Lab News

Faculty of Biotechnology, Chemistry and Environmental Engineering and Marine Geology and Mineral Division signed a MOU about research and education on 22nd July 2020.

The participants include Dr. Nguyen Tien Thanh - party secretary of committee, Dean of Division, Dr. Dao Van Duong - Dean of Faculty, Dr. Nguyen Quoc Dinh - Head of Department of Economic Geology and Geomatics, Vietnam Institute of Geosciences and Mineral resources, and other members in charge of projects and professional engineering. 

- Coorperations in education and improving quality of human resource

The MOU contains main subjects as following:

- Collaboration in Geology as well Marine geology, researches on plastics wastes and microplastics polluting in coastal areas  

- Co-organizing research projects relating to pollution in Vietnamese coastal zones, geological catastrophe, environmental geology. 

2. Meetings with Vietnam Administration of Seas and Islands

At 3:30 pm 05/08/2020, Dr Ngo Thi Thuy Huong, Faculty of Biotechnology, Chemistry and Environmental Engineering - Phenikaa University, Principle Investigator of project "Sources, Sinks and Solutions for Impacts of Plastics on Coastal Communities in Viet Nam", and other project members had a meeting with members in Vietnam Administration of Seas and Islands.   

The participants included:

🏷For Vietnam Administration of Seas and Islands (VASI): Dr. Ta Dinh Thi - Director of VASI; Representatives of Department of Science, Technology and International Affairs, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Seas and Islands Protection, Organization Office, Vietnam Institute of Seas and Islands; Representatives of Centers: Planning and Investigation of Natural Resources - Environmental Seas for the North, Center of Sea and Island Information and Data 

🏷For project members: Dr. Ngo Thi Thuy Huong - Faculty of Biotechnology, Chemistry and Environmental Engineering, Phenikaa University, Co-Principle Investigator of project in Vietnam; Dr. Nguyen Quoc Dinh - Vietnam Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, Dr. Vu Kim Chi - Institute of Vietnamese Studies and Development Science, Dr. Mai Huong -  University of Science and Technology of Hanoi (USTH). Dr. Le Thanh Thao - Faculty of Biotechnology, Chemistry and Environmental Engineering, Phenikaa University

Contents of the Meetings:

✒ On behalf of project members, Dr. Ngo Thi Thuy Huong reported to the VASI about contents of research project relating to plastic wastes collaborating with Heriot-Watt University - UK, Fund by GCRF Grant, UKRI;

Dr. Dinh, Dr Kim Chi and Dr Mai Huong proposed cooperation with VASI to improve research capacity in plastic wastes via educating human resources, setting up laboratories as well as international center of plastic wastes, and so on.

Dr. Ta Dinh Thi - Director of VASI also stated the real research conditions and suggested updating governmental and international research policies to increase the Feasibility and  Applications in Community. In addition, VASI will guide, support and coordinate with team in operating project. Director Thi also emphasized the need of strong coordination among research projects which have the same strategic objectives, especially plastic wastes. to archive  significant results as well as useful solutions for our country and detail national Actions in advance. Objectives of VASI and Government are to promote researches of plastic wastes and develop one of the leading institutions about that research aspect in ASEAN area and perform exactly the international commits participated in. 

3. Female scientist dreams of reviving contaminated land

The image of a boy with shining eyes and crippled limbs damaged by Agent Orange prompted Ngo Thi Thuy Huong, born in 1974, "to do something" to revive contaminated land in Vietnam

In the 1990s, aquaculture was still not a properly invested industry. Therefore, Huong, who was then a student, cherished the dream of studying aquaculture to find solutions to obtain high yield. During her four years at university, Huong had chances to go to many areas and she realized that people were raising fish without a specific method. In 1999-2001, while studying for a master’s degree in aquaculture at Ghent University in Belgium, she spent time on deep studies in ecotoxicology with the focus on assessing the impact of heavy metals on the health of aquatic species and danger to humans. Ecotoxicology remains an unfamiliar concept in Vietnam which has not received appropriate attention.

“For me, just analyzing the content of toxins in the environment, that’s not saying much, because these are just figures. If we cannot discover the mechanism that has an impact on organisms and through food chains, and how this affects human health, the figures will be insignificant,” she said. Therefore, in 2002, Huong moved to Germany as a PhD student majoring in Environmental Chemistry and Ecotoxicology at Bayreuth University. 

Eight years later, in early 2014, Huong became the manager of a project dealing with dioxin pollution on plants funded by the Vietnam Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment. She and her co-workers flew to Bien Hoa Airport, one of the ‘dioxin hotspots’ in Vietnam.

“The images I got when visiting the museums in HCM City urged me to implement the project. I remember that I saw the image of a boy with shining eyes, but his limbs were crippled because of Agent Orange. I thought I had to do something,” she said. During her years of living and studying overseas, Huong heard about Vetiver, a ‘magic’ grass species used widely in India, Thailand and Australia to prevent erosion and treat earth and water pollution. Huong and her co-workers then decided to use Vetiver to rehabilitate the dioxin contaminated soil, which was a ‘product’ of the war. At first, the scientific council believed that plants could not absorb macromolecules including dioxin. The research team then had to cite scientific documents to prove their viewpoint. Dioxin and persistent chemical toxins have very low solubility in water but dissolve easily in fats and oils.

Vetiver has a very high essential oil content in the roots, up to 5 percent of dry weight. This kind of grass can live in harsh environmental conditions. The root system of the plant can be up to 4-5 meters deep. The research team thought the microbiota living in the root system could play a major role in reducing dioxin pollution. In 2014-2016, the research team gained encouraging results as it proved that Vetiver could prevent the spread of dioxin to neighboring lands and help ease the contamination level by 38 percent after it grew for 12 months at Bien Hoa Airport.

In late 2017, Huong received funding from USAID to continue studying the mechanism of Vetiver in treating dioxin in the earth and preventing the spread of dioxin.

The project is now in the final stage and new discoveries have been made, and are expected to be reported by the end of 2021. Huong has also participated in many other research projects, including one on the impact of artificial lighting on the development of plants in the caves of Ha Long Bay. She has found a treatment method to reduce the impact on the plants in the caves.


Huong told reporters that she could gain her achievements because she has a good husband who appreciates her work. Huong met her husband in Belgium where she was studying for her master’s degree, and he was studying for a master’s degree in land resources management. The couple experienced a tough time in Germany, when their income was not high enough to pay their house rent, take care of their child and cover basic needs. Her husband had to wash dishes at restaurants to earn extra money. Both of them were PhD students at the same school and were very busy. Her husband got home at 8 pm and took care of the child so that she could work at the laboratory until 1-2 am the next morning. Huong admitted that she sometimes thought of giving up. “My German teacher was very severe and demanding. I rarely did not cry when meeting him,” she recalled. But things became better after she redesigned the goals of her research and her plans. Later returning to Vietnam, Huong began work as a university lecturer at the Faculty of Biotechnology, Chemistry and Environmental Engineering at Phenikaa University, and as a visiting lecturer at the University of Natural Sciences. She always tells her students that only those who really have passion can pursue the path of scientific research. If someone wants to become rich, they should not become a scientist, she said. 

Source: Vietnamnet


4. Field-scale application of vetiver grass to mitigate dioxin contaminated soil at Bien Hoa Airbase  

PI: Ngo Thi Thuy Huong,, Vietnam Research Centre on Karst and Geoheritage of the Vietnam Institute of Geosciences and Mineral Resources, in cooperation with the Research Institute of Disaster and Environment (RIDES), and co-PI Nguyen Hung Minh, Center for Environmental Monitoring

U.S. Partner: James Landmeyer, U.S. Geological Survey

Project Dates: December 2017 - December 2021

Project Overview

Vietnam is one of the worst dioxin-contaminated areas in the world as a result of extensive use of the herbicide “Agent Orange” (AO) during the war (1961–1971). The worst contaminated sites in Vietnam are located at airbases where large quantities of AO were stored/handled. These areas still pose serious environmental and health risks. To date, no low-cost, effective phytoremediation technology has been developed to stabilize, mitigate, and remediate soils with low to moderate levels of dioxin contamination over large areas. Initial studies with vetiver grass (Chrysopogon zizanioides L.) indicate that it is a very promising candidate for providing such an alternative. This PEER project will (1) assess the use of vetiver grass for the phytoremediation and phytostabilization of dioxin-contaminated soils on a field scale at Bien Hoa Airbase and (2) deepen our understanding of the mechanisms of dioxin uptake and degradation pathways of Vetiver grass. The Monto genotype–a known, noninvasive type of vetiver grass (hereafter “Monto”)—will be used in the two proposed experiments. The indoor experiment will help address and clarify the remaining issues in phytostabilization and phytoremediation from a previous project completed by the PI. The field experiment will help reevaluate the results from the indoor experiment, and the potential use of vetiver in phytostabilization of dioxin-contaminated sites will be assessed.

The project will benefit about 135,000 people in the vicinity of the airbase, particularly the personnel of the 935th Air Regiment, by helping to reduce the potential health risks associated with dioxin. Furthermore, the results of the proposed project should significantly contribute to advances in phytoremediation technology that can be applied elsewhere in Vietnam and worldwide. The practical measures to be developed and tested will also help local, regional, and national policy makers and NGO-sponsored programs develop and evaluate short- and long-term mitigation and remediation alternatives and ultimately implement remedial actions effectively. Through workshops with local people, potential adverse health-related, environmental, and social issues will be addressed to help raise community awareness of dioxin-related issues and solutions. By providing funding support for PhD and MSc students, the project is also expected to foster a new generation of environmentalists interested in phytoremediation technology.

Summary of Recent Activities

The primary activity on this project during the third quarter of 2020 involved three field visits to Bien Hoa Airbase by project team members to take samples of soils and run-off sediments, as well as the roots, shoots, and stems of Vetiver grass. These visits took place June 26 to July 5, August 8-17, and September 16-25. Other activities included regular maintenance of the experiments by project researchers and technicians and sample preparation and analyses for dioxins, microbes, and soil physico-chemical and texture properties. Although most of the COVID-related delays and disruptions had been overcome in Vietnam by the end of May, the PI Dr. Huong reports that as of October they are still experiencing some challenges in purchasing lab chemicals and sending samples abroad.

In the coming months, the PI and her colleagues will continue regular maintenance of the experiments and examine growth and development of experimental Vetiver grass every two months. The fourth field visit for soil and Vetiver sampling is planned for October-November 2020 and a fifth visit in March-April 2021, if funds are available. The researchers will also continue analyzing the collected samples for dioxins, microorganisms, enzymatic activity, and physical soil properties. A no-cost extension has been made through December 2021 to allow additional time to complete field work and data analysis.



Vietnam is estimated to have the fourth highest rate of mismanaged plastic waste worldwide with 0.28-0.73 metric tons per year of plastic leaked into the marine environment. Urgent action is needed to address the issue as with rapid economic growth; waste generation increases rapidly but the waste management capacity lags behind. This contributes to an increased mismanagement and leakage of waste into the environment. 


This applied research project aims to improve the situation of waste management, especially focusing on plastics management and strengthening circular economy. As such, the project:

Provide scientific evidence of the current situation and deficiencies to best identify hotspots for strategic intervention.

Develop innovative solutions to amplify waste recovery and recycling solutions centred on the principles of a circular economy.

The scientific advances for implementation of such circular solutions, especially for lower- and middle-income contexts such as in Vietnam, is yet lacking on different levels:

a. Methodological - on how to assess plastic sinks and pollution for a city or watershed;

b. Socio-psychological - on how to enhance participation and behaviour change towards more circular waste management practices;

c. Technical – regarding appropriate technologies for recycling of mixed plastic fractions.

All activities will be contextualized and validated in the target region of Phu Yen Province where scientific and systematic methods are yet lacking to accurately assess the plastic sinks. Application of the results of this proposed project are relevant not only for Viet Nam but also in the wider region facing plastic pollution challenges. 

Work focus

Research package 1: Plastic Flows and Leakages

Develop and validate science-based monitoring methods and tools for the assessment of plastic pollution at watershed scale.

Research package 2: Behaviour change for household waste segregation

Provide tools and test solutions to enhance behaviour change of waste generators to segregate the waste at source.

Research package 3: Value chain analysis and decision support on plastic recycling

Develop and validate a decision support tool for participatory decision-making in the choice of plastic recycling options towards circular economic concepts.



Department of Water, Sanitation and Solid Waste for Development, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology

Contact: Dr. Zurbrügg Christian



Faculty of Biotechnology, Chemistry and Environmental engineering, Phenikaa University

Contact: Dr. Nguyen Thi Hanh Tien


This research project is funded by the Swiss National Science Fundation and the National Foundation for Science and Technology Development (NAFOSTED) in Vietnam

Duration: 36 months (03/2022-03/2025).

Poster: Here

Dr. Ngo Thi Thuy Huong with her sharing on sustainable development

At 9:30 am (GMT +7), 17/05/2023, Dr. Ngo Thi Thuy Huong (Phenikaa University), ECET group leader, recently spoke at the Ministry of Science and Technology in Hanoi, where she shared her insights on sustainable development with young Vietnamese scientists and students. Dr. Huong argues that studying the effects of pollution on ecosystems is crucial because it directly impacts humans. In her earlier research, she also mentioned using vetiver to treat dioxin pollution at Bien Hoa airport. Trace metals and microplastics and their impact on human health were the subjects of other research that her research group conducted – Environmental Chemistry and Ecotoxicology (ECET). 

Discussion between the speakers and the students

Microplastics have been linked to environmental degradation, animal and human health problems, and ecological disturbance. Antibiotic residues can reach humans by attaching to microplastics and then being ingested by aquatic organisms. Dr. Huong's research involves collecting and analyzing microplastic coastal samples at the ECET lab, Phenikaa University. She emphasised that raising people's awareness of environmental issues is crucial and urgent, as protecting the environment is not the responsibility of any individual but the entire community. Some students voiced concerns about sustainable development during discussions with the speakers, and Dr. Ngo Thi Thuy Huong's perspective and experience as a scientist were particularly insightful.

Dr. Ngo Thi Thuy Huong receiving the King of Thailand Vetiver Awards

On May 29,2023, Dr. Ngo Thi Thuy Huong and her co-workers received the King of Thailand Vetiver Awards for the most outstanding research award on Non-Agricultural Application given from Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn as one of the six winners of this Awards, and one of the two outstanding research winners, for the research on “Using Vetiver Phytoremediation Technology to Mitigate Dioxin – Contaminated Soils at Bien Hoa Airbase, Dong Nai, Vietnam”. The study aimed to assess the benefit of vetiver grass for phytoremediation and phytostabilization of dioxin-contaminated soils on a fields scale at Bien Hoa airbase, which is one of the worst dioxin-contaminated areas in Vietnam due to the massive use of Agent Orange during the war. Vetiver grass is well-known for its application in erosion control, soil and water conservation, pollution mitigation, aromatic use, etc. This is the first-time vetiver grass have been employed for phytoremediation of dioxin – contaminated soils, thereby opening the door for vetiver grass to be used to clean up other POPs in soils and water.

As the first person in Thailand to recognize vetiver grass’s several values, in 1996, King Bhumibol the Great started to encourage scientists and practitioners to apply Vetiver System by granted the King of Thailand Vetiver Awards at the International Conference on Vetiver. The award then granted once every four or five years for outstanding research and application using vetiver system worldwide.

During her trip to Thailand, Dr. Ngo Thi Thuy Huong also had her visit in Maejo University. In the university, she got a speak about potential risk of trace metals and microplastics on health, which impress the students and lecturers so much.