Professors patent purification project

It enables small comminutes to inexpensively but accurately examine contaminants

Two percent of water treatment plants in America test drinking water for cancer-causing byproducts that are produced after purification.  Given Memphis’ abundance of clean natural drinking water, it’s no surprise that people may take what comes from their taps for granted.

University of Memphis Chemistry Professor Gary Emmert grew up in a rural community where the local drinking water supply was not regularly tested for dangerous contaminants because many water treatment plants can’t afford to analyze drinking water.

He and his colleague Paul Simone have devoted ten years of research to invent a device smaller plants, much like the one in Emmert’s hometown, can afford.

“There are about 20,000 water facilities that treat water and there are about 400 that can do the standard method, the rest don’t have the means,” Emmert said.

Memphis water is considered some of the highest quality drinking water in the US, as it comes from a naturally occurring artesian well where ground and rainwater seep through a filtration process of sand and gravel.

Other cities have to chemically treat their water in order to drink it. It has to be treated for bacteria and other harmful microscopic organisms that can cause illness and infection among those who consume it, Emmert said.

He said the current method used to measure levels of haloacetic acids in water are “difficult, expensive and labor intensive to implement.”

The cost of the machine proposed by Emmert and Simone is about 5 percent of the traditional instrumentation, they said. It can also be ran by someone with an undergraduate degree, so in essence it is also cheaper to run and operate, Emmert said.

Simone was recruited by Emmert to help in the research when he was in graduate school. Simone received his bachelors, masters and doctoral degree from The U of M.

“He asked me, what do you want to do, and the thought of working in drinking water sounded cool to me. It’s something I notice when I travel,” Simone said.

Researching a way to invent a device that was economically cheaper than the standard method of testing water was Simone’s first graduate student project. That student project turned into ten years of research and led him to a patented invention.

Emmert and Simone’s method creates for an immediate online analysis of contaminants in water at any location with little operator involvement. The speedy system allows treatment plants to test the water more frequently.

“It’s going to allow the industry to know how many compounds are in the water on a daily basis rather than every three months or so,” Simone said.

Emmert said their device “will improve water for the general public. The water will be healthier to drink for an average Joe right out of the tap.”

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The profesors tested their invention in several different regions with different qualities of water including Memphis, Texas and Ohio. Simone said there was a lot of inspiration between growing up in a place like Memphis with great drinking water and going to places with not so great drinking water.

Emmert and Simone’s patent was assigned to The U of M’s Research Foundation in December as part of the intellectual property policy stating that, The University has a right to any invention developed on university property, using university instruments or computers.

“It’s important to the foundation, The University and the community because this research has the potential to have a positive impact on the economy and the community. It enables small comminutes to inexpensively but accurately examine contaminants, plus it engines a small business,” said Andrew Meyers, executive director of the research foundation.

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