a solution for effective and efficient dam construction. As the winner of Falling Walls Lab Jakarta this year, Mr. James Zulfan will represent Indonesia in Falling Walls Lab 2019, which will be held in Berlin on 8th November 2019.

Dr. Zuraidah Nasution was named as the second winner of Falling Walls Jakarta. Her idea is about Breaking the Wall of Underutilized Mature Coconut Water. With the idea, she wants to boost the sensory quality of mature coconut water by using a more natural process rather than adding more substance to the coconut water. Dr. Retno Wahyu Nurhayati was chosen as the third winner of Falling Walls Lab Jakarta 2019 with her presentation titled Breaking the Wall of Blood Stem Cell Transplantation.

To ask for further information about their innovative ideas as well as their experience in Falling Wall Lab Jakarta 2019, we interviewed Mr. James Zulfan, Dr. Zuraidah Nasution, and Dr. Retno Wahyu Nurhayati

Mr. James, thank you for your time and congratulations on winning the Falling Walls Lab Jakarta 2019. First of all, could you tell us a bit about your background?

Currently, I am working as a public servant specifically as a researcher in the field of Water Resources at the Research Centre for Water Resources under the Ministry of Public Works and Housing (MPWH).

I got my bachelor’s degree in the field of Civil Engineering from Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB). Then I continued my master’s degree in the field of Civil Engineering but more specifically about Hydraulic Engineering at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands.

As a researcher, I’m conducting research and development on water resources that aims to gain innovation on construction technology which are faster, easier and cheaper compared to conventional ones. Therefore, the innovation could improve water resource infrastructure development in Indonesia, for instance with weir or dam construction.

Why are you interested in the field of hydraulic engineering and water resources?

My interest in the field of water resources started to grow when I was doing my bachelor’s degree when I was helping one of my lecturers as an assistant.

Before being a researcher at MPWH, I once worked in the private sector which was related to the field of water resources. I think it is my passion, and we also use water daily, it is related to our daily life.

Besides, we can say that water is always an important issue. We need to be able to control it, if we have too much water, it can lead to floods, and when there is too little, it can lead to drought. Therefore, water management is essential, and one way to manage the water is through constructions such as weirs and dams. The theme of your presentation was about Breaking the Wall of Dam Construction.

Why did you choose this topic?

Dam and weir construction has become one of the issues that are currently trending in Indonesia. The government plans to build more dams. Besides, looking at the geographical location of our country, we have a lot of water resources; sadly, we have not been able to manage it to the fullest. Therefore, we need dams or weirs. Building a dam is not easy, it is expensive, takes a lot of time, and requires a complicated process.

Therefore, I would like to solve those three problems by devel-oping modular technology. The idea itself comes from Lego, or Tetris, which I think we always played a lot during our childhood. I use the concept to build a weir and even a dam using a modular system. So, it is as simple as matching the module pieces.

Currently, it is still a prototype of a weir and small dam in a small river. Later we are planning to apply it in a big river with a larger structure. Also, it has not been fabricated yet, but once we can fabricate it, it will be cheaper and take less time.

In terms of its durability in the water stream, how durable is the modular system?

It is not just an idea that we can realize instantly in only one night. We did our research and tried it for more than five years in laboratories and tried different shapes of modules. After several trials, we found that the modules and prototypes that I brought during the falling walls lab were the most suitable ones at the moment.

After it was tested in our laboratories, and after getting feedback from experts in the field, we are confident to implement it in a small river. The latest full-scale weir structure that applies the modular system has been built in Morotai, North Maluku Province.

When building a dam, one of the challenges that you mentioned is its complexity. Can you explain more about it?

When you build a dam using a conventional method, there are steps that you have to follow in series and order. For example, in the casting process, you have to start from the bottom and work your way up layer by layer, pouring concrete and waiting until it is dry, and then you can go on to the next step.

With the modular system, it can cut the time of the process. For example, while we are preparing the area, we can start fabricating the modules simultaneously. Once it is ready, then we can transport the module to the site and start assembling it all together.

Besides, this technology is also suitable for construction in remote areas where heavy equipment could not access. Because of the size and weight of the module, it is possible to carry the modules using manual labour.

In terms of efficiency, the volume of the material needed to build a dam with a modular system is less than using the conventional method. It also takes less time, so it is faster and saves on labour costs as well.

I would also like to add one thing regarding the modular dam, our team holds the patent of the method, therefore the patent belongs to Indonesia. We should be proud of it.

What was your motivation in joining Falling Walls Lab Ja-karta 2019?

As a researcher and public servant, I got funding from the state. I wanted to inform society about the innovation we developed. Therefore, I often share what we have done in different cities in Indonesia, so they are aware that we have a new innovation regarding water resources.

My motivation for joining Falling Walls Lab Jakarta is only to share the innovation we have developed and also to hear about innovations from other contestants. I also thought the concept of Falling Walls Lab is unique because the participants come from different fields of expertise. Thus, when I joined the competition, I had to convince juries who came from various fields of science and not only from the field of civil engineering. During the preparation, it took several days for me to find the right word to explain the modular dam technology to the jury and other people.

When you met the other finalists, what was your impression?

To be honest, I was shocked. Some of them were still young, even still pursuing their bachelor’s degrees. I was impressed because they were brave enough to express their ideas. I don’t think I was that brave when I was a student.

Besides, the finalists come from different areas of expertise. It helped me to broaden my knowledge and it was a good opportunity to build networks.

When you were mentioned as the winner of Falling Walls Lab Jakarta 2019, were you shocked?

Of course! That day, I also had another event to attend besides Falling Walls Lab Jakarta, therefore I was in a hurry and never thought that I was going to win the competition. Since the committee told me the event would not be that long, I decided to wait until the end of the event.

When my name was mentioned, I was shocked. But later, when I reflected on it; I thought that maybe it was because the idea that I proposed was unique

As a winner of Falling Walls Lab Jakarta, you will fly to Berlin and present your idea. Do you have any hopes or expectations about introducing the idea on the international stage?

Getting the chance to present my idea in Berlin is already such a blessing for me. It is a new challenge for me because I will get the opportunity to present my idea to a bigger stage and front of larger audiences and experts.I have no target or expectation in Berlin, but I will do my best to represent Indonesia. So, I will prepare well for my presentation.

I have a plan to pursue my doctoral degree, thus I hope I can make some networks there. We have developed a modular dam for a small river. Hopefully, by pursuing a doctoral degree, I will get a chance to do more research and develop the module to build a dam for a bigger river.

You will also get a chance to visit a research institute in Europe. Is there any specific research institute that you would like to visit?

I will use the opportunity to visit several research institutes that specialize in water construction, and I am excited to visit them!

The first research institute that I plan to visit is ETH Zurich in Switzerland. The other research institutes that I will visit are the laboratories of Technical University Dresden in Germany and TU Delft in the Netherland.

Last but not least, do you have any words for those who would like to join Falling Walls Lab next year?

For those who would like to join, Falling Walls Lab is a great event because it is open to different fields of knowledge.

Any idea, as long as unique and innovative, it is worth sharing. Just keep on exploring your ideas and join the falling walls lab.

It does not matter if you win the competition or not because the event helps you to broaden your knowledge, and it is also a good chance to network.

Dr. Zuraidah, thank you for your willingness to be interviewed by us despite your busy schedule. First of all, could you tell us a bit about your background, for example, your current activities or your educational background?

I am a lecturer at the Department of Community Nutrition, Faculty of Human Ecology at Institute Pertanian Bogor (IPB). I got my Bachelor’s Degree from Padjajaran University in Ban-dung in the field of Food Technology. Then I continued on to my master’s degree, still in the area of Food Science and Nutrition, at the University of New South Wales in Australia. Then I pursued my Doctorate Degree in the field of Food Science at Kasetsart University, Thailand.

Looking at your educational background, it seems that you are in the field of Food Science. Could you share with us why you are interested in the field?

During high school, I was into Biology. When it was time for me to choose a major for my bachelor’s degree I was looking for a major which was still related to Biology or Microbiology, but also applicable in the technology industry. Then I choose Food Technology. After I finished my bachelor’s degree I was interested to pursue my career in the academic field, I wanted to learn more profoundly about the field.

Is your interest in this field high because Indonesia is a country with an agricultural sector?

Yes, Agriculture is one of the potentials that our country has. Moreover, food and agriculture are one of the industries that will survive throughout the years.

Besides, considering the population and land for agriculture that Indonesia has, the food industry will always be developing. I also consider one of the challenges in the field to be how to make it more effective and efficient. Although we have a large amount of agricultural land, if we do not cultivate it to the fullest, the results will not be optimal.

During Falling Walls Lab Jakarta 2019, you presented your idea on Breaking the Wall of Underutilized Mature Coconut Water. Could you share with us the inspiration behind the theme?

It was part of my dissertation for my doctoral degree, but I only took some part of it related to the processing part. I got the idea when I found out that water from mature coconuts is often thrown away. Most people will use a lot of additional substances to suppress inferior aroma and taste.

Based on the phenomena, together with the team and professor, we would like to boost the sensory quality of mature coconut water by using a more natural process rather than adding more substances to the coconut water.

We hope that the research could be an alternative for the food industry to maximize the usage of different kinds of food ingredients and reduce food waste. The method that we offer is simple, such as heat treatment and adding natural substances such as amino acid (food grade) that can easily be found in the market. Neither complicated nor highly advanced technology is needed.

What were the major problems that you faced when doing your research?

I might say it was the characteristics of coconut water. Coconut water is rich in nutrition, but it has a low acidity level. Hence it goes bad easily. I had to make a really good plan and a timeline once my sample came. From my experience conducting the research, I learnt about the importance of good planning and time management.

Why were you interested in joining Falling Walls Lab Jakarta?

I knew Falling Walls Lab from Euraxess. I attended an event by Euraxess in Bangkok while I was pursuing my Doctorate. From there, I joined the mailing list of Euraxess to get information about activities and scholarships offered by them. One of the events was Falling Walls Lab. I thought the competition was unique and worth a try. Then I made a summary of what I had done. But it was not easy for me since we had to explain our idea in only 3 minutes and 2 slides. I never thought I would be one of the finalists.

What was the most memorable moment from your experience of joining Falling Walls Lab Jakarta 2019?

First of all, it is a unique competition. The idea that the finalists present their ideas may look simple, but actually they have been working on them for the past 3 or 4 years. It is also a multi-discipline competition, so it gives us the chance to know what the current trends in other fields of study are.

After joining Falling Walls Lab, do you have a specific hope?

Now I have a new perspective on my research. I hope that being scientific; my research can benefit other people. And for the event, I hope in the future Falling Walls Lab Jakarta will be better promoted, so more people will know about Falling Walls Lab. We have a lot of potential ideas from postgraduate students in Indonesia.

By joining such an event, the students will be able to present their idea in front of a broader audience who come from different backgrounds.

Last but not least, do you have any words for those who would like to join Falling Walls Lab next year?

For those who are interested in joining Falling Walls Lab next year, they need to express their idea in a way that other people can understand it. Especially when communicating an idea to those who have different expertise to us, it is important to explain your idea in understandable terms.

As experts, we often use specific words/terms, which can only be understood by other people in the same field. I hope in the future all research that is produced can be understood by all people who come from various backgrounds, and not only by those who have subject-specific knowledge

Dr. Retno, thank you for your willingness to be interviewed by us despite your busy schedule. First of all, could you tell us a bit about your background, for example, your current activities or your educational background?

I am a lecturer at the Department of Biochemical and Bio-molecular Science in the Faculty of Medicine, Universitas Indonesia, and senior researcher in the stem cell and tissue engineering cluster at the Indonesian Medical Education and Research Institute.I got my bachelor’s degree in the field of Food Science and Technology from IPB University and did my final research in Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia (LIPI). Afterwards, I got the Monbukagakusho Scholarship from the Japanese Government to continue my master’s and doctoral degree at Osaka University in the field of Bio-Chemical Engineering, specifically about stem cell research.

After completing my PhD, I was appointed as an Assistant Professor in Osaka University, similar to a Post-Doctoral position, for about 1, 5 years before I decided to go back to Indonesia for good.

Could you share with us, why are you interested in the field of stem cells?

At first, I did not have a lot of knowledge and information about stem cells, and it was not popular in Indonesia. When I got my scholarship to pursue my master’s and doctoral degree in Japan, I wanted to research about Bio-Ethanol. At that time, Regenerative Medicine was starting to become popular in Japan after Prof Yamanaka from Japan received a Nobel Prize in Medicine. Therefore, my supervisor/professor offered me the chance to conduct research in the field of regenerative medicine. I thought, why not, it is still new, and there is still room for more exploration and research.

Then as I mentioned before, I was working as an assistant professor for a while in Japan. After discussions with my family, I decided to go back for good to Indonesia, and become one of the staff at the Faculty of Medicine at Universitas Indonesia. It was beyond my expectation; regenerative medicine is one of the fields that is currently being developed in Indonesia, especially in Universitas Indonesia and Universitas Airlangga in Surabaya. In Indonesia, people are becoming more familiar with regenerative medicine but mostly only for beauty treatments. Thus we have to be careful and make sure it is safe for those who do the treatment.

Looking at the trend and phenomena, I joined the Stem Cell & Tissue Engineering Research Cluster (SCTE-RC) in Universitas Indonesia. The members of the research cluster consist of people from different backgrounds, such as biomedical scientists and clinicians. Together we develop cutting-edge research and post-graduate curricula related to stem cell research in Indonesia. We hope in the future people will have the right knowledge about stem cell treatment and develop stem cell treatments that are safe and beneficial for improving quality of life.

We also want to educate people that stem cells are not only for cosmetic treatment but also for other diseases. At the moment, stem cell treatment in Indonesia is only allowed, by the government, for untreatable or terminal-stage diseases, such as Leukaemia, which is what I am currently working on.

For leukaemia patients, we are familiar with treatments, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy. However, with this treatment, it does not only break the cancer cell but also the normal cells that the patients have. Blood stem cells are among those cells that are easily damaged by repeated chemotherapy/radiotherapy. Accordingly, blood stem cell transplantation, sometimes referred to as bone marrow transplantation, becomes the last option to save the patient’s life.

During Falling Walls Lab Jakarta 2019, you presented your idea about Breaking the Wall of Blood Stem Cell Transplantation, could you tell us a bit about where you got your idea?

When we talk about blood transfusion, in most cases, we only look at the recipient’s blood type. For interracial blood transfusion, we also take into account the rhesus of the recipients. But blood stem cell transplantation is more complicated. To determine whether a donor is a match or not, we have to look at at least 6 criteria, named human leucocyte antigens.

When it comes to finding the right donor for blood stem cell donors in Indonesia it is more complicated if we compare it to Japan. Indonesia is a multiracial country; thus, it is hard to find the matching stem cell donors. Race is one factor that can affect the structure of cells in our body.

Another problem related to blood stem cell treatment is that we need a high number of cells; otherwise, it does not affect your body. Blood stem cells can be collected from 3 sources: bone marrow, circulating blood or the umbilical cord of the new-born baby. Among them, the umbilical cord is one of the most abundant blood stem cell sources because it is typically discarded after the baby is delivered. Even so, we can only get a maximum of 5 million blood stem cells out of 100ml of the blood (based on our routine experiments). For regenerative medicine, we need 1 million stem cells for per kg of your body weight. A patient needs 2-3 donors or needs to be taken multiple times.

The reason why we need a high number of cells for regenerative medicine is also related to the characteristics of cells. Cells are like a community of people, to make sure they can accommodate the needs of the people; they are interconnected to each other and have their own divisions. If we only use a small number of cells in regenerative medicine, the cells cannot adapt. Therefore, we need a high number of cells for them to adapt to the body.

Looking at the problems, we are trying to make use of the cells that matchless for the recipients and cover them in a small capsule to disguise them from the immune system in our body. It is possible to use the lesser matching cells (for example, if the cells only meet 4 out of 6 criteria, because what is important is the product /the protein of the cells.) However, to make it successful it has to be meticulous; we need to make sure that the cells stay in their capsules and the important protein that the cells generate can be absorbed by the other cells so that they can regenerate. Currently, we have been able to develop double-layer capsules to make sure the cells stay in the capsule.

I have joined different international conferences, and a lot of people mention that the idea is unique and a prospect to be developed for the future. Currently, I am also working to patent my idea.

Why are you interested in joining Falling Walls Lab Jakarta 2019?

Currently I have some networks in Japan, but not in Germany. By joining Falling Walls Lab, I would like to build or expand my network to Germany. Germany is famous for its technology, and I am interested in visiting the research centre in Germany. After a senior, Dr Taufiq Priyambodo, a graduate of a Germany University, told me about the opportunity, I registered to join Falling Walls Lab. I was a bit disappointed with my performance in Falling Walls Lab Jakarta because I did not do enough preparation due to my schedule. A day before the presentation, I was the chairman of big event in my university. Due to this, I was too busy to handle the event and at the same time, I was appointed as a trainer for nursing students for the whole week. During the presentation, I was so sleepy, and I forgot some words.

Was it hard for you to present your idea in only 3 minutes?

I might say it is tough. I have often presented about the same topic, but I presented it in front of those who are experts in the field or have the same background. Presenting my idea in front of those who might not be familiar with the topic was a new challenge for me. While presenting, I often thought about another word or easier terms to make it understandable for the judges and audience. It needs good preparation to be able to explain your idea in front of a more general audience.

I also think the other finalists had great ideas and it made me nervous. In my opinion, their ideas are more applicable than mine. Not saying my idea was inapplicable, but there is still has a long way to go until my idea can be fully implemented.

What was the most memorable moment for you during Falling Walls Lab Jakarta 2019?

I might say everything about Falling Walls Lab Jakarta 2019 was memorable for me. Although I felt a bit down after my presentation, during the gathering session, it got better. All finalists got the chance to talk to each other, and each of us showed an interest in the ideas that the other finalists had.

Communicating and meeting other people from different backgrounds can give us new perspectives. I was also impressed that the other finalists were not afraid to share their ideas.

Last but not least, do you have any words for those who are interested in joining Falling Walls Lab Jakarta next year?

When you have an idea, do not be afraid to share it with other people. To improve your idea, you need input from other peo-ple and experts. Do not be afraid to ask for suggestions from those who are more senior in the field to perfect your idea.

It takes preparation to present your idea in front of an audience which comes from a different field of expertise, so keep on practising. The more we practice it, the better we can explain it.

We have open the application for Falling Walls Lab Jakarta 2020. Application Deadline: 30th August 2020.
More info about Falling Walls Lab Jakarta and how to apply, please visit:

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