Solutions for Safe Drinking Water

Several distinct monitoring platforms enable the detection of a number of specific contaminants that threaten our water and food in this age of widespread pollution and globalized supply chains. But no current platform can detect a broad array of potential toxins in real time at the point of consumption. Michael S. Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor in Chemical Engineering, is developing an integrated platform that can identify a wide range of bacteria, heavy metals, and allergens in what we eat and drink. Built on an array of nanosensors, which can detect quantities at single-molecule limits, the technology will enable low-cost, energy efficient monitoring to be widely deployed.

Strano’s project is being funded by the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS) as part of its J-WAFS Solutions grant program, which facilitates the commercialization of MIT technologies in water and food. Another Solutions project is led by Jeffrey Grossman, professor of materials science and engineering. Desalination systems are currently limited in their capacity because the membranes that filter salt from water easily become clogged with organic foulants, reducing water flow and affecting plant efficiency. Grossman is developing scalable, nanoporous membranes to improve such systems.

The lab also sponsors an annual J-WAFS Seed Grant program to stimulate new innovative research, with nine projects now underway that range in focus from food security in the global supply chain to innovative methods for treating contaminated water. One of these is a conceptually new strategy for wastewater treatment that relies on electrochemically-modulated separation (EMS) processes. In this research project, led by T. Alan Hatton, Ralph Landau Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, the objective is low-cost fabrication of devices that can be used in individual households or entire villages, potentially affecting many parts of the world where a large centralized water treatment structure is lacking.