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Adaptive Water Laboratory For K 12 Outreach On Sustainable Water Use

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Service - Learning Projects

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.149.1 - 13.149.9

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Paper Authors


Paul Boyle Rice University

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Paul M. Boyle is a Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering at Rice University. In addition to his research in computational fluid mechanics and separation processes, Paul is active in engineering outreach. He tutors underrepresented high school students in mathematics and assists the math team during their practice for competitions.

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Brent Houchens Rice University

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Brent C. Houchens is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Department at Rice University. His research interests include modeling flow and separation in reverse osmosis membrane filtration. Brent is also active in developing programs that combine graduate and undergraduate education with K-12 outreach to socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Adaptive WaTER Laboratory for K-12 Outreach on Sustainable Water Use Abstract

Over one billion people worldwide do not have access to a safe, reliable source of drinking water. Of these, up to five million will die each year of waterborne diseases due to unclean water sources and poor sanitation and hygiene1. As part of a capstone senior design project, an educational device was created to teach students in developed and developing nations about the environmental impacts of water contamination and to promote sustainable water utilization. To accomplish this goal an interactive, educational, cost-effective water purification system, known as the Adaptive Water Treatment for Education and Research Laboratory (Adaptive WaTER Lab), was developed. The design includes six different purification methods contained in individual housings that can be connected and reordered to create multiple purification solutions. The purification methods selected for this project include: sediment filtration, carbon filtration, chemical disinfection, reverse osmosis, forward osmosis, and ultraviolet light disinfection. Accompanying educational materials include lessons on contaminants, background information on the methods, seven laboratory experiments and study questions. The Lab has been demonstrated to over 300 students at several Houston-area schools (3rd -12th grade), thus disseminating knowledge on sustainable water use while receiving valuable feedback to improve the design. In addition to interactive demonstrations by students from Rice University, the system has been independently used by high school students in Houston for an Earth Day presentation. The use of the Adaptive WaTER Lab for an independent project, supervised by the authors and carried out by an underrepresented minority high school student, will be discussed. The student determined the effectiveness of the various purification techniques for removing contaminants ranging from dirt and sediment to chlorine and bacteria. Also, the student compared the various techniques based on the rates of production of clean water, operation costs, energy efficiencies and sustainability.


A senior capstone design project was undertaken in the 2006-2007 academic year to create a device for use as an educational tool for water quality and purification. Inspiration for the project came from the fallout after hurricane Katrina. The project eventually lead to the founding of a long-term water project for education and implementation in developing nations, where potable water is scarce1. Initially, the project built on a collaboration with Schlumberger Oilfield Services, Inc. via their nonprofit Schlumberger Excellence in Educational Development (SEED) Foundation. SEED supports nearly 200 schools around the world by providing power, air-conditioning, heating, and educational tools including computer labs and internet access2. Working with the existing SEED Water Project, which focuses on water quality testing, five Rice University senior mechanical engineers developed the Adaptive Water Treatment for Education and Research (WaTER) Laboratory (henceforth referred to as the Lab) under the supervision of two Rice University faculty members, Drs. Houchens and McStravick. The project has since become independent, extending the scope to educational outreach in the greater Houston area. The first such implementation has been through integration into science fair and science club programs at a Houston public high school. Through new partnerships with the Rice Beyond

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