Wednesday, August 14, 2013

America's Top Young Scientist to Attend Conference

In many ways, Deepika Kurup is not your average high school sophomore. Not many girls her age have a black belt in karate. And not many girls her age have been so passionate about solving the global water crisis. Deepika is both of these things as well as being an outstanding science and math student at Nashua High School South in Nashua New Hampshire.

Deepika Kurup is a bright, passionate sophomore student at Nashua (NH) High School South.

In 2012, Deepika was chosen as the winner of the Discover Education 3M Top Young Scientist Challenge. Her award-winning project was to develop a practical approach to harness solar energy for water purification, an approach which she plans to deploy in places around the world that are affected by water pollution. Her passion stems in part from her exposure to unsafe drinking water at an early age in her native India. A video that demonstrates her project can be seen here.

Deepika showcases her project at the White House earlier this year.
In addition to being invited to attend and present a poster at the Third OU International WaTER Conference, Deepika has been recognized by national and international media and received accolades and invitations from multi-national companies and universities. She was runner-up (along with an Oklahoman, Leah Huling) for the 2013 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize. A press release for this prize can be seen here. She challenges herself academically with several AP classes and scored a perfect 800 in SAT Math before the age of 13! She is a member of the Julian C. Stanley Study of Exceptional Talents and has received first place at the 2013 New Hampshire Science and Engineering Exposition in the Environmental Science Division. In her free time, she practices martial arts, gives talks to schools encouraging students to pursue math and sicence, and works to increase awareness of the global water crisis. 

We welcome Deepika to this year's Conference, a gathering place where she can rub shoulders with many other people who share her passion for clean water.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Record Number of International Scholarships

This year's Conference will feature a record number of international scholarship recipients. Twenty-one (21) recipients from eleven developing nations have been awarded paid travel expenses to the U.S. to share knowledge and experience in WASH projects. For many of these travelers, this will be their first trip abroad and/or their first trip to the United States.
Scholarship recipients from the 2011 WaTER Conference are shown with Dr. David Sabatini (center), Director of the OU WaTER Center.
The diverse mix of recipients includes 10 females and 11 males who represent universities, NGOs, and governmental posts. In alphabetical order, the following persons have received scholarships to attend this year's Conference:
   Abaire, Bekele; Catholic Relief Services (Ethiopia)
   Bandaranayake, G.M.; University of Sri Jayewardenepura (Sri Lanka)
   Butler, Lauren; Engineers in Action (Bolivia)
   Cabero Ugalde, Mariel; Engineers in Action (Bolivia)
   Campos, Maria; University of the Philippines Open University (Philippines)
   Chitwood, Derek; Partners in Hope (China)
   Gwala, Poonam; CSIR-NEERI (India)
   Jadhav, Asmita; North Maharashtra University / NEERI (India)
   Kagne, Srimanth; NEERI (India)
   Kpangon, Hector; Water and Sanitation for Africa (Benin)
   Labhasetwar, Pawan; CSIR-NEERI (India)
   Mengesha, Esayas Samuel; Oromo Self-Help Organization (Ethiopia)
   Naser, Abu; International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh (Bangladesh)
   Nguyen, Viet-Anh; Institute of Environmental Science and Engineering, Hanoi (Vietnam)
   Nijhawan, Anisha; NEERI (India)
   Olukanni, David; Covenant University (Nigeria)
   Paulos, Beyene; Ministry of Science and Technology (Ethiopia)
   Susheela, A.K.; Fluorosis Foundation of India (India)
   John, Viji; NEERI (India)
   Wanja Mwengi, Esther; Nakuru Defluoridation Company (Kenya)
   Wanjiku, Nancy; Nakuru Defluoridation Company (Kenya)
Lauren Butler works with Engineers in Action (EIA), a non-profit organization that builds partnerships with in-country engineers to work towards sustainable solutions in Central America. (Photo: EIA website)
We look forward to both the educational and cultural exchange that these participants bring to the 2013 University of Oklahoma International WaTER Conference!

Highlights of the Upcoming WaTER Conference

The 2013 University of Oklahoma (OU) International WaTER Conference is only 5 weeks away! The Conference theme "Synergy at the Interface: Integrating Technology, Social Entrepreneurship and Behavior Change" is designed to bring together participants from multiple disciplines responding to the UN Millennium Development Goals of bringing water and sanitation to developing countries.  Attendees will include water and sanitation experts from academia, industry, NGOs, government and foundations.
A Native American traditional dance opens the Conference in 2011.
The Conference consists of two full days of meetings (Sept. 23-24), followed by a half-day of optional workshops (Sept. 25). If you have not yet registered for the Conference, you can do so by clicking here.

Just a few of the highlights of this year's Conference are listed here. These highlights include:
  • poster and concurrent paper sessions devoted to both technical and non-technical topics and sectors - e.g., groundwater and well-drilling challenges, WASH innovation, capacity-building, climate change impacts, gender and social equity, fluoride effects and mitigation, ecological engineering, socioeconomic context, behavior change and culture
  • five keynote speakers who are leaders in their fields
  • an outstanding Water Prize award banquet in the elegant hall of the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History 
  • optional half-day workshop on social entrepreneurship - using the business model canvas to build sustainable WASH solutions
  • optional half-day workshop on field methods in water and sanitation - manual and hydraulic well-drilling, biosand filter construction, household water treatment systems, and ecolatrine construction
  • the chance to network in small-group settings with practitioners from a dozen developing nations and many other places across the globe.
Participants in the 2011 Conference learn the manual drilling technique used by Water4 Foundation.

Click here for a schedule of events.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Dr. Feleke Zewge is awarded NSF PEER grant

Dr. Feleke Zewge is a professor at Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia), director of the National Fluorosis Mitigation Project, and a friend of and frequent collaborator with the WaTER Center. He was recently awarded an NSF PEER (Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research) grant to develop, compare, and optimize aluminum oxide based technologies for fluoride removal in the Ethiopian Rift Valley. 

Dr. Feleke (center) converses with colleagues at the 2011 OU International WaTER Conference.

During childhood bone and tooth enamel formation, high levels of fluoride intake will cause the element to substitute for more natural elements and create a more brittle, less flexible bone structure.  Beyond the cosmetic effects and social stigma of dental fluorosis (mottled teeth), which occurs at moderately elevated fluoride levels, skeletal fluorosis is evidenced at higher fluoride levels (>4 mg/L).  Skeletal fluorosis can reduce agility and mobility, impairing the ability of people to do the manual labor required of subsistence farmers and/or wage earners.  Further, select research has suggested that fluorosis impairs cognitive processes and the ability of children to learn.    Thus, fluorosis mitigation is imperative to health, education and development for the estimated 14 to 16 million Ethiopians exposed to elevated fluoride levels, especially in the Rift Valley. 

This photo shows a typical water treatment system for fluoride mitigation. From right to left can be seen the raw water storage tank, two parallel reactor tanks with filtration media, a concrete reservoir for treated water, and a kiosk for selling / distributing water to villagers.

The PEER project is meant to complement the work already being conducted at the University of Oklahoma (OU) under an NSF grant and will serve to combine technical and social science researchers at both partnering universities in pursuit of sustainable fluoride mitigation solutions. Laboratory adsorption studies on the Al-oxide coated medias (natural zeolites and clays) will be followed by field testing of the most promising materials. Socioeconomic and cultural factors that will influence adoption of the technology will also be assessed in order to promote the long-term sustainability of the solutions. The project award is $114K over a two year period (corresponding to the remainder of OU's NSF grant).

Summer travels in Ethiopia

For three weeks in July and August, Teshome Yami (PhD student) and Dr. Jim Chamberlain (staff research engineer) traveled in Ethiopia. In the larger cities, they met with current and potential partners in fluoride mitigation - including World Vision, CRS, USAID, Adama University, Oromo Self-Help Organization (OSHO), Dr. Feleke Zewge (of the National Fluorosis Mitigation Project office), Addis Ababa University, DfID, and several governmental Ministry officials. 

Two sisters carry water from a raw water point. The water has not yet been treated, but an electrodefluoridation (EDF) system is being planned and is underway at the site.

Dr. Chamberlain and Teshome visit a remote tapstand that delivers water treated using the Nalgonda technique of coagulation and sedimentation (blue elevated tank in the background).
They also spent time visiting small village and remote installations of community-scale systems that are in place to treat excess naturally-occurring fluoride found in the water. Ideal fluoride levels will be in the range of 0.5 - 1.5 mg/l. Many installed water points in the Ethiopian Rift Valley have fluoride levels that reach 4 - 30 mg/l, causing dental fluorosis at low levels and skeletal fluorosis and impairment at higher levels.  Field water quality tests were done at the sights to measure the effectiveness of these interventions.

Teshome measures the fluoride concentration of water collected from one of several water treatment systems in the impacted areas of the Rift Valley.
Dr. Feng Lai, an OU Mechanical Engineering professor, joined the group halfway through the visit. Dr. Lai is working with a local nongovernmental organization near Mojo (OSHO) to help optimize their bone charring process, including increasing the efficiency of the oven and improving the temperature measurements throughout. In addition, OSHO is hoping that Dr. Lai and his students can develop a new mechanical bone-crushing device that reduces the amount of wastage in the size separation process. 

The teeth of smiling children show visible signs of dental fluorosis, a symptom that may foretell a later, more serious condition - skeletal fluorosis and functional impairment.

Dr. Feng Lai is shown standing in front of one of the famous rock-hewn churches in Lalibela. This monolithic church was carved out of a single red volcanic rock sometime during King Lalibela's reign, 12th - 13th centuries.

This mechanical bone-crushing device is used by OSHO to crush charred animal bones into a proper size for water filtration.

Additional photos and information can be found at the travel blog on the OU WaTER Center's Facebook group page.