Engineering Professor Vinka Oyanedel-Craver dreams of a world where everyone can enjoy a glass of safe, clean water. Turning that dream into a reality will take pioneering research like that happening right now in her engineering lab at the University of Rhode Island.
“Usually we think of this as a medical problem but this is an engineering problem,” she says. “If you have a system that cleans the water, people don’t get sick.”
About 800 million people lack access to clean water. The United Nations says that more people die annually from diseases associated with dirty water than war. Those living in far-flung rural areas without modern infrastructure and stable electricity stand most at risk. Those areas are where Professor Oyanedel-Craver has focused her efforts.
In Guatemala, she deployed ceramic filters coated in microbial nanoparticles that remove harmful bacteria. Her work perfecting the low-maintenance, easy-to-use system brought cheers from the community and research funding from the National Science Foundation.
Also in Guatemala, Oyanedel-Craver visits a rural school annually with a team of URI engineering students. The group built a wastewater treatment system for the school and plans to establish the first water testing facility in the province.
On the other side of the world, Oyanedel-Craver has collaborated with researchers in Jordan, a country chronically stressed for water. The URI professor and her graduate students are developing improved silver nanoparticles that kill bacteria growing on membranes used to filter water in treatment plants.
“In the United States we forget that water is essential to life,” Oyanedel-Craver says. “In other countries it’s very difficult to get clean water. We need to change that.”