Professor’s Innovative Technology Targets Invasive Aquatic Species

Ultrasound System Scheduled for Testing in Lake Superior This Summer

Photo: Mike Peters

Professor Meiyin Wu with the prototype of the BallastSollution device.

Innovative ultrasound technology developed by a Montclair State University professor that can eliminate invasive marine organisms from ship ballast waters without harmful environmental effects is scheduled for testing in Lake Superior in August. Associate professor of biology and molecular biology Meiyin Wu’s groundbreaking Great Lakes Restoration Initiative project work is funded by a $673,500 U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) grant.

The inadvertent introduction of invasive species into non-native environments is a byproduct of globalization. “Countless species are introduced accidentally. Insects like ants and cockroaches, for instance, can travel in your luggage without your knowledge,” Wu explains. “On a larger scale, invasive marine creatures travel effortlessly around the world in the thousands of gallons of ballast water that maintain a ship’s stability.”

Ballast water is picked up in one country at the start of a voyage and released in another at journey’s end. “Species like the zebra mussel with no position in the North American food web and no natural predators can cause a costly disruption of entire ecosystems by displacing native species. The challenge is to kill these invasive organisms using environmentally friendly means before they are introduced into our waters,” Wu says.

Wu, who is also the director of the University’s environmentally focused Passaic River Institute, explains that current systems filter ballast water and treat it with disinfecting chemicals like chlorine. “The treated water is released into foreign waterways, causing unpredictable, negative, long-term environmental impact.”

In 2003, Wu began working with Junru Wu of the University of Vermont on BallastSolution, an environmentally friendly device that combines filtration and ultrasound technologies. Since joining the Montclair State faculty in 2009, she has worked with a University team that includes a post-doctoral researcher and several graduate students to construct a prototype that is essentially a “big tube with an ultrasound transducer that emits waves of energy that damage or kill aquatic organisms.”

Because it can eliminate any aquatic microscopic organisms as well as eggs and larvae of macro-organisms, BallastSolution technology isn’t limited to treating ballast water. “It could provide a green, chemical-free means of treating swimming pools and or even be used in waste water management,” Wu predicts.

She is grateful for the University’s support and is hopeful that investors will be willing to provide the financial support necessary to bring this cutting edge technology to market. “If money is there, the system could be commercially available within a year,” she adds.