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UI project to aid Ghana

BY SHANE ERSLAND | FEBRUARY 17, 2009 7:40 AM

A team of UI student engineers hopes residents of Ghana will see an improvement in their drinking water quality thanks to the students’ development of a hand-held water sanitizer.

Because Ghana, in western Africa, is a relatively stable country, the team members said, it will be a good place to conduct their field study. The study will focus on putting hand-held water sanitizers in the hands of Ghanaians.

“The goal is to get some feedback on the product,” team member Alexandra Keenan said.
Keenan, a UI senior from Urbandale, is hoping to make a trip to Ghana with her team by the end of this year. She is doing an independent study to tally the rates of people who are contracting diseases from Ghana’s harmful water.

The engineers won a first-place award for the water sanitizer at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet competition in 2008, which garnered them $75,000 to continue developing the project.

Craig Just, a UI associate research scientist in civil and environmental engineering and the group’s adviser, attended a meeting on Feb. 14 to discuss the notion of U.S. partnership with poor countries who need sanitized water. At the gathering —the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago — he explained the idea.

“We discussed how universities and private organizations can work together to make a positive impact on these water-sanitation problems,” he said.

UI history Professor James Giblin, who teaches a class on African history, said he has seen problems with African water quality firsthand in Tanzania.

“You see people taking water from drainage ditches because they are so desperate,” he said.

After it rains in Tanzania, he said, people collect rainwater in buckets from the ditches.

Just said key issues for the project include producing more of the sanitizers and making sure the people use them correctly.

“At some point, we need to focus on getting an industrial partner that will be able to make thousands of these for distribution,” he said.

Keenan exhibited the water sanitizer at a demonstration for high-school counselors last semester. She said the counselors were interested and happy to see projects such as this coming out of the university.

“They got an idea of the variety of things that can come out of the engineering programs at Iowa,” she said.

Just is hoping to have different versions of the water sanitizer to showcase in the western African country.

“We’re going to develop some more prototypes to try out in Ghana,” he said.


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