Engineering is Cleaning Poop from Drinking Water
The new, media-rich e-book from QUEST, Engineering Is Cleaning Poop from Drinking Water, tells the story of how a team of scientists and engineers at Stanford University designed an inexpensive water purification device that attaches to the water pumps used by people in Dhaka. The device dispenses chlorine in just the right amount, killing microbes and making the water safe to drink. The book explains the team’s process of researching solutions, designing the device, testing it and making improvements (using a 3D printer!). The book also contains a career spotlight video of Amy Pickering, the lead engineer on the project. And, there’s a look at the various ways water treatment plants in the United States treat water so that it’s safe for us to drink.
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How can engineering improve the lives of millions of people? The people of Bangladesh were getting really sick because of the bacteria that they were getting from their water, which was untreated and dangerous. Amy Pickering decided that there must be a simple solution to that problem. She designed a contraption that attaches to the water pump that the Bangladeshi people were getting their water from. It killed the bacteria by distributing a small amount of bleach into the water supply. This is an effective solution because it is cheap and takes advantage of how the people are already getting their water. With some research and a simple device, Pickering saved millions of people from diseases that come from drinking and using dirty water.
Many diseases are spread through some of the microbes that live in our digestive system. This isn't really a problem for people in developed countries, where their sewage plants take the waste and treat it so that it becomes harmless, but for developing countries, where if sewage isn't properly handled, it can become a threat to the whole community. Engineers are working on a tool that kills these harmful microbes before the water is released for human consumption.
How can scientists help people in low-income countries access safer water and better sanitation? Discover how environmental health engineer Amy Pickering combines social science, microbiology, and engineering in her work as a research associate at Stanford University in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and at the Woods Institute for the Environment. She tries to reduce the spread of disease by coming up with low-cost and low-tech solutions that can help minimize illnesses in areas with poor water quality. She also runs research studies to test how well these interventions prevent the spread of disease. Pickering spends about 20% of her time in the countries in which she works and the rest at Stanford.