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Students' water-testing tool wins $40,000, launches nonprofit
Date:12/20/2010

University of Washington engineering students have won an international contest for their design to monitor water disinfection using the sun's rays. The students will share a $40,000 prize from the Rockefeller Foundation and are now working with nonprofits to turn their concept into a reality.

Team member Jacqueline Linnes, who recently completed her bioengineering doctorate, traveled to Bolivia last year with the UW chapter of Engineers Without Borders. While there, she and other students treated their drinking water by leaving it in plastic bottles in the sun.

The concept is an old one. Solar disinfection of water in plastic bottles, also called SODIS, is promoted by many nonprofits. It offers a cheap and easy way to reduce some of the roughly 1.5 million diarrhea-related children's deaths each year. But global adoption has been slow, partly because it is hard to know when the water is safe to drink.

The UW entered a competition to design an indicator for Fundacin SODIS, a Bolivia-based nonprofit dedicated to testing and promoting this method. Solar disinfection in water bottles removes more than 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses, with results similar to chlorination.

The UW device lets users know when the sun's rays have done their job.

Linnes began working on the problem with Engineers Without Borders members Penny Huang, a senior in chemical engineering, and Chin Jung Cheng, then an undergraduate in chemical engineering and now a UW doctoral student in bioengineering.

At first, the students focused on developing a chemical test strip. Then they considered an electronic sensor and contacted Charlie Matlack, a UW doctoral student in electrical engineering.

Together they built a system using parts from a keychain that blinks in response to light.

"It has all the same components that you'd find inside a dirt-cheap solar calculator, except programmed differently," Matlack said.

Other electronics monitor ho
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Contact: Hannah Hickey
hickeyh@uw.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
Source:Eurekalert  

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