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Awards: Students’ Arsenic Removal System Wins National Prize

GETTING OUT THE ARSENIC: Left to right, Lindsay Holiday, Dana Leland, and Philip Wagner present their arsenic removal system during an ENGS 290 class. Photograph by Douglas Fraser.
GETTING THE ARSENIC OUT: Left to right, Lindsay Holiday, Dana Leland, and Philip Wagner present their arsenic removal system during an ENGS 290 class. Photograph by Douglas Fraser.

Three recent graduates came up as winners in the National Inventors Hall of Fame’s 2009 Collegiate Inventors Competition for a simple, inexpensive method they developed to remove arsenic from drinking water.

As students in Thayer School’s capstone course ENGS 190/290: Project Design, Lindsay Holiday ’07 Th’09, Dana Leland ’09, and Philip Wagner ’09 invented the system for use in rural Nepal, where arsenic, which occurs naturally in rock formations, is a major groundwater contaminant.

The device employs the same process — electrocoagulation — that is commonly used in large-scale water treatment facilities but in a scaled-down version that can be made from locally available materials: three buckets, sand, a 6-volt battery, and two steel plates. Contaminated water is poured into one bucket, and an electrical current is sent through submerged steel plates to release iron precipitates. After the iron particles bind to the arsenic, the water is poured into a second bucket of sand. The sand filters out the iron-arsenic particles, and the clean water flows out a hole into the empty third bucket. The unit can purify 15-liter batches of water. When the students tested the process, they started with water containing arsenic levels of 200 ppb. When they were done, the treated water contained less than 1 ppb, well below the World Health Organization’s 10 ppb standard.

Calling the worldwide need for this system “immense,” the project’s sponsor, David Sowerwine of VillageTech Solutions (VTS), says, “We are really pleased with the work of the design team from Thayer.” Now VTS aims to raise enough funds to put a design and business team on the ground in Nepal, India, or Bangladesh. The goal: complete a manufacturable product, business plan, and donor-support agreement within 24 months.

“I hope that our work can help bring clean drinking water to people in need,” says team member Leland.

The student trio also received Thayer School’s 2009 Special Faculty Award for Engineering and Service to Humanity.

—Kathryn LoConte

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Categories: The Great Hall, Awards

Tags: award, curriculum, design, humanitarian service, projects, students

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