The following was my submission to Kelly Engineering Services for an annual scholarship. Although I was not the winner, my essay had a strong message. I titled it: “On Water: The Social Complexities of a Simple Molecule”
Water surrounds us; it is in our showers and baths, it washes our hands, cooks our appetizers and entrée. With it, we continue living like nothing ever happened. Without it, the most basic forms of life could not exist. Although water encapsulates seventy percent of our planet, there are people struggling to find it. I believe that engineers have a responsibility to protect humanity; to share knowledge of technological advances with the world, and correct their mistakes in social and political aspects. As of late, issues such as the Flint water crisis and Porter Ranch methane leak reflect engineering at its worst in the US. However, I still hold true that engineers are capable of so much more.
A Finnish University recently discovered the benefits of crystallization, or freezing water in order to purify it. Essentially, these scientists found that the upper layer of ice from a lake in Finland was nearly ten times cleaner than the water beneath. In addition, ice that had formed more slowly was noticeably cleaner than rapidly formed ice. This event called crystallization can only occur with the presence of a solvent and solute, such as water and salt. A professor from Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) made the statement below regarding the study. Continue reading “Clean as Ice”
Aquaporins. In simple terms, these are water channels in the cell wall that allow for H2O molecules to travel in and out of the cell so that the cell won’t swell and explode. Scientists discovered that by using these aquaporins, you can sort out H2O molecules from otherwise impure water. Aquaporins themselves are very small and delicate, so a screen is used and the aquaporins are melted onto the layer of net. Impure water can then be sifted. Right now this technique is generally used in industry because it provides ultrapure water. Ultrapure water is a solution so clean that the taste is repulsive. It doesn’t have the nutrients and minerals in tap water so it can be shocking to taste, but it works great for cleaning or soaking machinery for big companies.
“Aquaporins are selective membrane channel proteins found in the lipid bilayer of living cells that work to transport water across the cell membrane. Aquaporins accomplish this task while excluding any unwanted ions or other polar molecules, making them a perfect model for the formulation of low-energy water filtration systems” (The Biomimicry Institute, 2016).
Aquaporins have a bright future for desalinating seawater. But wait! If these aquaporins are great at filtering water, why aren’t they in use right now? Developing countries could really use a simple technology like this with a good efficiency and low cost. According to Professor Peter Agre at John Hopkins University, “The engineering of this will have some technical difficulties because the native membranes are very tiny and so only nano-water purification can occur”. The sensitive membrane can only handle a few drops of water at a time.