Dry Samples for Testing Water

Nearly 10% of people worldwide live without clean water. Conducting even basic water testing to determine whether water is safe to drink can be a formidable obstacle. Field test kits offer limited scope and accuracy, while transporting large volumes of water samples to a fully equipped laboratory can be a logistical challenge, and is cost-prohibitive in developing countries.

But what if you could remove the water weight from samples? That’s the solution occupying an interdisciplinary team from MIT: mechanical engineering professors Rohit Karnik and John Hart, and Chintan Vaishnav, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and member of the founding team of the MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design.

The team’s innovation aims to greatly increase local capacity to test water supplies and respond to outbreaks.

With a grant from the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS), the trio seeks to preserve water quality samples in a dry, compact form—with chemical and biological information intact—to be transported for analysis. The team has taken inspiration from a similar problem in blood analysis, which led to the “dried blood spot” technique now widely used.

Hart brings experience with manufacturing and nanotechnology, and Karnik’s expertise is in microfluidics and nanotechnology. Vaishnav is working to understand the existing monitoring infrastructure in water districts in India, and how to facilitate the uptake of new technologies and methodologies there. The team’s recent trip to India confirmed insufficient water quality monitoring across all levels of testing. India recently enacted the Uniform Drinking Water Quality Monitoring Protocol as well as a nationwide sanitation mission, but agencies lack even the simple tools they need for compliance as well as response to waterborne diseases. The team’s innovation aims to greatly increase local capacity to test water supplies and respond to outbreaks.

Supporting researchers to engage with such challenges is the mission of J-WAFS, which was established in 2014 as an Institute-wide initiative to coordinate and lead research related to water and food across all schools and departments. J-WAFS is focused on research and innovation activities that have the potential to positively impact the world through improvement of food and/or water supplies and systems.