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Water Purification and Ocean Salinity: The Colligative Properties and Engineering Naval Solutions

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Pre-College Engineering Education Division Resource Exchange

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Joni M. Lakin University of Alabama Orcid 16x16

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Joni M. Lakin (Ph.D. , The University of Iowa) is Associate Professor of Educational Research at the University of Alabama. Her research interests include educational assessment, educational evaluation methods, and increasing diversity in STEM fields.

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Virginia A. Davis Auburn University Orcid 16x16

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Dr.Virginia A. Davis’ research is primarily focused on using fluid phase processing to assemble cylindrical nanomaterials into larger functional materials. Targeted applications include optical coatings, 3D printed structures, light-weight composites, and antimicrobial surfaces. Her national awards include selection for the Fulbright Specialist Roster (2015), the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Nanoscale Science and Engineering Forum’s Young Investigator Award (2012), the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2010), and a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2009). Her Auburn University awards include the Excellence in Faculty Outreach (2015), an Auburn University Alumni Professorship (2014), the Auburn Engineering Alumni Council Awards for Senior (2013) and Junior (2009) Faculty Research, the Faculty Women of Distinction Award (2012), and the Mark A. Spencer Creative Mentorship Award (2011). Dr. Davis is the past chair of Auburn’s Women in Science and Engineering Steering Committee (WISE) and the faculty liaison to the College of Engineering’s 100 Women Strong Alumnae organization which is focused on recruiting, retaining and rewarding women in engineering. She was also the founding advisor for Auburn’s SHPE chapter.
Dr. Davis earned her Ph.D. from Rice University in 2006 under the guidance of Professor Matteo Pasquali and the late Nobel Laureate Richard E. Smalley. Prior to attending Rice, Dr. Davis worked for eleven years in Shell Chemicals’ polymer businesses in the US and Europe. Her industrial assignments included manufacturing, technical service, research, and global marketing management; all of these assignments were focused on enabling new polymer formulations to become useful consumer products.

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Edward W. Davis Auburn University Orcid 16x16

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Edward W. Davis received his PhD from the University of Akron in 1996. He worked in the commercial plastics industry for 11 years, including positions with Shell Chemicals in Louvain-la-Nueve Belgium and EVALCA in Houston TX. He joined the faculty at Auburn University in the fall of 2007. In 2014 he was promoted to Senior Lecturer. He has regularly taught courses in three different engineering departments. In 2015 he began his current position as an Assistant Professor in the Materials Engineering Program.

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Chere’ DeLayne Smith Smiths Station High School

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The National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE) Grand Challenges of Engineering (NAE, 2008) are a list of 14 critical challenges that society faces and that can be addressed by engineers. The Grand Challenges highlight the many ways that engineering is helping others and also emphasize the collaborative, creative, and interdisciplinary work that engineers do. Framing engineering as an altruistic or communal career is believed to increase interest for more girls, underrepresented racial/ethnic minority, and first-generation college students. In a grant funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), our interdisciplinary team has developed multiple hands-on lab and classroom activities for the high school classroom that use the Grand Challenges and Naval contexts as a motivation for the lab.

In “Water Purification and Ocean Salinity: The Colligative Properties and Engineering Naval Solutions”, students explore the relationship of boiling point and salinity in the context of purifying water. This quote ( provides an intriguing context for the lab: "Submarines have to distill water they need for drinking, cooking, and bathing from seawater and have a limited supply, so the crew takes "submarine showers" - turn the water on and wet down, turn the water off and soap up. Turn the water on and rinse off. Repeat until done. You can't ever leave the water running anywhere. Not even while brushing your teeth."

Students are tasked with helping the Navy adapt their water purification systems for different regions of the ocean where salinity varies. The lesson has both a scientific and engineering “briefs”. The scientific brief describes variation of ocean salinity and the “halocline” of salinity and water temperature in the deep ocean. The engineering brief shows how a “still” can be used to produce fresh water from a salt water source. Students are then asked to determine how the local salinity of the ocean would affect the efficiency of a still in producing fresh water.

Grade level: Grade 8-12

Learning objectives: > Students will calculate the expected change in boiling point based on a specified salinity and with the provided equation. They will compare this result to their observed data. > Students will connect this real-world example to the concept of intensive or colligative properties, including osmotic pressure and boiling point elevation. > Students will discuss how colligative properties have real world consequences for providing access to clean water through engineered solutions. > Students will identify strengths and weaknesses of their boiling water still and describe improvements to the design.

Materials/procedure: Students use a hot plate and a “still” comprising an Erlenmeyer flask with a rubber stopped that has a thermometer and hose inserted. “Ocean” water of different salinities are provided. Water vapor travels up the hose and is collected in a small beaker. Students monitor the boiling point and the amount of water produced over a specific time period. Students can also use test strips to ensure the water produced is less salty.

Evaluation: Each has been evaluated through student surveys and through implementation by teacher. The lab has been refined through teacher feedback.

Lakin, J. M., & Davis, V. A., & Davis, E. W., & Smith, C. D. (2021, July), Water Purification and Ocean Salinity: The Colligative Properties and Engineering Naval Solutions Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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