Engineering clean water

Feb 23, 2007

Kettering's Engineers Without Borders teamed up with sixth graders at Pierce Elementary to engineer clean drinking water for a town in Mexico.

Clean, safe drinking water isn't easy to come by in Estanque de Leon, Mexico, but it may be easier to get after Kettering University's Engineers Without Borders-A Section (EWB) and sixth graders at Pierce Elementary School in Flint research a way to filter the mucky water currently used in the Mexican community for drinking, cooking and washing.

EWB came up with "Project Clean Water" as a follow-up to their inaugural design-build project in July putting climbing/sliding structures on every Flint elementary school playground.

The thrust of the planned project in Mexico is for Kettering students to build a water filtration system for the natural water reservoir that exists near the community of Estanque de Leon (or Reservoir of the Lion, in English), and determine if water from the existing reservoir can made safe for drinking, according to Dr. Laura Sullivan, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering and EWB adviser.

"They will also determine the depth of underground water resources available in the vicinity of Estanque de Leon. Preliminary information suggests that a working water well exists within 6 km of the community, and Kettering students will investigate this as another potential source for water," Sullivan said.

To kick off the "Clean Water Project" EWB members began working with Pierce Elementary sixth grade students on Feb. 21, to share information about the global need for clean drinking water and to conduct hands-on experiments in water filtration.

Teams of sixth graders in teacher Matt Payne's classroom learned how to filter silty water using slow-sand filtration. Each team built a filtration system with a unique set of characteristics (sand layer depth, multiple sand layers, and particle size). Over a three-day period, Payne's students will record their observations regarding the effectiveness of the systems they have built.

These observations will contribute to guidelines for building an effective filtration system for the water in Estanque de Leon. As soon as the ground thaws in March, the sixth graders will meet with Kettering EWB students again to manually drill for water - in much the same way as the EWB team will when they travel to Mexico.

EWB is also collaborating with students and faculty at the Autonomous University of Coahuila (Universidad Autonoma de Coahuila - UAdeC) in Saltillo, Mexico, who will be the first team to travel to Estanque de Leon to conduct a preliminary health assessment of the 84 families living in the area and determine how the available water is currently affecting community members. The current water supply is turbid and possibly contaminated with protozoa and bacteria.

In late April, six Kettering students and four adult mentors will form the second team and travel to Estanque de Leon to meet with the UAdeC team regarding the health assessment results and to learn about the culture of the community.

The EWB team will also assess the water quality in the reservoir and evaluate the feasibility of various methods for bringing potable water to families in this area, including the slow-sand filters and drilling a well.

The Health and Safety officer at Kettering, Nadine Thor, has experience in drilling for water and in assessing water for its safety. As a practice run, she has volunteered to assist EWB and the Pierce students in drilling for water on a piece of Kettering property prior to leaving for Mexico. She has also arranged the donation of drilling equipment for the project. Thor will travel with the group to Mexico as well.

After their return from Mexico, Kettering students will share the findings of their assessment trip with their Pierce School partners.

The commitment to service and global engagement for Kettering students is growing at Kettering. The university is one of a select number of universities hosting a student chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

"A partnership similar to "Project Clean Water" is being planned by EWB B-Section students, pairing students at another Flint school with Kettering students in a project to benefit disabled children in the gulf region of Mississippi," Sullivan said of upcoming plans for the B-Section chapter.

For more information on, or to support, Kettering's Engineers Without Borders chapters and their projects, visit their website or email Dr. Laura Sullivan.

Written by Dawn Hibbard