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Lab Report: Making Water Safer

Dec 19, 2022   |   Dartmouth Engineer

Professor Emily Asenath-Smith has developed new materials that use solar energy to remove harmful dissolved contaminants from water.

Professor Emily Asenath-Smith, shown here working at CRREL, has been awarded US Patent No 11,298,689.

"Water is key to all life and has been a passion of mine for years," she says. "There is little, if any, uncontaminated water left on our planet, and many of these contaminants are not removed by traditional water treatment methods."

Her team, which included Dartmouth graduate student Emma Ambrogi, developed a material with components that respond to ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared regions of light. This means a larger portion of the solar spectrum can be used to break down contaminant molecules into benign byproducts.

Asenath-Smith's low-energy solution, "Multi-spectral photocatalytic compounds," was awarded US Patent No. 11,298,689 this spring. Invented at the US Army Core of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL), where the research materials engineer splits her time, the new material has far-reaching potential in multiple scenarios. "The US Army needs robust, low-cost systems to enable them to reuse 100 percent of their water for operations in remote and contingency locations," says Asenath-Smith. "Such water resources are critical to successful missions of our military all over the globe."

Her next steps: "To realize its full potential, the material needs to be integrated into a device, which would allow effluent water to contact the invented material so that contaminants can be degraded." Key to the project's future success, Asenath-Smith says, is teamwork. "With the right team, you can solve huge challenges and have fun along the way."

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