UBC researchers design 3D printed device for water safety monitoring
3D printed miniaturized sensors can operate continuously and be deployed anywhere in the water distribution system to ensure safe, drinkable water.
It is a well known fact that humans require water to survive. However, not all sources provide clean, drinkable water.
Researchers at UBC’s Okanagan campus are taking up the challenge by designing a tiny device that can monitor drinking water quality in real time and help protect against waterborne illness. The device itself is manufactured using 3D printing methods, making it cheap and easy to make.
Prof. Mina Hoorfar, Director of the School of Engineering, says new research proves their miniaturized water quality sensors can operate continuously and be deployed anywhere in the water distribution system.
“Current water safety practice involves only periodic hand testing, which limits sampling frequency and leads to a higher probably of disease outbreak,” says Hoorfar. “Traditional water quality sensors have been too expensive and unreliable to use across an entire water system.”
At the Advanced Thermo-Fluidic lab at UBC’s Okanagan campus, Hoorfar and a team of researchers created tiny devices that are reliable and sturdy enough to provide accurate readings regardless of water pressure or temperature.
The sensors are wireless, reporting back to the testing stations, and work independently. And because they’re made using 3D printers, they are fast, inexpensive and easy to produce.
“This highly portable sensor system is capable of constantly measuring several water quality parameters such as turbidity, pH, conductivity, temperature, and residual chlorine, and sending the data to a central system wirelessly,” she adds.
While many urban purification plants have real-time monitoring sensors, they are upstream of the distribution system. However, Hoorfar notes that the pressure at which water is supplied to the customer is much higher than what most sensors can tolerate. So she developed the new sensors to accommodate a higher pressure and be placed right at or within a customer’s home, providing a direct and precise layer of protection against unsafe water.
Part of the reasoning behind the sensors is to stop tragedy before it strikes. More than 17 years ago, four people died, and hundreds became ill, after drinking E.coli-affected water in Walkerton, Ontario.
“Although the majority of water-related diseases occur in lower- or middle-income countries, water quality events in Walkerton, for example, raise serious questions about consistent water safety in even developed countries like Canada,” says Hoorfar. “Many of these tragedies could be prevented with frequent monitoring and early detection of pathogens causing the outbreak.”