AIChE Apprentice Takes on Potable Water Challenge

by Alex Avram (author) and Kelsey Kojetin (reviewer)


Hi ChEnected readers! I am Alex Avram, a chemical engineeringPhD student at UARK who recently joined the 3-year AIChE Apprenticeship Program. For those of you, who aren't familiar with the AIChE Apprenticeship Program, please check it out here. In a nutshell, the program's purpose is to attract the interest of young, motivated scientists who wish to stretch the comfort zone of their areas of expertise and to expand their professional network by interacting with fellow peers and experienced professionals. Once accepted, the program offers its members the choice of proposing or joining an on-going project. Accordingly, I proposed "Hurdles that countries with restricted access to potable water supplies have to confront and Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA) involvement" as my future project and I look forward to start tackling the "downs" of my project and to get excited about the "ups." As I progress through my research phase, I will keep blogging my findings in the hope of sparking interest in you, the respected reader. The first successful EWB-USA project I will be sharing is about a team of engineering students who adventured to a Thai village in dire need of a system to produce potable water. You will be surprised to see that although limited by funding and under time pressure, the students managed to partner with the community to engineer a greatly improved water purification system.

Potable water hurdles and EWB-USA involvement

Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA) is a non-profit group consisting of student and professional chapters across the United States. These chapters work in communities that lack access to basic human needs, such as clean water, adequate sanitation, and safe passage to local markets. EWB-USA is thus a pivotal example of how the human heart can blend with the power of will and engineering know-how to overcome diverse human survival necessities in remote areas around the globe. One of the many success stories EWB-USA has managed to bring to life is the Rutgers University Chapter's "Thailand untapped." In this project, three highly driven undergraduate students from Rutgers University in New Jersey partnered with a community to engineer an upgrade to a faulty pre-installed ground water purification system.

Thai village person in charge of maintaining the water system as he takes a break from cleaning the aeration unit.

The existing system was providing the village with bacteria and heavy-metal contaminated water, which the small community could not use. This forced the community to spend most of its annual income on acquiring expensive bottled water. Over a three-week period, the students were not only confronted with designing a feasible techno-economical water purification process, but also with advising the local council to connect the newly developed system to the communal power grid. By the end of the project's deadline, the students and the community members successfully implemented an electronically controlled hypo-chlorinator to decontaminate the ground water from biological contaminants and have repaired the trickle aeration tower to remove heavy metals, such as iron and manganese. The small Thai village was left with a functional water purification system that would produce potable water along with the standard operation procedure to help maintain and control the purification system.

What project would you take on for the AIChE Apprenticeship Program?