The world is in a water crisis. “Less than 1% of Earth’s water is directly available to us,” says Professor of Earth and Environmental Studies Yang Deng, and challenges such as climate change and pollution keep throwing scientists curveballs as they work to provide clean and safe water to an increasingly desperate global population.
Deng and his team of researchers at the Water Innovation, Sustainability, and Engineering (WISE) Laboratory are working to make the process of providing clean water simpler, more cost effective, more sustainable and available to everyone from first world nations, to developing countries, to victims of natural disasters, to urban households and beyond.
On May 3, Deng presented the results of his yearlong research as the University Distinguished Scholar for 2020-2021 in a lecture fittingly titled, “Innovative Solutions to Water Challenges.”
After taking viewers through the “urban water cycle” – factoring human activity into the well-known water cycle graphic that school children learn – Deng notes his team’s ambitious workload: “My lab is working in drinking water treatment, wastewater reuse, stormwater management, groundwater cleanup, and industrial wastewater treatment.” He shares the WISE Lab’s goal: “Use chemical and physical principles to mitigate contamination in different environmental systems for environmental sustainability/resilience as well as public/ecological health.”
In short, “we want to protect human and ecosystem health,” says Deng, with “collaboration as key,” working with experts from various countries and across fields as diverse as economics, chemistry and the social sciences.
While the WISE Lab has been working on a number of innovative technologies and designs, Deng’s lecture focused on two: ferrate(VI) technologies and beneficial reuse of industrial waste for stormwater treatment. Deng explained that his team was facing the challenge of making water safe from traditional contaminants, but also emerging pollutants such as antibiotics, hormones, algal toxins and PFAS – “forever chemicals” that have been used on everything from clothing to frying pans.
“Traditional methods cannot well address these challenges,” says Deng. “That’s why we need innovation. That’s why our research must focus on new thoughts or solutions for addressing these challenges.”
“That’s what we do.”
Story by Staff Writer Mary Barr Mann
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