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Dartmouth Engineering Student Team Is Collegiate Inventors Competition Finalist

Sep 27, 2023   |   by Catha Mayor

A Dartmouth Engineering team is a graduate category finalist in this year's annual Collegiate Inventors Competition®. PhD candidates Junhu Zhou and Ziqian Wu, and recent PhD graduate Congran (Billy) Jin Th'23—advised by Professor John Zhang—invented "Nanopure Aqua," an innovative water quality monitoring system.

The Nanopure Aqua team (l to r): Congran (Billy) Jin Th'23, Ziqian Wu, and Junhu Zhou. (Image courtesy of National Inventors Hall of Fame)

"Water is essential for sustaining life and promoting well-being, and access to information about water quality is a fundamental right," says Zhou. "Nanopure Aqua is democratizing water quality testing, making it accessible to every household through an affordable and user-friendly device, instead of being limited to environmental agencies." 

The device is designed to quickly and accurately detect multiple organic pollutants in a single water droplet using AI-powered, eco-friendly nanotechnology. With over half of the world's population facing water scarcity and contamination issues, and with conventional monitoring methods being slow and inaccurate, Nanopure Aqua has the potential to transform global water treatment and analysis.

"This innovation enables scalable water quality monitoring anywhere and anytime," says Professor Zhang. "The nanofabricated sensors developed in our lab can detect tiny amounts of pollutants in liquid and produce rich data for further analyses. The project shows how the platforms we've established to detect biomarkers for human health can also be used to screen for markers of environmental health and help support the sustainable development of our planet."

Steps to make the sensors for the Nanopure Aqua platform.

Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) image of Nanopure Aqua's tiny sensors.

Each year, individuals representing a broad cross-section of technological fields serve as first-round judges, evaluating entries based on originality of the idea, process, level of student initiative, and potential value and usefulness to society. The finalists will present their inventions Oct. 24 to a panel of final-round judges composed of the most influential inventors and invention experts in the nation—National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductees and United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) officials. Winning teams will be announced on Oct. 25.

Voting for the Arrow Electronics People's Choice Award, a special award consisting of $2,000 and patent acceleration, is open now through Oct. 24 at 3:00pm ET.

A program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, the Collegiate Inventors Competition recognizes and rewards the innovations of college students and their advisors that have the potential of receiving patent protection. Introduced in 1990, the competition has featured more than 500 innovators and awarded more than $1 million to student teams for their original work and scientific achievement.

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