Science on Tap talk will explore student efforts to address global drinking water quality issues

January 26, 2015  

Chad Jafvert Colombia

Chad Jafvert, professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering, and students lead a workshop on the construction of slow sand filters in May 2012 with schoolteachers in Barbosa, Antioquia, Colombia. (Photo provided)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering professor Chad Jafvert will explain how Purdue undergraduate students are working to alleviate water troubles in global developing areas by designing point-of-use drinking water treatment systems during the next Science on Tap.

The talk, titled "Point-of-use Drinking Water Treatment in Rural Communities in Colombia, East Africa and Western China," is at 6 p.m. Thursday (Jan. 29) in the upstairs of Lafayette Brewing Company, 622 Main St., Lafayette. The informal lecture, which is free and open to those 21 and older, is sponsored by the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering, the Lyles School of Civil Engineering and Discovery Park.

In the past four years, Jafvert and more than 50 undergraduate Purdue students have recognized the global water quality problem and addressed it through service-learning courses and innovation sponsored by the Global Engineering Program at Purdue.

"Water is a resource often taken for granted. What happens to be a readily available necessity to some proves to be a tedious luxury to so many others," Jafvert said. "Purdue students have developed a successful filtration system for these developing rural areas, and 11 students have traveled to Colombia to deliver and construct the devices on site."

On these trips, Purdue undergraduate students have built the point-of-use slow sand filters at 18 rural elementary schools in the Barbosa, Antioquia, Colombia area, with a range of about 15 to 20 students at each school, he said.

"The slow sand filters significantly improve water quality by removing particles and dissolved organics from the water, reducing turbidity below the U.S. drinking water standard and mitigating taste and odor problems," Jafvert said.

In addition to Colombia, the filters were constructed in Tanzania, Kenya and Western China during 2014 with a push to expand delivery within these countries and within South America.

"The approach has been 'to design' the units using small, inexpensive, specialized components, which we check in our baggage (and which always receive curious looks from airport security people) for simple final construction at the point-of-use, using locally obtained five-gallon pails and sand," Jafvert said.

Jafvert received his doctoral degree from the University of Iowa and was a research engineer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before his faculty appointment at Purdue in 1991. His research focuses on chemical and physicochemical fate processes of pollutants in natural and engineered environments.

Science on Tap, led by graduate students David Welkie, Anju Karki and Nelda Vazquez, provides Purdue faculty and collaborating researchers the opportunity to share research activities in an informal setting with presentations that are designed to appeal to a more general audience. Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program's first four years. 

Writers: Paige Pope, 765-494-2083, 

Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133,  

Sources: Chad Jafvert, 765-494-2196, 

David Welkie, 765-494-0560, 

Nelda Vazquez, 

Anju Karki, 765-494-0455, 

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