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Water Filters in Ghana: An Exploration of the Technology and Education that is Required for Sustainable Development at the Base of the Economic Pyramid

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Engineering Education in the Middle East and Technology Exploration in Africa and Developing Countries

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1361.1 - 23.1361.7



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Paper Authors


John Paul Farris Grand Valley State University

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John Farris is currently a professor in the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). He earned his Bachelors and Masters Degrees at Lehigh University and his Doctorate at the University of Rhode Island. His professional experience includes designing engines for Caterpillar in Peoria and designing laparoscopic instruments for Portlyn Corporation in New Hampshire. Since joining the faculty at Grand Valley State University, Dr. Farris has established the graduate program in Biomedical Engineering with the help of a grant from the National Science Foundation. He teaches classes in medical device design, product design and entrepreneurship.

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Suggested Session Topics: International Collaborations, Experiences, Partnerships, ServiceLearning and Engineers Without Borders programs involving students Water Filters in Ghana: An Exploration of the Technology and Education that is Required for Sustainable Development at the Base of the Economic PyramidIn January of 2011 the authors volunteered to check up on a set of water filters that had beenoperating in a small village in central Ghana. The filters had been installed in the village by aninterdisciplinary team of students and faculty from the United States and Ghana. The team hadworked with the village leaders and families who received the filters to ensure the filters wereused properly and maintained well. Unfortunately, after less than a year of operation, the authorswere surprised to learn that the adding three drops of chlorine had become part of the standardmonthly maintenance routine. Although chlorine is often used to kill harmful bacteria in water,adding chlorine to a sand filter may kill the beneficial that are vital to the operation of a sandfilter. In addition there was no way to determine if the filter was working correctly. The authorsinquired and discovered that the request to add the chlorine had come from a local scienceprofessor unfamiliar with the operating principles of a sand filter. The root cause of the problemis that the people using the filters did not have a functional understanding of how the filtersworked. They lacked a mental model of the filter to guide their decisions about the water filter.Although it is not possible to give the users an in-depth understanding of how the filter operates,they must not be allowed to think of the technology as a black box because myths can grow uparound technology that is not understood. Another barrier to the successful deployment of thesand filter technology is the fact that water filter technology does not provide any indication tothe user of proper operation. Once set up the user has to trust that the filter is working properly.This paper uses the situation described to explore the appropriate education and features of thetechnology that can be employed to increase the likelihood that a development project will besuccessful and sustainable.

Farris, J. P. (2013, June), Water Filters in Ghana: An Exploration of the Technology and Education that is Required for Sustainable Development at the Base of the Economic Pyramid Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22746

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