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Iowa student engineers develop hand-held water sanitizer for a thirsty world

What do you do when you learn that about one-sixth of the world's population -- nearly one billion people, according to UNICEF -- lack clean water on a daily basis?

If you happen to be one of 15 student engineers at the University of Iowa, you roll up your sleeves and design a $5, hand-held device to sanitize water and potentially save lives.

Although the student invention began as a class project, it has since become a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first-place-award-winning project (2008 P3 Awards) and the subject of a presentation on Saturday, Feb. 14, at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago.

Craig Just, faculty advisor to the UI College of Engineering chapter of the organization Engineers for a Sustainable World and AAAS presenter, said that the EPA award represents an honor for the students and much more for citizens in developing countries.

"We have some of the best students on the planet here at Iowa, and winning the competition was only the beginning," he said. "We hope to multiply the $75,000 first-place award 10-fold in the coming year so that we can make a substantial human health impact in our target countries."

So far, Just and his students have worked with residents of Xicotepec, Mexico. They plan to make water sanitizers available in Ghana and other developing countries in the future.

"I've spoken with a potential industrial partner, a worldwide distributor of chlorine generators designed for pools and spas, that is interested in the effort. These types of partnerships could greatly expand the reach of the project," Just said.

Just's talk, titled "More Affordable Handheld Water Sanitizers," was part of a AAAS session on "Thirsting for Daily Sustenance: Public-Private Partnerships for Global Water Access." Usha R. Balakrishnan of the non-profit organization CARTHA ( organized the session.

Craig Just, adjunct assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and associate research scientist at IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, was recently appointed coordinator of sustainability programs in the UI College of Engineering. In addition to sustainability assignments in teaching, research, and service within the College, Just works with others on campus associated with UI President Sally Mason's sustainability initiatives.

Just brings a wealth of talent and experience to his coordinator of sustainability assignment. In 2008, he won the University's President and Provost Award for Teaching Excellence in recognition of his years of outstanding teaching.

Gary Galluzzo | EurekAlert!
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