Pioneering water pollution detection researchers work amid global water crises

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – With a shortage of clean and safe drinking water impacting billions of people around the world, a research team at the University of Alabama Huntsville is pioneering a way to possibly revolutionize the way in which water pollution is detected.

The team is developing a one-of-a-kind system that could be part of solving the growing global issue of access to drinking water.

UAH researchers are using glass fibers, thinner than Capellini pasta, to detect the turbidity of water.
The work, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, is in its infancy.

It could revolutionize the way in which contaminants are detected in water.

“It really started with two friends chatting,” said Lingze Duan, a physics professor at UAH. “Doctor Wu, perhaps a couple of years ago, we were having lunch and she was saying that she has an idea and it will require using fiber optics.”

What started as a conversation earned a grant from the EPA to fund phase one of a project that could completely change the way in which the quality of water is monitored.

“It’s definitely very important,” Duan said. “This is something really integrated into our daily lives. We all really care about water quality.”

Tingting Wu, an environmental engineering professor, and Duan are very humble about their work.
The magnitude of how their research could change the world, though, is very real.

“This really gives me a chance to configure to something that can potentially benefit a lot of people in our daily lives,” Duan said.

Professors Duan and Wu are testing a network of glass fibers that can detect the quality of water in real-time, across long distances.

The quality of water is primarily tested by hand or with methods that UAH says are limited in distance, expense, and can be difficult to apply to drinking water systems.

The glass fiber system could track the quality of water throughout entire waterways and drinking water systems.

“This is only the beginning,” Duan said. “We’re excited to get this thing started. It’s always challenging to push forward with technology. That part is definitely fun.”

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